Friday, September 25, 2009

Champagne Pommery's Cuvée Louise

Over the course of the next several weeks, I’ll be posting tasting notes and video clips from my trip to Champagne. There’s a lot to go through, including impressions of dozens of wines and footage from all over the region.

Today, I’d like to focus on the wines of Pommery, particularly their tête de cuvée, the much-loved Cuvée Louise. It’s named for Louise Pommery, the great catalyst behind the initial ascension of the house and one of the most important of Champagne’s famous grandes dames. (Incidentally, for an excellent overview of Madame Pommery’s pivotal role in Champagne’s history, as well as an entertaining and informative look at the region as a whole, check out the book Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War And Hard Times, by Don and Petie Kladstrup.)

The evening of our visit to Pommery, we were treated to a tour of the extensive caves and then a spectacularly elegant dinner, with Cellar Master Thierry Gasco, that featured four vintages of Cuvée Louise.

The silky, medium-bodied 1999 showed gently spicy caramelized pear notes, and, like a number of other 1999s I’ve tasted in the past year, was drinking beautifully ten years on. There was a hint of nuttiness, of course, but excellent acidity, and the wine as a whole is already perfectly integrated.

The 1998, on the other hand, was far more mature, despite being only a year older. It had more depth, more earthy detail, and the Chardonnay in it had begun to take on the telltale café crème character that well-aged ones so often do. This vintage, the first one served with the meal (the 1999 was poured before we were invited to take out seats), was a classic food wine in the best sense: When sipped alongside brandade with celeriac, fennel, and tender pieces of crab, notes of chanterelle and milk chocolate came out, bringing the wine’s richness to dizzying heights.

The 1995, on the other hand, could not have been more different with its creamy nose and mid-palate of rhubarb, sweet lemon, and melon. With all the fruit there, as well as the still-perfectly-calibrated acidity and excellent concentration, this vintage of Cuvée Louise still has a number of years left on it. And as delicious as it was, I’d imagine that it will continue to get even better with a bit more time in the cellar. As always, the strength of the 1995 vintage showed through brilliantly here.

We ended the dinner with the Cuvée Louise 1990 from magnum (as well as royal dorade with a gorgeous parmesan crème), and the combination of the larger bottle size, the perfect storage conditions, and the vintage itself contributed to the wine of the night. It was intensely concentrated and showed amazing grip, as well as a fabulous creamy nuttiness, hints of almond, café crème, vanilla custard, and cinnamon. Still, despite all its brilliantly evolved maturity, it maintained a real sense of liveliness, its laser-point bubbles and perfect balance utterly beautiful.


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