The WAM (Winemaker’s Association Marlborough) Christmas Champagne tasting is now into its second year and is fast establishing itself as a regular highlight of the year.
Champagne-fan Sarah Burton from Cloudy Bay had sourced an excellent selection of Champagnes, served blind in pairs. Discussion and tasting was ably led by Geoff Clark, now of Ara but formerly overseeing significant sparkling wine production at Pernod Ricard.
For those of you who don’t know, I like to think that Champagne is my “thing”. Through the course of my MW studies I was lucky enough to win a Champagne scholarship involving two VIP trips to the region. It is a wine style that I taste often (!), enjoy, and feel confident about – a huge comfort amongst the relative terror of MW blind tastings.
Here, then, are my notes from the WAM tasting.
First up two big brand NV blends. These two wines together account for a quarter of all Champagne sales and both are growing vs a decline in champagne sales as a whole. For most people, these wines are the definition of champagne.
Moet Brut Imperial NV $56 – V pale lemony colour, intense citrus nose. Clean cut. Spiky mousse – lacking the finesse of other examples. Dry style. Slightly raw on finish. Well made example but ultimately not very inspiring.
Veuve Clicquot NV $62 – I have always had a soft spot for the more generous, approachable style of Veuve vs the spiky purity of its sister brand. This wine was no exception. Broader on the palate, with a more subdued nose of wet earth and mushrooms, and a slightly higher dosage making the mouse seem softer and creamier.
Next up two grower champagnes. Grower champagnes are very fashionable and have grown in popularity and sales over recent years. Advocates talk of greater “authenticity” and “passion” but detractors point out that growers rarely have the reserves of old vintage wine or multiple sites to blend into the most complex wines.
Champagne Assailly Cuvee du Patron NV $62 – A step up in intensity on the nose with bruised apple oxidative notes coming through. A full creamy appley palate with concentrated fruit on the finish pointing to a Chardonnay dominant style (actually this was a Blanc de Blanc – 100% Chardonnay).
Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blanc Premier Cru NV $85 – A favourite producer whom I visited in Champagne in 2011 and very much a “cult” wine. This example showed the extra finesse and subtlety for which the producer is renowned. Produced biodynamically, the nose was savoury, reductive with notes of burnt toast. The palate was very dry and with a very fine, integrated mousse and acidity. An excellent, elegant wine.
Next up were two vintage Champagnes.
Aubry de Humbert 06 – a darker colour and intense, solid, masculine palate are all characteristic of the broader style from the Montagne de Reims where this grower is based. Red apples and savoury oxidative notes give way to a long finish.
Dom Ruinart 02 – From an excellent vintage (2002 is widely regarded as the best vintage of the past decade) this wine divided the room. Extremely savoury, with notes of marmite, earth and coffee, a touch of oak was discernable on the palate. Lacks the freshness of some of the other wines but has amazing layers of complexity on the palate. A connoisseur’s wine but perhaps too serious for many Champagne drinkers.
Egly-Ouriet NV $120 – I was quite excited when this wine was revealed. I have heard a lot about how great this grower is, but have never previously tried the wines. I was pleased to see that my comments (written before I knew the producer!) lived up to his reputation. A forward, floral, brioche nose, gives way to a palate that shows finesse, complexity, and elegance. My personal favourite wines always have a lot going on without being over the top. I don’t like wines that “shout”. And this was a perfect example.
Dom Perignon 2004 $199 – This is such a distinctive style, with intense flinty reductive notes on the nose and tight, mineral, focused palate. Always a favourite of mine, it was nice to get a chance to taste the 2004 vintage, described by Chef de Cave Richard Geoffrey as “effortless” and “about as different as you can get” from the brand’s two previous vintages which were both much warmer years.
The tasting finished with two rose Champagnes. I was rather excited to see one was poured from a clear bottle – Cristal Rose perhaps? Alas no, but the tasting finished on a high nonetheless.
Pascal Doquet Rose Premier Crus de la Cote des Blancs $60 – Intense raspberry blancmange and oxidative aldehydes on the nose, and ripe and fruity on the palate this was a simple summery style.
Billecart Salmon Rose $165 – Very pale burnished salmon in colour with a gentle strawberry, brioche nose and great finesse and elegance on the palate with additional complexity that was lacking from many of the Champagnes tasted, this wine demonstrated the advantages the grand marques have in additional blending resources and was a general favourite amongst the group. A great way to finish and a superb option for Christmas morning!