Champagne Taittinger – variety & style

The beautiful vineyards of Champagne.

The beautiful vineyards of Champagne.

A lot of time we talk about Champagne as though it is all the same. The truth is though that the only thing most Champagnes have in common is the fact that they are fizzy.

Each house has a different approach which makes for a wide array of Champagne styles. Some are rich, Pinot Noir dominated and barrel fermented, whereas others are citric and light as air – with lots of variety in between.

No, in reality Champagne is as varied as any other wine, but because the fundamental nature of the different wines is similar the differences are often nuanced. However, because the palate of grapes is very small – really just 3, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, although there are some old plantings of other grapes still in production – the variety is quite astonishing. Much like music, which is all written with 7 notes, Champagne is all created with a tiny repertoire of raw material, which just makes the differences all the more remarkable.

Not many of us get to taste a huge variety of Champagnes – sadly. So I cherish the moments that I can and recently I have been doing some tastings of the Taittinger range and I thought it might interest some of you to know about their different cuvées.

When people say they have had a bottle of Taittinger – or indeed Moët et Chandon, Laurent-Perrier or Bollinger et al – they usually mean that they drank the standard offering – the standard bearer of the house. This is normally the Non Vintage Brut, but almost all houses produce a much wider range than that, making rosés, vintages, a cuvée de prestige and even sweeter or drier Champagnes and these are all often worthy of much more attention as they can provide fabulous wine drinking experiences and give a fuller picture of this amazing wine region.

So, it is always a pleasure to lead tasters through the complete Taittinger range as the wines are all so different and take them by surprise. I really like them too, which is always good.

The harvest in full swing at Taittinger - photo by kind permission Champagne Taittinger & Hatch Mansfield.

The harvest in full swing at Taittinger – photo by kind permission Champagne Taittinger & Hatch Mansfield.

I like the whole feel and ethos of Taittinger, the name is quite hard for a Brit to say, but luckily there are 3 acceptable versions – as far as I can see:

Thai-Ton-Jay would appear to be the proper French pronunciation of Taittinger, but to achieve that I have to concentrate hard and get my tongue in the right place first!

Luckily it seems that we Anglo-Saxons are perfectly ok saying Tatt-inger – phew!

However as the family originally hailed from Austria, way back in history, then a Germanic Thai-ting-er could also be considered quite proper.

Take your pick, but whichever you choose to say, do try the whole range.

Taittinger is a rare beast for a Champagne house, in being owned and managed by the family whose name is on the label. This is no mean feat in the modern world when Champagne is often seen as a luxury rand product rather than a wine as such, as far as I am aware  Bollinger is the only other world famous Champagne house to remain a family company. It must focus the mind somewhat having your name on every bottle and being ultimately responsible for the quality and style of wine that your family produces and under the management of Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger I think the wines have evolved and the quality has really shone.

Everyone knows that Champagne is fundamentally dry and that Brut means a dry Champagne, but what many people do not seem to know is that Brut Champagne is a relatively new concept. It first appeared in the late nineteenth century and was aimed at the British market which had always favoured a drier Champagne style. It caught on slowly and the idea of producing more pure styles of Champagne that were more like wines than the sweeter cuvées of the past – many nineteenth century Champagnes had sugar levels akin to dessert wines – was one of the ideas that caught Pierre-Charles Taittinger’s imagination in 1931 when he bought and completely overhauled the venerable Champagne house of Jacques Fourneaux which had been founded in 1734.

So, right from the beginning the idea was to make elegant and pure Champagnes that were dry and in order to do that the Taittingers decided to concentrate on using Chardonnay, as they felt that gave them the lightness, but complexity that they wanted.

They don’t stand still though, in recent years they have made their wines drier still – their Brut wines are now just 9 grams per litre of residual sugar, which I think really shows their purity and finesse – and introduced 2 new exciting cuvées to the range. What’s more I am convinced that the quality has got even better in recent years, with more depth, complexity and elegance, so let’s take a look:

Map of Champagne – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Map of Champagne – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

ImageHandler.ashxTaittinger Brut Réserve Non-Vintage
40% Chardonnay dominates the wine together with 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier blended from vineyards across the region and then aged 3 years on the lees.
I really enjoy this wine because it light, fresh and vibrant, but has depth of flavour too. There is a creaminess running all the way through it, as well as citrus, green apple and a touch of peach. There is crisp, but not startling acidity and the mousse is soft and creamy without being frothy. There is also a touch of caramel and digestive biscuit to the palate that gives a nice smack of complexity, but the finish is dry and clean.
It is a wine that you can focus attention on and savour its subtle charms, or just enjoy it and let those charms wash over you.  90/100 points.

Widely available in the UK @ £38.99 per bottle.
ImageHandler.ashx-2Taittinger Prestige Rosé Brut Non-Vintage
35% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Meunier with 15% of the Pinot Noir being red to give the colour – the Pinot comes from Ambonnay, Bouzy & Les Riceys. The finished wine is aged 3 years on the lees.
This is a real charmer of a wine, the colour is a deep wild salmon meets strawberry and the richness of red fruit makes the wine seem much less dry and acidic than it actually is. So if you like a softer style of Champagne then this could be for you, certainly the palate gives lots of red fruit, raspberry and even blood orange. If you age it for a few years the fruit mellows somewhat to a more rose petal quality making the wine quite different, but just as lovely. 90/100 points.

Widely available in the UK @ £47.00 per bottle.

The wonderfully named Champagne village of Dizy, Bouzy is not far away either!

The wonderfully named Champagne village of Dizy, Bouzy is not far away either!

ImageHandler.ashx-3Taittinger Nocturne Sec Non-Vintage
40% Chardonnay together with 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Pinot Meunier, aged 4 years on the lees. Much of the fruit comes from Taittinger’s own estates including some from their Château de la Marquetterie.
The idea here is to make a soft Champagne that is drinkable after dinner and long into the night – or indeed any other time, I find it’s good at breakfast! People often assume that this will be sweet, but it isn’t at all. There is 17.5 grams per litre of residual sugar, but remember how high the acidity is in Champagne, well here the acidity and the sugar balance each other perfectly, so the wine finishes clean and balanced. It is soft, not sweet at all, the palate is creamy and there is a gentle nectarine quality to it and and an eating apple crunch. This might be perfect if acidity is not your thing, or if you want a Champagne that can withstand traces of something sweet on your palate. 90/100 points.

Widely available in the UK @ £47.00 per bottle.

What makes the differences?
Firstly the climate of the Champagne region is not very generous, look where it is on the map, the conditions are very like England actually, but with more extreme winters from the Continental climate, so not every year produces a great harvest – this was especially true in the past before modern viticulture and winemaking gave greater control. As a consequence the tradition developed of holding back stocks of the good years to blend with the more ordinary ones and to create a house style rather than the normal way of making a wine every year. That is why most Champagnes are sold without a year on their label and this method has done wonders for the region and allowed them to create more complex and fascinating wines than would otherwise be the case – in my opinion.

Champagne is about as far north as France can comfortably make wine, so growing grapes there is quite marginal and it isn’t easy to always coax good ripeness out of them, but every now and again – 2, 3 or 4 times a decade and seemingly becoming more frequent – they have a great year and declare a Vintage and sell some of that year as Vintage Champagne which is all the product of that single harvest. As you might imagine these Champagnes are richer and more concentrated and the winemakers let the style of the year shine, rather than their house style.

Other differences can come from the choice of grapes, with 3 to choose from, on the whole anyway, it might seem pretty limited, but a pure Chardonnay – a Blanc de Blancs – Champagne will be very different from a pure Pinot Noir or Pinot Meaner – a Blanc de Noir – Champagne which will tend to be darker in colour and richer on the palate with more red fruit notes.

The use of oak can make a big difference, barrel fermented Champagnes are very different from the fresher, lighter styles, try KrugBollinger or Alfred Gratien if you have never tasted one made that way.

Different Cuvées can be very different from each other too. Really cuvée means blend and different blends of grapes will indeed give very different Champagnes, but the word is also used to designate one wine from another, so just as a producer’s non vintage will taste different from their vintage Champagne, then their other cuvées will be different again. Most famously of course the majority of houses create a top end Cuvée de Prestige made from the finest fruit and usually from a single harvest – although Laurent-Perrier’s Cuvée Grand Siècle is a non vintage cuvee de prestige. These wines are normally from the finest grapes – often from Grand Cru vineyards – or from the best vineyards avaialabe to the house. They are normally made from the first pressings only, which are the most gentle and thought to produce the purest Champagnes. Then to top it off they are bottled and riddled by hand and to prove it – as well as look enticing – these wines are usually bottled in a replica old style bottle that does not fit the machines.

Sweetness of course can make a big difference in how a Champagne tastes and just before the bottles are sealed with a cork a little cane sugar is added – dosage- to each bottle to determine how dry the wine is. Brut is the normal which can vary between 5 and 12 grams per litre – although Taittinger are now 9. This is done mainly to balance the high acidity in the wines rather than to make them sweet and Brut Champagnes seem totally dry, although Exra Brut is drier and Non Dosage has no sugar added at all.

Ageing can also make a big difference to the style and taste of a Champagne. In Champagne this means ageing in the bottle on the lees, which are the dead year cells left over from fermentation. The legal minimum for non vintage is 15 months – 36 for vintage – and the longer you age it the more flavour, complexity and richness you get. Ageing on the lees develops that yeast autolysis character that gives, yeast, bread, brioche and, flaky pastry and digestive biscuit characters.

So as you can see there are many more variables than most occasional drinkers of Champagne realise – back to Taittinger’s wines:

ImageHandler.ashx-4Taittinger Brut Vintage 2005
50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir from mainly Grand Cru villages in the Côte des Blancs for the Chardonnay and the Montagne de Reims for the Pinot and then aged 5 years on the lees.
If you are ever feeling jaded and tired of life then this wine has a wonderfully restorative quality. The sensations here are of concentrated fruit as the vintage is only made in occasional exceptional years, however not only is the fruit more powerful, but the acidity is fresher and the weight is greater too, so this is a very intense wine. Red fruit notes and ripe peach vie with each other on your senses, while the savoury, nutty, brioche lees characters add more depth and the rich seam of acidity keeps it all fresh and elegant too – a glorious Champagne with a firm and steady mousse and a wonderful feeling of tension running through it giving it poise and elegance.  92/100 points.

Widely available in the UK @ £53.00 per bottle.

Taittinger's beautiful Château de la Maruetterie near Pierry.

Taittinger’s beautiful Château de la Maruetterie near Pierry – photo by kind permission Champagne Taittinger & Hatch Mansfield.

ImageHandler.ashx-5Taittinger Folies de la Marquetterie Brut Non-Vintage
A single vineyard Champagne – a very rare beast indeed – from the vineyards around Taittinger’s own Château de la Marquetterie in Pierry near Epernay, which quite apart from being a beautiful place has a south and southwest exposure and so creates beautifully ripe fruit.
The blend is 55% Pinot Noir to 45% Chardonnay a small portion of the latter is fermented in oak vats which lends a subtle toasty spice to the finish as well as weight to the palate. It is aged for 5 years on the lees.
This is an exciting Champagne with more richness and savoury qualities than the others. Again it is concentrated, but has bigger bolder characters and in some ways feels like a mature vintage Champagne. Personally I do not regard this as a Champagne to drink while standing and nibbling twiglets, for me this needs a meal  – although feel free to serve it to me with nibbles – and would be perfect with a lovely piece of good quality fish. 92/100 points.

Widely available in the UK @ £55.00 per bottle.

ImageHandler.ashx-6Taittinger Prélude Grands Cru  Brut Non-Vintage
What to do? You want vintage Champagne with all that richness and savoury brioche character, but cannot be doing with ageing some and anyway you want a slightly softer fruit character to give a touch of the frivolous, yet still keep it elegant and refined. You probably guessed it, you drink this.
50% Chardonnay grapes from the Côte des Blancs – including Avize and Le Mesnil sur Oger – blended with  50% Pinot Noir from the Montagne de Reims – including Mailly & Ambonnay. The finished wine is aged 5 years on the lees.
Another glorious cuvée that manages to be intense and soft all at the same time. This makes it very appealing with rich fruit and similarly rich leesy characters and complexity. The mousse is markedly softer than on the vintage, yet firmer and more precise than on the Brut Réserve Non-Vintage. 92/100 points.

Widely available in the UK @ £49.00 per bottle.

Comte de Champagne Blanc de Blancs ageing on the lees.

Comte de Champagne Blanc de Blancs ageing on the lees in the Saint Nicaise chalk cellars below the site of the Reims palace of Thibauld 1V King of Navarre and Comte de Champagne – photo by kind permission Champagne Taittinger & Hatch Mansfield.

ImageHandler.ashx-7Taittinger Comtes De Champagne Blanc De Blancs Brut 2005
One of the greats of Champagne this cuvée de prestige is 100% Chardonnay from the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger and Chouilly in the Côte des Blancs. 5% is aged in new oak barrels for 4 months to add complexity and richness and the finished wine is aged for at least 7 years on the lees before release.

James Bond fans will know this was the favoured Champagne of Ian Fleming’s spy in the early books and I for one can see why – JFK seemed to enjoy it too. This is the most delicate. mineral and fine Chamapagne that I have ever tasted. It oozes finesse and breeding and subtlety, but has many more obvious charms too. I often think this is the most ‘wine-like’ Champagne that I know, it sort of seems like the finest Chablis you can imagine, but with a delicate and taut mousse. 94/100 points.

Widely available in the UK @ £147.00 per bottle.

jfk-menu

JFK was served the 1953 Taittinger Comte de Champagne at Hollywood’s La Scala restaurant in December 1962.

So you see there is enormous variety just from one Champagne house, which is good isn’t it. Something to suit every mood, food or occasion and so much more to enjoy.

Further stockist information for the UK is available from Hatch Mansfield.
Taittinger is represented in the US by Kobrand.

In the spirit of openness, I do sometimes do some presenting work for Taittinger, but this is my genuine and unsolicited opinion. I happen to like their Champagnes very much indeed.

Classic Wines at GREAT Value Prices

A couple of times over the years I have mentioned Aldi in these pages because I really like their Toro Loco Tempranillo red and Toro Loco Bobal Rosado / Rosé from the Spain’s Utiel-Requena wine region. They are extremely good quality wines, deliver loads of pleasure and will disappoint no one at the £3.69 asking price.

Well, Aldi seem to have noticed as they recently sent me a few of their other bottles for me to try:

Gavi2012 Gavi ‘The Exquisite Collection’
D.O.C.g. Gavi, Piemonte, Italy
Made by Fratelli Martini Secondo Luigi / Casa Sant Orsola

I like Gavi and think it is one of the best of Italy’s traditional dry white wines from indigenous grapes – of course recently I have discovered the wonderful whites of Etna and Campania. This had the little bit of weight, almost creaminess like a Mâcon, that I associate with good Gavi and a slightly nutty character, fresh acidity and was just a tad richer than crisp making it very attractive and enjoyable.
Extraordinaryly good wine for £4.99.

The beautiful rolling hills of Piedmont - photo courtesy of Made by

The beautiful rolling hills of Piemonte – photo courtesy of Fratelli Martini Secondo Luigi.

Albarino2011 Albariño Rías Baixas ‘The Exquisite Collection’
D.O. Rías Baixas, Galicia, Spain
Made by Bodegas Martin Codax

Another stunning value bottle of wine made by one of the top producers of the region. This is not the finest Albariño I have ever tasted – it lacks a little acidity, minerality and poise for me – but only a little and it is a lovely and enjoyable dry white wine. It is concentrated and tasty with some succulent fruit and some freshness from the acidity. An excellent aromatic, floral and peachy dry white wine  and a good Albariño for beginners. And the price is just £5.99!

Macon2012 Mâcon-Villages
A.C. Mâcon-Villages, France
Henri de Lorgère

I like Mâcon wines and think they can be really very attractive indeed, provide value and sometimes really great quality too. Well, this is a nice wine, it is very classic and European – not a fruit bomb – there are discrete apple and pear notes, nice acidity and flinty minerality even. This is very much on the light end of the Mâcon spectrum, but it isn’t dilute, it is fresh, very dry – verging on crisp –  and just medium-bodied, so refreshing and gently rounded too, but clearly unoaked. It is nice and great value, but the Gavi is better – £4.99.

Rosé(2012) Côtes de Provence Rosé ‘The Exquisite Collection’
A.C. Côtes de Provence, France

I don’t often choose to drink a Provence rosé – I don’t really know why, I just never think of it, so did not know what to expect from this Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah blend. It looked attractive having deeper colour than I often associate with Provence and was in the classic curvaceous bottle. Incidentally I have been informed that this was from the 2012 vintage, but I searched the bottle in vain for that information. This is a very drinkable rosé – judging by how fast the bottle emptied – very fresh and lively with good acidity and a core of juicy  red currant, cranberry and strawberry fruit. A great deal of pleasure for just £5.99.

Pinot(2011) Pinot Noir
Vignobles Roussellet, Vin de France

To be honest I put off trying this. Cheap / inexpensive Pinot always makes me wary and Vin de France is roughly what used to be called Vin de Table, so it theoretically pretty basic stuff, but I tried it in the end. Again you will scour the label in vain for the vintage, but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is the wine and this is quite remarkably good, soft, juicy and fruity. It has the soft tannins and bright fruit of a nice Beaujolais, but some Pinot-like earthy fruit quality too. It is not a great Pinot by any means, but it is a very good Pinot for the price and a nice drop of easy drinking, soft red wine. Amazing value and very versatile, with food, without food, room temperature, chilled, even mixed with lemonade and all for £4.49.

ChampagneN.V. Champagne Veuve Monsigny Brut No: 3
Champagne, France
Made by Champagne Philizot & Fils

I was half looking forward to this and half dreading it. Somedays I thought it was going to be ok and others undrinkable. Well it was better than both those thoughts. This is genuinely a nice bottle of Champagne, fresh, lively and very appley with a soft mousse and palate. Frankly for the £12.99 price tag it is stunning!

The only odd thing about really is the back label, where it claims; ‘Ageing in cellars 5 years more than the legal minimum has enhanced its complexity.’ Really, this spent 75 months on the lees – the legal minimum is 15 months for Champagne – it doesn’t taste like it, which is a good thing I think in this instance and it would cost an enormous amount to do that!

The vineyards of Champagne.

The vineyards of Champagne.

I haven’t given these wines any points as that would be, er well… pointless actually. All of them are just right, absolutely what you want, extremely well made and very good value for anything like the price. So, if you want nice wines and no surprises – except for the low price tag – then it seems to me that Aldi can offer much more pleasure at their normal on the shelf prices than most of their competitors do with their special offers.

Aldi didn’t only send me wine by the way, there was also a bottle of Oliver Cromwell London Dry Gin in the box and as I type this I am enjoying a rather good Gin and tonic made with it. As a republican – American readers note the small ‘R’ – and admirer of Cromwell, given the times he lived in, I could not resist trying it and I am glad that I did because it really is pretty good, nicely perfumed and aromatic with a good depth of flavour and at just £9.65 per bottle it is a steal for a properly made gin – where the botanicals have been redistilled in a pot-still with the base alcohol.

You can find your nearest UK Aldi branch here.

A Champagne House to Thrill & Excite

I cannot help myself, I really do like Champagne. There is nothing more enjoyable than good sparkling wine in my opinion and there is no potentially finer sparkling wine than Champagne. What is more there is so much variety in Champagne, some houses produce a rich style, some a soft one, others a mellow one – surely there is something for everyone.

Rather excitingly I have recently stumbled across a small Champagne house that I am convinced deserves far greater fame.

Champagne Legras & Haas is a Champagne domaine founded as recently as 1991, but if the name rings any bells then you might well be thinking of Champagne R & L Legras which is a famous old Champagne house in the village of Chouilly in the Côte des Blancs. I have never tried their wines, but they have a very high reputation. Before he created his own estate in 1991, together with his wife Brigitte – whose maiden name was Haas, François Legras was the winemaker here as his forebears had been since the sixteenth century.

François Legras
Amongst other things it was his desire to be a true vigneron, a grower with a domaine that made him strike out on his own and today the house has 31 hectares mainly in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly, although the conditions of the region mean that they do still buy grapes in from trusted local growers – mainly for their standard Tradition Non Vintage (N.V.) Brut. Their Pinot Noir is grown mainly in the slightly warmer Aube area to the south.

Today the house is run by François’s sons Rémi and Olivier Legras and I think the wines they produce are remarkably fine.

Map of Champagne – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Map of Champagne – click for a larger view – non watermarked PDF versions are available by agreement

Terroir
As they are based in Chouilly in the Côte des Blancs, with its chalky fossil rich soils, they concentrate on Blanc de Blancs style wines – that is Champagnes made solely from white grapes which by and large means Chardonnay in Champagne. Contrary to popular belief Pinot Blanc – Pinot Vrai locally – can be used in the region too, but it is very rare.

Much of the soil in Chouilly is Kimmeridgian clay as in Chablis and this together with the cold climate and short growing season really does dominate the style of wines.

The wines

bouteille_brut_blanc_de_blanc_0Legras & Haas Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut N.V.

The nose was lovely, fresh is the main word I would use, but there were little touches of apricot, lemon zest, pastry crumbs and stone – this really did entice and hint rather than deliver fully formed characters. It is a tease of a wine, smelling this is like watching a burlesque act.

The palate was clean and crisp with high acidity and lots of flavour of citrus fruit, green apples and minerality as well as some biscuit-like characters. The mousses was persistent and fine – and I am not one to comment on the fizz normally as it depends on too many other factors.

At only 7 grams dosage this is a very dry Brut Champagne which allows the purity and minerality to dominate. All in all this wine really excited me – 91/100 points.

FT-SW-0012-NVpLegras & Haas Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Extra Brut N.V.

Good as that was though it was this wine that really caught my imagination. Extra Brut has a dosage of less than 5 grams per litre, so the wine is allowed to dominate the style. There is no softness here, no fat, just precision and austerity. This means that the Champagne has to be perfect first time – like a water colour.

They got it right, the wine has concentration, but is about minerality and tension. If you like Chablis you will enjoy this. It has that same nervy character and stony depth to it. The bubbles really are tiny and persistent and add some structure to the wine. Four years ageing on the lees has also added little flourishes of flakey pastry, but for me this is all about the minerality, finesse and elegant austerity – 93/100 points.

Do try these Champagnes if you can, they really are superb. I would enjoy the Brut on its own, but I think they would be particularly good with food – some fruits de mer perhaps, especially the Extra Brut.

Legras & Haas Champagnes are available in the UK from the Alaistair Nugent, Handford Wines and Private Cellar.

Legras & Haas Champagnes are available in the US from United Estates Imports and Exclusive Wine Imports

My Favourite Wines, Top Discoveries and Experiences of 2011

I feel like a respite from all the self indulgence that the Christmas holidays force upon me and feel my thoughts turning back to wine. As the New Year is coming up fast I thought that I would attempt to tell you about my wine highlights for the year.

Most of my top wines have been written up here on my Wine Page, but some have slipped through the net and are new today. Please always remember that this is an entirely personal list, but I hope you enjoy it and that it gives some food for thought.

Sparkling Wines

I was really spoiled for fizz this year, 2 Champagne tastings stand out in particular:

Champagne:

Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage based on the 1953 vintage
This whole tasting was extraordinary and provided a wonderful insight into a type of Champagne that it is all too easy to take for granted – read about it here.

1995 Perrier Jouët Belle Époque
In February I was lucky enough to taste four different vintages of Belle Epoque out of jeroboams, the 1995 was the standout wine for me, but they were all superb – read about it here.

Continue reading

Franciaorta – sparkling wine with a future

The lovely Azienda Agricola Villa

I have long wanted to try the sparkling wines of Lombardy’s Franciaorta region, so I leapt at a chance to attend a tasting and dinner hosted by the Azienda Agricola Villa.

It was quite an event and it took place in the wonderfully stylish Dego just off Great Portland Street near Oxford Circus in London. This is an Italian restaurant and wine bar that is incredibly chic and nothing like your normal stereotypical Italian eatery. Continue reading

Champagne deconstructed by Veuve Clicquot

A Thrilling Champagne Tasting

Recently I received an invitation from Veuve Clicquot Champagne to ‘a unique wine experience with Yellow Label N.V.’.

I have to admit my reaction was mixed. At first glance this didn’t really excite me, but it was somewhat mysterious –  I kept wondering how unique an experience can you get from non vintage Champagne? Being somewhat cynical I presumed they were indulging in some marketing hyperbole.

Luckily curiosity got the better of me and I popped along – I am so glad I did as this was a unique and truly memorable tasting.

Which is remarkable when you consider that there were only six wines to taste and they were all Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage – except they weren’t, not really.

All six were served from magnum and had been disgorged on the same day in February 2010. In addition, in order to really allow the differences to show they had received a low dosage of 4 grams per litre – Yellow Label is normally 9 g/L or so. This lack of sugar could officially make these Champagnes Extra Brut.

What made the tasting so wonderful was that they essentially deconstructed non vintage Champagne. We are always told that the non vintage concept is a way of averaging out the vintages. In order to make great wine in this ungenerous, northerly climate, they keep back wine from the ripe years to blend with the leaner ones. So, the theory goes it is the blend that matters, each marque producing a house style that is reproduced year in year out.

Not on the showing of this tasting they don’t. Actually each release of a non vintage Champagne  is based in large part on wines  from a single year and they use the reserve wines in a relatively limited way. I tried six different examples of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage, the wine based on the 2007 vintage, not be released until 2012 and the current offering based on the 2006 vintage.

This was followed by some older wines; the blend based on the 2004 vintage and the one based on the 2001 vintage, before moving onto a pair that were genuinely mature; the Yellow Label Brut Non Vintage based on the 1990 vintage and for a finale the oldest Non Vintage wine they possess, the cuvée based on the 1953 vintage.

Dominique Demarville

Continue reading

In Praise of Larger Bottles


Champagne vineyards in the Marne valley

The other day I really had to pinch myself. I was sure that I was dreaming, but no I really did have the opportunity to taste four different vintages of Champagne Perrier Jouët’s Belle Époque – what is more they were from jeroboams, equivalent to 4 bottles each. Continue reading