12 September 2006 - Back to School (with Billiot Champagne)
July and August came and went without one blog entry -- call it summer vacation. What did I do over my summer vacation? As far as wine goes, I did make one winery visit -- to H. Billiot Fils in Champagne, France. This family makes fantastic Champagne, just not much of it. With annual production of around 3,300 cases out of their 2 hectares of vineyard covering 18 separate parcels, this is as small as a Champagne winery can be. Despite the diminutive size, these guys make six different wines: Tradition (labeled "brut" but at least demi-sec); Brut Reserve NV; Brut Vintage; Brut Rose; Cuvee Julie (named for Serge Billiot's daughter) and Cuvee Laetitia (named for my guide, Serge's sister and partner, Laetitia Billiot). Being located in the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay, these are predominantly Pinot Noir wines, and they all show wonderfully intense Pinot Noir fruit. What sets them apart is an uncanny clarity -- I mean, these are big, concentrated wines, but they are so pure and fresh and sharply defined, flat out beautifully balanced. Laetitia gave me a bottle of '99 Brut to take back to Paris. I asked her how she thought it stacked up to their '96 -- she insisted the '99 was better -- her favorite Billiot vintage of all time. Tasting the '99 later that night in our hotel room in Paris, I agreed. Tasting another bottle the other night here in decidedly less romantic Baltimore, I still agreed.