Grapevine Archive for CIVC

Thu 17 Mar 2011

80 Champagne Houses before lunch

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Trade tastings come and go. The best provide a snapshot of what is going on in a particular country, region or vintage. The most useful is the annual Champagne tasting organised by the CIVC, the syndicate of Champagne producers. It always falls in March and is traditionally held amidst the splendour and majesty of the Banqueting Hall, a remnant of the Palace of Whitehall in London.

This year there were some eighty Houses present and it is the only time when one can taste from all the main Houses and many of the lesser ones. Houses show three wines including the basic non vintage brut with the opportunity to meet up, exchange views and find out the gossip.

So this year what can I conclude from the 2011 tasting?
More growers going away from the standard Champagne bottle shape and stronger label designs. Definitely lots of marketing, not always backed up the quality of the wine.

Something else was glaringly obvious: Alfred Gratien Champagne is quite simply outstanding with only two or three others coming close to challenging it for quality and price. The Society’s Champagne is surely one of the greatest bargains in the trade. Every member should try a bottle!

Broadly, what I tasted can be categorised into the following:
- Don’t touch
- Party fizz
- Bankers. Great names where quality is consistently good. These are the wines that often appear on restaurant lists and which deliver
- Champagne with attitude. Great wines but maybe better with food

Wine is living thing and tastes can change and as can some of my views. Ageing Champagne is an essential component in creating the flavour of Champagne so a wine not showing well this week for example could be delicious in a couple of months’ time.

Here is my Champagne guide of what is good, on the turn, or well and truly rotten.

Champagne Volleraux Decent enough. Very chardonnay. Needs food

Veuve Clicquot Very famous but the widow seems to have lost her touch. Horrid

Thiénot Lovely Champagne. Rounded and charming. Clean and straight. Perfect restaurant fizz and good for parties

Tarlant Decent enough but lacks finesse. Leave alone

Taittinger Another famous house. Lovely, charming and light. An all rounder. Party fizz par excellence

Soutiran NV seemed to be too old with too much reserve wine. Leave alone

Ruinart Great name, silly bottle, disgraceful wine at NV level. Dom Ruinart 1998 is better though showing some age. Leave alone

Roger Pouillon Horrid

Pommery Sweet, common. Don’t touch

Pol Roger Outstanding. Classic. Don’t hesitate here. This is the banker par excellence, an all rounder of real distinction and class

Pierre Moncuit Blanc de blancs and very good with some real finesse. Needs food

René Geoffroy Some real class here. Lovely length and some nice maturity. A good restaurant fizz. Good party fizz

Philipponnat Disappointing. Dull and heavy. Maybe better with food but I’m not recommending it

Perrier-Jouet Too old. horrid

Penet-Chardonnet Never heard of it. Horrid

J.Charpentier Horrid

Pehu-Simonet Silly bottle. Horrid

Paul Berthelot Horrid

Pannier Dire

Nicolas Feuillatte Not bad at all. Wedding fizz. Lacks a little distinction maybe but very acceptable

Moutard Horrid

Moet & Chandon Not bad but somewhat hard and aggressive. Acceptable all rounder

Henri Mandois Good party fizz. Light chardonnay style

Louis Roederer Banker. Very good though I might have tasted it better. This bottle might have been disgorged recently

Le Mesnil co-op NV disappointing. Has been better before. 2004 vintage quite good

Laurent Perrier Delicious. Reception Champagne with a little more weight than say Taittinger. Gorgeous rosé

Lanson Crisp and bone dry. Very good and on the up. Extra Age Brut has much complexity. Bit dry to be an all-rounder. Needs a pot of jellied eels while watching the tennis. Less good at vintage level

Joseph Perrier Dreadful. Cava is better

Lallement Awful

Jean Milan Awful

Jacquesson Has attitude. Very good but not for everyone. Bone dry and full of flavour. Screams out for food and might have benefited from being decanted

Jacquart No charm. Leave alone

André Jacquart Horrid

Henriot Outstanding. Real banker here. As Clicquot used to be: rich and full bodied. Great all-rounder

Henri Ablelé Horrid

Heidsieck Monopole Aggressive and a bit short but not a disaster

Charles Lafitte Horrid. Suggest they use the name and concentrate on sales to China!

H Blin Fairly average. Has flavour but short on charm. Maybe better with food

Alfred Gratien Complete knock out. A clear winner. A perfect all rounder with character, complexity and charm

Gosset Pretty serious glass here but I think would be better with food

Gardet No charm. Leave alone

G.H.Mumm Decent enough but of no great quality. Good label though. Best used for launching ships and spraying F1 drivers

G.H.Martel Horrid

F Dilligent Horrid

Giraud Horrid

Edouard Brun Quite serious, well made and full flavoured. Needs food

Duval-Leroy Unspeakably nasty

Dumangin Horrid

Drappier Horrid

Dosnon and Lepage Too old

Devaux Not exciting. Round and pleasant enough. Party fizz only

Deutz Very good in a dry appley sort of way. Lots of character. Food wine

Delamotte Hard and without charm. Not a winner

Dehours et fils Horrid

JL Vergnon Horrid

De Saint Gall Dreadful

De Castelnau Leave alone

Colin Oxidised

M Furdyna Horrid

Charles Heidsieck « Champagne Charlie is my name » Decent enough. Safe glass to have before a meal

Piper Hiedsieck Seriously good. Best of the Heidsiecks. Super quality here and a perfect all rounder

Charles Elner Horrid

Janisson Tasted like cider

Chanoine Very basic quality. French supermarkets level only

Cattier No finesse. Leave alone

Canard-Duchene Decent only. A bit sweet for my taste

Guy Cadel Horrid

Bruno Paillard Very good indeed. Has real charm, presence and length

De Castellane Famous landmark in Epernay but wine is dreadful

Philippe Brugnon Better than when tasted before. But no more than decent. Rich mature style

Alexandre Bonnet Lovely party fizz. Soft, round and very attractive. Good for those who don’t like the high acidity of most Champagne

Bollinger Stand out quality. Full bodied, rich and mature. Resplendent. Probably at its best when wearing jacket and tie

Boizel Real complexity and a lot of flavour for the money. Real quality here. One doesn’t have to be at Glyndebourne to enjoy it

Comte Audoin de Dampierre Pretentious. Very marked by oak and needs food. Not bad

Besserat de Bellefon I used to like this but this bottle was horrid

Tsarine Poor man’s Cristal maybe. Decent enough but unexciting

Beaumont des Crayères Green and mean. Leave alone

Pierre Gimmonet Outstanding. Lovely pure chardonnay Champagne. Lots of finesse and great length. Possibly better with food than on its own

Rapeneau Horrid

Ayala Getting better but not really much fun

Arlaux Barely decent. Avoid

Marcel Orford-Williams
Champagne buyer