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An Attractive NV Champagne

Another look at a lesser-known Champagne house here. This is a wine from Mont-Hauban, a co-operative based in Monthelon-Morangis, two neighbouring communes which lie south of Épernay, just around the corner from Cramant, Avize and a number of other famous Champagne villages.

Mont-Hauban Brut Superieur

The Mont-Hauban Brut Superieur is a non-vintage blend incorporating 22% reserve wines, with a leaning towards Chardonnay (at 60% of the blend) with the balance made up by Pinot Meunier. In the glass it has a pale straw hue, with a fine but plentiful central bead. The nose is rather gentle, with delicate citrus fruit tones reflecting the dominance of the Chardonnay in the blend, with a little note of cashew nut richness, and also a slight touch of desiccated concentration to the fruit. There follow some fresh citrus fruits served on toast on the palate, with an incisive grapefruit streak to it all, rounded off by citrus peel and a touch of chalky apple too. Clean, bright, quite broad in the finish though, perhaps the Pinot Meunier coming through here. A good wine showing very nicely that there is life beyond the most famous names in Champagne. 15.5/20 (October 2014)

Disclosure: This bottle was a sample from online Champagne merchant Champers.

An Elegant Non-Vintage Pinot Noir Champagne

When I first started learning about wine I found it hardly credible that you could tell which varieties contributed to any particular Champagne. The processes seemed just too complex, the blending and winemaking too large a part of the process, for grape-derived characteristics to be transmitted through from the vineyard to the finished wine. But with time I realised it was true, Pinot Noir bringing a rich substance, an apple-on-biscuit character, Chardonnay bringing purity, orchard fruit and elegance.

Here is a wine that tripped me up though. Elegant, defined, lifted and bright, I never would have though it was almost entirely Pinot Noir.

Brigandat Champagne Brut Tradition NV

Brigandat & Fils are based in Channes, in the Côte des Bars, the southern-most reaches of the Champagne vineyard. To illustrate just how far south this commune lies, it sits right on the boundary between the Aube (north), Yonne (southwest) and Côte d’Or (southeast); Chablis sits just 35 kilometres west, while the vineyards of the Côte d’Or are a little further south. This is really Burgundy country.

The cuvée in question, the Brigandat & Fils Brut Tradition NV, is made from 95% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay, grown on the Kimmeridgian limestone soils that stretch westwards through Chablis and Sancerre. The base vintage is 2010, and the bottling for the second fermentation took place in June 2011. In the glass it has a pale straw hue. The fruit on the nose has a very fresh style, with citrus leaf and suggestion of white orchard fruit, herby-crunchy apple in particular, with a little pear and nut complexity. The palate shows a big, foaming, very youthful mousse set against firm acidity and there is a gentle, softening texture from the dosage. On reflection there is some Pinot substance here after all, with tinges of custard apple and nut, dominating the middle of the palate. A lovely character, youthful though, with an elegant edge for an almost exclusively Pinot-based cuvée. Subtle, poised, yet certain of itself. A good wine. 16/20 (September 2014)

Disclosure: This wine was a sample from Carte du Vin.

Krug and Bollinger

Two nice bottles of fizz recently tasted. And consumed with pleasure, in each case. I can’t say I add bottles at the Krug price level to the cellar very often these days, so it’s good to pull one from the bottom stack. Each time I do so it does deplete my dwindling stock just a little more though. Still, I suppose it also makes room for a few more bottles of the Pétillant Réserve from Domaine Huet; so maybe every cloud really does have a silver lining.

The Krug is non-vintage – no, sorry, sorry, multi-vintage – and it has the later-style label (are people still interested in that, or has everybody drunk up their older bottles of Krug now?). Looking at my records it was one of several bottles purchased in 2005 and 2006, and so it has seen 7-8 years in the cellar before popping the cork. You wouldn’t guess this from tasting it. The Bollinger was bought a year or two ago, and still has many years ahead of it yet.

Bollinger Champagne La Grande Année 2000: Intense golden hue, still bright and clean though, not suggestive of age or a particularly oxidative character. Pure nose, no less intense than ever, with desiccated fruits, lightly dried and concentrated, and little tinges of honey and cashew, the wine showing the perfect balance between concentrated citrus character and notes of richness. The palate is bright, open, expressive, very harmonious despite the deep concentration. A very fine and forward bead, fresh acidity, lifted and definitely a step ahead of the Grand Années of old. Almost creamy, and yet bright. A clean and long finish. This is superb. 18.5/20 (June 2013)

Krug Champagne Grande Cuvée NV: A pale golden hue, a plentiful bead, although it soon settles in the glass, and is very fine. The aromatics are remarkably fresh, as although there is a honeyed twist to it, and rich notes of praline and brioche too, all sprinkled with flakes of dried fruits, there is also a bright orange citrus freshness to it. It feels firm, with a supple quality to the palate though, along with honeyed brioche fruits, but there is also a remarkably bright vigour to it, helped by a rather crisp mousse. This is fine, savoury, slightly warming, rich and full of character. Long and tingling. An excellent wine. 18/20 (June 2013)

Suffice to say I would take the Bollinger over the Krug, although I wouldn’t turn my nose up at either. Now, where’s that Huet……

Dom Perignon 1995 and 1996

During 2013 I will try to bring a little more sense of what I’m tasting and drinking at home to the blog, alongside all my Loire, Bordeaux and other reports. Believe it or not, I do occasionally drink something other than Clos Rougeard and Château Latour (ha ha!).

I recently pulled these two vintages of Dom Pérignon from the cellar; it’s been a few years since I last tasted them, and they’re still showing well. The brand (for that is what it is) takes quite a bit of stick in Champagne circles because, considering the exclusive, ‘luxury’ image, the annual production is rumoured to be numbered in millions of bottles. I think the basis for this rumour was the extraordinarily broad distribution; there were bottles in duty free shops across the world (and there are a lot of duty free shops!). I remember spotting the 1992 in the airport in Rhodes of all places; I wonder if the Greek stocks of prestige cuvée Champagne remains as high today?

Dom Pérignon 1995 and 1996

Acknowledging this, I still find the quality of what is in the glass to be extremely good, a feat perhaps even more remarkable if the production levels really are that high. The 1995 is a super wine. But the 1996 is just a stunner – I’m very happy to have a few more of these in the cellar to “report on” in future years.

Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1995: This wine has a pale lemon gold in the glass, with a very fine central bead; there’s plenty of life and vigour in this. The nose shows all the classic finely tuned almonds and cream, but there are also richer notes now of exotic, desiccated-dried fruits and brioche, giving a rather panettone-like feel to it. The palate is very fine, with more of these brioche and almond notes, with a very fine mousse, but with the finely composed fruits found on the nose as well. Long, dry, harmonious and impressive. This is just fine for drinkinng now, although I’m sure this would hold in the cellar for many years yet. 18.5/20 (January 2012)

Moët et Chandon Cuvée Dom Perignon 1996: A very convincing appearance in the glass here, with a fine, pale-golden hue, and a plentiful bead, with a myriad streams of bubbles. The nose is very exuberant, open and characterful, with honey-roasted almonds alongside lightly candied tropical fruits with some bright, citrus overtones. Quite serious and almost austere on the palate still, also very correct, upright, very tight in terms of its composition, brimming with flavour and texture and yet it is all packed between some very clean lines. Evolving beautifully, and really showing the merits of the 1996 vintage over the 1995 in this comparison. Brilliant wine. 19/20 (January 2012)

Pol Roger Revisited

Below are notes on four recent vintages of Pol Roger, showing the consistent quality that can be found in the wines of this particular Champagne house. I would have liked to add a note on the 2002 as well, but have realised in recent years that I can’t buy (and thus can’t feature) every wine that interests me. Besides, I often think my time might be better spent promulgating the virtues of fizz from Thierry Germain, Huet and Château de l’Aulée and the like rather than wealthy Champagne houses that already have a very strong brand identity and probably a fairly deep-pocketed advertising budget. Although I can’t follow that argument any further I think…..otherwise I would have to stop updating all my Bordeaux profiles…..

Anyway, on with the wines.

Pol Roger Brut 2000: Quite a rich hue in the glass, fresh and golden but with plenty of bright colour. A nice, moderately fine bead. The fresh appearance in the glass is more than matched by the nose which is all exuberant fruit, citrus and white peach, with a delicious undercurrent of fresh almonds and a little hint of richer cashew nut. But overall the appeal here is the bright and vibrant lift the nose seems to suggest, with piles of accessible fruit. And the palate doesn’t disappoint, bringing an appealing edge of sourness to the fruit, but with a lightly creamy texture which is offset very nicely by the combination of a gentle, prickling mousse and correct acidity. Such lovely balance! And it has some length in the finish too. This is very good indeed; it perhaps misses the most complex of characteristics, but it remains utterly charming. 17.5/20 (August 2012)

Pol Roger Brut 1999: A pale golden hue here, plenty of pressure behind the cork matched by a very fine but effusive bead in the glass. The aromatics are open and expressive, lemon fruit and white peach, smoky and lightly reductive, with a very grey character to it. There are little elements of nut though, although in a very straight and pure fashion, like blanched cashew nuts or almonds. The fruit has a lightly dried and concentrated character to it as well. The palate is full, rich, really quite creamy and bright, rolling around the mouth showing off its texture first, before the bright and acid-tinged lemony fruit flavours come through in the middle. Super character here, very sappy and cleansing, and clearly with bags of potential yet. Long and defined in the finish. 18/20 (August 2012)

Pol Roger

Pol Roger Brut 1998: Another rich, lemon-gold hue here, and with a lively bead too, although it soon settles down. The nose is full of bruised apples at first, but with some air these notes blow off to leave a cleaner and more intense fruit character, moving more into a peachy richness, with a dried-fruit concentration to it. And this is followed, with time, by notes of almonds, brazil nuts, caramel and cream, but it remains fresh, lifted and lemony throughout. Lovely character on the palate, evolving nicely, rich but with plenty of lift behind it, showing flavours mirroring the nose but contrasted by a sappy fruit acid. The flavours have moved on only a little from my last taste four years ago, but there is a more polished, long and gentle feel to it. Delicious wine. 17.5/20 (August 2012)

Pol Roger Brut 1996: A richer colour compared with the other wines, a fine golden hue. A fine bead too. The nose has a lovely cashew nut character to it, and this runs underneath the sweet fruit with its evolved, citrus, tropical undertones. It has a lovely presence, showing appealing tinges of maturity in the shape of caramel and coffee. Yet there is plenty of vigour, acid and sparkle on the palate at first too, and this confident, vigorous showing persists through the finish. Plenty of citrus freshness to it, great definition, and yet a supple flesh and substance as well. This is really superb, evolving and yet remaining vigorous, acid-bound and long. This vintage certainly has years ahead of it yet. 18.5/20 (August 2012)

Champagne & Disgorgment Dates

Three notes here, on three non-vintage Champagnes recently opened. Although I gave up reporting on non-vintage Champagne principally because there is no connection between wines on which I might provide a tasting note, and those you find on the shelf (because traditionally there has been no way to know whether one non-vintage bottle is exactly the same or radically different to the next) two of the three wines reported on here buck this trend.

Charles Heidsieck have been reporting cellaring dates for years, of course, a practice introduced by the late Daniel Thibault, so no news there. Sadly the old mis en caves designation has now been ditched in favour of disgorgement dates, although to be fair I say this out of sentiment more than anything else, as the disgorgement dates provided are no less informative. A more recent development, however, is the appearance of disgorgement dates on non-vintage Lanson – these can be found in slightly smudgy white printing on the back label, as below. No such move from Roederer, sadly. But the wine itself was the best of this trio I think, as it still has more to give than the Charles Hedsieck which I scored the same.

Lanson disgorgement date

Lanson Black Label Brut NV: Disgorged October 2009 – Lanson now print disgorgement dates on the back label. Some pithy fruit on the nose here, and a fine mousse on the palate, very bright and still youthful. A rather lemony, stony character, a touch raw and primary, although I find the bitter edge to the fruit matching the pithy elements on the nose rather enticing. But this is still very young, and really needs another 3-5 years at least. 16/20 (April 2012)

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV: Disgorged 2008. This is just lovely, and surpasses my expectations which were low, as I did not rate the last bottle very highly at all. White orchard fruits on the nose, with citrus tones and a fine, subtle, nutty nuance. Lightly honeyed and more harmonious than I hoped. Bright, a good mousse, but supple, with a fleshy weight. Clean, with citrus pith, together with wisps of grey smoke and other slightly reductive suggestions. This is just delicious. 17/20 (April 2012)

Roederer Brut Premier NV: Purchased Autumn 2009, other than that I have no clue as to likely disgorgement date or base vintage. The wine itself though has a lovely character, quite youthful, still with a raw edge to the fruit. Certainly some evolution here on the palate, and there is plenty of backbone to this wine, but this still needs another 1-2 years before this is likely to show real harmony. A very promising showing though. 17/20 (April 2012)

Bollinger NV Codes

One of the challenges with non-vintage Champagne is knowing exactly what you are drinking. Sometimes though you can obtain clues from the label or neck foil – for example, recent releases of Lanson have the disgorgement month/year stamped on the back label, allowing you to work out the base vintage.

With Bollinger the clues are more obscure – but codes on the neck foil allow those in the know to work out the disgorgement dates. Here are two I picked up from the recent Champagne tasting:

Special Cuvée NV: Code L002601 = blend of 45% 2004, 45% 2005, 10% reserve wines, disgorged September 2009.

Rosé NV: Code L005004 = base vintages 2004 and 2005 again plus reserve wines (as for the special cuvée) then to this blend 5% red wine is added in. Disgorgement October 2009.

I’m not sure how easy it would be to extrapolate forward or backwards from these numbers – well actually I think it would be darn difficult, although there must be some logic to it. We could assume the lot numbers go up as time goes on, but only a couple of days ago I picked up another bottle of the NV Rosé which had code L924409 (I think – the type was very close and thus a little difficult to read – must be my age!). Plucked direct from the shelves (whereas the CIVC wines would very likely be more recent releases) this is likely to be an older wine/prior disgorgement. Perhaps the numbers topped out and then returned to zero again?

CIVC and Lunch

The CIVC seem to be getting in a pickle with looking after the tasters at their annual Champagne tasting held at London’s Banqueting House (usually that is the case anyway; on my first attendance, about 5 years ago, it was held in a dingy hotel in Vauxhall if I recall correctly – the Banqueting House is a much better venue, with fantastic light and plenty of room to move). The pickle? Last year I was refused lunch.

Now before you accuse me of being a wine-trade-luvvie rest assured I’m no ‘Master of Lunch’ (the term for freeloaders who eat well simply by attending tasting after tasting, providing them with a good and free meal every day), and in fact at many all-day tastings I have gone without the free midday grub in order to keep tasting. My ability to keep going without fuel is a result of many long high-workload shifts as a junior doctor I think, but I don’t work that way any more (still do 56 hour weekends, with greater responsibility but lower work intensity – so I get to eat and sleep – usually!). So too I am less interested in going all day without food, and these days I prefer to eat something and keep a steady pace, and hopefully keep the tasting ability and thus quality of notes high (or at least higher!) as a result. So to rise at 4am, and to fly to London and back in one day, at some expense, to join in with the Champenois marketing machine for a few hours, and then to be refused lunch is pretty feeble on the part of the CIVC in my opinion.

I thought last year I had just been disorganised and missed out on reserving lunch (again a novel concept) but this year I heard of many more people who had forgotten to arrange lunch and who were thus turned away, or who were refused lunch altogether when booking attendance at the tasting. The CIVC make it hard for themselves by insisting on a sit-down, over-the-top three course meal with two sittings! Essential for Masters of Lunch of course, but not necessary for busy tasters. If they gave a quick sandwich option they would feed more people for less, and most of those would be happier with this I think. They won’t change of course; from their point of view it works well I think, and I can only imagine they see the lunch as an important part of the ‘image’ of Champagne. Sadly for them it means for them that busy critics, writers, importers and buyers who should be inside tasting are instead wandering around Whitehall looking for a sandwich bar for lunch. It’s the Champenois that should be complaining to the CIVC, not me…..

In Angers, and Krug

It’s early Monday morning and I’m looking forward to 2.5 days of tasting at the Salon here in Angers. I arrived at lunchtime on Saturday after a trouble-free flight and rail journey from Edinburgh via Paris, wolfed down a quick entrecôte in the Café Au Bureau in Angers town centre, and then hit the annual Renaissance tasting.

As for Sunday, more time at the Renaissance tasting, then a dash over to see Philippe Germain at Chateau de la Roulerie, then Victor Lebreton at Montgilet, before dinner last night courtesy of Sopexa.

It’s already been a fascinating event, with plenty of good wines coming my way, and lots of new experiences for Winedoctor from the Renaissance tasting, including new profiles for the likes of Franz Saumon, Agnes Mosse, Eddy Oosterlinck of Domaine de la Juchepie and no doubt many more. Perhaps the most striking sight though was Angers’ chateau, spotted as I walked down to the tasting. Covered in white tarpaulin for repairs following last year’s fire; it now rises ghost-like above the town, seeming especially haunting against the white-grey sky I thought.

Winedoctor updates will continue throughout the week, starting with today’s Wine of the Week, the Krug Grande Cuvée, their non-vintage ‘entry-level’ wine, continuing tomorrow with the publication of half a dozen tasting notes on wines from the Bibendum sale, which starts today. In addition I’ll continue to make a few ongoing comments on the blog here about the Salon as it happens, prior to a full report on Winedoctor later in the week. The talking-point of the 2010 Salon may well be the 2009 vintage – so far there have been a number of signs that this could be a very fine vintage, in particular for dry whites and reds from around Anjou and Touraine in particular, but I would obviously like to taste more first.

The Ledbury, East Coast Trains & Churchill

No connection between these three (as far as I know), just two recent food/wine events worth noting and the painful journeys involved.

I spent a lot of time trying to catch up with myself last week, which was particularly difficult considering I dedicated most of Friday travelling to London for lunch at the Ledbury in Notting Hill, a gathering in honour of the presence of Eric LeVine, of Cellar Tracker. Both my journeys were complicated by East Coast trains reducing services, using the recent weather as an excuse. The 5:50am from Edinburgh was cancelled leaving us all to board the 6:00am instead, a slower train which arrives in London 30 minutes later. On the return journey, my train to Edinburgh terminated early at Newcastle; although most trains are full when they leave London at this point they are probably less than half-full, so it is viable for the company to shove everybody off and make you wait for the next train, thus saving them a few quid. I spent an unexpected 30 minutes on a freezing platform eating a disgusting sandwich and drinking a disgusting coffee from the Costa bar. Yuk.

Was lunch at the Ledbury worth these near-10 hours of travelling? Yes! It was a superb meal, which I will have to write up for Winedoctor. I am trying to include notes on meals beyond the boundaries of Edinburgh (although I am usually failing!). Suffice to say for now it was a stunning four-course lunch. It was notable that when I sat down I was eating in a 1-star restaurant, but when I got up to leave later it had 2 stars, as the Michelin awards for 2010 were released as we dined. It was a well deserved promotion for proprietor Nigel Platts-Martin and chef Brett Graham.

The vinous highlight of the weekend that followed was this bottle, the 1993 Winston Churchill from Pol Roger. I’m committed to drinking more Champagne at the moment, especially in anticipation of my new Champagne guide to be added to the site this year. I’m not sure what prompted me to open it, save perhaps the only experience at the Ledbury which I found a tad disappointing. With the news of their elevation to 2-star status (or at least that was the excuse!), the ever generous Linden Wilkie of Fine Wine Experiences produced, as if by magic, a magnum of 1996 Dom Pérignon Rosé for everybody to toast the chef. It was a big-hearted gesture which I am sure we all appreciated, but coming after 14 other wines, including three dessert wines (a Vouvray which I provided, a sweet Austrian Pinot Noir and a Tokaji) as well as a sweet amuse and a plate of caramelised banana galette with ice cream the wine certainly didn’t receive the attention (or the palate) that it deserved. Tasted under such conditions, I won’t be able to write the wine up… a great shame.