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.

Vintage champagne that hits the spot

Nipping out for a last-minute bottle of fizz to celebrate the end of 2017 and welcome in the New Year? If it’s something vintage you are after that’s drinking superbly well now, then Waitrose Brut 2005, the wine I finished my recent WSET tasting with, is very hard to beat. Made from a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 41% Pinot Noir, 9% Pinot Meunier by the CRVC (the Reims co-op that also produces the excellent Castelnau champagne range) it’s sumptuously rich and ripe, showing distinctive toasty notes suggesting it’s close to its peak of maturity at 12 years. And it is an out and out bargain at just £19.99 currently.

I’d also be very happy to be drinking the Nicolas Feuillatte Blanc de Blancs 2008 vintage tonight. A cuvée that’s a grand tour of some of the best Chardonnay sites all over the Champagne region, including around a third from the villages to the south-west of the Côte des Blancs known as the Vallée du petit Morin and for me, a significant splash of Montgueux Chardonnay. This unique, isolated cru on a hill due west of the city of Troyes, I suspect accounts for the much of this wine’s textural creaminess. Fruit from here also features prominently in Feuillatte’s prestige Cuvée Palmes d’Or, which is a class act.

I also re-tasted yesterday Chanoine’s lovely 2009 vintage, which is a 50/50 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend from this top-quality harvest, that regrettably many leading producers failed to vintage – mainly because it followed the financial crash and some producers were worried about having large stocks of unsold vintage champagne in their cellars. As a result, Chanoine Frères, itself one of the oldest houses founded back in 1730, was able to buy some high-quality juice from some notable houses who had decided not to commercialise this vintage.

With attractive spicy notes evident that suggest some oak fermentation is present, this is a real delight to drink now, showing both richness and elegance and it will set you back only £24 at Tesco even when it is not on price promotion. Vintage champagne from one of the better-known names will typically cost at least double that, but not, I suspect, give twice the pleasure.

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:

Moët & Chandon Brut Grand Vintage 2008

In a previous interview with Benoït Gouez, the chef de cave at Moët & Chandon, when I asked about the, as yet unreleased Moët vintages in the Epernay cellars, he expressed a strong preference for 2009 over the much more acidic 2008. Two years on, at a time when many other major producers have released their 2008s, how does it compare with the previous ample and forward 2006 vintage?

Moet & Chandon chef de cave Benoit Gouez
Moet & Chandon chef de cave Benoit Gouez

It’s much tighter and fresher, as Gouez himself says, it very much majors on a bright, grapefruit-lifted, zestiness, Continue reading “Moët & Chandon Brut Grand Vintage 2008”

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”

Stock up on vintage 2008 while deals last

Tesco’s deal offering 25% off on all its wines and champagnes – on purchases of six bottles or more – comes to an end this coming Monday (31 October) but is only running in tandem with one other discount on Taittinger Brut Réserve (down to £20.25 if you buy at least six bottles). As November nears the discounts are likely to sharpen on the main brands sold through all the grocers, but now may be the time to stock up on a few bottles of vintage Champagne.

There are2016-04-12 12.23.18 some very fine vintage champagnes around, with 2008 an impressive wine in the Continue reading “Stock up on vintage 2008 while deals last”

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”