Luxury is in.
Premium wines, a trend that took off in America in 2011, continue to gain steam. While bottles priced under $10 struggle for sales, those in the $15-to-$20 category are enjoying double-digit growth. Wines priced even higher are selling even better.
It’s not just wealthy communities buying these bottles. The national chain Total Wine & More has reported growth for in the $50-and-up category throughout the country. What’s behind these sales? Baby Boomers remain core customers, with their household budgets in better shape after the recession.
Millennials have also joined the premium craze. This entire generation is now legal drinking age, and has brought its adventurous palates into the wine category. What Millennials crave most is variety and quality. They will spend more for luxury if the quality meets the price tag.
French Luxury In America
It’s no wonder then that France’s top vineyards are expanding their presences in America to tap into the premiumization trend.
I had opportunity to sample seven of their wines during a Private Cask Imports tasting last week at Manhattan’s David Burke Kitchen.
First up was Champagne Ernest Remy Brut Blanc de Noirs NV (SRP: $55). This originates from Marne-Champagne, among the 13 original villages to receive Grand Cru status when the ranking system was first implemented in 1911. This wine is 100% Pinot Noir, aged for three years in chalk caves, triple the legally required amount.
The result is a classically smooth, bright, balanced Grand Cru champagne, particularly for being only Pinot Noir. It matched well with our light, elegant appetizers: mini lobster rolls and truffled mushroom risotto fritters.
The first course served was seared scallops with cauliflower puree, roasted cauliflower florets and brown butter sauce. Alongside this light, delicate dish we enjoyed two Cru Classe rosés from Chateau Saint-Maur: L’excellence 2015 ($45) and Clos de Capelune 2015 ($65).
These came from two different vineyards in Provence, France. L’excellence was typical of Cru Classe rosés: crisp, rich with fruit, and with the right level of zest. Grown at a much higher altitude, Clos de Capelune 2015 exhibited a minerality not normally found in rosés.
They were both complex and a bit tight, and should age well. For drinkers of basic rosé looking to graduate into higher quality wines, this is a super-premium brand worth exploring. Explained Marc Monrose, principal of Château Saint-Maur (pictured above, far right), “I don’t sell wine. I sell dreams and memories.”
Roman-style gnocchi came out next, with braised rabbit and black trumpet mushrooms. Two Burgundy whites accompanied.
The Louis Baisinbert Mersault Charmes 2014 ($120) is 100% Chardonnay, with only 300 bottles produced. “We favor quality over quantity,” said Arnaud Baillot, winemaker and principal of Maison Louis Baisinbert (pictured above, second from right). The wonderful toasted notes, restrained fruit flavors, smoothness, and impeccable balance all spoke to Baillot’s preference for excellence.
The Louis Baisinbert Criots-Batard Montrachet 2009 ($295) was a real treat. Another 300-bottle release, it tasted of toasted breads and dried fruits, with more of an underlying sweetness or floral quality than the first white.
The last course was short rib in a red wine reduction, with olive oil-whipped potato, wild mushroom, roasted pearl onion, and rosemary. Louis Baisinbert again supplied the wine, two reds: Pommard Les Grands Epenots 2013 ($100) and Charmes-Chambertin 2011 ($275).
The Pommard was the more “feminine,” as Baillot aptly pointed out. It was smooth throughout, with plenty of big fruits and sweet spices. Eminently drinkable, it can be passed around the table for everyone. Charmes-Chambertin was more lean and mean, with a definite edge and softer fruit notes. This is a bottle for the more-sophisticated palate, perhaps someone looking for a Burgundy red to age for many years ahead.
Which speaks to an interesting conversation that perked up towards the end of the evening. All of these French wines will develop over time. But typical American consumers (including restaurants) buy bottles for immediate consumption. Does that concern French winemakers?
The answer seemed to be “no.” Because that’s the thing about top-cru wines. Drink them now or later, and you’ll still get your money’s worth.
Kyle Swartz is the associate editor of Cheers Magazine. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter at @kswartzz.
Pictured atop, from left: Benoit Ferré, Brand Manager for Champagne Ernest Remy; Manny Burnichon, CEO of Private Cask Imports; Arnaud Baillot, winemaker and principal of Maison Louis Baisinbert; and Marc Monrose, principal of Château Saint-Maur. | Photo By Shane Drummond