My WSET tasting looks at styles of Champagne

Earlier this week I ran a Champagne masterclass tasting at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and promised the participants, many of them WSET diploma students, to publish some of the detailed information about the wines, plus up-to-date statistics on the grape varieties planted in different areas of the appellation.

The idea of the tasting was to explore some of the varied styles of non-vintage champagne, taking wines from eight Continue reading “My WSET tasting looks at styles of Champagne”

Try something different or bag a top-flight bargain

Waitrose has by some way the widest selection of sparkling wines and champagnes among the main UK grocers and has introduced some further exciting lines recently, mostly only available through its on-line Waitrose Cellar operation which runs to 63 different champagnes. While the current 25% off promotion is running — until next Tuesday 8 November — this is a great opportunity to try some of these at a bargain price. In addition, there are some attractive deals on some prestigious names, rarely Continue reading “Try something different or bag a top-flight bargain”

Bollinger shows how it restores old bottles in larger formats

Before last month’s historic tasting of old vintages of Bollinger dating back to 1830, the year after the house was founded, on our tour of the cellars we saw the restoration work the winemaking team does by hand, using ancient methods.

In this short video we can hear Bollinger assistant winemaker Denis Bunner describing how the winemaking team, working in the cellars, are restoring Jeroboams of Bollinger ‘RD’ 2000. Disgorging the wines by hand (à la volée), tasting them all and then topping them up, before giving them their final cork, all of which is done by hand, using traditional skills.

Frost in the Côte des Bar decimates vineyards

Michel D Frost in CdB AprilThe frost that did major damage to vineyards across Burgundy at the end of April also had a major impact on Champagne’s most southerly vineyard area, the Côte des Bars, located to the south-east of Troyes. The temperatures didn’t drop that low, only 2 or 3 degrees of frost at most, but crucially they hit a saturated vineyard where there was even a light covering of snow (see photograph).

“The early morning temperature low of -2.5degC wouldn’t normally have Continue reading “Frost in the Côte des Bar decimates vineyards”

Waitrose sells single bottles of champagne online

Waitrose is tapping into the online market for fizz with a new service that started on Thursday (21 April) that allows customers to buy single bottles of champagne with free delivery. It’s offering an impressive range of 47 different lines — 42 champagnes and five English sparklers — through this new service with prices starting at £26.99 a bottle for Duval-Leroy’s Fleur de Champagne, while the most expensive bottle currently is a Salmanazar (equivalent to 12 standard bottles) of Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV at £675.

There are no2015-05-15-20.22.23-e1461404396843 Own Label champagnes or Waitrose exclusive labels and most of the wines are from the major houses. Among the initial Continue reading “Waitrose sells single bottles of champagne online”

Magnums and Own Label the best buys at Waitrose

With Waitrose 25% off all six bottle purchases of wines and champagne running for a further four days, it’s a good time to take a quick look at the champagnes they showed at last month’s tasting to pick out the best deals. As I have mentioned in the latest retail offers page, these are mainly on the wines that don’t usually get discounted by this much and are regularly well priced, namely the Own Label champagnes.

2015-05-07 Roed & Bolly magsOf these the stand out wine on tasting last month was the 2015-05-07 13.32.11Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut NV which is supplied by Maison Burtin — part of the BCC group, the largest in Champagne after LVMH, that also owns Lanson and Philipponnat among other brands. This was showing very attractively with some peppery, spicy notes and a distinctive biscuity textural complexity in the mid-palate which many big name brands would be happy to boast of. Buy six bottles and the price comes down from an affordable £24.99 to a bargain £18.74.

The other wine I’d stock up is the Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2007 vintage, down from £33.99 a bottle to £25.49. I thought it was the non-vintage blend of this wine, still very good indeed which I tasted last week at a brilliant Berry Bros & Rudd ‘Artisans Champagne’ tasting (of which more shortly). But in fact Waitrose no longer sell the non-vintage cuvée this is an all Grand Cru vintage cuvée and an even better buy. One reader has already pointed this out to me, buying some last week when sadly the discount was a little smaller, but hopefully he will still be happy with the quality in the bottle. (I’m opening a bottle of the Le Mesnil 2004 in a minute to remind myself how delicious this wine gets with more age).

I also notice that on the groceries website (waitrose.com) Heidsieck Heritage which is made by P&C Heidsieck and was very decent the last time I tasted it (it wasn’t shown at the May tasting), is just £17.99 so this would come down under the 25% off deal to just £12.49 which makes it a pretty good buy for a party.

In praise of magnums

Waitrose champagne buyer Ken McKay told me that under their recent full review of sparkling wine and champagne they have delisted some champagnes in order to increase the range of sparkling wines, but at the same time, because magnums have been selling well, they have increased the range of larger formats they are offering from the start of June and they had five different champagnes in magnum at the tasting. They were Lanson Black Label (£67.99), Laurent-Perrier (£77.99), Pol Roger £77.99), Louis Roederer Brut Premier (£84.99) and Bollinger Special Cuvée (£89.99).

These all showed well, except for the Pol Roger which was curious subdued – in my experience magnums of champagne nearly always taste better than bottles of the same wine, sometime significantly so. Speaking to James Simpson MD of Pol Roger at the London Wine Fair this may be explained by the relatively recent disgorgement of this wine and I note that is doesn’t appear on the Waitrose list yet, so perhaps they have decided to hold it back a couple of months, by which time it should have recovered from the shock of disgorgement.

Helpfully Lanson actually put the date of disgorgement on the magnum — in this case June 2014 – so you can make a judgement about when to drink it. Given the already fresh, crisp Lanson style, I’d keep it until Christmas, by when it will have mellowed further. Of the other three, Laurent-Perrier, a good all round aperitif style that’s light and refreshing, will be on offer from 24 June, so I’d wait until then if you want to buy some. The Bollinger Special Cuvée, which usually really shines in magnum, is not quite mature enough but already good. The star of the quintet is the Louis Roederer Brut Premier, very good in bottle the last few times I have tasted it this year, in magnum it is even better, deliciously lively, spicy, complex, with a long long finish. This too will be at a great price from 24 June if you can bear to wait that long to try it. Sadly magnums are not included in the present 25% off deal.

There are two ways you can shop this offer at Waitrose online by going to www.waitrosecellar.com to buy by the six bottle case or through the grocery channel at www.waitrose.com  There are 61 champagne options in waitrosecellar.com and 41 through the grocery channel, but more magnums on the former site.

In praise of magnums

As you have probably gathered from recent posts, and those during last year’s festive season, I am a fan of magnums. The magnum is without doubt the perfect receptacle for ageing champagne in and in nearly all cases in my experience, faced with the same wine served from a standard 75cl bottle or magnum format, the latter will taste better.

Champagne aged in magnum develops and evolves more slowly, so it will always seem fresher than its 75cl counterpart. But it isn’t just about freshness, there’s extra zip, more nuances of flavour, and ultimately greater complexity. As I have noted because producers are aware of this, some houses will release and sell their magnum stock at a later point after longer ageing than their bottles. In the case of non-vintage blends, sometimes the base wine that is likely to make up the largest portion of the blend, will be from an older harvest in the case of the magnum non-vintage cuvée – this, as I have mentioned recently elsewhere, is the case in the example of both Bollinger and Veuve Clicquot.

If you are looking to buy something now in magnum for a special celebration over the holidays, it’s really non-vintage wines we are talking about here. Vintage champagne in magnum can also be sublime, but many current releases in magnum simply aren’t ready to drink, at least not if you wish to enjoy them at anything close to their peak. In terms of development they may be three or four years behind the same wine in 75cl bottle format.

For the better houses the price of a magnum is often more than the price of two bottles. That’s partly why I was keen to highlight the deal at Waitrose (13 stores and online) on magnums of Bollinger Special Cuvée, which at least one regular visitor to the site has found and purchased for only a shade over £60.

But where else outside the supermarkets – Sainsbury’s and Tesco have both had good deals on Veuve Clicquot in large bottles – can you find any stock of non-vintage champagne in magnum that you could buy and drink without disappointment (if you have the chance and the cellar space, most good non-vintage champagne in magnum will develop very well over a couple of years or so and if you can afford to put some away so much the better) in the next few days.

Hunting the other day for some bargains among the pages of the Majestic website I found they had quite a selection, albeit that not every store stocks them, so you might have to hunt around. Two of the least expensive on which there are both good deals are Laurent-Perrier, currently down from £70 to £50, and Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut which is £55. Both with the emphasis on freshness, lightness and balance would make great aperitif fizzes for Christmas Day or Boxing Day or before a celebration dinner. Taittinger Brut Réserve with its largish splash of Chardonnay is in a similar vein and down from £70 to £60 per magnum.

The more muscular ‘R’ de Ruinart blend in its distinctive bulbous bottle, down from £100 to £75 a magnum would add a note of class. Class, luxury and seductive creamy texture can be found in the Veuve Clicquot rosé magnums which will set you back £95.

If you want a Blanc de Blancs (all Chardonnay) magnum Ruinart may provide the answer and it’s down from £125 to £100, as is their rosé, though I’d favour the Clicquot pink wine and save a fiver. The much improved G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge blend in magnum, sprayed about on the F1 podium, is £60 as is the apple fresh Lanson Black Label. Bollinger is down from £99 to £80 is you can’t find a Waitrose store stocking it and this wine is a treat with real depth of flavour. Another Pinot Noir dominant non-vintage cuvée of real class which has been on particularly good form in 75cl bottle format when tasted over the course of this year is Louis Roederer Brut Premier which rather surprisingly Majestic sells in magnum at a regular price £10 less than the discounted Bollinger — ie £70. This is a brisker, fresher style but develops beautifully with time so really you should be buying magnums now for 2016 and beyond.

In terms of flavour profile I tend to think of Pol Roger as somewhere between Bollinger and Roederer but it is another serious contender in the magnum stakes. You can buy it from Champagnedirect.co.uk for £74.97 (plus at least £6.95 delivery) in time for the New Year celebrations. Berry Bros & Rudd has a three magnum deal on Pol – enabling you to put two away for future celebrations — whereby the regular price of £84 falls to £67.20 a magnum, a saving of £50.40. This is the preferred Christmas tipple of their talented buyer Simon Field MW, whose commentary on the delights of the magnum, kindly penned for my book on Champagne, I am reproducing below its glorious unedited entirety.

Magnum Force

“Champagne comes in a bewildering array of  bottle sizes, from the somewhat perfunctory quarter bottle, best concealed in a floral gift when visiting a hospitalised relative, all the way up to the Nebuchadnezzar and beyond, the larger the size the more impractical the vessel and the more remote the eponymous Biblical origin.

Nebuchadnezzar we have heard of; he, after all, was famous for selling his wife for a pair of shoes. But Melchizedek I know not; a Melchizedek is a 30 litre bottle, and in addition to being fantastically impractical (unless one has a small crane to hand) is also bound to be of inferior quality, as the liquid has been decanted from a series of smaller bottles, post ageing, and will have lost freshness and fizz in the process.

Indeed this process, known as transvasage, is practiced on all the large formats above jeroboam size and instantly rules them out as candidates for the best bottle size. But why the Magnum? Well beyond the theatre and the sheer indulgence of having one on one’s table, the voice of experience dictates that this size, above all others, allows Champagne to age most gracefully and to maintain the fundamental tension between acidity, sugar, fruit and fizz which make this small and essentially rather dull region so famous.

It’s all to do, they say, with the rate of oxidation and the relative surface area of liquid exposed to the air. So they say. All rather tenuous in my opinion. For me it’s a matter of taste alone and for this reason, every Christmas Day, we open up proceedings (not a minute before noon you understand) with a Magnum of Pol Roger. Not a bottle, not a Methuselah and most certainly not a wretched Melchizedek, but a Magnum. Sir Winston Churchill would approve, I suspect.”
Simon Field MW, buyer at Berry Bros & Rudd