Binny's Blind Tasting Panel: Holiday Champagne Showdown

Just in time for the holidays, The Binny’s Tasting Panel is back at it, bibulously blinding bubbles. As usual our panel consisted of Binny’s wine buyers, educators, and some of our most passionate fizz fanatics from across the chain. Participants submitted their favorite, widely available Champagnes of 2023, regardless of price. The bottles were chilled, the identities hidden, the corks popped, and the panel commenced to assess quality based solely on what was in the glass. It was an astounding array of wines from both growers and Grand Marques including white and rose, vintage and nonvintage, oxidative and reductive styles. We tried them all. After much debate and some minor skirmishes and squabbles, we tasted stars in five stellar Champagnes. Here are the top scorers. 

Henriot Brut Millesime 2012

Our Champagne of the tasting is a blend of almost equal parts of pinot noir and chardonnay from an array of top Grand and Premier Cru vineyards. 2012 yielded excellent wines of power and depth and it shows in Henriot’s full bodied, richly honeyed, yeastily toasty, exotically fruited and intensely citric vintage Champagne. 

A distant whiff of smoldering applewood haunts the remarkably complex nose. The scents are layered and detailed with notions of white flowers, fine herbs, zesty citrus and freshly baked almond croissants swirling around an aromatic core of ripe orchard fruits that also veers toward tangy, tropical passionfruit. On the palate, a creamy mousse delivers a densely fruited wine full of tart green apple, Bartlet pear and tropical fruit Pavlova. Yeasty, bready and nutty base notes lay a savory foundation while fresh, zippy, lemon-lime top notes and a chalky mineral streak keep everything fresh, focused and so, so long! There was not a naysayer on the panel. High scores across the board. What a showing against stiff competition! Stunning now, with a very promising future. Just superb.

Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut NV

This one wasn’t fooling our panel. Many tasters recognized Bolli’s nutty, expansive, oxidative style right away. It should come as no surprise given our panel’s expertise and the fact that Bollinger’s entry level NV Brut is consistently everything it should be; a clear and profound statement of the house style that transcends both vintage and price point. What a knockout Champagne and a relative value, given the recent upward pressure on prices. 

One taster called this “A tour de force that takes you on a rollercoaster ride.” The nose is richly autolytic and hints at oak aging with its frankly oxidative style. Savory, toasty, yeasty notes, salted cultured butter and roasted hazelnut underpin Gala apple, ripe peach, Bing cherry and toasted marshmallow. In the mouth, so creamy and rich, echoing the nose’s generosity on all fronts, while a fresh acidic lift, woodsy herbs and stoney minerality drive the long finish. This came in second by a hair. Some real superlatives were flying around the room. A classic expression that should be a mainstay on the wine racks of any lover of Champagne’s richer styles.

Pierre Moncuit Millesime 2008

Hot On Bolli’s heels was Pierre Moncuit’s Vintage Brut. It’s another stunningly complex offering that affords the opportunity to pick up a Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Grower Champagne, from the amazing 2008 vintage, for well under $100. That’s no easy task these days and this phenomenal fizz really delivers. It’s no wonder that the Champagnes of Pierre Moncuit have rocketed to staff favorite status, across the chain, since we started stocking them.

The color in the glass is a beautifully oxidative gold that shimmers with streams of microbubbles. There is a certain density to the nose due to the kaleidoscopic array of mature aromas that developed over 10 plus years on the lees. Yet it retains an ethereal elegance. Autumnal notes of butter sautéed, spiced apples (calling to mind, for one taster, “Spiced gum drops from Grandma’s candy jar.”), mingle with apricot kolache, vanilla custard, mango, freshly roasted coffee beans, toasted nuts, sweet orange zest and mint. The finish is long, layered and opulent.  The drinking window is wide open on this one. What are you waiting for?

Frerejean Freres Blance de Blances Premier Cru

New to our shelves and, indeed, relatively new to the world of Champagne (founded in 2005) is this small, family-owned grower from the Grand Cru Village of Avize in the heart of chardonnay territory. Frerejean Freres’ crisp, focused, bone-dry Blanc de Blancs turned out to be the tasting’s cheval noir. The panel was impressed right out of the gate by the delicate, pale, lemon-yellow color, fine bead and super fresh, bright and high-toned nose full of citrus zest, Granny Smith apple, coriander seed, leafy green celery, chalky minerality and a hint of funky lanolin. Intense, dry and linear on the palate, however, exotic fruit notes of papaya and mango are subtly woven into the latticework of crisp acidity. The panel highly recommends this gastronomic Champagne with all manner of fin and shellfish. Particularly raw oysters with mignonette, Dover Sole Meuniere or anything in a cream sauce.

Henri Billiot Brut Rosé NV

Another grower slipped into the top five with a fruity, vinous style of rosé that the whole panel found to be irresistible. Redolent of rosewater, biscuity strawberry shortcake, dried cranberry, black cherry and savory scents of antique spice box, this full-bodied, oxidative rosé showcases the power and depth of fruit that pinot noir from the Grand Cru Village of Ambonnay provides. A firm body, nervy acidity and a subtle, tannic astringency make this another top candidate for the table. This will pair brilliantly with rare, pan seared tuna, herb roasted chicken and can even solve the pairing dilemma presented by surf and turf by easily matching the tangy, savory flavors of aged filet while still being crisp and elegant enough to pair with lobster. The panel declared this a Burgundy lover’s Champagne for its winey, terroir driven style. Not to mention that it is just plain delicious, sophisticated and remains an affordable choice in top quality rosé!

 

Contributing Panelists:

  • Alicia Barrett, Wine Educator & Tasting Panel Chair
  • Cindy Brost, Wine Manager, Downers Grove
  • Ray Denton, Wine Manager, Elmwood Park
  • Doug Jeffirs, Director of Wine Sales 
  • Kasia Kutryba, Wine Consultant, Highland Park
  • Mark Senal, Sparkling Wine Buyer
  • Don Sheil, Wine Manager, South Loop
  • Chris Speir, Factotum, Lincolnwood Office
  • Juan Torres, Specialty Wine Sales, South Loop
  • Gabriel Zdrojkowski, Wine Manager, Lincoln Park