DECEMBER 2009 NOTE—Clarity in Champagne

"Please come to Reims to taste the vins clairs." That was an invitation I could not ignore. Roederer's Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon had been in New York for meetings, and when he heard I would be in London for two weeks in April, he proposed a 2008 tasting for senior correspondent Peter Liem and myself. Peter lives in Dizy, in the Vallé de la Marne, where he has been developing, his Web-based review of the region's wines and producers.
     Both Peter and I were impressed by the nature of the 2008 vintage, enough to devote a section of this issue to an early view of the wines. In a year with fine and consistent ripeness, traditional ideas of Champagne become moot. The common practice of blending terroirs becomes an opportunity to tune the dynamic interactions among hundreds of powerful wines in such a vintage, rather than a hedge against poor performances in one vineyard or another. Single, stand-alone terroirs, historically a risk for the small grower, become an asset. Peter visited growers in the far reaches of Champagne, as well as at the heart of the region's Kimmeridgian chalk, to taste and talk about 2008 (page 34, 12/09). At Roederer, as a grower as well as the caretaker of a brand, Lecaillon has a different challenge when blending Cristal, a process I've tried to capture in a report on his vins clairs of 2008 (page 38, 12/09).
     Now, as this issue goes to press, the Champenois have begun to talk about the 2009s, a vintage that will challenge 2008 in the years to come. And the Bordelais have been murmuring about their 2009s as well–a quiet buzz that may become deafening by the time of en primeur week next April. For now, there is still 2006 Bordeaux to sell, and though that vintage may not compare with the 1948, as one usually reserved vigneron mentioned in the context of the 2009, it has plenty of charm to offer. We found a number of exceptional Bordeaux wines from 2006 that will be available in the market at great prices.
     And if you're looking for something to brighten your holiday season, there are some other pretty astonishing opportunities out there. Search out the top 2005 and 2006 cabernets from California and Washington in our selection of the Year's Best, and you'll likely find more compelling quality to price ratios than you've seen in the recent past. The 2007s are some of the best Vintage Ports we've tasted in recent memory, and the 2001 Riojas are high on the buy list as well. You'll find a great selection of these, along with some astonishing 2002 Champagnes, any of which would make welcome gifts this holiday season. There are few more delicious ways to stimulate this economy.