Why Pick Just One Champagne?
It wasn’t just another Saturday night. We wanted to celebrate my lovely bride’s recent achievements. Do something special. But still keep it comfy, lower key. So we decided to book a table at one of our neighborhood’s best restaurants, Barclay Prime in Rittenhouse Square. That’s special. Then we dressed it down by booking a table in the bar area. Just right.
As it was a celebratory night out, our thinking immediately went to Champagne. It’s festive and pairs well with most every food. The restaurant has a great wine list and offers about 20 bottles of Champagne and sparkling whites, from small artisanal producers to the widely recognized houses, with a mix of non-vintage and specific-year bottlings.
But what to choose? A good Champagne list can be a bit daunting, with many small but excellent producers we don’t recognize. Just play it safe and go with a bigger, recognized Champagne house? At this point, we’d usually resort to the tried and true – ask for the Sommelier. We’d explain our preferences and ask for their recommendation. Sommeliers decide what wines the restaurant will offer and manage the purchasing and inventory, so they know their way around their wine list. It’s the best path when you don’t know what to order. (See our guide on “How to Order from a Sommelier” here.)
But then it hit us: why not try several Champagnes by doing a flight from the “by the glass” list? This usually isn’t the best way to get a great value, as restaurants mark up glasses of wine several times over what you pay for the same volume by the bottle. But the “Champagne Flight” offered an additional value tonight: we’d have the fun of tasting through several different bottles and chatting about each along the way! We explained our order to the waiter, who immediately understood and dubbed it a “Champagne Smorgasbord.” Flight or smorgasbord, we were on our way!
First up was a crémant, a sparkling white wine made in France but not from Champagne, a specific wine-producing area. This was the entry-level sparkler, and crémant is a good choice any time you want Champagne but are more mindful of the budget. Along with it came a true Champagne, the Ployez Jacquemart “Extra Quality Brut,” the next price step up. Both were nice; the crémant alone would have been a fine accompaniment to the meal to come, but the Ployez Jacquemart offered more on the nose and palate, and was rounder and more complex. Both paired well with our “we’re having fun” appetizer order: Wagyu sliders. The acid in the wine cut nicely through the fat of the pampered Wagyu beef.
Dover sole with throwback ‘tater tots’
In-season white truffle handmade pasta
Entrées were Dover sole (with, oh yes, tater tots on the side for crunch!) and the special white truffle pasta. Next up in our Champagne flight (working up to the top of the “by the glass” price scale) were a Gosset Grand Rosé Brut, and a Krug “Grande Cuvée, 169ème edition” brut. Both are NV, or non-vintage, so blends. Several of the big Champagne houses specialize in blending multiple vintages to achieve a signature profile; these blends can be quite expensive. So don’t let the “NV” throw you off. The Gosset rosé offered tangerine and peach aromas and was medium to full bodied, with nice fruit on the palate.
The Krug “Grande Cuvée, 169ème edition” brut pairs well with any food – even Tater Tots!
The Krug, the most expensive by the glass offering, was a revelation. While mostly based on the 2013 vintage, it includes 40% “reserve” wines dating back to 2000. So you can see how “blending” can be a long, complex game. Kudos to Krug for putting up this wine at such a high level. The nose offers apricot, biscuits and marmalade, and is medium to full bodied, with plenty of fruit and a long, lovely finish. This is a wine that could lie down and only get better for the next 20+ years.
The food, the crémant and the Champagne smorgasbord along with the wonderful food made for a night to remember – just the kind of special, “relaxed” night we were looking for.