December 2004                              


Wines of the month - Paul DeRose

It’s that time of year again, when holiday cheer is in the air. Celebrations, gatherings with friends and relatives, big meals and, of course, gifts. The two wines that best symbolize the traditions of the season are Champagne and Port, and it’s a generous friend who gives such treasures as gifts. Both wines are classic originals, the former coming from the region in France that bears its name and the latter made from grapes grown in Portugal’s Douro Valley with the wine being produced in the nearby town of Oporto. Both are often imitated, particularly Champagne, with varying degrees of success, but these imposters almost always pale in comparison to the originals. Both also come in a variety of styles.

Champagne comes in non-vintage (NV) and vintage forms, with vintage only being produced in particularly fine years, in which case the year appears on the bottle. It comes in different sweetness levels (Brut, Extra Dry or Sec, Demi-Sec and Doux) with Brut being the most dry and produced in the largest quantities. Champagne is typically white and, of course, sparkling, although rosés can be found and there is even a rare, non-sparkling version. Port comes in two very different styles. One, known as “Vintage Port”, is bold, deeply colored and fruity, like a very big, sweet red wine, and requires many years of bottle age to be at its best. The other, known as “tawny”, is a more mellow, tea-colored wine, resulting from extended aging in wood for 10, 20 or 30 years as expressed on the label, and has flavors reminiscent of nuts, butterscotch and lighter-styled fruit. Tawny Port is meant to be drunk upon release and therefore requires no bottle aging.

Listed below are some of my favorite NV Champagnes and 10 year old tawny Ports. If you don’t mind spending more, all the wineries listed make outstanding versions of the corresponding top end bottlings, that is, vintage Champagne, and older tawny and vintage Port. Note that some excellent Champagne imposters were listed in last month’s column. Feel free to direct any questions or comments to me at

• Bollinger Brut NV ($40)
• Charles Heidsieck Brut NV ($35)
• Montaudon Brut NV ($30)
• Perrier Jouët Brut NV ($30) *
• Louis Roederer Brut NV ($35) *

• Cockburn’s 10 year old Tawny ($24)
• Fonseca 10 year old Tawny ($30)
• Graham 10 year old Tawny ($30)
• Taylor-Fladgate 10 year old Tawny ($30)
• Chateau Reynella Old Cave Tawny ($16) * - This Australian imposter is too good to be left out.

* indicates available in Montgomery County