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While Champagne is on occasion dismissed as a wine without terroir due to its history of blends, the multiple stages of fermentation, and a prise de mousse that relies on the addition of sugar or MCR, Pascal Agrapart's Expérience is solely comprised of grape juice with just a modicum of sulfur. The vin clair is a barrel selection of 2014 Minéral and Avizoise fermented with native yeasts, and the secondary fermentation begun with grape must from the 2015 vintage and cellar yeasts. The wine is aged under cork and bottled without dosage. This cuvée is a particularly vinous expression of Champagne, where terroir and grape have an articulate dialogue. John McIlwain
From year to year there seem to be few greater values in Champagne than those of biodynamic grower Thomas Barbichon in Gyé-sur-Seine in the Aube. From his 9 HA domaine he produces wines of purity, elegance, and precision. The current disgorgement of his Blanc de Noirs is Pinot Noir-dominant. The robe has a faint peach hue. The nose offers a fine mélange of floral and red fruit aromas, hints of wet stone, orange oil, and toast. The palate is bright and racy, yet ample with crunchy minerality and a brisk, mouthwatering finish. John McIlwain
From the ripe (though not torrid) 2005 vintage. The Beaufort Ambonnay Grand Cru Brut shows its breed with layers of red fruit and chalk with fine concentration and fabulous length. A showstopper now with good midterm aging potential. John McIlwain
Our new shipment of the 2008 Polisy Brut was disgorged in October of 2018. 2008 continues to delight, even 11 years after the harvest. The current disgorgement of the Polisy has a pale yellow robe, fine bead, and soft mousse. The nose is soft and pretty offering aromas of golden apple, acacia, lemon curd and apple blossom. The mid-weight palate is bright and brisk on attack, with flavors of Macintosh apple, bergamot, and green tea giving way to a fine core of minerality lending focus. This has good length and energy on a lifted and expansive finish. This is very good with vibrant fruit and nascent aged flavors knitting elegantly. A fine effort from the Beauforts! John McIlwain
The new Beaufort Polisy Reserve Brut Nature NV is based on the 2015 vintage and was disgorged in January 2020. The Polisy NV Brut Nature is a lean, racy expression of the Kimmeridgian limestone of Polisy. The nose is cool-toned and faintly herbal with aromas of green apple, lime zest, and wet stone. The palate is steely and focused, with a prominent mineral character giving way to taut structure and a compelling savory character on the brisk, chiseled finish. I'd love this with crudo, ceviche, or a platter of briny Beausoleil oysters. John McIlwain
A truly natural Champagne, no easy feat, from the Premier Cru village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. The vineyards are farmed organically, and everything is done by hand, even the riddling (ouch, my wrists)!The blend for the 2011 Vibrato is 40% Pinot Meunier, 40% Pinot Noir, and 20% Chardonnay. The wines are fermented and aged in barrel, and bottled with no sulfites and just 2g/l of dosage.
The current release of Bérêche's Brut Réserve is based on the 2017 vintage was disgorged in July 2019 and bottled with a dosage of 7g/l. The wine has a pale peach robe and fine bead. The Base 17 has a pretty nose of nectarine skin, orange oil, acacia blossom, and red fruits. The palate is broad—this is Bérêche after all—but agile, with flavors of stone fruit, wild raspberry, graham cracker and a fine undercurrent of minerality to buoy the supple plushness of the fruit. This has classical lines and a suave, stylish finish and should truly shine when the dosage knits. A great gift idea for lovers of grand Champagnes. John McIlwain
A new grower for Chambers Street Wines, Christian Bourmault from Avize works organically with some parcels certified. Cuvée Hermance is comprised of 67% Pinot Noir, 23% Chardonnay, 10% Meunier aged in a combination of tank and barrel. Brisk and bright on the nose with aromas of pear skin, Meyer lemon zest, Rainier cherry, and biscuit, the palate is ripe and citrusy, with flavors of white peach, lemon curd, and orange rind. This offers terrific value and flair at a fine price. Highly recommended! John McIlwain
Don't call it basic! Chartogne-Taillet’s “Cuvée Saint Anne” is one of our favorite grower Champagnes priced under $50. The grapes come Merfy in the Montagne de Reims and are a blend of the 2016 and 2015 vintages. On the nose there are aromas of apple blossoms, peach skin, and sea spray. The mid-weight, generous palate offers flavors of ripe golden apple, lemon curd, and crushed herbs on a racy, spritely finish. This has plenty of charm on the attack with a fine core of minerality lending focus and depth. Disgorged 7/26/17, dosage 5 g/l. John McIlwain(Wine arrives 12/19)
Hugues Godmé 2009 Les Alouettes Saint Bets Brut is a single vineyard blanc de blancs from Villers-Marmery near the border with Verzy. The soils of this climat are very chalky with little topsoil. The grapes are farmed biodynamically, vinified in neutral oak with native yeasts, with no malolactic fermentation, and bottled with low sulfur. There is an electric sense of chalky minerality to this Champagne. While there is a degree of richness to the wine that hints at Verzy, and a silken quality on the palate derived from its time in wood, ultimately a cool, deft sense of fruit and chalkiness defines the nose and palate. Still a bit taut, there are floral and citrus oil notes on the nose, followed by Meyer lemon and a subtle salinity on the palate. The mousse is fine and the finish long, complex, and supple. This should shine brightly with a bit more time in the bottle. John McIlwain
I have a not-so-secret love for Champagnes made from Pinot Meunier. Godmé's single vineyard expression, Les Romaines 1er cru, is an especially stunning example. The biodynamically farmed vineyard located in Villedommange has calcareous soils which lend a particularly savory minerality to the wine, offsetting the sometimes over-generous nature of the variety. The 2009 Les Romaines is particularly vibrant example with effusive notes of wild strawberry, salted plum, and blood orange on the nose. The palate is broad but lithe and energetic, with a deep pitch of salty earthiness vying with stone fruit flavors for attention giving way to a long, detailed rising finish. There is impeccable balance here, with the ripeness of the vintage seemingly lending gravitas to the firm mineral core. John McIlwain
From the eponymous lieu-dit located in the grand cru village of Verzenay on the norther slope of the Montagne de Reims. The organically farmed vines date from 1986 are grown in shallow clay soils over chalk. Juice from the coeur de cuvée, fermented with native yeasts, aged in oak barrels. The 2010 boasts a fine bead and soft mousse. The nose offer aromas of wet stone, red apple skin, spice, and apple blossom. The rich palate is broad and supple, yet suffused with a bright, incisive minerality and a lean cut to the long, detailed, rising, finish. There is a fine interplay between ripe red fruit flavors and a firm core of savory minerality. There is real class and complexity here with a fine upside for aging. Godmé’s parcellaires have real verve and depth and are not to be missed! John McIlwain
Comprised of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Chardonnay from biodynamically farmed vines in the Grand Cru village of Verzenay on the northern slope of the Montagne de Reims. Aged for 5 years on the lees. Disgorged January 2018, bottled with 4g/l dosage. Vintage base year is 2013 with approximately 60% reserve wine from the previous four vintages. The wine has pale salmon pink robe and a fine bead. The nose is expressive with pretty aromas of dusty rose petals, sour cherry, plum skin, crushed herbs and a hint of brioche. Distinctly savory on the palate with cool-toned vibrant fruit, nervy acidity, and impressive mineral depth on a long, mouthwatering finish. John McIlwain
Comprised of 100% Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims, rather the the Coteaux Sud d'Epernays as with Laherte's other releases. Farmed organically and aged in barrel for 19 months in barrel with no malo. Les Longues Voyes (the long way) refers both to the distance to this parcel from the winery in Chavot and to the extended elévage. The nose offers aromas of wild strawberry, wild raspberry, spice, shortbread, and chalk. The palate is supple and expressive with good concentration and bright acidity. The finish is broad and expansive. Aurélien Laherte's wines consistently display excellent poise, energy, and elegance resulting from the excellent organic farming to the vinification in wood. John McIlwain
A staff favorite, this is the go-to Blanc de Blancs for a lean and food friendly Champagne. The nose is understated with notes of Meyer lemon, sage, and orange blossom. The palate offers a rush of freshness that carries aromas of white peaches, apricots through to a McIntosh apple finish.
If ever there were an argument that portions of Cumières merit Grand Cru status, Laval's Les Chênes makes a convincing case. The amphitheater-shaped vineyard is something of a sun trap and produces Champagnes of power and precision in Vincent's able hands. Made up of 100% organically-farmed Chardonnay from the eponymous lieu-dit on the eastern side of the village (near the bottom of the slope down by the river), where the soils are chalky rather than the clays of other portions of the village. This is a particularly powerful blanc de blancs. While the nose offers yellow fruit, tangerine peel, green tea and citrus aromas, the mid-weight, sinewy, and broad palate is pungently mineral, displaying notes of salt, lemon curd, and quinine on a nascently complex, powerful, persistent finish. This is certainly delicious now, but tastings of previous vintages of Les Chênes lead one to believe there is plenty ahead for the patient. John McIlwain
While we love biodynamic grower Benoît Marguet's Champagnes for their combination of Ambonnay power and frank minerality, it may be that his most pleasurable wine is his excellent vintage-dated rosé. Chardonnay dominated in a village noted for its Pinot Noir, the wine offer a beautiful nose highlighted by aromas of wild strawberry, raspberry seed, tarragon, and chalk. The palate is brightly mineral and structured, with a deep stoniness at its core within its layers of ripe red fruits and savory notes. The wine balances deftly its grand cru power with a lacy bead, vibrant acidity, and achingly pretty florality. This is natural Champagne and an absolute joy to drink. John McIlwain
Though perhaps unusually for a domaine located in Ambonnay (Pinot Noir terroir), vigneron Benoît Marguet prefers a Chardonnay dominant blend for his rosés. In the 2016 edition of his non-vintage Shaman Chardonnay makes up 96% of the blend.The robe is a pale pink. The palate is medium-bodied with a fine mousse offering red fruit strawberry, cherry stone, with a pleasing bitterness on the finish. This has good length, fine mineral detail, and a nice herbal uptick on back end. Delicious now, but this should gain suavity with a year of two in the cellar. John McIlwain
One of the most interesting terroirs of the Montagne de Reims is Verzy, whose north facing vineyards on clay limestone soils produce Pinot Noir-dominated Champagnes of cut and finesse. Biodynamic producer Mouzon-Leroux's L'Atavique is 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay mostly from Verzy with a portion of the wine barrel-fermented and bottled with 3.5g/l dosage. The nose is effusive with woodsmoke, floral, orchard fruit, citrus oil, and bread notes. The palate is energetic and nuanced with overt minerality making up its core. Outward from this radiates a bright sense of fruit, acidity, succulence, and texture. It seems refined and playful at the same time. The finish is long, complex, invigorating, and pure.
In a region beset by indifferent farming and difficult weather, there's a lot of inspiration to be had as a new generation of Champenois take over their family domaines. Maxime Ponson is a prime example of a young grower recognizing the need to improve the farming and embrace organic viticulture as a moral imperative (not to mention make better wines). La Petite Montagne 1er is sourced from vineyards spread across seven communes on the eponymous Petite Montagne located to the east and southeast of Reims. The current release is 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay and 25% percent Pinot Noir, disgorged 7/8/2019. The nose is fresh and expressive, with aromas of white flowers, stone fruit, and brioche. The palate is chiseled and stony with racy lemon zest and green apple flavors and a vibrant, mouthwatering finish. A great apéritif wine, and a fine choice for sashimi, oysters, or crudo. John McIlwain
Champagne, though oft-maligned for wines that seem un-rooted due to a tradition of blending, has plenty of wines of terroir if you take the time to look. And an exciting place to start is with Aurelien Suenen. His village releases display his desire to grow Champagnes that articulate a sense of place. He notes that in Cramant there is different terroir expression in the wines from the high vineyards and the lower lying vineyards, with the vines planted in the latter proving to be more distinctly mineral. C + C, a blend of wines from Chouilly and Cramant is richer and more briny than the Oiry bottling. The nose offers an intoxicating blend of orange blossom, sea spray, and stone fruit aromas, while the palate is incisively chalky, pungently stony, and taut. This is not to say this is austere, rather brisk and punchy with great persistence on the long, expansive, and sapid finish. John McIlwain
The exacting Aurelien Suenen is one of our favorite growers in Champagne. The wines deftly combine incisive chalkiness with pure vibrant fruit. And his 2016 based Oiry Blanc de Blancs is a beauty. This is somewhat obscure appellation—we haven't been able to find another Champagne with this single village designation, as yet—so this is a fine opportunity to taste Oiry's distinctive, chalky terroir. Aurelien's parcels contain some very old Chardonnay vines which make for some pungently mineral, stony wines. The vins clairs are fermented partially in barrel, spend nine months on the lees, and are bottled with 2 g/L dosage. The 2016 is brisk, briny, and fresh on the nose with aromas of yuzu, Meyer lemon, quinine, and chalk dominating. The palate is lacy, nervy and very dry with racy acidity and an energetic driving finish. Suenen continues to grow with each vintage and this line-up of village designated Champagnes is particularly exciting. The 2016 will make a fine aperitif and shine brightly with crudo, sashimi, and creamy cheeses. John McIlwain
Tarlant pulls off smart austerity with enough charm, character and nuanced flavor to make for compelling and food-oriented Champagne. The NV Rosé (in this case based on the superb 2008 vintage) shows off red fruits such as currant and raspberry, which are interestingly contrasted by a spicy note that borders on being peppery. Not overtly creamy, this Rosé is extrememly minerally and elegant. (85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir -- non-dosé -- disgorged 6/13)
A blend of 1/3 Chardonnay, 1/3 Pinot Noir, and 1/3 Pinot Meunier fermented in tank with native yeasts, from the 2010 vintage with reserve wine from 2007, 2008, 2009. Bottled without dosage, this still has a fine sense of energy and depth on the palate due to great farming and long lees-aging. The nose tends towards orchard fruit, citrus peel, and pear skin, with fine biscuity after-aromas. The palate shows a fine bead and with a good balance of concentration, minerality, and a bracing, zesty finish. John McIlwain (Wine arrives 12/19)
A blend of 1/3 Chardonnay, 1/3 Pinot Noir, and 1/3 Pinot Meunier fermented in tank with native yeasts, from the 2010 vintage with reserve wine from 2007, 2008, 2009. Bottled without dosage, this still has a fine sense of energy and depth on the palate due to great farming and long lees-aging. The nose tends towards orchard fruit, citrus peel, and pear skin, with fine biscuity after-aromas. The palate shows a fine bead and with a good balance of concentration, minerality, and a bracing, zesty finish. John McIlwain
(Wine arrives 12/19)