@PBFW: Tiny Bubbles

(Pebble Beach, CA) — The annual Pebble Beach Food & Wine event is more than just celebrity chef golf tournaments, celebrity chef lunches and dinners, and book signings by celebrity chefs. It’s also a place where you can learn a little something about food and wine, from the folks who produce it. Ever the stalwart adventurer, HeFed attended a seminar entitled “The Triumph of Tiny Bubbles: Champagne from the Grower’s Perspective”...

I like champagne quite a lot, but like most wines, I’m not exactly an expert in that field. Oh, sure, if you served me a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, and a Pinot Noir, I could tell which from which. I might even be able to tell you from what country or state it’s from. My palate, though, is not fine-tuned enough to hone in on region or producer. Not yet, anyway. So when “Tiny Bubbles” appeared on this year’s seminar options, I enlist immediately.

After waiting in line with fellow attendees, our tickets are scanned and we are ushered into a ballroom lined with long tables covered in white linen. Wine glasses have been lined up, along with crackers and water to reset the palate between tastings. There’s even a “spit cup” in case you’d rather not be too tipsy at 10a in the morning. (I’ve been to a few of these seminars before and, let me tell you, I’m a swallower...particularly if the libations are as rare and delicious as most turn out to be at these events. No spit cup for me.)

I choose a seat near the back. On stage are four experts: Antonio Galloni, editor of The Wine Advocate; Laura Maniec, co-founder of Corkbuzz; Raj Parr, wine director at Sandhi Wines; and Sabato Sagaria, master sommelier at The Little Nell. They guide us through each of 10 different champagnes, telling stories of their trips to France and their interactions with the local farmers and vintners. It is a rousing session, since each of the presenters is genuinely excited about the offerings and passionate about the subject.

Note-taking is not my forte; I tend to rely on photo or video evidence, along with a copy of the menu, to weave a story around a food/drink experience. This time, however, I was able to jot down each of the champagnes and my impressions:

Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition NV
Not real impressed by this one. I found it subdued on the nose, with an acidic play on the tongue. It screams Brut, but also reminded me of some lesser proseccos.

Aubry Brut Rose Premier Cru NV
In contrast, this Brut gave off a soft floral scent that immediately called to mind rose petals strewn on a picnic blanket. Taste was expectedly dry and pleasant, but not very demonstrative.

Vilmart Grand Cellier d'Or 2007
Full bodied with longer legs. A very slight acidity that suggested this would be good when paired with food. Generally amiable.

Francis Boulard Petraea 2007
A lot going on here. Sweet port and honeyed bread on the nose. Yeasty, creamy mouthfeel with a hazelnut finish.

Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Les Chetillons 2005
Another light honey-nut smell and taste, though really thin on the palate. Disappears quickly.

Agrapart Extra Brut Bland de Blancs Grand Cru Mineral Mineral 2005
Lots of concentrated bubbles. Stony on the nose with a whisper of goat cheese. The minerality comes through as a bit ashy, which supports the goat cheese impression.

La Closetie Jerome Prevost Brut Nature Les Beguines NV 2010
Very creamy on the tongue. A little sting of tartness that makes me smack my lips, then a sweet-tart candy finish that lingers.

Inflorescence Cedric Bouchard Blanc de Noirs Val Vilaine NV 2010
My absolute favorite of the bunch. Creamy, yeasty mouthfeel with a restrained balance that echoes minerality but never quite pushes that agenda. Not too sweet, not too acidic, not too tart. Damn near perfect. My notes say, “Drinkable to the nth degree.”

Marie Courtain Extra Brut Effloressence 2008
Sweet acidity smacks you in the snout and tastes as advertised. Some mineral notes, but the acidity overrides all else.

Ulysse Collin Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Les Periers NV 2008
My second favorite by a slight margin. Bold, playful nose of fresh-baked pastry. Yeasty, but with a wine-like mouthfeel. You want to drink this with a croissant close at hand.

You might be able to acquire some of these at a local wine shop like Martha’s Vineyard or at a world-class wine bar like Reserve, here in Grand Rapids. However, our presenters did emphasize that the small productions do have extremely limited availability so you may have to put on your investigative caps. Me? I’m on the hunt for more of that Inflorescence!

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