Twenty-five years ago, we saw ourselves as hotshot N.Y.C. sommeliers. The pay was just OK, but the perks were out of sight. When we asked our salesmen to “set us up” in Reims and Épernay, they didn’t disappoint.
Our first trip to the Boulevard de Champagne began with a tasting tour at Veuve Clicquot. The tapis rouge was already rolled out when we made our way up the steps. We were quickly handed two crystal flutes of Carte Jaune. Then we toured the labyrinthine caves that weave endlessly through the Reims underground. The hostess was a knockout, with a face and figure that belonged on the cover of Mademoiselle. It was la vie en rose.
We made that same trip several times. The first one was unforgettable, the second a bit less so. It was on the third trip that the landscape suddenly changed. The meet-and-greets were getting old, and we already had too many Gucci scarves and sample bottles of eau de toilette. The Champagnes we sipped seemed more and more uninspired, more about the packaging than the wine inside.
One evening, we were enjoying an after-hours tasting with a sommelier friend. All the wines on the table were from tiny growers, most of whom sold their entire production at the estate to Parisians and northern Europeans who made the annual pilgrimage to small villages like Cramant, Cuis, and Avonnay. Unlike the big-house Champagnes that were carefully assembled for a mass-market audience, these “grower” Champagnes were utterly artisanal, wonderfully complex, and refined. They were more reminiscent of Premier Cru Burgundy with bubbles than anything we’d tasted on the Boulevard de Champagne.
Over the years, we’ve visited Champagne over two dozen times. We never visit Reims during daytime hours. Instead, we knock on the same six to 10 cellar doors and are led meters underground to now-familiar cellars — many excavated by the winemaker and his family — where, in our opinion, the world’s most spectacular sparkling wines are crafted.
Unfortunately, few of these producers’ wines have ever graced the pages of WineAccess. Production is tiny. If a few cases are shipped stateside, they’re almost always ticketed for the likes of Per Se, French Laundry, Daniel, Jean Georges, and Eleven Madison Park.
Today, we are truly proud to finally offer a few cases of Jean Lallement’s Brut Reserve to the WineAccess membership. There are no Gucci scarves. No perfume. Just one of the most extraordinary and sought-after bottles of Champagne in NYC. Here’s why.
Jean Lallement is an estate of just 4 hectares, or almost 10 acres, split between Verzenay and Verzy. As is usually the case in the Montagne de Reims, Lallement’s vineyards are about 80 percent Pinot Noir and 20 percent Chardonnay. Of the 20 distinct parcels, about half are older than 40 years.
Moët & Chandon is said to produce nearly 2 million cases annually. Clicquot isn’t far behind. Jean Lallement ekes out just 1,700 cases of estate-grown Champagne per year, only a few hundred of which make it stateside. While some collectors are most enchanted by Lallement’s vintage Champagne, it’s the mesmerizing Brut Reserve — an 80/20 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay drawn entirely from vineyards of at least 30 years of age — that has always rocked our boats. Sadly, a bunch of far more famous New Yorkers shares our enthusiasm.
Tiny bubbles of great persistence. Like all of Jean Lallement’s Champagnes, the nose is understated and discreet, offering up delicate floral aromas of ripe citrus, wild strawberry, black tea, and orange pith. Piercing and lively on the attack, filled with a fabulously mineral mix of ripe apple, quince, and smoke. Perfectly poised on the mid-palate, in many ways far more Burgundian than Champenois, finishing with superb refinement and length.
The lion’s share of the American allocation of Lallement Champagne stays in N.Y.C., earmarked for the likes of Jean Georges, Eleven Madison Park, and Daniel. The Brut Reserve will set you back $200/bottle at Jean Georges, and still may be the most compelling bargain on the list.
95 points from Parker’s Wine Advocate. 120 bottles. $59/bottle. Shipping included.
What are you WAITING for??
Small bubbles. light straw color. toasty floral arpma. Mouth filling and a delight in the mouth.
Wonderful French champagne! All the character one looks for in such a wine. Please do it again Chuck Kindel
We celebrated New Years with these bottles and they did not disappoint
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