Formerly the prestige cuvée of Piper Heidsieck, Rare is now forging its own identity under the experienced guidance of cellar master Régis Camus. His blend of 70 per cent Chardonnay and 30 per cent Pinot Noir has a lively spine and precision. Unlike Krug (which has produced a very different 2006 – see below), Rare uses no oak in its production or ageing, and Camus believes in a reasonably generous dosage (8.5g of sugar) against the prevailing trend for austerity – which may help explain why Rare ages so well. 2006’s above-average temperatures have given the wine an aromatic immediacy, with ripe orchard fruits, cinnamon-dusted melons and even a mango note bursting from the glass, tempered by verbena, lemon sherbet and Earl Grey. The palate is charming, supple and silky. This is a most engaging young champagne, but promises interesting development over the next 15 years. £166 a bottle from The Finest Bubble (thefinestbubble.com).
Bruno Paillard Nec Plus Ultra 2004
“2004 is a generous, tender, supple vintage, with long maturation on the vine,” says Alice Paillard, daughter of Bruno, who founded the maison in 1981. Since then it has released just seven of its Nec Plus Ultra prestige cuvées, 50/50 blends of Grand Cru Chardonnay and Pinot Noir fermented in old wooden barrels, which then spend between 10 and 12 years on the yeasts. After the low dosage (with just 3g of sugar), a further two-year “recovery period” ensures balance. And 2004 gets this just right: it’s a wine of balance and complexity, with a nose that initially shows manuka honey, hard toffee and ginger marmalade, developing to rich notes of ripe fig alongside a touch of cacao and fennel tops, oyster liquor and salted caramel. £190 a bottle from Hedonism Wines (hedonism.co.uk).
Henri Giraud Argonne Rosé 2004
From 20 hectares of Grand Cru vineyards in Aÿ, Giraud’s wines are distinctly rich and powerful. Pinot Noir dominant, they are fermented and aged in barrels of oak from the Argonne forest, where new trees are planted to ensure sustainability. 2004 is the maison’s best vintage since 1990, combining elements of the mature fruit character of 1992 and the structure of 1996, but with a balance that surpasses both. This is the first Argonne rosé, and only 368 bottles were made. The opening salvo of aromas is an intense melange of rose oil, pink peppercorns, five spice, green tea, smoked bresaola, peat and malt. As it opens, powdered chalk and lemon pith start to dominate. £1,280 a bottle from Hedonism Wines (hedonism.co.uk).
Head winemaker Eric Lebel characterised this vintage as “capricious indulgence”. The 2006 season was unusually dry and hot, and the warmth certainly comes through in the richness and generosity of the wine. It opens with aromas of farmyard butter on freshly baked croissant, a whiff of wood smoke and chalk dust, and then ripe orchard fruits and yellow plums slowly emerge. Initially less sweet than 2004, it has the power and swagger one associates with Krug. The palate is opulent, sweeter than the nose. It’s the most lush, Burgundian vintage since 1995 – a real swashbuckler. £232 a bottle from The Finest Bubble (thefinestbubble.com).
Les Jumelles d’Armand de Brignac
The third edition of Armand de Brignac’s Blanc de Noirs, Assemblage 3 is a blend of wines from 2009, 2010 and 2012, aged for six years, and just 3,535 bottles have been produced. The most richly satisfying of the maison’s cuvées, it combines the warmth and generosity of fruit of 2009, the concentration and sinew of 2010 and the dazzling panache of 2012, maintaining a deftness and poise alongside a wealth of ripe red fruits and notes of pain épice. It is available in a very smart presentation case alongside the maison’s elegant Blanc de Blancs – and would be a most welcome Christmas gift for champagne lovers. £2,150 for the two-bottle gift set from Hedonism Wines (hedonism.co.uk).
Tom Harrow is a fine-wine commentator, consultant and presenter. His Grand Crew Classé is the ultimate invitation-only club for fine-wine enthusiasts, with exclusive access to rare bottles and events around the world. Follow him on Twitter: @winechapUK.