What I’ve Been Tasting

This page covers the champagnes I’ve been trying both at trade tastings and events, in restaurants and bars, plus what we’ve been opening at home. We’ll look at launches, new vintage releases and dig into the cellar for a few special treats and to see how some of our favorite champagnes are developing with time in the bottle.

Charles Heidsieck 2012 Brut Vintage
Blend: Pinot Noir 60%, Chardonnay 40%
Source: Ten Grands and Premiers Crus, for Chardonnay: Oger, Vertus, Chouilly, Cuis; Pinot Noir: Verzy, Aÿ, Ludes, Ambonnay, Tauxières and Avenay
Disgorged: 2019
Dosage: 9.7g/l
Stockist: TheFinestBubble.com £99.99

Speaking via a Zoom conference at the time of release, head winemaker Cryil Brun said: “We are releasing the 2012 now, because it is just entering a very interesting phase. In terms of style, we have something that is between the 2006 and 2008. We don’t have the same generosity of the 2006, which was super engaging, very round, rich and opulent. Nor the austerity of the 2008 which is still shy and closed, and we still have a lot of time to wait to really expect a true improvement in terms of opening up, but the 2012 is something in between.

“People who are eager drink it now, are really going to enjoy it because it’s quite rich, at the same time for those that want to keep it a little longer, it can easily age for another five, six or even ten years, if you like your champagne more on the mature side.

“It [2012] was one of the most chaotic years, we had everything you can imagine in a bad way [in the spring and summer] but just at the very latest part of the maturation process, from mid-August onwards, we had a perfect climate. Now we get a wine that is very well balanced — and no-one could have expected that after the early part of the growing season — with an engaging fruit profile, that’s kind of rich and mature, but it’s not as mature as the ‘06. You still have a bit of tension and minerality, plus a kind of noble bitterness which is going to really help the wine to go much further in terms of ageing potential.

“On the nose there’s candied fruits, mirabelle plum and a little, light smokiness. While on the palate you really get the Charles signature; a big, round, silky texture. It’s rich, but not at all heavy, you want a second glass.” In short, it has the approachability the lovely balance of the 2012 vintage seems to offer, but a degree of freshness and structure, that suggests very good ageing potential, with its full flavour spectrum yet to be revealed.

Krug Grande Cuvée 168th Edition
ID: 119010
Blend: Pinot Noir 52%, Chardonnay 35%, Meunier 13%
Reserve wines: 42%
Made from 198 wines from 11 different harvests, the oldest 1996, the youngest 2012 (58% of the blend)
Disgorged: winter of 2018/19
Stockists: clos19.com £165; TheFinestBubble.com £166

This wine is the first to be released since Julie Cavil took over from Eric Lebel as chef de cave at Krug, a transition that took place mid-December 2019. Cavil is no new kid of the block however, she was in the tasting team at Krug in 2012, in fact she worked with Lebel for 13 vintages, arriving at Krug back in 2006, after several years at Moët, having moved to Champagne with her husband Olivier, who works for Pernod Ricard, near the start of new Millennium.

I first met her over a decade ago, around the time Rémi Krug was retiring and the inaugural 1995 vintage of Clos d’Ambonnay was launched. Facing the press via Zoom in her first outing in charge, wasn’t an ideal way to establish a rapport with the audience. But sensibly she let the wine do most of the talking, praising Lebel for his generosity in transmitting his knowledge over the past dozen or so years they worked together.

As is the lot of many new winemakers in Champagne, when they first take over, they often find themselves presenting wines they haven’t made (and sometimes haven’t had any involvement with at all, although this wasn’t the case with the 2012 Grande Cuvée and Cavil). She had however just created the 175th edition of Grande Cuvée, based on the excellent 2019 harvest, and while we will have to wait until late in the next decade to taste it, she was understandably more comfortable talking about that.

We learned that this [175th edition] is a blend that includes wines from 13 different years starting with 2006, where the oldest component comes from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. We also discovered that in Grande Cuvée 168th Edition, the oldest component there (1996) comes from a small plot in Verzenay. While it has the Krug signature with fresh citrus fruit, dried fruit and caramelised fruit elements all evident, plus a generous, savoury richness that develops in the glass over time, it also shows that edge and lift which the north facing Montaigne de Reims Grand Cru slopes of Verzenay and Verzy bring to a blend. This is a wine that will truly delight on its second release.

Sadly, as this is a Zoom tasting, we don’t have the opportunity to taste it alongside the current older release of Grande Cuvée in the market, as has become the norm at Krug tastings. At the launch of Krug 2006 last October (2019) overseen by Eric Lebel, we also tasted the 162nd edition of Grande Cuvée that’s based on the ‘06 harvest and if we give this new 2012 based edition another six years in bottle, it has that particular intensity special vintages bring to be a real star.

Leclerc Briant Réserve Brut NV

Leclerc Briant Brut Réserve

The currently available release of Leclerc Briant Brut Réserve, which is actually ‘Extra Brut’ in style as it only has 4gm/l dosage added at disgorgement, is based on the 2014 harvest. It’s an organically certified blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay, the half bottle I tasted being disgorged in November 2017, so benefitting from nearly 10 months post-disgorgement ageing on the cork. A light golden colour with a pronounced savoury nose, there’s a tangy saline note and attractive mid-palate richness. It’s an enjoyably moreish, uplifting fizz.
Borough Wines, £43 a bottle, £26 a half bottle (37.5cl) https://boroughwines.co.uk/champagne-sparkling/champagne/, 020 8988 3157.

Canard Duchêne Cuvée Léonie Brut NV
Created for the restaurant market and independent merchants, Cuvée Léonie Brut — named after Canard-Duchêne’s joint founder Léonie Duchêne — gets some extra bottle age which give it more depth and richness. I’ve always liked this blend of mainly black fruit (50% Pinot Noir/30% Meunier) livened with a splash of well-sourced Chardonnay, but it has been transformed over time by Laurent Fédou — winemaker since Alain Thienot bought the house from Veuve Clicquot 15 years ago — into something really quite impressive; a serious, grown up wine.

Chef de Cave Laurent Fédou has worked with Alain Thiénot for 30 years

Served in magnum at Canard’s recent 150th anniversary celebrations in Ludes, it’s deliciously fresh (the magnum format well may accentuate this) and with an increased reserve wine element, which Fedou reveals has grown in this blend based on the 2014 harvest to around 40%, has some attractive mid-palate richness and texture. This may be partly explained by the judicious use of oak aged juice – just 3 or 4% of the blend is aged, but not fermented in Argonne oak from the Champagne region (locally produced oak from these forests located to the east of Reims was once widely used for making barrels in Champagne). The long elegant finish sets it apart from many mainstream brut styles made by large producers.
Richard Granger Wines, £27.42 a bottle, £17.04 a half bottle (37.5cl), http://www.richardgrangerwines.co.uk 0191 2815000.

Franck Bonville Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc Avize
I’ve been to see Olivier Bonville, the winemaker at Franck Bonville in Avize several times over the course of many years. While I’ve always liked his wines, I hadn’t come across them recently. But a good friend produced a bottle of Avize Grand Cru Blancs de Blancs as a delightful prelude to Sunday lunch, the other day. I was so impressed I bought a case the following week.

After a few fizz free days on holiday in southern Spain, it seemed like just the wine to brighten our first weekend back at home. Sadly, the first bottle opened was badly corked. Happily, this has become more of a rarity recently, although it is more likely to occur with older bottles, and annoyingly it does have an unhappy knack of happening when you’re away, without an alternative easily to hand. But quickly chilled, bottle number two was soon open and ready to sip.

Olivier Bonville winemaker at Franck Bonville In Avize

Lifted, with an exhilarating citrus-tinged initial freshness, like the wine revisited in April, what impresses about this champagne is the mid-palate intensity and chewy richness. The latest NV release, a blend of Avize and Oger Chardonnay, is based on the 2015 harvest (75%) with a good slug (25%) of reserve wine from the previous year. It was bottled in March 2016 and the initial batch was disgorged in January 2018 with 9.17g/l dosage.

The two corks both suggest this wine has spent longer than six months in the bottle

But I’m tempted to think this sample, which has developed a creamy generosity, has had longer on the cork and is from an older harvest base. The shape of the withdrawn corks (both bottles opened) bears this out. It’s a top-class example of Côte des Blancs Chardonnay.

The Bonville estate comprises 77 parcels making up 15 hectares of grand cru vineyards in three Côte des Blancs villages: Avize where the house is located, Oger and le Mesnil-sur-Oger. In my book on Champagne first published in 2011, in which Franck Bonville is one of a small number of Côte des Blancs growers highlighted (I’d add some others now), I recorded some family vineyards located in Cramant also, but perhaps that was a misunderstanding, I’ll have to check that with Olivier. It’s great to see the quality of his wine continues to be at the highest level.
Cadman Fine Wines, £31.50 a bottle https://www.cadmanfinewines.co.uk 01604 696242.