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[three_fourth]Champagne Palmer Brut Reserve NV, France
Cost: $50-53
I t’s getting to be the time of year when we start thinking about champagne and sparkling wine for the holidays. Of course, I think we should drink sparkling wine all year, but many people save it for special occasions.
Nothing says holidays like real champagne. By law, the only wines that can be called champagne are the sparkling wines made in the Champagne region of France. Those wines are made under rigorous standards, and though they cost a bit more, they are worth it.
I tasted Palmer & Co.’s Brut Reserve and Rosé Reserve ($65), and they are outstanding wines. You could add a lot to your holiday table with either of these wines.
092916palmerbrutbottleThe Brut Reserve is a beautiful bright straw color in the glass, with aromas of pear and baked apple. The flavors are full and round with hints toast and yeast. It is an elegant, well-structured wine with a long, pleasant finish and a tight pattern of fine bubbles.
The Rosé Reserve is a beautiful deep pink in the glass, loaded with fine, tiny bubbles. Deep aromas of strawberries and black currants lead to fresh and delicate flavors of strawberries and fresh red fruit. There are some spice notes in this delicate, elegant wine.
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Fine Champagne houses such as Palmer try to produce a signature style in their non-vintage wines year after year. Some of that is achieved by blending in wines of older vintages. The rosé includes 10-15 percent red wine from a solera that was started 30 years ago, and the brut includes wine from a solera started more than 25 years ago. About 20 percent the harvest each year is held back for the solera.
The brut was aged on lees for four years, including at least six months after disgorgement.
The brut reserve is 50 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir and 10 percent pinot meunier. The rosé is 49 percent pinot noir, 42 percent chardonnay and 9 percent pinot meunier.
So why does champagne cost so much? One of the chief reasons it is one of the most complicated wines in the world to make. There are multiple steps, two fermentations, blending and aging of the bottles. Blending is tricky because the winemaker doesn’t blend to how the wine tastes at the time, but how he thinks it will taste years later after the second fermentation, after bubbles appear and after a small amount of sweetened wine is added.
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The grapes grow on a relatively small patch of chalk soil in a northern region that until recently was iffy for ripening grapes. Each house also has extensive cellars in the chalk soil where they age the champagne for several years. There is no shortcut to making fine champagne.
The competition has been improving, with challenges from prosecco, crément and cava as well as American sparklers. Proseccos usually run $15 or less, and cavas $20 or less. But for the real thing you have to spend $25 or more.
Despite the competition sales of champagne around the world have been rising in recent years. More than half of the production is consumed in France where sales are relative flat, but the rest of Europe and the United States have increased their champagne consumption.
And if you need another reason to drink champagne, scientists at Reading University say drinking at least three glass of bubbly a week might improve memory and help fight brain disorders such as dementia and Alzheimer’s. Their 2013 study was done on rats, so there is no hard evidence of help for human drinkers.
But I can report that since I started drinking more champagne five years ago, I have remembered more often to open another bottle a couple of times each week.
 
Winery: Palmer & Co. was created by an association of seven local growers after World War II. It started when the Société des Grands Crus de la Champagne settled in Avize in 1947. The growers, who had vineyards classified as Premier Cru and Grand Cru, created the Palmer & Co. brand in 1948 in recognition of the quality and unique style of their wines.
Over the years the company grew rapidly, selling one million bottles a year by the mid-1980s.
As the company continued to grow, Palmer & Co. has acquired more facilities in the region, settling in the city of Reins in 1959 in the heart of the Champagne region. The company purchased another champagne house in 1997, giving Palmer two sites with a modern winery and extensive cellars.
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Focusing mainly on the pinot noir-oriented Montagne de Reims, the winery gets its grapes from 350 growers who own about 1,000 acres of vines scattered throughout the Champagne region. They grow 50 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir and 10 percent pinot meunier.
The wines remain in contact with yeast sediment for at least three years with the Palmer Brut Reserve, 6-8 years for vintage cuvees and 10 years or more for their magnums and large format bottles.
Besides the Brut Reserve and Rosé Reserve, Palmer produces Extra Reserve, Nectar Reserve, Blanc de Blancs, Blanc de Noirs, Vintage, Amazone de Palmer and old vintages that are kept 20 years or more before release.
Champagne Palmer Brut was a great pair for all the grilled meat.
Champagne Palmer Brut was a great pair for all the grilled meat.
Goes with: We had the Brut Reserve as a first course at a tasting, pairing it with grilled chicken and pork. I made the chicken breasts with a Chilean spice mix called merquen, which gives a smokey barbecue taste to the meat. It makes a rich, wonderful flavor.
The pork was made with three different rubs. One portion had hot jerk spices, another had regular jerk spices and the third had a Chilean citrus herb chili pepper mix.
I preferred the chicken with the Brut Reserve, but all four meats paired well with it. Champagne is especially good with spicy food that often can be hard to pair with wine.
The champagne also helped create a festive air as we started our wine tasting.
Michael enjoyed the rosé with grilled chicken.
Michael enjoyed the rosé with grilled chicken.
For the Rosé Reserve I made grilled chicken breasts with only Morton’s Natures Seasons rubbed on them. I served the chicken with barbecue sauce on the side and with wild and long-grain rice.
The spicy barbecue flavors really paired well with the soft fruit and elegant backbone of the champagne.
Champagne is the ultimate food wine. It pairs well with just about any kind of food, from elegant dinner to fast-food snacks. It is especially good with spicy food such as Asian or Hispanic.
Grilled chicken breasts, wild rice and Champagne Palmer rosé made for a feast.
Grilled chicken breasts, wild rice and Champagne Palmer rosé made for a feast.

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