Wine and Food Society of Western Australia
Reviewed 28th March 2013.
I need to start this article with a confession: I love Champagne. The real stuff from France, rather than just any wine with bubbles. So I was very pleased to arrange a tasting of predominantly non-vintage Champagne for the Wine and Food Society of Western Australia.
I used this tasting as an opportunity to explore how the plethora of lesser known brands that are making their way to Australia compare to the Grand Marques. Over the last year or two, the price of champagne has steadily decreased. Part of this is due to the overhang of stock in markets that have diminished in the GFC. This includes the likes of Hong Kong and Singapore.
This excess stock is being bought in bulk and shipped to Australia by some of the big retailers (parallel importing) and being sold at a discount to that which the official importer is sellingit for. There remains a question over the quality of the wines sourced from Asia and beyond, as there is no guarantee on storage conditions etc. There is also no way of telling how old the stock is.
There is no doubt in my mind that a champagne that spends two years in a un-refrigerated warehouse in Hong Kong is going to taste different to one that arrived direct from France in a refrigerated container. This issue of provenance only really applies to the Grand Marques in general.
Given that all the wines for this tasting were purchased in the week before the tasting, I noted that a couple of the wines were more advanced than I would have expected. Not that they were in any way bad, just more developed than I would have expected straight from the producer. As I tend to age my NV champagnes for a year or two anyway, perhaps this is not such a bad thing, but the consumer has a right to consistency.
There were several standout wines. From a value perspective, the Jean Richecourt and Pol Gessener were absolute bargains. Excellent quality at around $30 on special.
The Lanson Gold Label highlights the quality of the 2002 vintage and is tremendous value. (I already have some in my cellar). The wine of the night however, was the Grand Cellier D’Or by Vilmart & Cie. A superb wine at any price!
Below is a cross-section of wines that I consider to be most noteworthy, focussing on the less known brands.
Vilmart & Cie – Grand Cellier D’Or – Champagne – 2007 (18.5+). My tasting notes for this wine were brief but expressive. Fresh, vibrant, taut, long, linear, balanced, fine and refreshing. Superb length and great presence. This is a spectacular wine that is great drinking now, but will also drink superbly for 5 years or more. Try Lamont’s in Cottesloe.
Bollinger – Champagne – NV (18 – 18.5). A richer style, but a fresh and vibrant wine that has plenty of life and joy. The nose has lemony, fresh, fine and elegant fruit. The palate is powerful, showing autolysis and dough like characters, though there is a degree of finesse and elegance. The finish is very long and remains fine right to the close. A favourite of James Bond and a favourite of mine too!
Lanson – Gold Label – Champagne – 2002 (18 – 18.5). Opens with delicate, floral fruit on the nose. Again, the acidity is a feature. Great line and length with lovely mouth-feel, balance and texture. There are stone fruit characters and subtle spice. Complete wine of great charm. It is amazing that a wine of this quality from such a good year is still available on the market for under $55. I already have some in my cellar. (Available from Dan Murphy).
Pierre Gimonnet & Fils – Paradox – Champagne – 2004 (18). Richer and more developed than the Vilmart, but still with life and balance. The palate has good penetration and attack and great mouth-feel. Everything a good champagne should be. Drink now. (Available from Vintage Cellars at $55).
Jean Richecourt – Champagne – NV (18). Wow, the group really liked this wine! A very delicate nose that shows hints of toast and brioche. The palate is fresh and taut, with tight minerality and great penetration. The dosage has been perfectly matched to the youthful fruit and acid. I like the persistence and the way the wine cuts through the palate to show hints of stonefruit and brioche. Stunning value at under $35 from Vintage Cellars!
Canard-Duchene – Cuvee Leonie – Champagne – NV (17.5 – 18). I like this for its balance and life. There are plenty of yeasty/leesy notes, with some bottle age evident. A lively, moderately complex wine that is very easy to drink. ($60 from La Vigna in Mt Lawley).
Drappier – Signature – Champagne – Blanc de Blanc – NV (17.5 – 18). Balance, delicacy, finesse, this has everything you need in a champagne. Excellent acidity, length and penetration on the palate, with the powerful chardonnay fruit making this a complete wine. Excellent value from the team at Vintage Cellars.
Moet et Chandon – Champagne – NV (17.5-18). A more youthful wine with less obvious lees characters. Opens with lovely lemony fruit on both the nose and the palate. I like the acidity on this which combines with moderate dosage to make the finish quite drying. The palate has excellent length and intensity and, while there are not a lot of autolysis characters, the fresh style makes an excellent aperitif. It is great to see the quality from this house back up where it belongs.
Pol Gessener – Champagne – NV (17.5 – 18). Fresh, taut and racy, but the acid is a little bright just now. An excellent wine that would benefit from 6 months in the bottle to bring out its best. Great value at under $35 from Dan Murphy.
Pol Roger – Champagne – NV (17.5 – 18). Developed colour and a degree of richness on the nose. Creamy, taut, lemony, but with an underlying richness that comes from time in bottle. A gentle wine with excellent length and a touch of minerals.
Duperrey – Champagne – NV (17-17.5). Lighter, fresher, but still with excellent autolysis and aged characters. The balance here is the key. The palate has lemon, stone fruit, excellent acidity and good penetration. A very good wine, though the dosage is a touch more obvious.