2011 Grande Marque Champagne Tasting (Santa Monica, CA)

2011 Grande Marque Champagne Tasting
Presented by Wally’s Wine
Le Merigot Hotel
1740 Ocean Ave
Santa Monica, CA
Dining date: 6/5/11

My friend Lilly has been going to this annual event ever since she turned 21 with her mother (who has an even longer streak running). She’s been raving about it for a couple of years but I never quite pulled the trigger. It sounded attractive enough, with a ton of high end champagnes (and food) available on an all-you-can-drink basis. This afternoon, a coworker of mine had to cancel last minute due to illness; I ended up taking his ticket.

Presented by Wally’s Wine, the festival’s focus is on sparkling wines, particularly champagnes. A variety is featured, including some of the biggest names in the industry (Krug, Dom Perignon, Louis Roederer Cristal to name a few). To pair with the wines, a suite of local restaurants were on board to serve up plates of their food.

At the registration area I was greeted by the first champagne – Moet & Chandon Ice Imperial. I was instantly reminded how commercial the champagne business has become; marketing can make or break a bottle. I must admit, this was a sleek looking white bottle.

One of the champagnes I had to try was Louis Roederer Cristal; I’ve never had it before. The Roederer house presented a number of wines, but I stuck to the Cristal.

Louis Roederer (Cristal)


Petrossian crostini, creme fraiche, caviar

There isn’t a more classic pairing for champagne than caviar. Enter Petrossian with their crostini topped with creme fraiche and caviar. A popular choice, and I could see why.

Charles Heidsieck and Piper Heidsieck

In addition to their non-vintage wine, a 1995 Blanc des Millenaires Brut was available.

Iron Horse

Laurent Perrier


Viceroy presented a red smoked trout roe with potato foam. I enjoyed the saltiness of the roe with the creamy, foamy potato flavors here. Really quite delicate, it went well with the wines.

Melisse Monterey abalone, fennel, abalone gelee, tomato mousse

Here was Melisse’s abalone, wonderfully complemented by fennel and some acidity from a tomato mousse.


As far as I know, Krug was serving only its non-vintage champagne. Sister company Ruinart shared the table.

Cafe Del Rey oysters

Cafe Del Rey was shucking oysters all afternoon. I found them to be just okay.

Veuve Clicquot

Veuve Clicquot served up its classic brut, as well as the 1998 Le Grande Dame.

Dom Perignon

Served here was the 2002 vintage.

Moet & Chandon

Angelini Osteria filet mignon tartare, crostini

I see Angelini at a lot of food festivals and have always enjoyed what they’ve offered. No exception here, the steak was very tender, while the crostini added all of the texture needed.

Drago lobster pasta

Celestino Drago himself was serving up these filled pasta. Unfortunately, I found these to be rather rubbery without a lot of flavor.

Bazaar and Tres by Jose Andres hawaiian ono, jose’s taco, poached pear

Three dishes were served here. First, the ono. This was very good – tender and moist with a lot of flavor. I’ve had Jose’s taco a number of times now, and its combination of jamon Iberico and caviar never fails to disappoint. Lastly, the poached pear dessert had a very strong floral flavor, but it worked in this setting.


Brentwood/Capo crostini, quail egg, asparagus, black truffle

One of the best bites of the evening. Strong flavors came from the quail egg and black truffle (eggs and truffles – can’t beat it!), while the asparagus and crostini added the textural component.

Taittinger and Domaine Carneros

Taittinger and Domaine Carneros presented 5 wines, including the 2000 Comtes Blanc de Blanc and 2004 Comtes Rose.

Cezanne at Le Merigot

Host restaurant Cezanne served up turkey, duck and beef sliders. These seemed to be popular, but I found them to be just okay.

Culina day boat scallops, wild mushroom ragu, lemon thyme, extra virgin olive oil

My favorite dish. The scallop was huge and was grilled very nicely. Mushrooms added some earthiness, while a little bit of lemon thyme was a bright, vibrant accompaniment.




Armand de Brignac

These were the most expensive wines I tried tonight – the “Ace of Spades” brut and rose.

I had a lot of fun at this event. As advertised, there were a number of exclusive wines to try, and I was given the ability to sample a lot of them without having to pay a high price tag. I would say that it does get harder and harder to taste nuances in the champagnes after you’ve sampled a bunch, but it’s still a really good opportunity.

The food was solid. There were a couple of really good dishes (Culina’s scallop with mushroom ragu and Capo/Brentwood’s crostini with quail egg and truffles), but it wasn’t quite as memorable as the wines. At $150 a ticket, I’d say the event presented pretty good value, especially if you’re a wine snob.


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