By Jim Campanini
The annual WCAP Salvation Army Radiothon is Saturday, Dec. 8 and there’s a nice holiday auction gift on the docket for wine lovers. On Thursday, I interviewed former NBA great Isiah Thomas, who has launched a wine importing business, ISIAH, and is partnering with the prestigious House of Cheurlin Champagne of Aube, France to bring their bubbly to America. Thomas, 57, looked fit and trim when we met in Manchester, N.H., and was the epitome of charm and gracefulness as he answered questions from sports writers about his career. Get over it jock guys, Isiah wanted to talk champagne – not about his heyday with the Detroit Pistons where he marveled the crowds for 13 seasons (1981-94). And that’s when yours truly took over. Why champagne, Isiah?
The 12-time NBA All-Star was only too happy to talk about the Cheurlin family and their Champagne legacy which began in 1788. They now have 200 acres under vine in Aube, where the chalky soils are unique and help to deliver a superior minerality to the champagne. Thomas said he was looking for a new investment when his agent approached him with a proposal from the Cheurlins who were looking to expand their market to America. A couple trips to France clinched the deal. “I had more champagne dumped on my head during my (basketball) career than what I drank,” said Thomas with a laugh, “but I eventually got around to trying it and I liked it. This champagne is really good. And I liked the opportunity to be involved with people who know their business and create a high quality product at all levels.”
Sound like the philosophy of a champion, right?
Cheurlin Champagnes are distinctive for not only where they are made, but also how they are made. Winemaker Tom Cheurlin is a minimalist when it comes to the amount of residual sugar he produces in the wines. Most champagnes have between 10 grams and 12 grams residual sugar, but Cheurlin Champagnes range from zero to 8 grams leaving their bubblies on the very dry side of the spectrum (Brut, Brut Nature).
I’ll be writing a more complete interview with Isiah and notes on his wines in my next column. But back to the Salvation Army auction. I’m donating two signed bottles to the WCAP Radiothon that will go as a Champions Christmas Package. They are Isiah Thomas’s Cheurlin Champagne Brut Special and Drew Bledsoe’s 2014 Doubleback Cabernet Sauvignon. I estimate the value at $400, since Bledsoe’s 2014 Doubleback is sold out and was rated 94 points by several wine experts. These wines would make a great complement to a holiday meal, both for their quality and the conversation they’d generate. So call WCAP or go to their website and bid on the bottles. Salute!