Recent tastings of exceptional Champagnes from seven houses invite reflection on what makes for perfect fizz.
One can always find an excuse to open a bottle of Champagne. No one knew this better than Sir Winston Churchill, who adored his beloved Pol Roger and considered it a normal part of a meal. He flourished on it and perhaps he will be looking down from above at the Mary Soames and the Legacy of Churchill sale on 17 December, glass in hand.
The great Pol Roger vintages I have been “looking at” recently, a convenient wine-trade euphemism for “drinking,” are the 2000, 1998 and 1996, all beautiful, lively expressions of their years. I have a tendency to describe them as “sun-kissed citrus” and “all vine peaches,” which is truly positive. When these vintage gems fail to appear, I am equally happy with Pol Roger’s non-vintage Champers, affectionately known as White Foil, which is unfailingly delicious.
The other evening, Olivier Krug dropped in to Sotheby’s in London, to show his 2003 and 2000, as well as the deep and wonderful Krug Grande Cuvée. A small group of Krug lovers listened with rapt attention as Olivier described how his house in Reims goes about creating the “Krug taste,” for which we had definitely acquired a liking. Grande Cuvée is a sensational concoction of up to eleven different years and 120 wines, blending at its most brilliant. This sparkling soirée coincided with the launch of the new book Krug by Krug Lovers, for which I wrote an introductory essay. The book naturally entailed more tasting, which led to one of the most exciting wine discoveries I have made – Krug Grande Cuvée ages with absolute splendour. So, if you have a cold cellar, buy some at regular intervals and watch it unfurl unforgettable scents and flavours. You are permitted to use your most hedonistic vocabulary when embarking on this exercise.
A very intellectual Champagne tasting took place recently when we compared two different disgorgements of two different vintages, 1996 and 1990, involving an aristocratic group of Champagne houses. Overall, my favourites were Taittinger, Deutz, Roederer and Alfred Gratien, who should all be proud that they have made such fabulous wines. The most enthralling element is the individual character of each house that comes singing through, even transcending vintage style. For the record, the 1990s are elegant, ripe and harmonious, while the 1996s possess drive, dimension and structure.
How does one define personality in a Champagne? Well, it is easier after a glass, or two. In a nutshell, Taittinger was a thoroughbred, Deutz was orange nougat, Roederer was classic and Alfred Gratien was biscuity. There was also an unexpected excellent showing by Duval-Leroy, which was delightful – I loved its sourdough bread taste.
I almost forgot the extra pleasure of this tasting – all the Champagnes were in magnum, the perfect size for two.
Sotheby’s international head of wine, Serena Sutcliffe, MW, is one of the world’s leading authorities on wine.
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