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An Insider's guide to restaurants, wine, spirits and culinary travel

Trophy champagne:
recent tasting notes

Luxury Champagne is expensive, and many consumers wonder if the reward is worth the expense. It’s a difficult question, because a bottle of wine is ultimately “worth” what someone is willing to pay for it. Still, there’s no doubt that drinking tête de cuvee Champagne is an exhilarating experience. These bottles get the best of everything: the finest grapes, a maximum of cellar age, and the combined skill of an experienced winemaking team.

Dom Pérignon is probably the luxury Champagne brand most recognizable to the average person, whereas Krug is a wine for connoisseurs. The styles of the two houses are very different. Dom tends to be ripe, forward and accessible, while Krug is a complex product that is sometimes difficult to appreciate. They both have their place at the table and in our social lives, but the question still persists in the mind of the average consumer: What can these wines possibly taste like, to be worth the money they sell for? Here are some recent impressions:

Dom Pérignon Brut 2006 ($160)

The nose is rich and full, with whiffs of lemon, lime and ripe melon. The wine is even more satisfying in the mouth, exhibiting a full-bodied array of stone fruit and citrus. Dom Pérignon is not known for its acidity, and the texture here is lush and soft: this is a crowd-pleaser, rather than a bottle for wine geeks. It finishes long, with a touch of yeast and sweetness.

Dom Pérignon P2 Plenitude Brut 2000 ($325)

Formerly known as the Oenothèque Series, this range of older vintages is kept aging in the cellar until disgorgement and release. The 2000 is more deeply colored than the 2006, with a far more complex nose: hints of ginger and candied pear mix with toasty vanilla. It’s more complex in the mouth as well, exhibiting a Sherry-like overlay of flavor on a background of freshness. The wine is amazingly youthful at 17, and finishes with intertwining flavors of ripe pear and stone fruit. A magnificent Champagne.

Krug Grande Cuvée, 164th Edition ($160)

Grande Cuvée gained fame as a “multi-vintage,” a blend of ten or twelve older reserve wines in different batches and proportions. This version has a recessed, earthy nose with some fruit lurking underneath, but you need to coax it to reveal itself. It’s far more expressive in the mouth: rich and full-bodied, the wine really announces its presence and simply grabs you. By the mid palate, the power has been replaced by a range of ripe fruit flavors---apple, melon, pear, stone fruits and citrus. The finish is long and mouthwatering.

Krug Brut Rosé ($295)

Pleasant aromas of red fruits mix with fresh herbs and mint on the nose. In the mouth, the style is still controversial: ripeness that is almost excessive, combined with a sensory overload of plump rhubarb, red currant and raspberry. The texture is racy, exotic and distinctive, and the wine cries out for lamb, a saddle of venison, a night by the fire.

                     great wine for under $15?

It’s not a typo, oxymoron or stupid question. There’s a lot of very good wine at very low prices, but discovering it is a challenge---particularly when you’re strolling the wine aisle of your local supermarket or beverage superstore, staring at a tsunami of unfamiliar labels.

The answer is Mark Spivak’s Affordable Wine Guide to California and the Pacific Northwest, available as an e-book for $7.99. The book profiles 43 producers and contains hundreds of wine reviews, and gives you a clear-cut view of the good and the bad. The criteria are simple: What does the wine taste like? What kind of food does it go with? Is it worth the money?

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