Friday, June 13, 2008

Vintage Champagne for Friday the 13th

I don't drink much vintage Champagne. Let's face it--until this year when I decided to get to know growers' champagne I didn't drink much Champagne at all, and even now it's a treat that gets poured into a flute only occasionally.

So when I saw a bottle of 1998 Jean-Noël Haton Champagne Brut peeking out from behind a $6 bottle of Spanish Macabeo at my beloved Chronicle Wine Cellar, I had to take it home with me. The fact that it was $19.95 only made it that much sweeter, and I felt very smug after Gus (one of the owners) said rather mournfully that he hadn't known there was still a bottle left.

It's been hard to find out very much about this branch of the Haton family and their winemaking. I know from one online source that Octave Haton founded the company in the town of Damery in 1928, and it is his great-grandson, Jean-Noel, who now runs the business and tends the family's 13 hectares. The area is known for its Pinot Noir, and only Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are used in the wine.

What did I think? I loved the chubby, Taittinger-style bottle that was much wider at the bottom than it was at the top. I was then struck by the deep gold color, which is not typical of NV Champagnes that I've tried. The color suggested age to me, just the way antique lace gets a shade or two darker over time. The mousse or foam on the top of the poured glass dissipated quickly, and there was an active, but not abundant, bead or bubble. This was not one of those wines where zillions of bubbles tickled your nose. What did tickle your nose were aromas of bread, yeast, and chalky stone. The flavors that followed were bready and intense, with toasted notes and a crisp aftertaste.

This was an excellent QPR Champagne--and I suspect I would have felt that way even if the wine had cost about twice as much. Sadly, I've not been able to find any more of it online, so unless you've got a bottle in the cellar you're going to have to take my word for it. However, D&M Wines in San Francisco stocks two other Haton Champagnes that are under $40, and Chicago Lake Liquors has the Brut NV (under $25) and the Rose NV (under $35) if you are willing to purchase a whole case.

Not a standard NV bubbly, by any stretch of the imagination, but a wine that seemed like something that Flappers would have sipped during wild parties in the 1920s, when the Haton's family business was started. If this is vintage Champagne--I love it.


noble pig said...

What a find Dr. Debs, that's always such a great feeling!

Orion Slayer said...

How do you think the Champagne you reviewed today would compare to the NV Jacques Chaput Brut that was offered on Garagiste yesterday?

Rose said...

I love Champagne, and am so enjoying your little coup vicariously. I especially love the vivid imagary of imagining the flappers sipping this wine. I've always believed that wine drinking should always have a side story.

Dr. Debs said...

NoblePig, the thrill of the chase is part of the joy of wine buying, isn't it? OrionSlayer, I don't know, but I bought that Chaput so in the fullness of time we shall see. It is NV, however, and I think (from limited experiences) that vintage champagnes have a much greater intensity. Rose, the phrase "side story" is just perfect--I think wine should have a side story, too.