In praise of half bottles’ faster maturing

Too few restaurants offer a decent selection of half bottles on their wine lists, though the trend towards listing a number of wines served in 25 and 50cl carafes, now seen in many more casual dining establishments, is to be applauded. Half bottles of champagne are particularly handy, especially if there’s two of you and you plan to have some wine too. Just a glass of good fizz is rarely enough.

While quite a few champagne houses now seem reluctant to produce half bottles, citing quality issues and the fact that they mature more quickly, I see that (speed of development) as an advantage in certain instances. A half bottle of Krug is a welcome Continue reading “In praise of half bottles’ faster maturing”

Pink Champagne for Valentine’s & Mothers’ Day

It’s not so long ago that pink champagne consumption moved up and down like a yoyo as it drifted in and out of fashion. After a couple of years of sales growth, consumer interest would fall away and this discouraged producers from taking the category seriously and making the necessary investment in pink production. Quality was distinctly variable. It’s hard to pin down the specific catalyst for change, but generally warmer summers in France’s most northerly vineyard certainly played an important part. You need ripe black fruit, Pinot Noir Continue reading “Pink Champagne for Valentine’s & Mothers’ Day”

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”

Sunshine & heat also hit crop in Champagne as picking starts

Grapes on the north side of rows haven't suffered
Grapes on the north side of rows haven’t suffered

Last month we reported that the harvest in Champagne was likely to be well down on the maximum yield set of 9,700 kilos per hectare, with some regions like the Côte des Bar, particularly badly hit. As picking begins in half a dozen crus today (12 September) – two villages one in the Aube and one in the Marne départements actually started picking black grapes on Saturday (10 September) — it seems that the average expected level of yield is no more than 7,000kgs/ha. And there are major differences between different areas of the appellation. In parts of the Aube/Haute-Marne, devastated by frosts, average yields are unlikely to be higher 4,000 kg/ha, whereas in some crus of the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs yields could reach as high as 10,000 kg/ha. Continue reading “Sunshine & heat also hit crop in Champagne as picking starts”

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”

Extra lees ageing produces exciting wines

My tweets about Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve and how not many other non-vintage champagnes can boast eight years bottle age seems to have aroused quite a lot of comment and interest. The current cuvée of this wine was put in the Charles Heidsieck cellars in 2008, the back label tells anyone who cares to read it, revealing the wine itself is based on 2007 harvest in Champagne. Is also tells us when the wine was disgorged, in this case 2014. There is a plan, I am told, to move towards pinning down the disgorgement date a little more, as Charles used to do when this wine was known as ‘Mis en Cave’, which would be helpful, especially when the disgorgement is relatively recent. For drinking now there is quite a difference between something disgorged in December or January 2014.

A few days later I found myself having lunch in Koffmanns enjoying a bottle of Philipponnat Brut Réserve where the back label informs the drinker of the exact composition of the wine by grape variety; the year of the harvest base; the % of reserve wine in the blend, the dosage (8gm/l) and the month and year of disgorgement – as you ask this was May 2013, so the wine had benefitted, and I use the word advisedly, from around 20 months ageing on the cork after disgorgement. Why can’t all serious champagne producers do that?

Devaux champagnes, which those trying the current Charles Heidsieck range could also have tasted at the recent Liberty Wines event, are trying another approach and giving an age statement on their new labels. Thus the Cuvée D, their premium non-vintage style where the relatively large amount of reserve wine used is partly aged in old oak barrels, has a band around the bottle neck saying ‘5 years’. That’s the minimum amount of time this wine — on impressive form with some character and complexity that only time will bring – ages on its lees. This brand is produced by the go-ahead Côte des Bar, Union Auboise co-operative (so clearly such a strategy has support from within the négoce and the co-ops, not just grower producers).

Another recent weekend tasting treat was the satisfyingly rich and savoury Benoît Marguez 2006 Blanc de Blancs from Ambonnay. Again this helpfully had both the month and year the wine was  cellared (July 2007) and the disgorgement date, spring 2012.

The Champenois are, we are told, trying to introduce some simple reforms to the appellation to increase the minimum amount of time a wine must be kept before it is sold both before (when ageing on its lees) and after disgorgement. These proposed changes are being discussed as part of the 2030 review and while it now looks like there will be some delay before any such meaningful changes are going to be introduced, there is still hope that they will be. This may not be in the interests of the producers geared up to provide European markets with cheap champagne — these are no doubt the producers objecting to the proposed changes — much of which is not worthy of the name, but it certainly is in the long term interests of the region as a whole.

Happily there are already a number of enterprising producers showing the way ahead and it is to be hoped that their numbers will be swelled by the many who adopt such good production practices but don’t necessarily shout about it, further isolating those that cut corners.

Growers’ pinks offer great value

the right colour for roseFollowing on from my top ten pink champagnes selection last A. Rose croppedmonth, I realised I hadn’t really done anything about the large range of growers’ pink champagnes that are now available in the UK at various specialist retailers. So with the help of Berry Bros & Rudd, who have one of the very best selections of ‘artisan’ champagne in the country, I put together a small tasting of mostly growers’ rosés and called in Anthony Rose of The Independent to join me in trying them.

The line-up included six growers’ champagnes, and three from small négociants with only the Billecart-Salmon style from a well-known house. There were six pinks made by blending (adding a portion of red wine to white champagne) and three saignée rosés (where the colour is ‘bled’ off the skins), plus a fourth made from a combination of the two methods. We tasted them blind taking our time to assess each wine, looking at the blends first.

R&LLegrasRoseLabelOur favourite wine on the day was the R&L Legras Brut Rosé (93/100, 94/100). Complex, smoky, it has a lip-smacking refreshing, savoury quality that made it hard to resist drinking it in the tasting. It was closely followed by Philipponnat Brut Réserve Rosée, (92/100, 93/100). I moved the Philipponnat pink Philly&Chipsup a mark after consuming it with brilliant fish & chips (from Bowen’s, St Dogmaels, Pembrokeshire) a couple of day later, a great match thanks to the wine’s richness and vinosity, that’s boosted by having a large portion of reserve wine in the blend. I gave the Berry Bros UK Grand Cru Rosé made by Benoît Marguet my third highest mark. As the only wine in the tasting priced under £30 it certainly represents terrific value and Benoît is a fine producer whose champagnes generally are really worth seeking out.

The two wines from the Côte des Bar region, Champagne’s southernmost where Pinot Noir is the most widely planted grape photo 4fizzes2(both featuring in my top ten pinks last month), also showed well. Drappier’s pink, which has long been a favourite of mine, showed an ample, generous Pinot Noir driven richness while the biodynamic produced Fleury, is a winey, muscular style that calls for food.

BillecartFrontLabelBy chance the first wine in the line-up was Billecart’s Salmon’s a classically fresh, aperitif pink showing a lovely balance and a perfect benchmark style to assess the other wines against. The bottle of Pierre Peters Rosé d’Albane we had at the original tasting was faulty but a subsequent sample demonstrated that this fine Le Mesnil based producer also makes an attractive, delicate but intense pink fizz.

The scores:

  • R&L Legras Brut Rosé, 93/100 pts (AR); 94/100 (GF), £39.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
  • Philipponnat Brut Reserve Rosée, 92/100 (AR); 93/100 (GF), Les Caves de Pyrene, rrp £44.99, half bottles Selfridges £26.
  • Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé, 91/100 (AR), 90/100 (GF), widely stocked in independents, rrp £60
  • Fleury Rosé de Saignée Brut (Biodynamic, Ecocert certified) 91/100 (AR); 90/100 (GF), Vintage Roots: http://www.vintageroots.co.uk/ £34.50 a bottle, £19.50 a half bottle
  • Drappier Val des Demoiselles Brut Rosé, 91/100 (AR); 92/100 (GF), Markinch Wine Gallery (Scotland), Ruby Red Wine Cellars.
  • Benoît Marguet Berry’s United Kingdom Cuvée Rosé Grand Cru Brut NV, 90+/100 (AR); 92/100 (GF), £29.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
  • De Sousa Brut Rosé, 90/100 (AR); 88/100 (GF), £42 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
  • Paul Bara Grand Rosé de Bouzy: 88/100 (AR); 87/100 (GF), £32.45 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
  • Andre Jacquart Rosé de Saignée ‘Experience’ Premier Cru, 88/100 (AR); 88/100 (GF), www.topselection.co.uk
  • Pierre Peters Rosé d’Albane, Second sample 90/100 (GF), £36 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com

Anthony Rose’s tasting notes:

1. Fleury Rosé de Saignée. A lively pink light cherryish colour, quite vinous on the nose, and equally on the palate, lots of rich, almost sweet strawberryish fruit, nice lingering depth and winey texture with attractive depth and vinosity, very much a food wine with good personality, balance and tangy finish. Good for seafood.  91 / 100

2. Drappier Rosé. Pale bronzey pink, immediate, fresh, pleasant nose, some rich berry fruit on the palate, full-bodied, nicely vinous and very attractive, good concentration, almost juicy with redcurrant and cherry fruit tang to it, nice dry finish, good personality with a touch of tannin for food-friendly, savoury-winey character. Serious. 91 / 100

3. Pierre Peters Rosé. First sample at the tasting was faulty.

4. André Jacquart Rosé. Inelegant cherry / rosehip red colour, quite strong smoky oak and vanilla aromas, ripe sweet cherry fruit with lots of smoky oak behind it; some may like this style but it’s probably quite controversial because the oak’s in the foreground rather than the background, a rioja of champagne? 88 / 100

5. Billecart-Salmon Rosé. Pale bronze pink, lovely freshness and life, very bright, quite big bubbles, lovely intense and fruit nose, rich soft mousse of bubbles, initial strawberry sweetness balanced by a tangy redcurranty fresh acidity and elegant dry finish. Drink with food but a classic style, for drinking mainly as an aperitif. 91 /100

6. De Sousa Rosé. Aged in oak, 92% chardonnay and 8% pinot noir, rather deeply-hued for a rosé, quite cherryish in colour, rather dumb on the nose but a touch of spicy oak, idiosyncratic, nice sweet and sour cherry in the mouth, rustic and winey at the same time, almost more of a food wine than a champagne; not smooth but quite tangy and dry and has character, lots of it. Very much a seafood champagne. 90 / 100

7. Philipponnat Réserve Rosée. Pale bronze in colour, creamy-looking bead, lovely light savoury toast on the nose, very rich and complex, a suggestion of reserve wine maturity and richness, more complex than simply fruit, equally deliciously rich toasty fizz with powerfully textured creamy bead of bubbles; long and lingering flavours. 92 / 100

8. R&L Legras Rosé. Pale bronze pink, tiny bead of persistent bubbles, attractively fresh, smoky-creamy and fruit aromas and flavours, lovely strawberryish fruit quality, richly textured mousse, nice freshness and balance, with long, fine dry savoury lipsmacking finish that makes it hard not to swallow as you taste. It grows on you as you drink it. 93 /100

9. Paul Bara Rosé. A deep pink bronze, quite a lot of dark red berry on the nose, sweetish strawberry and cherry fruit with rather obvious sweetness that makes the wine a tad heavy in the mouth and lacking in finesse, and less refreshing that you might hope for, but pleasant enough as a drink with slight bitter-skin finish. 88 / 100

10. Berry Bros & Rudd Grand Cru Rosé. Benoit Marguet. 70% chardonnay and 30% pinot noir, lovely pale bronze colour with bubbles swirling in the glass, fine fresh and intense aromatics, lovely rich berry fruit, very fruity in fact on the palate, powerfully concentrated and full-bodied, lots of flavour intensity, rich and yet delicate at the same time, with finely textured mousse and excellent finish. 90+ /100