Champagne: Nicholas Roberts Fine Wines Says "It's Not Just For Valentine's Day"

Emma Jane-Doody Stetson

Flat screen TV: check. Afternoon game on: check. Matching jerseys: check. Champagne. Check?

If football conjures up images of greasy chicken wings, beer, and people shouting at the television, champagne is equated with glitz, elegance, and a touch of pretension.  It seems impossible that the two would ever exist in harmony.  Recently, Peter Troilo of Nicholas Roberts Fine Wine in Darien, CT proved otherwise.  He and wine distributor Peter Slywka held a grower champagne tasting against a backdrop of Sunday afternoon football.

“Most people think they have to drink champagne for a special occasion.  People should drink it all the time!” Troilo proclaimed.  Slywka nodded.  Then both turned their attention to the TV and let out a whoop as their team complete a play.

Don’t let the laid back demeanor fool you; these guys know their stuff.   Just this year, the Wall Street Journal wrote an article on the boutique wine store, praising it for its carefully stocked shelves.  Troilo’s knowledge has earned him widespread respect in the industry.  Recently he joined forces with New York Times wine critic Eric Asimov to select wines for an event celebrating the launch of the commentator’s book at the Darien Library.

Troilo of Nicholas Roberts diligently handpicks the bottes that the family-owned shop sells.  He chooses wines with a story and features winemakers that he admires.  He appreciates the consumer who “seeks the truth.”  As a result, many of his choices are unknown or atypical.  However, each proves sophisticated, compelling, and delicious.  His vision led him to grower champagnes.  The designation indicates that 100% of the product was grown by the person whose name appears on the bottle.

“Grower Champagne supports farmers,” he explains. “It shows greater complexity and depth, allows for stylistic variations and just plan taste better. It’s produced by a craftsman, not a lab technician.”

“Do you really want to purchase a bottle of Champagne produced by a company who makes handbags?” asks Slywka.  He speaks in hyperbole, but it’s partially true.  “If you purchase a bottle of negociant Champagne such as Veuve Clicquot, Pommery or Moet & Chandon, you’re also purchasing mega branding dollars and salaries,” Troilo translates.

The two Petes have been working together for about five years.  Slywka represents the Michael Skurnik wine portfolio, which is considered one of the top portfolios in the Metro area.  It features artistic wines from high-quality winemakers.

“The portfolio is a natural fit for Nicholas Roberts, and luckily, Peter happens to be a great relationship builder,” says Troilo.  “It’s probably why we’ve become awesome friends as well.”  (And the matching Giants jerseys they wore at the tasting attested to the bond they share.)

The Nicholas Roberts team also consists of Juan Carlos Vega and Brian Coupe.  Vega and Troilo’s friendship goes back many years, long before he came to the store in 2007 to help handle the floor.  His honed palate and work ethic makes him an integral part of the tight-knit team.  Although he was not there on Sunday, he regularly assists with a weekly event known as “Friday Night Wine Down,” where customers can taste four wines that they consider worthy of recognition.

The champagne tasting came together seamlessly.  When asked what planning what into the event, Troilo casually replied, “No planning to speak of.”  He continued, “I always produce what we like to call a ‘baller’ event around the second week of December.”

And baller it was.  They featured ten amazing champagnes from outstanding pedigrees.  Some were vintage bottles; one dated back to 2005.  They even featured “Grand Cru” champagnes, a phrase that denotes the highest level of classification of AOC wines.  The bottles ranged between $32 and $96.

My personal favorite of the afternoon was Pierre Gimonnet Blanc de Blanc "Fleuron" 2005.  (Although I like to think of myself as knowledgeable when it comes to wine, by I admit that my pronunciation is flawed.  I therefore dubbed this wine Jiminy Cricket, which is close enough phonetically but far easier to remember.)  Heralding from 2005, it had an intricate profile that comes from age.  It tasted dry, but retained sweet subtle notes of green fruit with a hint of spice.

The Vilmart & Cie "Grand Cellier d'Or" 2007 won over the guests as well.  Troilo served the elegant, refined sparkler at the end as a finale of sorts.  Since the event, people have flocked to the store to purchase it for the holidays.  He also included two Roses to diversify the tasting, the Aubry Rosé and Chartogne Taillet Rosé.  Both were delicious.  The woman I stood next to anointed the Chartogne Taillet Rosé her favorite bubbly of the afternoon.

I am not usually a champagne drinker, but the grower champagnes made me a convert.  Any of them would be an amazing choice for special celebration.

Or maybe even game night.