Diary-of-Axel-Ritenis Fine Wine GUIDE

3 New Year’s Champagnes to avoid FMCG’s!

Written by Aksel Ritenis

I would have to admit that over the years I have “guzzled my share of commercial bubbly” or champagne, so who am I to criticize the stuff that many of us will be celebrating with this very evening?

I am finally becoming a bit more discriminating about what I drink, of course, one can become a little blasé, certainly it is a regular occurrence for such commercial champagnes as Moet&Chandon NV (known locally in Australia as Mo-eee! “Sacre bleu” the champenoise would be horrified at this mispronunciation if they weren’t making so much money!) and Veuve Cliquot NV to be splashed around at various celebrations and events but I can’t help thinking in view of the millions of litres consumed globally, these two LVMH brands are declining in both quality and appeal!

 Frankly, they now resemble other FMCGs in categories such as chocolates – “think Ferrero Rocher” – the same “glitzy packaging”, and they are regularly discounted by large chains such as Woolworths, Dan Murphy’s or others, in other words sold on price not quality.So to put it mildly, “the social cache” of consuming these champagnes is diminishing rapidly and the trickle “down effect” now makes this the “bubbly of choice” for the masses who couldn’t tell the difference between champagne and spumante, but imagine it will enhance their social status.

Of course, LVMH spends fortune on advertising and marketing, all designed to convince You “that drinking Moet makes You fashionable and is a sign of sophistication.

Their “glitzy marketing” is wearing increasingly thin, it is a form of brainwashing and quite manipulative when you look at it objectively, not dissimilar to the advertising used by the tobacco companies, such as Benson & Hedges or Peter Stuyvesant “think of the exciting and sophisticated world of Peter Stuyvesant”.

How very childish we must be to be so easily manipulated by the large corporations , yet we sneer at the “Chinese obsession for status and image” in reference to expensive Bordeaux wines (see the film Red Obsession).

Forgive me if I am getting a bit cynical but as a magazine publisher ( who has “played the Moet and the LVMH game” ) You can’t help laugh at the ease with which they continue their “marketing manipulations” for what it is essentially just another high volume global FMCG!

So this year I am studiously avoiding the FMCG’s and instead opting “to drink less, but drink quality!”

I am going to choose champagnes from smaller producers who offer incredible quality for just a fraction more. There really is a huge difference in the quality and complexity of flavours in the “mainstream commercial bubblies” and “the hand made”.

During “the silly season” I had the opportunity to compare and contrast such champagnes as Moet & Chandon NV, Veuve Cliquot NV and Pol Roger NV with more serious wines that surprisingly don’t cost much more yet are infinitely more pleasurable to drink!

Now I am not suggesting that You “lash out “ and start drinking Krug or Louis Roederer Crystal, let alone Bollinger Grand Annee (one of my personal favourites). No, not at all.

It is not commonly appreciated that there are several Champagne Houses “which really do fly under the Radar” and produce exquisite wines , that are only slightly more expensive then the FMCGS .

So this year I am going to recommend 3 Champagne Houses which represent only an incremental increase in price, but a huge improvement in quality.

In essence these are wines that you do not want to quaff or guzzle quickly but rather enjoy slowly.

They deserve the time and effort to appreciate their exquisite flavours and aromas warm toasted brioche, huge complexity, crisp citrusy acidity and long lingering palate, often with a hint of minerality, giving length and intensity.


Starting with a similar price, the first recommendation as an alternative to the “commercials” is the Champagne Pommery Non Vintage

(Vintage Cellars was doing 2 bottles for $100.00. Not bad at all!)

“Famous for dancing to its own tune, Pommery bucked Champagne tradition to make the first Brut (Extra Dry) wine in 1875 to cater for English aristocrat palates. ”Today,..Pommery’s Brut Royal continues to be made in that style, sitting in the dry and refreshing aperitif category. Soft, creamy and persistent, the blend is a third each of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier for balance and complexity.

I had a glass recently at the sophisticated Botanical Hotel (with one of the best wine lists in Melbourne), where it is the House Champagne and really enjoyed it.

Champagne Pommery Apanage is also good but extremely dry so not everyone’s “cup of tea” but for serious wine aficionados of considerable interest and recommended with either Oysters or Caviar!

Undoubtedly, one of my all times favourites is the GOSSET Grande Reserve.I have been a fan of this stuff since it was launched in the Baltics at the famous Vincents Restaurant some ten years ago and have sought out the wines ever since.

It has always been an outstanding and distinctive wine and the Grande Reserve (they have just redesigned the classic labels )stays on lees for a much longer time then the commercial champagnes, and so has more complexityby far, absolutely superbe and represents excellent value for money.

In essence this is a wine that you do not want to quaff or guzzle.

They deserve the time to appreciate their exquisite flavours and aromaswarm toasted brioche, huge complexity, crisp citrusy acidity and long lingering palate.

I challenge You to an experiment. Drink the commercial stuff after a glass of the Gossetand You will realize how lacking in character they are and why You guzzle them.

Gosset Grande Reserve is a blend of Chardonnay 43%, Pinot Meunier 15%, Pinot Noir 42% and Cuvee is made without malo-lactic fermentation to preserve the natural fruitiness of the wines. Bright and golden in colour with an attractive and expressive nose that is reminiscent of ripe red blackcurrants, wheat, dried fruits and gingerbread. The palate is dominated by refreshing mineral notes combined with a warm and consistent flavour echoing the wine’s richness. There is a gentle persistent freshness coming through and a subtle and beautifully crafted structure.

Hard not to appreciate this!

If You are a Chardonnay fan, try the GRAND BLANC DE BLANCS Brut, the golden yellow with delicate green tints typical of the great Blanc de Blancs and with very fine bubbles.

Tasting notes:

On the nose it is both mineral and floral with aromas of flowers and white fruits, apricot and plum. Very light notes of lemon, citrus fruits, crystallized quince and honey. Harmonious on the palate, complex and delicate with a great freshness. A crisp and well-structured champagne with finesse and the freshness makes it perfect as aperitif or with scallops, or with crustaceans.)

Another champagne that is impressive and I would wholeheartedly recommend is Champagne Delamotte

You can choose between the Brut N.V., the Blanc de Blancs or the Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs!

I found these notes from a Langtons 2012 tasting I attended in Sydney 2012 and they are spot on.


The Champagne House Delamotteis the alter ego, if you like, of Salon, that rare bird of the Cote des Blancs. The company does have 11 ha of its own vines (in Le Mesnil, Oger, and Avize) and makes a number of its own purchases, but it also inherits all of the Salon wine not required by Salon- which, in years when Salon doesn’t declare, means the entire harvest. Under the same ownership as the legendary Salon (and its next door neighbour), Delamotte produces some of the very best in Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Champagnes from the famous village of Le Mesnil.”

The Champagne House Delamotte has a practice of disgorging their vintage champagnes very late and keep them on Yeast Lees for up to 10 Years so little wonder the wonderful creamy and brioche like characteristics.

In his publication The Wine Advocate, critic Robert M. Parker, Jr. has called Delamotte “one of the best buys in exquisitely crafted Champagne.”

Wine writer Karen MacNeil refers to Delamotte’s blanc de blancs as her “desert island” choice.

Need I say more!

Wishing all our readers and friends around the world a very Happy 2014 New Year !

Axel Ritenis

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Aksel Ritenis

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