Still places available at my WSET tasting

Next week I’m doing another Champagne tasting at the London HQ of the Wine & Spirt Education Trust (WSET). This time, with purchases for Christmas and the New Year partly in mind, I’m concentrating on pointing people in the direction of some great champagnes from slightly less known producers, which match or better some of the wines made by the big names. And partly as a result of being less well known, your money goes a lot further in terms of getting more exciting wine.

There are eight different producers involved, four growers and four co-operatives. We start with a fine pair of contrasting Continue reading “Still places available at my WSET tasting”

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”

Veuve Clicquot launches ’08 vintage on the Côte de Nuits

Started last week in Burgundy at Clos des Lambrays in Morey-Saint-Denis c/o Veuve Clicquot, for the launch of their 2008 Vintage Réserve. Clicquot never likes to do anything by halves, witness the event they organised in June 2014 around burying 300 bottles and 50 magnums on the Baltic seabed to test how champagne ages there;
http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/587201/veuve-clicquot-to-age-champagne-in-baltic-sea#XfUWqDDh2FG7AhpI.99

Continue reading “Veuve Clicquot launches ’08 vintage on the Côte de Nuits”

Krug launches 2002 vintage & changes Grand Cuvée label (slightly)

Bjoern Weissgerber, group executive chef at Zuma restaurants was kind enough to take this picture of Eric Lebel with me at the 2002 launch

Yesterday I had the chance to try the newly released Krug 2002 vintage, along with a group of top sommeliers and chefs, many of whom are Krug ambassadors. One of the last, if not the last, major house to put its ’02 offering on the market, the expectations were high. The wine isn’t a disappointment. Subtle, gentle, harmonious, it has that indefinable quality, that extra dimension, lift and intensity that only the top vintages in Champagne offer with a silky texture and long finish. To put the new wine in context after a mandatory glass of Grande Cuvée, the current release based Continue reading “Krug launches 2002 vintage & changes Grand Cuvée label (slightly)”

Ruinart: secrets of Blanc de Blancs

Not many of my friends see tasting champagne as work and sampling Ruinart Blanc de Blancs in bottle, magnum and jeroboam is even less likely to qualify in their eyes, though they’d mostly be puzzled to see the point in that – tasting the same wine* in three different formats that is. Add three different vintages of Ruinart’s prestige line Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, including my favourite vintage of the 80s, and even I have to admit it just sounds like an extremely pleasant morning. And it was.

Frédéric Panaïotis took over as head winemaker at Ruinart in 2007 and I Continue reading “Ruinart: secrets of Blanc de Blancs”

Consumers pick their under £20 favourites

I reported last month on the blind tasting Anthony Rose and I did of 18 champagnes and sparklers priced at £20 and under. A couple of days after we did our tasting, I invited a group of eight consumers round to taste the same 18 wines to see whether they agreed with our assessments.

These were not experts, although they all like the odd glass of fizz, and it was perhaps slightly unfair to ask them to taste 18 different sparkling wines in one sitting. Even people working full time in the wine trade would find assessing this number of sparklers accurately in one go a pretty difficult task. However it did throw up some interesting results and amusing comments and while they didn’t completely agree with us by any means, they did generally like many of the wines we highlighted in the latter part of the tasting. They didn’t much enjoy the Veuve Devanley Brut NV (Morrisons £12) which we gave one of our highest scores to, though one taster picked up ‘biscuity notes’. The Chapel Down English fizz was universally well received and scored the highest marks.

The panel discuss the wines
The panel discuss the wines

Top ten fizzes consumers voted for with comments from the tasting panel:

Chapel Down Brut Vintage Réserve NV: “Fruity, pleasant aromas, very drinkable. Stylish label stands out from the others,” JH. “Surprisingly pleasant without any bitter aftertaste,” MT. “Really liked this, with marmitey notes. Liked label too,” LT. “Quite good, with a light bubbles,” PT. “Classy label, good fruit, nice finish. Kentishman done good,” NH.

Benoît Renaud Brut NV: “Light, refreshing, delicate fizz with fruity after taste leaves you wanting more,” JH. “Lighter aroma, very dry, pleasant and dry, suitable for a long session,” MT. “Well-balanced, peachy, highly drinkable, longer lasting on the Ashley,” NH. “Not as fruity as some but has lovely flavour. Could drink a lot of this,” ES.

Nicolas Feuillatte Grande Réserve Brut NV: “Like this, would pour it for the ChampagneGuru,” NH. “Fruity little number that stays on the palate,” ES. “Decent weight and richness on the palate, good finish,” CF.

Abel Chalot Brut NV: “Rounded dry and pleasant first taste, a good drop to end with,” MT. “Very good,” LT. “More flavoursome than most, relatively good,” ML.

De Vallois Brut NV: “Quite rich initial taste and warm, lingering flavour,” MT. “Quite nice aroma, hint of pear and a flavour that delivers,” ML.

Defontaine Brut NV: “A good party fizz and pre-dinner drink,” JH. “Powerful initial taste, aromatic, rounded on the plate, moderate length,” MT. “Very dry, fine aroma, dried apricots,” NH.

Laytons Brut Réserve NV: “Very bubbly and pleasantly dry, really tasted authentic,” MT. “Creamy, well-balanced,” NH.

Louis Delaunay Brut NV: “I liked this, nice and dry and smooth, I’d buy it,” LT. “Quite mellow with a long finish,” CF.

Andre Carpentier Brut NV: “Quite light, but nice flavour,” PT.

Comte de Senneval Brut: “Long and pleasant aftertaste, easy style I could drink all night,” JH.

Our tasting of 16 champagnes (+ 2 sparklers) all priced under £20

I have had quite a few emails from readers recently asking me if this ‘cheap’ champagne sold by such and such a supermarket is actually any good and worth buying. Even one enquiry as to whether Tesco’s ‘exclusive label’ Louis Delaunay Brut would keep long enough for a wedding in June next year. This and many other similar questions led to the idea of setting up a blind tasting of a cross section of such supermarket wines, the champagnes that tend to have the most dramatic discounts at key times of the year, so it all seemed very timely.

Seven of the best fizzes in our tasting all priced under £20 in the run-up to Christmas
Seven of the best fizzes in our tasting all priced under £20 in the run-up to Christmas

I asked Anthony Rose of the Independent to drop by and help me assess them. I didn’t call in any samples of the supermarket ‘own label’ champagnes (bar one from Morrisons) but concentrated on the more obscure names, suppliers of which tend to change relatively frequently, so style and often quality can be inconsistent. All the wines included will be retailing at some point before the New Year at under £20 a bottle, some for considerably less. The Louis Delaunay mentioned above will only be priced at under £10 (if you buy four bottles) for another 24 hours (though I daresay the price will drop to near this level again in the next five weeks).

To make things a bit more interesting I included two sparkling wines in the line-up – one English, one Australian. As it happens both Chapel Down Vintage Réserve and Cloudy Bay Pelorus will be on promotion too soon, both being priced at £14.99-£15.99 a bottle. With the possible exception of Nicolas Feuillatte champagne, they were arguably the two strongest brands in the 18 strong line-up. Pelorus is of course owned by Veuve Clicquot, and they know a thing or two about branding there.

Ant with bottles coveredAnyway I digress. You’ll want to know the results of our tasting and which of these fizzes we reckon are worth shelling out for. We picked seven champagnes that scored 87 points or more, a level both the Chapel Down and the Pelorus also achieved. Following on from a very impressive Lidl tasting for journalists last week (of which there will be more in a few days) it was little surprise to see the Lidl  Comte de Senneval Grand Réserve (£17.99) do well. It was the only wholly Grand Cru sourced champagne.

It was a surprise when the wrappers from the blind tasting came off to see we marked the Tesco exclusive Louis Delaunay one point higher. If you want to try it you have only 24 hours to get it at just £9.74 a bottle (providing you buy four). The better known regular discount vehicles from Tesco and Sainsbury’s  — Andre Carpentier and Etienne Dumont respectively – were rather dull in comparison.  But things picked up again with Veuve Davanlay from Morrisons, which will be selling at better than half price — £12 as you ask – from the start of December. Though I wouldn’t want to spend £28.99 on this wine, we both preferred it to the Morrisons M Signature Brut that costs £18.99.

We then hit a good patch with the two sparklers; Nicolas Feuillatte Grande Réserve Brut (£15 at Sainsbury’s until the New Year), Laytons Brut Réserve from Jeroboams (down to £15.95 a bottle and you can also get halves and magnums) and finally a newcomer to M&S, Abel Chalot Brut which will be half price down from £32 to £16 from 2 December. This last named champagne I gave my highest score to, after enjoying a couple of glasses of it the next day watching England play appalling rugby. It quite cheered me up.

On Sunday a group of consumers came round to try the fizzes and we will report on what they thought shortly.