Category Archives: Champagne

Jul 07 2016

Masterclass with Didier Mariotti, Chef de Cave, G.H. Mumm

Posted on July 07, 2016 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Did you know that half of the Champagne produced every year is consumed in France? And outside of France, Australia is one of the world’s biggest markets for Champagne (8 million bottles a year) and our thirst for the drop is growing rapidly – up 24% last year alone!

G.H. Mumm’s Chef de Caves Didier Mariotti (Head Winemaker is the less cool English translation) shared these and other fascinating  tidbits at a recent masterclass on the G.H. Mumm lineup at Vintage Cellars, Double Bay.

The lineup of wines for us to try was stellar: G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV, G.H. Mumm Le Rose NV, G.H. Mumm Le Millisime 2006, Blanc de Blancs de Cramant NV, G.H. Mumm Rene Lalou Cuvee 1999.

Unfortunately, the delightfully fresh Blanc de Blancs de Cramant is not easy to source in Australia and was unavailable to buy on the night. Only 50,000 bottles are made each year and the French are reluctant to let it leave their shores! A pity, because this wine is a brilliant expression of Didier’s winemaking philosophy – its hallmark characteristic being simplicity, not complexity!

In Didier’s opinion, to achieve a sophisticated, yet simple (perhaps ‘pure’ is a better English translation?) expression of the chardonnay grape from a single vintage is extremely difficult, because you can’t disguise mistakes by blending in reserve wine.

The grapes comes from just one village – the Grand Cru vineyards of the chalk hillside village of Cramant in Côte des Blancs. (Mumm has been making a blanc des blancs from this area since 1882.)  To produce a wine that is sharp and crisp yet still has an interesting minerally mid-palate, Didier deliberately bottles the wine at a lower pressure and adds only a small dosage (less than 6 grams).

The wine’s perfume was superb – a … Read the rest

Jan 01 2015

Krug Champagne Masterclass

Posted on January 01, 2015 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Krug is to Champagne as Domaine de la Romanée-Conti is to Burgundy and Petrus is to Bordeaux. (Tyson Stelzer, The Champagne Guide 2014-2015)

Vintage Cellars Ultimo’s Krug Masterclass was one of those occasions I will never forget. Fortunately, I’ve had a number of opportunities to sample top vintage cuvées from the celebrated Champagne Houses, but the chance to taste the Krug Clos du Mesnil 2003 (rrp $1,299.99) and the Krug Clos d’Ambonnay 1998 (rrp $3,299.99) was a very rare privilege indeed!

The World’s Most Expensive Champagnes

The quality of both these wines is undisputed, but what makes them so special and expensive is their scarcity. Both wines come from small 18th century walled vineyards on exceptional Grand Crus land.

Wine critic Tyson Stelzer describes the pure chalk based 1.85 hectare Clos du Mensil  as the most famous vineyard in all of Champagne, and one of the finest chardonnay sites outside of Burgundy.  In his opinion, the chalk imparts an “earth-shaking minerality” in the wine.

The Clos d’Ambonnay 1998 is exclusively pinot noir, and only the third release of a wine from a tiny (0.68 hectares) site in the village of Ambonnay – Krug’s favourite source for pinot noir. As Stelzer notes, the “Clos D’Ambonnay is Champagne’s very own La Romanée” with a price tag to match!

Krug pioneered the development of the non-vintage cuvée

KrugInterestingly, these ultra cuvées come from a House renowned for its famed multi-vintage and multi-variety blends.

In the mid 18th century founder Joseph Krug was one of the first to recognise that the best insurance policy against Champagne’s fickle weather was to create a non-vintage blend to guarantee consistency both in quality and style from year to year. Single vintage wines were only released in years when the vintage was deemed outstanding.  The Krug Grand Cuvée Read the rest

Apr 04 2014

Salon Brut Le Mesnil: “The Champagne Lovers’ Champagne”

Posted on April 04, 2014 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin describes the Salon Brut Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs as “the Champagne lovers’ Champagne.” Even in the rarefied world of prestige vintage cuvees, Salon is in a class of its own!

Founded by Eugène Aimé Salon in the early 20th century, Champagne Salon makes only one wine and only in years when the vintage is deemed to be exceptional.  Just 38 vintages, an average of about four a decade, have been released since the first commercial vintage of 1921.

Salon began his career as an apprentice cellar master in Champagne, but ambition soon took him to Paris where he became a very successful furrier and a connoisseur of fine Champagne. In the early 1900s Salon purchased a prime chardonnay grand cru vineyard in the Le Mesnil-sur-Oger commune of the Côte des Blancs, and then set out to prove that the terroir could produce a Champagne from chardonnay so complete that it would make the addition of pinot noir or pinot meunier unnecessary.

As fortune would have it, the terroir of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is quite similar to Burgundy’s Montrachet, the home of the world’s most famous chardonnay. Both terroirs are blessed with high levels of chalk, which not only helps the soil to retain much needed moisture during the summer months but imparts the wine with very special aromas and flavours.

Martin believes this special terroir is what gives Salon a crucial advantage over other Blanc de Blancs: “The more I reflected upon it, the more parallels I could see with Montrachet: that minerality, the poise and definition, the need for time to unlock its complexity and nuances.” (Salon by Neal Martin, Wine Advocate, November 2006)

Ageability is indeed an important hallmark of the Salon style. This is a wine that spends at least 10 … Read the rest

Feb 02 2014

Time to Toss Out your Champagne Flutes?

Posted on February 02, 2014 | By merrill@cellarit.com

I just read an interesting article in this month’s Decanter about whether the Champagne flute should be abolished? Maximilian Riedel, 11th generation of the famous family glass maker, told Decanter that he wants “the flute be obsolete by the day I pass away.” (Riedel is only 36, so it you have a preference for drinking Champagne from a flute, don’t worry just yet!)

So what’s all the fuss about?

In a previous post, The Benefits of Decanting Champagne, I explained the growing trend for decanting Champagne in the world’s top restaurants. Advocates believe that the decanter enhances the aromatics by taming the fizz and softening the mousse. Riedel has even invented a beautiful lyre shaped decanter to release the aromas while still preserving the bubbles.

The flute’s tendency to inhibit the experience of Champagne’s subtle aromas, especially when the Champagne is first poured, is the main reason for the assault on its reputation. In Riedel’s opinion, “narrow flutes present Champagne as one dimensional, flooring a wine lover’s ability to appreciate the full range of aromas.” (“The Burning Question: Should Champagne flutes be outlawed?” by Chris Mercer, Decanter, March 2014)

 

champagne flutes tulipsRiedel is by no means a lone wolf on the subject. Renowned Champagne House Charles Heidsieck, which worked with Riedel on its Champagne decanter design, suggests serving Champagne in a white wine glass, because the wider surface area also helps to release the aromas and tone down the acid.

A tulip shaped glass, which is sort of a hybrid of the flute and the standard wine glass,  looks like the most promising alternative.

Most people associate the flute with celebration. so switching to a white wine glass, no matter how elegant, may inadvertently dampen the sense of occasion even if the Champagne tastes better!

Champagne for thought, as they … Read the rest

Dec 12 2013

Australia’s Top 5 NV Sparkling ‘Champagne Style’ Wines

Posted on December 12, 2013 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The Sydney Morning Herald’s wine critic Huon Hooke recently remarked that “with champagne prices plunging like an England cricket fan’s morale (yes, Australia is still in the lead!) you might think there is no contest for your festive season bubbly dollars.” (Swap toil, trouble for fizz and bubble, SMH 3 December 2013)

But, as Hooke goes on to say, Australia also produces high quality, great value sparkling wines using the traditional methode champenoise. Indeed, the number of boutique wineries making sparkling wine in Australia has grown dramatically over the past few decades. It’s a trend which has focused attention on identifying the best regions and sites to grow the classic Champagne varieties of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.

Notably, northern Tasmania is proving to be one of the best regions in Australia for producing fine quality sparkling. It benefits from a cool climate and the maritime influence from Bass Strait creates just the right amount of humidity to allow the grapes to ripen slowly and retain the lingering acidity essential for making premium sparkling wine.

On the mainland Victoria’s Macedon Ranges and the Upper Yarra are also producing very good sparkling, and the cool climate regions of Tumbarumba and the Southern Highlands in NSW are showing great potential. The top five NV sparklings listed here are just representative examples of many good wines that are still priced very competitively against their French counterparts.

 

arrasbruteliteHouse of Arras Brut Elite Cuvée No. 401 NV RRP$55

Tasmania’s House of Arras is arguably Australia’s top sparkling house. Under Ed Carr’s exceptional leadership, wines like the House of Arras Ed Carr LD 2000, for example, have consistently won accolades typically reserved for top vintage Champagnes.

The entry level House of Arras Brut Elite Cuvée No. 401 NV is a blend … Read the rest

Dec 12 2013

Agrapart & Fils Champagne: It’s all About Terroir

Posted on December 12, 2013 | By merrill@cellarit.com

In a recent article in Wine-Searcher, Try wines from these up and coming producers to get ahead of the curve, Tim Atkin’s singled out Agrapart & Fils Champagne as of his 10 favourite under-valued producers:

Pascal Agrapart is one of the rising stars of the Côte des Blancs, making (mostly) bone-dry, oak-fermented Blanc de Blancs from old-vine chardonnay. Look out for their Les 7 Crus, a blend of grapes from all seven villages in which the family owns vines. 

I first discovered Agrapart & Fils Champagne a couple of years ago at the Vintage Cellars annual Champagne Gala hosted by the Double Bay store to showcase their very best Champagnes.

The labels were quite whimsical by Champagne standards (they have since been updated and now have a more traditional look), and the wines were superb and quite different in character to anything else I tried that night.

Agrapart is an artisan or “grower” Champagne House with an average production of only 6,00 cases a year. Chardonnay comprises almost 95% of the estates 10 hectares of plantings, and the focus is very much on creating blended wines that highlight the important, if often subtle, differences in the terroir of the estate’s Côte de Blancs’ mainly grand crus holdings in Avize, Oger, Cramant and Oiry.

Agrapart also has the advantage of owning some of the oldest vines in Champagne. The average age of its chardonnay vines is 40 years, with some being more than 65 years old – an impressive statistic for Champagne and a significant advantage for encouraging terroir expression, as it gives the roots a chance to dig deep and draw out the mineral characters in the soils.

Like a growing number of France’s top producers, proprietor Pascal Agrapart has found that the use of organic and biodynamic farming … Read the rest

Nov 11 2013

Taittinger Champagne: Few can compete in terms of value and cachet!

Posted on November 11, 2013 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Taittinger’s Australian distributor, McWilliam’s Wines, recently hosted a dinner to showcase the Taittinger Champagne range in the splendid dining room of the Sydney’s Pullman Quay Grand overlooking the Harbour Bridge. Champagne expert Tyson Stelzer was on hand to talk about the historic Champagne House – the 6th largest in Champagne and one of the few remaining independent, family-owned and managed estates.

Apart from the excellent selection of Taittinger non-vintage and vintage Champagnes, matched beautifully to a four course menu, Stelzer’s superb commentary on Taittinger and Champagne, in general, made for a truly memorable evening.

 

 

Stelzer’s most recent edition of The Champagne Guide 2014 – 2015 has been winning rave reviews. The Sydney Morning Herald’s wine critic Huon Hooke described it as perhaps “the most useful book ever written on France’s prestige sparkling wine, Champagne.” (Champagne tour de force: The best guide to Champagne ever written turns out to be the work of an Aussie from Brissie, Good Food, SMH, 15 October 2013.)

Taittinger chalk cavesHere are a few reasons why, according to Stelzer, Taittinger deserves to be considered one of the very best Champagne houses in the world:

  • Taittinger’s flagship wine, the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs may not have the profile of illustrious peers like Moet et Chandon’s Dom Perignon or Veuve Cliquot’s La Grande Dame, but Champagne connoisseurs generally regard this 100% chardonnay wine as one of the best and most age worthy wines in Champagne. We were extremely fortunate to enjoy the spectacular 2002 vintage, sourced from the best grand crus vineyards in the Côte des Blanc and disgorged in February 2012 after more than a decade under lees in Taittinger’s vast cold Roman built chalk caves in Reims.
  • The excellent value Taittinger Brut Reserve NV is essentially a vintage wine, and
Read the rest
Feb 02 2013

Beyond French Champagne: New Zealand Vintage Sparkling!

Posted on February 02, 2013 | By merrill@cellarit.com

With so many great deals on French Champagne in Australia at the moment, looking beyond the French for a bubbly may seem like a hard ask. But for good value vintage sparkling, New Zealand is seriously worth considering. Unlike their French counterparts, top-rated vintage New Zealand vintage sparklings can be found for less than $50 a bottle.

Take the Deutz Marlborough Cuvée range for example. Three of their vintage releases – the 2008 Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle Blanc de Blancs, the 2009 Cuvée Prestige Cuvée, Marlborough and the 2006 Cuvée Méthode Traditionelle Rosé – scored 97, 96 and 95 respectively in Gourmet Traveller Wine’s Top 100 New Releases for 2013. The three offerings retail for around $44 a bottle. (You’d be certainly hard pressed to find a vintage Champagne for under $100 a bottle!)

Why buy vintage Champagne/sparkling?

Fortunately, the rest of the world has followed the Champagne example of only making vintage sparkling in years when growing conditions are exceptional. Typically, the Champagne houses prefer to blend across vintages, as it insures a consistent house style.

But the point of making a vintage sparkling is to showcase the special attributes of an excellent vintage. These wines are individual examples to be judged in their own right rather than displays of a house style. In creating these special wines, Champagne houses and wineries usually lavish the wines with special attention.

Vintage Champagne/sparklings, for example, are typically aged longer than non-vintage wines before disgorgement. This is important because Champagne/sparkling wines owe their nuances of flavour and savoury definition to the time they remain in contact with dead yeast lees, which gather on the underbelly of the bottle while the wine is lying in the dank chalk cellars of Champagne or the new world cellars of the sparkling makers.

Bottle ageing is also … Read the rest

Nov 11 2012

The Coming of Age of Rosé Champagne: Vintage Cellars Double Bay Champagne Gala 2012

Posted on November 11, 2012 | By merrill@cellarit.com

Wine critics’ opinions of rosé Champagne vary widely. Last year Jancis Robinson MW made the following comment: “My tastings suggest that a huge proportion of rosé champagne is a fairly cynical product that does not have any special positive attributes but merely ticks the visual box (sometimes only just) of being pink. In fact I would go so far as to say that the average quality of pink champagne is lower than that of the average white champagne, despite it being more expensive.” (Rosé champagne – the missing ingredient, JancisRobinson.com, 3 September 2011)

The Wine Advocate’s Antonio Galloni has a far rosier (excuse the pun!) opinion of rosé Champagne. In a recent video showcasing grower Champagnes, Galloni commented that the addition of still red wine can bring “amplitude and warmth” to Champagne and metaphorically compared it to a “baritone voice that fills out the concert hall.” (Grower Champagnes – Part 1, by Antonio Galloni, eRobertParker.com, 8 October 2012)

Over the past decade, consumers certainly seemed to have developed a taste for pink. Imports of rosé Champagne to the UK, for example, have more than doubled in the last decade and it now constitutes 8.5% of all Champagne exports.

If last Wednesday’s Vintage Cellars Double Bay Champagne Gala is any guide, the world’s top Champagne houses are definitely committed to making very fine examples of rosé Champagne. Vintage and non vintage rosé Champagnes were on show from Billecart- Salmon, Bollinger,  Dom Pérignon, Laurent-Perrier, Moët & Chandon, G.H. Mumm, Pol Roger and Veuve Clicquot.

 

Typically, the NV rosé Champagnes command a 30 to 50% price premium above the non rosé bottlings. Why the price differentiation you may ask? Well it turns out that the Champagne houses have had to make … Read the rest

Dec 12 2011

Pol Roger: The Preferred Champagne of Top Bordeaux Winemakers!

Posted on December 12, 2011 | By merrill@cellarit.com

The Wine Advocate’s Neal Martin notes that on his visits to Bordeaux the proprietors of the châteaux typically serve Pol Roger: “Sure, if they are out to schmooze then Cristal is poured, but when they want to share a champagne that they like to drink themselves, then Pol Roger is the bubbly doing the rounds.” (To the House of Defiance: Pol Roger 1914 – 1998 by Neal Martin, October 2007, eRobertParker.com)

I’ve just finished reading Anne Sebba’s fascinating biography of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor. Sir Winston Churchill was one of the central figures in the dramatic events that led to the abdication of Edward VIII in 1936 so the King of England could marry the twice divorced Mrs Simpson.

Pol Roger was, of course, Churchill’s favourite Champagne, of which he famously quipped: “In victory, deserve it. In defeat, need it!” Churchill apparently made his first purchase of Pol Roger in 1908 and became a huge fan of the 1928 vintage, which he admired for its sweetness and richness. In the 1940s he developed a close friendship with Odette Pol-Roger, who was famously photographed by Cecil Beaton, the Duchess of Windsor’s favourite photographer.

By the time of his death in 1965, Churchill had procured over 500 cases of Pol Roger, and to mark his passing the Champagne House placed a black band on the white foil of bottles destined for the UK. In 1984 Pol Roger released the first Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, based on the 1975 vintage and only soured from grand crus vineyards that were active during Churchill’s lifetime. Made in the richer style that Churchill preferred, the wine is now Pol Roger’s top cuvée, and is greatly admired for its complexity, elegance and finesse.

Located in the heart of Epernay, Pol Roger is the … Read the rest