Grand Marque tasting
Recently, I hosted a fantastic evening where my guests and I tasted 8 of the most well known champagnes in 2 flights. It was fascinating to revisit these wines in a relaxed setting and side by side. I don’t think I’ve ever had all of these side by side ever. It was fun to see which wines actually lived up to their reputation both in terms of quality, but more importantly house style.
Here are the wines with my thoughts. A quick technical note, I did open all of the wines 1 hour before the tasting began, so they all had plenty of time to breath.
1.Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV – This was probably the biggest surprise of the night for me. I always thought of PJ as a lighter, more delicate style with floral tones. This wine however was much bigger than expected leaning toward the yeast, almond, brioche side of the house. I certainly wouldn’t have put this wine in the starting position had I realized how off my palate memory was, or how much the house has been tinkering with their style.
2. Taittinger La Francaise Brut NV – I was pleased with how this wine tasted, it showed its higher percentage of Chardonnay with bright lemon and mineral tones. The wine had a more pronounced acidity and lacked the rounder tones that arise with age. Overall, I feel that the continue to achieve their goal of making a fresh, light champagne that’s ideal for pairing with lighter foods.
3.Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve NV – Certainly one of the highlights of the night. Despite not owning a significant portion of their vines, Billecart manages to reach impressive heights. The wine showed a spectrum of flavors both on the light citrus and mineral end, as well as a the bolder more pinot dominate notes. Balanced and easy drinking while showing its aristocratic roots.
4. Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut NV - What to say about the most produced champagne in the world? The wine delivered what I expected, it was easy and enjoyable. I would be glad if this was what most people associated with champagne rather than Cook’s or some other garbage. It was also the wine that made the least impact on all of us. I suppose that’s the trade off, to produce that much wine, it’ll be a bit less complex.
5. Veuve Clicquot Carte Jaune NV – I had been hearing rumors that Clicquot was actively working on improving the quality of the Yellow Label, which had been sinking toward a very boring wine for a while now. I am happy to report that the quality of this wine has significantly improved. Possibly due to a good base year, but I’m guessing the work in the winery and vineyards is starting to show. It wasn’t my favorite wine of the night, but it did make an impression. I will happy accept a glass of this in the future.
6. Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV – I was very happy with this wine, and I feel the additional time being open helped the wine considerably. The last few times I’ve had this wine I thought it showed more reductive qualities that I’d like, but it certainly had blown off at this tasting. The wine showed what I expected of the house and this wine – brioche and yeasty tones mingled with red apples, and minerality with an underlying grace. The ML played a wonderful role in making this wine very drinkable while remaining complex.
7. Pol Roger Cuvée de Réserve NV Brut – This was certainly the favorite of the group. It showed elegance and sophistication. A fantastic blend of almonds, brioche, red apples, and minerality. Well balanced and very drinkable. More or less what I expected from this noble house.
8. Bollinger Special Cuvée NV Brut – Bolli has been in the middle of a rough patch with their former Chef du Cave leaving, however I thought this wine showed very well. It was very much what I expected and enjoy about Bollinger – robust, full bodied champagne with a focus on brioche and nutty tones and the weight and flavor of Pinot Noir. If you enjoy bolder champagnes, this will treat you very well. I can’t help but wonder if some of this is due to their new bottle, which is designed to mimic the air to wine ratio of a magnum.
Overall, this was a fantastic tasting that confirmed that many of the houses are staying true to the perception of their house style. It was also a pleasant change to focus solely on larger producers. I get so wrapped up with the growers and focus on terrior and vintage character. I truly enjoyed tasting the crafted wines. I think in the excitement of wanting new and interesting, we forget that the established houses do truly make delicious wines.