A bitterly cold evening didn't keep folks away from a recent informative class on Champagne at Solano Cellars. The wines below were all labeled as nonvintage unless otherwise noted. Very useful to me as I haven't had as much experience with these producers as I would like and there was lots of useful information and great questions and answers—and some stunning wines. First up was the A. Margaine Demi Sec 1er Cru (Villers-Marmery) a blend of 90 percent chardonnay and 10 percent pinot noir. Tasted like a lemon drop with citrus notes but a heavier texture. A bit too heavy for my preferences. The 2000 Pierre Gimonnet Blanc de Blancs Extra-Brut Oenophile 1er Cru (Cuis) sparked some different responses—the staff mostly adored it, while I could only taste structure, but no wine. A retaste made me appreciate the architecture even more—the nose on this moves from watermelon and explodes toward licorice/blackberry. Tender in the mouth—I think the wine will come into much clearer focus in time. I'd love to taste it again a few years down the line. The André Clouet Brut Reserve Grand Cru (Bouzy) was a blend of 90 percent pinot noir and 10 percent chardonnay. A fun candyesque nose and ripeness in the mouth, but mostly wild berry and brambly notes. Light in the mouth with a good grip. The René Geoffroy Expression Brut 1er Cru (Cumières) was mostly pinot meunier with 60 percent from 2006 and 40 percent from 2005. It had a wildly floral and sweet black licorice nose—the flavors here are very integrated—focus with lightness. A delicious drink—could probably use a touch more acid, but frankly I found it easy to drink nonetheless.
The Henri Billiot Brut Reserve Grand Cru (Ambonnay) was a blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay. Everyone pegged this as a real crowd pleaser—more yeasty, cakey, classic easydrinking champagne. Yum. The Henri Billiot Brut Rosé Grand Cru (Ambonnay) had the same blend of 80 percent pinot noir and 20 percent chardonnay, but its deep red color called forth a wilder, more dirt-and-strawberries feel. A rougher food wine—the wine originally seemed very simple, but it grew and grew as I sampled even just a little bit. Impressive stuff. The room was shocked to learn that the René Geoffroy Brut Volupté 1er Cru (Cumières) was 100 percent chardonnay. Presumably the richness was drawing a lot on the French oak. The wine was all from the 2004 vintage and was deliciously rich and tender, a really yummy combination of oaky chardonnay on bubbles but with refreshing acid. Alas, the wine seemed pretty fragile as a retaste saw the bubbles greatly faded and the wine feeling more tired. Initially wowed by this wine, I felt much more dubious about it later. Finally, the Henri Billiot Brut Cuvée Laetitia (Ambonnay) is a blend of base wines from 20 different years, leaning heavily on chardonnay. Wildly tropical on the nose with tight bubbles, it tasted like a fruit course. Yummy.