We hear a lot about Champagne and sparkling wine and the inherent superiority of the former. Generally I agree, but buy more of the latter in deference to my wallet. I often err on economic side with Roederer Estate. Served at my wedding, a go-to wine for glass pours in restaurants and a wonderful visit that included an attempt at disgorging by hand (epic failure) admittedly skew my opinion.
Their upper end selection, L'Ermitage, always wowed me but reached a price point that would cause me to buy French instead. When I sold the wines, we never travelled with the wines in the same bag; it avoided losing sales to yourself. They fit different spots on lists anyway.
It had been years since I had the French and Californian versions together. With a mere one dollar difference between the Brut Premier and the L'Ermitage it's a fair comparison.
Louis Roederer Brut Premier - Founded in 1776, perhaps they were destined to produce sparkling wine in the U.S. as well. They stand out from the crowd because they own most of the vines that produce grapes for their Champagnes. This is about half Pinot Noir, one third Chardonnay and about 15% Pinot Meunier. Three years of aging allows sufficient maturation and their signature comes from the relatively high percentage of reserve wines added to the final blend (6-10%). While I like it, I am rarely blown away. I actually found it a bit thin in the mouth, which surprised me since the reserve addition usually results in a bigger, toastier flavor profile. The wine held up well for its seeming lack on the entry, becoming long and finishing very high-toned. Lovely, but the real pleasure came next. $39-43, Imported by Maisons, Marques & Domaines.
Roederer Estate Brut L'Ermitage 2002 - In 1982 the family established this outpost in the Anderson Valley, releasing their first wine in 1988 (L'Ermitage in 1989). The blend is half and half, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, all of it from estate vineyards and the aging is extended; 2002 is the current release. The heavens parted and sunshine shone down when I tasted this. All right, maybe someone just opened the curtains, but the wine proved a revelation nonetheless. All the depth lacking in the Brut Premier appeared here with a wild, creamy lemon palate. Powerful but not overdone, the citrus element kept the wine focused but the exuberance in the glass echoed around my mouth for more than a minute with each delightful sip. Not Champagne, not masquerading in that guise, but utterly delightful and damned impressive. $38-$42.