I was invited to attend a Champagne tasting at the Beverly Hills Hotel in the esteemed boardroom for a select group of wine collectors, distributors and writers to celebrate the release of Armand de Brignac’s latest cuvée – Assemblage.
I especially love these events because of the table conversation among other oenophiles. I was surprised to hear from the distributors at the table they’re having trouble selling Champagne these days, whether it’s in stores or restaurants. Champagne has been marketed as something to enjoy before a meal and not necessarily something you enjoy with a meal. This was the biggest aha moment of the day for me.
But among other aha moments were how much I really enjoy drinking Champagne and how it’s really time to take Champagne into the mainstream as a wine to enjoy with dinner.
The owners of Armand de Brignac are the Cattier family, 13th generation Champagne growers who’ve owned vineyards since 1763. They now own 33 hectares of vineyards throughout the region in the villages of Rilly-la-Montagne, Chigny-les-Roses and Ludes. And it’s only recently that they began bottling their own cuvées. And admirably so, they’re focused on quality and not quantity, allowing them to be exceedingly selective in what they produce. Their Champagnes are lauded for their flavor, a result of only using the first portion of the press, and their attention to detail in the blending. Armand de Brignac cuvées signature style is blending three vintages to allow for layers of complexity and richness. Each bottle produced is hand-labeled with a beautiful, elegant metal coating and placed in a wooden lacquered box. All this done by hand. 36 of them to be exact as the winery only employs 18 people.
Armand de Brignac’s Winemaker, Emilien Boutillat, guided us through the tasting. His passion for the process is evident as his philosophy is to “respect the fruit and let it talk.” He explained how the cuvées are blind blends as only the best vintages are selected each year. There is no consistency in the tastes as “we don’t want the same wine every year.” I found that a refreshing thought.
Emilien also didn’t offer his own tasting notes as “everyone can enjoy their own experience.” Again, my unrefined palate appreciated this as I want to taste my own flavors.
Here’s what we tasted:
Brut Gold – The first release from Champagne Armand de Brignac. Retail $300
Rosé – crafted with 15% Pinot Noir from old vines. Retail $450
Demi Sec – bouquet, prestige cuvee. Retail $360
Blanc de Blancs – 100% Chardonnay cuvée. Retail: $675
Blanc de Noirs Assemblage Two (A2) – rated #1 in the world by French Champagne. Retail $850
I walked away with a bit of a buzz but something more important – a renewed appreciation for Champagne. It should be as drinkable with meals as my favorite Cabernet. I certainly think it’s time to revisit Champagne as more than a special occasion beverage. While Armand de Brignac is not in my “house wine” budget, it’s certainly a perfect special occasion Champagne and you can taste the passion and refinement of the winemaker in every sip.