Whose champagne is Majestic enough?

Which champagne should you be opening to toast The Queen’s 91st birthday? It seems only certain, particular fizzes get past the palace gates. In order to supply HM The Queen, you have to be a Royal Warrant Holder and currently there are nine houses that have that privilege. But there may be different corks popping at Highgrove and Clarence House, as out of the nine, only one — Laurent-Perrier — is officially ‘by appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales’.

What they are drinking over at Kensington Palace is Continue reading “Whose champagne is Majestic enough?”

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”

Prices remain low despite weakness of pound

At the time of writing the lowest price for champagne in UK supermarkets continues to be at around the £10 a bottle level with ‘exclusive labels’ at Lidl, Aldi and ASDA to the fore. Sainsbury’s and Tesco tend to favour a six bottle discount of 25% running at the same time as other offers and the former grocer has started just such a deal today (16 August) while the latter is expected to follow suit in the run-up to the Bank Holiday weekend.

It’s no surprise to hear that the vast majority of champagne in the UK take home trade is sold at a discount. In the total champagne category Continue reading “Prices remain low despite weakness of pound”

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

Is Champagne losing its kudos, its pulling power?

Although Champagne prices for the major brands continue to increase, reflecting the fact that grape prices in the region have risen continuously over the past two decades between the 1993 and 2013 harvests, UK supermarkets continued to sell some champagne around the £10 mark at the year-end. Why? Clearly they can’t be making any margin selling fizz at this price. It is simply to pull in the punters.

MichelLetterDGofMumm&PJatPernoRicardThe owners of the big houses worry that selling this very cheap champagne may be damaging the generic image of Champagne and it may also be making it harder for them to sell their international brands at £30 to £35 a bottle or more – several are now over £40 rrp. As Michel Letter the boss at G.H.Mumm at Perrier-Jouët said recently: “With discounts as large as this the consumer might think that something is wrong with the wine and I am afraid of this. You can have champagne selling at two different prices with one that is twice as expensive, giving the explanation that the grapes are sourced from grand cru vineyards or the wine is aged longer, but three times higher starts to be too big a difference.”

But newspaper columnists still like to use champagne as a symbol of extravagance, luxuryBollinger La Grande Annee Rosé 1999 and celebration and as a gauge of economic well-being, sometimes working it into the most unlikely stories. Under the heading:  ‘Champagne flows as house owners see surge in prices’ The Times newspaper ran a story last Saturday (18 January) saying house owners might want to break out the champagne as their properties were now worth £28,000 more on average than they were in January 2013, or £27,991 to be exact. The writer, Deidre Hipwell, clearly a lover of pink fizz, noted this was the equivalent of 560 bottles of gift bottles of Bollinger Rosé at £49.99 a pop.

It seems despite the aggressive pricing of supermarkets in the UK, mirroring what has been happening in France over the past three or four months, brand Champagne is retaining its cachet, its unique position as the drink of celebration. But the fear is this ‘two-tier’ market may cause damage in the longer term.

Interview: Michel Letter, DG of G.H. Mumm & Perrier-Jouët at Pernod Ricard

The Drinks Business February 2013:

An outside opinion: Michel Letter was critical of the Champenois when he arrived in the region back in 2006 saying they didn’t always seem to apply logic to the decision making process. Seven years on and he has been accepted by the Champenois as one of their own but his different background has enabled him to bring a new approach to the region and how the houses of GH Mumm and Perrier-Jouët are run.

Read the full interview here.

Champagne shipments third highest ever in 2011

The Champenois are relieved to hear that champagne shipments rose very slightly in 2011, despite a fall in the important French domestic market that accounts for around 60% of all sales. Or as Michel Letter head of G.H. Mumm and Perrier-Jouët put it: “2011 was the third best year ever after 1999 and 2007 with total shipments reaching 323m bottles, up 1.09% on 2010, not bad considering the worldwide economic situation”.

Among the top ten export destinations only Britain, down 2.7% to 34.4m bottles and Spain (-0.3%) had a drop in shipments while Belgium and Germany both saw 8.5% growth. Although consumption in France was down nearly 2%, overall exports were up just over 5% to slightly above 141m bottles with the strongest performances coming outside Europe, notably in Australia, up nearly a third, and the USA ahead by 14.4% to 19.4m bottles.

The best performers in the emerging markets were Russia, China and Hong Kong with respective increases of 24.5, 19.4 and 15.1%, although the rate of growth slowed in the second half of 2011 and these three markets between them still only account for 4.1m bottles.