Diary-of-Axel-Ritenis FINE WINE

Champagne-A Connoisseur’s Guide

Champagne
Written by Aksel Ritenis

Champagne

The New Year is a time for celebration and much excitement as we celebrate with friends and family, and either Non Vintage or vintage Champagne are equally appropriate!

“Champagne has that utterly cool seductive and socially transformative quality, doesn’t it?” The satisfying pop of the cork announces the release of aromas and flavours that have been years in the making.

But how do you make the most of the potential in the bottle? Please take your bubbles seriously! Sure, it demands that we approach the enjoyment seriously, pay attention, and “notice its delightful intricacies and characteristics.” Starting with the golden hue, and the beguiling sight “of the effusive bead sparkling to the top of the glass.” But in return, it yields, unfurls, and reveals layers of flavour. Citrussy-Lemony chardonnay aromas, Brioche and pattisserie aromas (sometimes black forest fruits from the Pinot Roses), stewed apple, toasty and yeasty aromas, perhaps a hint of almond and certainly some hints of mushroom in older vintage wines.

 

Obviously I’m talking about fine Champagne here – the stuff made by the better Champagne House. Quality varies dramatically producer to producer “ranging from sublime to magnificent”, the leading producers seldom disappoint! I tend to think sometimes, that it is “liquid decadence in a glass” yet somehow at the same time “one senses a degree of restraint and purpose” when consuming this delightful liquid.

Champagne brings joy to the world but it is not widely appreciated how important the glasses or stemware really are! The traditional champagne flute and flat coupe glass are fine for young wines – but for complex older champagnes, only a wide Tulip type glass that curves back in towards the top and is filled only a little way will present the bubbles correctly and maximize the bouquet!

2000 Pol Roger Brut Champagne, 2000.
One of the finest of all French Champagne houses and in top form in recent years with their vintage releases. Vintage Pol combines elegance and finesse with depth and complexity of flavour. Pol Roger’s Vintage Brut 2000 is exuberant, deliciously complex and brimming with flavour. A flawless companion to a festive breakfast of warm croissants and raspberries with cream, or to toast the New Year. !

Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial with its perfect balance of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier has become one of the world’s most-loved Champagnes. ‘Möet’ is characterised by bright fruitiness and elegant maturity. The palate reveals subtle pear, citrus and brioche notes. In recent years the price of Möet has become extremely affordable and can be enjoyed for all celebratory occasions.

Moet_Chandon

Dom Pérignon Brut Vintage
Dom Pérignon is the most famous Champagne in the world, and for good reason. The bouquet sparkles with delicate fresh violets in a setting of white peaches. The soft delicate flavours continue while the senses are tickled by the most delicate of fine bubbles. Though this is such a fine delicate wine, the complexity is astounding, along with its length. Stunning.

Dom-Perignon_statue

 

Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV
Reminiscent of tarte tatin—that caramelized French apple flan—except bone dry, seriously crisp, and layered with barely there notes of almond, lemon, wet stones, and warm bread. A trade favourite.

Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV
Champagne of this quality is amazing. The crisp green apple and citrus flavours are vibrant yet so delicate. Perfect balance and amazing length. This fresh and lively Champagne tingles with notes of bright citrus and Granny Smith, but quickly evolves in the mouth to reveal notes of warm bread and creamy lemon curd. Very persistent finish.

Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin NV Brut
Very complex, intense aromas. Fresh fruited but showing honey, marzipan, brioche of autolysis. Layered and moussey in the palate, but bright, fresh, fine acidity. Light, brisk and squeaky. Finishes pretty short but has a decided delicacy. It seems that Veuve has improved considerably! Biscuity flavours underpin notes of crisp apple, white flowers and wet stones. Fine bubbles and resonant length.

Pol Roger Brut Cuvée Reserve NV
An impressively rich, dry style from one of the oldest and most distinguished Champagne houses. Perfect both as an occasion wine or for impromptu celebrations, and great value. Expansive flavours of brioche and nut, as well as stone fruit and a certain mushroom note. Broad and muscular while maintaining elegance.

Bollinger Special Cuvée
Bollingeris unquestionably one of the finest of all French champagnes, the Bollinger style is distinctive for its full-bodied toasty character derived from a high proportion of Pinot Noir and the inclusion of base wine that has been matured in oak.

Lanson Black Label Brut NV
Classic flavours of butter pastry, lemon, apple and toasted hazelnut threaded with mouth-watering acidity and tiny, lacy bubbles. Delicate and delicious. Solid value at a relatively reasonable price

Bollinger La Grande Année
Bollinger La Grand Année is truly one of the greats of Champagne, a traditionalist house making muscular wine with body, length, depth, and every other dimension. Sourced from only the top fruit, it consists of 76% Grand Crus and 24% Premiers of Crus with a minimum aging of 5 years. Superbly packaged in a lay-down hinged gift box, Bollinger La Grande Année makes an exemplary gift!

Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve
Billecart-Salmon Brut Réserve is one of the most popular of all non vintage Champagnes. Billecart is renowned for its purity of fruit and fine, elegant structure. A beautiful aperitif style. The sensation in mouth has been described as “like tiny diamonds exploding on the tongue”.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé NV
Enticing aromas of brioche and glazed cherry lead to a “fleshy yet taut attack” on the palate. Well-balanced and rich with extract. Excellent dry rosé. As a food pairing it is ideal with seared scallops, but also makes a “heavenly Aperitif for the cognoscenti!”

Krug Grande Cuvée Brut
For something extra special! By far, the richest French fizz on the planet, this Champagne tastes like fine white Burgundy with bubbles! While the nose toys with stewed apple, creamy lemon curd, toasted brioche, and an unmistakable vanilla top-coat, the attack on the palate is a simultaneous and harmonious melody of complexity, elegance and power. There’s cooked apple, fresh coconut, warm toast, creamy vanilla, dry minerals, and butter anchored with titillating acidity. One of the interesting things that sets Krug apart is the fact it conducts primary fermentation in small oak barrels (which is highly unusual for a Champagne house) and adds the charms of wood to the wine. Indisputably one of the greatest Champagnes! Drink with exquisite foods such as poached langoustine or luxury foods and preferably “with someone that You find beautiful and captivating!” Or at least stylish witty and charming, to maximize the experience!

Louis Roederer Brut Premier
This wine is rightly regarded as one of the finest examples of non vintage Champagne in the world. Powerful and complex, Roederer NV is “taught and linear” but with much generosity of flavour with a quite sublime length of flavour. A brilliant aperitif, but also at home matched with a huge array of cuisine.

Louis Roederer Cristal Vintage 2000
Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne is “the epitome of class and elegance” from the house of Roederer. A super limited and hard to find top echelon Champagne, Cristal is a 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay blend that was harvested in near perfect conditions. The resulting wine is a blend of vineyards from the finest vineyards of Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs. Brilliant yellow colour displaying light amber nuances, combined with an ultra-fine, persistent, soft effervescence. There’s an intense, highly expressive bouquet on the first nose. The aromatic elegance and precision of Chardonnay is apparent: white fruit, sweet pollen, fine citrus fruit and very pure minerality. The bouquet is rich and sweet, almost generous, remaining precise and impeccably refined. It has been said that this is a very sensuous wine and best sipped with a lover!

Joseph Perrier Cuvée Royale Brut
Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier are blended to create this finely orchestrated cuvée aged for a minimum of 3 years. A powerful champagne with a rich mouth feel, gorgeous balance and a long finish. There’s a fair bit of sweet, strawberry and, Turkish delight like character to it, but its winning ways are in its “light, floating mouthfeel” and overall sense of power.

Lanson Black Label Champagne
Lanson Black Label continues to stand out in the non vintage Champagne crowd with its quality consistency year after year. Lanson, with its pedigree and history that rivals any Champagne house, is easily one of the best value non vintage Champagne’s, with its fine and elegant palate that continues right across the tongue. A soft and pure texture follows showcasing the delicate acid structure of one of the true Champagne bargains. According to champagne authority Tom Stevenson “no malic fermentation, makes for a cut of fresh, zesty lemon fruit, while reserve components build toasty, roast nut complexity.” An excellent wine at the right price!

Laurent-Perrier L-P Brut
Laurent-Perrier L-P Brut has a pale golden hue. With approximately 45% Chardonnay in the blend the nose is fresh and delicate showing good complexity.

Gosset Grande Reserve
One of the oldest and original Champagne houses, Gosset was founded by Jean Gosset in 1584. Their Grande Reserve is an elegant blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and shows all the hallmarks of great Champagne including a rich but restrained palate, a creamy mousse and super fine bead.

 

Louis Roederer Cristal
Louis Roederer Cristal Champagne is” the epitome of class and elegance” from the house of Roederer. A super limited and hard to find top echelon Champagne, Cristal is a 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay blend that was harvested in near perfect conditions. The resulting wine is a blend of vineyards from the finest vineyards of Montagne de Reims, the Vallée de la Marne and the Côte des Blancs.

Piper-Heidsieck Brut Champagne
Piper is not only one of the world’s favourite Champagnes, it’s also one of the greatest value-for-money authentic Champagne’s available. Created by four time winner of ‘Sparkling Winemaker of the Year’ at the International Wine Challenge, Regis Camus, this is a crisp and elegant Champagne with a depth and complexity that belies the price.

Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque
This is one of the world’s truly great elegant Champagnes. Named after the ‘golden age’ in France during the late 19th century, Belle Époque is still today bottled in the striking hand-painted bottle that is instantly recognisable the world over. A 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier, the strength of this prestige cuvée is in its finesse and elegance rather than power or fruit. Adding to this spectacular Champagne’s aura of grace and class was the fact that is was personally chosen to be the Champagne poured at the Monaco wedding of HRH Prince Albert II of Monaco and Princess Charlene.

Moët & Chandon Rosé Impérial
Moët & Chandon has always crafted their non vintage rosé as a very popular, fleshy and flavoursome style, and this one continues those hallmarks. Perfect for celebrations or enjoyment as an aperitif, “Moet” Rosé comes individually gift-boxed in the matching pink colour for that ultimate gift for the special woman in your life.

Pommery Brut Royale
The house was founded as Pommery & Greno in 1858 by Alexandre Louis Pommery and Narcisse Greno. Under the guidance of Alexandre’s widow, Louise Pommery, the house grew into one of the largest Champagne houses and to this day produce elegant and complex Champagne’s.

Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame
This superbe example of aged champagne is named in honour of the famed and undoubted Champagne pioneer, widow Clicquot. Widowed at the tender age of 28, Madame Clicquot continued her late husband’s work and is the sole reason why her Champagne house is held in the high esteem that it is today. The 1998 La Grande Dame is a wine of pure beauty and power. A majority blend of Pinot Noir, the vintage conditions are clearly visible in the glass with flavours of peach, apricot and touch of brioche and nuttiness. A true classic for the ages.

Krug Vintage
Krug Vintage is has been one of the true Champagne icons and still maintains that lofty reputation today. Their ‘Vintage’ is a Champagne with a very imposing nose, quite oak driven with notes of slate and even oiled wood. This powerhouse of a wine is very firm in the palate with lots of depth. White it is beautiful nice and young, Krug Vintage can certainly benefit from some extended cellaring time.


Written by Axel Ritenis

Wine editor of Connoisseur Magazine

We acknowledge the use of official Champagne House tasting notes to compile this article and review.

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Aksel Ritenis

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