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Tastings: Champagne a splendid table wine

Thursday, September 26, 2002

By Bruce May

Champagne is a victim of its own success and rarely thought of as a premium table wine. Champagne conjures up images of a luxury drink, only to be served for celebrations. Weddings, graduations, birthdays, anniversaries and New Year's Eve are often celebrated by popping the cork of a bottle of Champagne.

While celebrating with Champagne can create a festive atmosphere, it also can be a great food wine, able to complement many different types of dishes and able to be served throughout the meal.

Brut Champagnes, with their lively acidity, are a perfect match with shellfish. Rose Champagnes have rich fruit flavors that hold up well to most meat dishes. Sweeter Champagnes can add a treat to the end of the meal with or without dessert. When I am host for a gourmet dinner, I like to start by serving a Champagne with the appetizers or first course instead of using a white wine. It adds a special touch to the meal.

Some restaurant wine lists can present a challenge in selecting a wine for dinner, especially ones that are limited in their offerings. I have found that most wine lists offer one or two Champagnes or sparkling wines that are outstanding -- that can make your wine choice easier.

We have selected several Champagnes and sparkling wines with diverse styles to choose from for your next dining experience.


Very Good (85-89)

Chandon Blanc de Noirs -- Carneros Cuvee 397 ($16.99, PLCB 8100): Made from 88 percent pinot noir, 11 percent pinot meunier and 1 percent chardonnay fruit, this wine has a wonderful pink salmon color with rich cherry fruit aromas. The pronounced fruit flavors balanced with creamy yeastiness make for a very delicious wine. Match with light meat dishes such as grilled veal or pork chops.

Moet and Chandon Nectar Imperial ($34.99, PLCB 8170): This dessert-style Champagne has aromas of ripe pear and peach. The forward fruit flavors of pear and peach are accented with a sweet honey and almond finish. Serve with fresh fruit and salted nuts.

Highly Recommended

Outstanding (90-94)

1998 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs ($32.19, PLCB Specialty 29246): I still have fond memories of visiting Schramsberg in the early 1970s and tasting its first release. Its sparkling wines have been a favorite of mine ever since, and this wine does not disappoint with its complex yeasty and lemon blossom aromas. Deep fruit dominates the flavors with a toasty and creamy finish. Enjoy this lovely wine with sea bass in a light butter and lemon sauce.

Roederer Estate Brut -- Anderson Valley ($20.99, PLCB 7933): This outstanding sparkling wine from California is made from a combination of 70 percent chardonnay and 30 percent pinot noir fruit and delivers aromas of toast and apple and citrus fruit. On the palate, the wine delivers yeasty and creamy flavors with a balanced honey and lemon finish. Serve with game hen stuffed with wild rice.

1995 Moet and Chandon Imperial Brut ($45.99, PLCB 8876): This vintage Champagne by Moet has an endless stream of tiny, pinpoint bubbles with aromas of spice (mostly cinnamon) and smoke-accented citrus fruit. On the palate, the wine finishes with a nice combination of biscuit and crisp citrus flavors. Perfect match with oysters on the half shell.

Bruce May is a McCandless-based free-lance wine writer. Write to him c/o Tastings/Food, Post-Gazette, 34 Blvd. of the Allies, Pittsburgh, PA 15222 or e-mail him at brmay4@hotmail.com.

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