Wines Above $40

There's a remarkable article in today's Daily Mail, which I got to by way of my restaurant-critic pal Alison Cook at the Houston Chronicle, that somehow finds a charming note amidst all the horrorshow of the attacks in Mumbai (follow this link to Suketu Mehta's superb op-ed piece in the NY Times). The story involves a very lucky British fellow named Nick Hayward, five hours locked in a restaurant in the Taj Mahal hotel, some vintage Cristal, and a perfectly amazing headwaiter. And that's all I'll tell you, since anything else would wipe out the perfectly wonderful ending of the story.

But I will recommend a few Champagnes for the holiday season while I'm at it. These five are all grower Champagnes; I do intend, before the end of the month, to weigh in on a selection of more widely available brut Champagnes from the major houses—though we all know the road that's paved with good intentions (or with unbought stuffed dogs, if you're a Hemingway buff).

Without further ado:

Pierre Peters Cuvée Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV ($34, find this wine) Tree fruits such as white peach and pear define the scent of this lively, graceful Blanc de Blancs, made by a family who moved to Champagne from Luxembourg in the 1800s. Very graceful, svelte stuff.

Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blancs Brut ($45, find this wine) This all-Chardonnay cuvee has rapier-like acidity and focus, partly thanks to a very low dosage (the small amount of sweetened wine added after a Champagne’s second fermentation). It’s produced entirely organically by husband-and-wife team Pierre and Sophie Larmandier (who also just ran the New York Marathon together).

René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée Brut NV ($50, find this wine) Luscious rosé Champagne,  produced using the traditional (and time-consuming) saignée method, in which the winemaker bleeds off the pink wine from the tank of fermenting Pinot Noir grapes.

Roger Pouillon La Fleur de Mareuil NV ($60, find this wine) Equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay go into this complex, slightly honeyed, barrel-fermented Champagne, from a small, family-owned estate in the village of Mareuil sur Aÿ. I thought this wine was just wonderful when I tasted it earlier this fall—unfortunately, it's not exactly easy to track down.

Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier Brut NV ($80, find this wine) Vilmart's full-bodied, powerful Champagnes are exquisitely creamy and rich, with a light oak barrel influence that’s unusual in Champagne, but characteristic of Vilmart.

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