I LOVE sparkling wine. Regardless of style or method, I love sparkling wine. There are a few wineries from the Finger Lakes that are making fantastic and delicious sparkling wines, including some made in the traditional method (this is the where you allow the bottles to carbonate with yeast and sugar, versus non-traditional sparklings which are force carbonated using machines like one does with draft beer or soda).
BUT, I’m not going to be talking today about local wine, but instead a local place where you can taste wine from around the world FOR FREE, and an amazing tasting I got to do with one of the world’s most famous wineries from the French region of Champagne…. Bollinger!
About Century Liquor and Wines
Century Liquor and Wines is located in Pittsford Plaza, and despite its appearance as an average wine and spirits shop, it is actually one of the hidden gems of the Rochester wine tasting scene. The store is actually part of the Wegmans Food Markets, which explains its awesomeness. The staff is incredibly well-trained in wine and can answer complex questions about different regions, give suggestions based on your personal preferences and budget, and is willing to go the extra mile to get you the wine you want even if they aren’t currently stocking it. They have a fantastic selection of New York wines at great prices so if you can’t make it out to the winery, this is a good option.
My big reason for loving Century Liquor and Wines is that they have incredible free tastings. I prefer to taste my wine first and then purchase, especially if I’m going for a new winery or something that is above my normal price range. Century consistently runs events where you can try out different wines from around the world, and from our own region.
Bollinger Champagne Tasting
On Monday, I noticed on social media that Century was promoting a free Bollinger tasting. That’s right. Free. Given that Bollinger runs from $50-$200+ a bottle, I knew this was a rare opportunity. Luckily, we got one of the limited seats for the tasting, which was led by Cyril Delarue, Grand Nephew of Madame Lilly Bollinger (#LadyBoss). Cyril gave us a little background to the Bollinger vineyards, which were originally founded by the family in 1829, and now include five different wineries that were acquired over the last 150 years. All of the Champagnes are made using a blend of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, though they vary in the proportions.
We sampled four different Champagnes:
Champagne Ayala: Made in a different way than traditional Bollinger to have variation in taste and texture. The wine doesn’t have a vintage (a year) attached to it, because 20% of it is from older vintages going two years back. This one had a big full nose of pear, fresh apricot and apple, crusty bread, and slight floral notes. On the palate it had a lot of acidity and it left your mouth feeling clean.
Champagne Bollinger, Special Cuvée: This is the classic Bollinger champagne, and it is made with 60% older vintages and has higher amounts of Pinot Noir in the blend than Ayala. The nose was more restrained, with apple, raw yeasty dough, and light notes of mint and raisin. When sipped you could really tell the difference between this one and Ayala; it has a more mild, but still bright acid, and coats your palate with a creaminess.
Champagne Bollinger, Rosé: Originally, Bollinger swore they would never make a rosé (I guess it was the wine of “ladies of the night” in France), but they finally changed their mind in the 1970s, and we are so glad that they did! To create the pink color, 5% of the Pinot Noir that is added has been aged on the skin to give it color. The rosé had incredible nose of strawberry, brioche bread, and floral notes. When sipped it had the same creaminess as the Special Cuvée, but with a higher acid. This was our personal favorite.
Le Grand Année, Champagne Bollinger, 2005: You’ll notice that this is the only one with a year on it, all the others were blended with previous years, but when the growing season gives the winery perfect grapes, they may decide to do a single vintage version (which is always way more expensive, but also usually more delicious). Interestingly, they also leave out the Pinot Meunier from the blend because they said it doesn’t age well. The nose had hints of stewed apples, apricots, marmalade, raisins and dough (maybe a little rye). It had a big acidity, and was much creamier than its younger counterparts, leaving a fantastic lingering taste in your mouth. It was so interesting to compare the bright, fresh fruit flavors of the younger wines with their aged counterpart.
Here’s my final word: Champagne is amazing. I love my Finger Lakes wine, but sometimes it is fun to do something a little different. I highly suggest getting on Century’s mailing list and following them on social media for the chance to do free tasting like this.
Also, I highly suggest watching your calendar for their Grand Champagne Tasting that usually occurs a few days before New Year’s Eve. You get the opportunity to try dozens of sparkling wines from the Finger Lakes, Champagne region of France, Spanish Cava, Italian Prosecco, and more. It is amazing. It’s the only reason that I can say I’ve tasted Cristal and Dom Perignon (both great, but there are definitely others at lower price levels that are better). They also have a lot of great options at every price level, from bottle below $10, to bottles over $200. It gives you a great chance to see if the price tag is worth it.