Message in a bottle

One of the main reasons that champagne houses covet working with the leading airlines is they like the exposure for their brands. They want to be seen as the preferred pour in the first or business class cabin. Partly because this is an affluent audience that’s difficult to reach, they will even agree relatively unprofitable deals to get the listing, though of course they are at pains to deny this.

But they know there is a large potential downside to this exposure. Will the cabin staff pour the champagne in front of the customer, thus showing them what the brand is and also what the reassuringly luxurious packaging looks like (this is a prestige cuvée market). And even if the staff are trained to do this, will the temptation be too strong to pour the glasses out of view, where any clumsy, unskilled pouring won’t be seen, bringing the champagne to the customer in a glass already filled?

This shouldn’t of course happen on terra firma in a good quality restaurant. Champagne served by the glass should be opened (ideally) but certainly poured, at the table, in front of the customer. There are very good reasons for doing this, both from the restaurant’s and brand owner’s points of view.

From the restaurant’s perspective, nothing is more likely to boost its sales of champagne that day than waiting staff opening a bottle of fizz and pouring it, in full view of other diners. It’s the best advertisement you can have for champagne by the glass. But customers paying a premium price for a glass of champagne, also deserve to see the bottle it comes from. The suspicion that any outlet might be serving something less prestigious than they are charging for, is not something a restaurant should arouse.

From the brand owner’s perspective, they want the restaurant’s clientele to see what they are drinking, partly in the hope that such customers will want to buy the same wine again whether in another restaurant or at home and will in future know what the label looks like.

When I met up for lunch last week with the team at Drinks International to celebrate publication of the fourth ‘Most Admired Champagne Brands’ supplements I have overseen and written, naturally we looked at the fizz list first. [You can read the magazine, our most successful and largest to date, via this link: .] When we spotted Piper Heidsieck Rare 2002 selling for just £15 a glass (£89 a bottle) at 28-50 in Fetter Lane (it’s the same price in its two sister restaurants in Maddox Street and Marylebone Lane) it was an easy decision. This must be the bargain fizz deal in the on-trade currently.

The wine came, not served in flutes, but in more generous, tulip shaped wine glasses — full marks to the restaurant here — but they were pre-poured away from the table and there was no sign of the elaborately decorated ‘Rare’ bottle (see photograph) that shouts ‘prestige cuvée’. A lost opportunity to impress us, or other diners, and possibly to make more sales.

The other great, more venerable still, aged champagne bargain, that’s been around for several years now, is Charles Heidsieck 1995 Blancs des Millénaires. You can still find bottles of at one or two select retail outlets for around £150 (£149.95 The Finest Bubble). It won’t be there much longer because the next, 2004 vintage, has just been launched.

We will be catching up on this and other new releases soon, plus some pink champagnes for Valentine’s Day.

Dom Pérignon launches P2 2000: an exploration of extra lees ageing

Vincent Chaperon, right hand man of Dom Pérignon chef de cave Richard Geoffroy, was in London earlier this month to launch the P2 version of Dom Pérignon 2000. Interestingly, he also bought along the original 2000 release aged on the cork since its disgorgement several years ago in 2007. We went along to see him and asked him to talk us through the quite considerable difference in tasting profile the same wine has when it gets a decade and a half of lees ageing.

See the interview video:

Gosset Celebris tasting: 1988 to 2004

Gosset glass launch pic BOver the years I’ve come to like the champagnes made by Gosset more and more. As Didier Gimonnet said to me on a recent visit to Cuis, producers should be judged on the quality of their whole range, not merely on one super-charged cuvée that they produce in minute quantities, as he suggested some commentators are apt to do. But as with the excellent Gimonnet wines, I’d be very happy drinking any Gosset champagnes, Continue reading “Gosset Celebris tasting: 1988 to 2004”

Fifteen prestige cuvées from 2002

The prospect of tasting 15 prestige cuvée champagnes in one sitting later this week is a mouth-watering one.  Especially as they are all from the celebrated 2002 vintage, which will probably, with a little competition from 2008 & ’09, go down as the finest vintage of the past decade. But it’s interesting to speculate — before I have seen the actual list — who will be included in the line-up?

I imagine Dom Pérignon, Cristal and Krug will be there, the last named only released to a rapturous welcome early this year, while Cristal will potentially boast considerable bottle age, given it was first made available over seven years ago. I guess Dom Ruinart, fabulously rich and powerful in 2002 and Clicquot’s La Grande Dame will complete the Moët-Hennessy quartet in the line-up.

Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill and Salon are two further acclaimed ‘02 releases, and I’m pretty sure Taittinger’s Comte de Champagne will feature (see my piece on the recent Finest Bubble vertical tasting of Comte 1996-2006 which included the 2002). To these eight we can probably add Continue reading “Fifteen prestige cuvées from 2002”

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.

Comte de Champagne vertical tasting 2006-1996

Comte line up 4 VerticalHistorically Champagne has not been seen as a wine appropriate for investment purposes, certainly not in the same way as say red Bordeaux. The three most commonly traded prestige cuvées have in the past been Dom Pérignon, Krug and Louis Roederer’s Cristal. Vintage Krug and Cristal, both produced in far smaller volumes than Dom Pérignon, tend to have the higher values, though which comes out on top depends on the Continue reading “Comte de Champagne vertical tasting 2006-1996”

Moët Grand Vintage 2006

Because of strong demand, the deal on Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006 at Majestic due to run until 9 May has ended prematurely. The best prices for this serious, vintage champagne are now £35 at Morrisons and £39 at ASDA.

Moet GV 2006 - high res picAlthough it was not officially launched until May 2014, I first tasted Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006 on 23 January in 2014 with winemaker Benoît Gouez. He described it as “a very attractive, ample vintage that’s more open than 2004”. The blend is made up of 42% Chardonnay, 39% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier. The Meunier is to bring the freshness to the blend normally delivered by the Chardonnay which Gouez says in ’06 were “ripe and Burgundy like in style”.

When first tasted over two years ago, it was already showing attractively, Continue reading “Moët Grand Vintage 2006”