This was a Champagne lover’s dream tasting, a line-up of the best of the best. The panel’s pleasurable task was to find the fairest of them all.
Spanning a total of 14 vintages, the Champagne region’s claim to the title of world’s best sparkling-wine region looked stronger than ever. Perhaps the biggest test of a fine-wine region’s credentials is its performance when the elements conspire against its producers. In 2004, the vines were laden with a huge crop, and a cool summer cast some early concern over its potential, but the wines keep on surprising us with their elegance and vivacity: both Charles Heidsieck’s Blanc des Millénaires and vintage Krug were stars of the tasting.
Ranging from just under £50 to an eye-watering £1,650 for a magnum of Armand de Brignac’s Blanc de Blancs NV (a blend of the 2005, 2006 and 2008 vintages), it is fascinating to see how some of the region’s most expensive prestige cuvées fare against lower-priced peers. Wines including Bollinger’s Vieilles Vignes Françaises and Salon 2006 performed satisfactorily but not as flashily as their £400 price tags might suggest.
The star of the show was a refined and complex magnum of Rare 1998. Rare is the Piper-Heidsieck cuvée that will become a brand in its own right when cellar master Régis Camus switches his attention to focus solely on this little-known gem. At 20 years old, the wine was full of energy and divinely textured.
The runner-up in this prestigious tasting was Deutz’s stylish and precise Amour de Deutz Blanc de Blancs from the excellent 2008 vintage. The season produced wines of great refinement and energy, which was reflected in our scores: four cuvées achieved 93 points or more.
It’s now time to stock your cellar, as 2008 is the current release for many houses – and top of your shopping list should certainly be Louis Roederer’s Cristal, for its sheer purity; for another expression of excellence, Piper Heidsieck’s vintage is ready to drink. A note of caution: the clear glass bottles used for Amour de Deutz and Cristal are prone to light-strike, and our first bottle of Amour carried the nasty, cabbage-like flavour associated with the issue. In an effort to avoid this, make sure you only buy bottles that have been stored in a box, with the protective cellophane still wrapped around the bottles.
When it comes to the best value, Delamotte’s Blanc de Blancs 2008 impressed, outshining more expensive and prestigious cuvées, including its iconic sibling Salon 2006. It is always intriguing to taste a house’s prestige cuvée next to its less expensive vintage blend. Prestige often beats the vintage in these duels, but in the case of Gosset and Philipponnat the roles were reversed. In many instances, however, a prestige cuvée underperforms due to its lack of maturity rather than absolute quality – Philipponnat’s characterful Clos des Goisses, for example, needs 10 to 20 years following its release to express its soulfulness.
Interestingly, the Krugs – the Grande Cuvée Edition 166 and the 2004 vintage – were almost on a par. This reinforces the original vision of the house’s founder, who aimed to make two cuvées of equal quality: a vintage and a multi-vintage. Krug’s recent introduction of edition numbering for its Grande Cuvée is also having the intended effect, putting it in the ranks of the most collectible Champagnes. Less famous non-vintage expressions also held their own in the tasting: congratulations to both Jacquesson Cuvée No. 741 and R de Ruinart for performing so well. At less than £50 a bottle, the pair demonstrated that Champagne lovers don’t need to spend a fortune to drink the very highest quality