Latest Blind Tasting - Sparkling and Champagne
Blind tasting is one thing. Blind tasting sparkling wines and champagnes is another, because blind tasting sparklings and champagnes is a whole new challenge. For one thing, the overwhelming majority of sparklings and champagnes are made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, perhaps with a dash of Pinot Meunier (5-10%, or up to 20-25% in some prestige champagnes). Also, good quality sparkling and champagne producers know that to get complex and balanced flavours, you have to bottle ferment the wine for quite a long period, usually at least three years.
These general similarities in the wines can make discerning differences a little difficult, but it also generally keeps the quality of sparkling quite high. Prestige and higher quality wines will be bottle aged for five, even ten years for late disgorged cuvées and vintage wines. But although it’s sometimes a challenge to find the differences, in general, the terroir and fruit quality usually shines through. In a big blind tasting, one will be able to find the differences. Vintage cuvées usually also show a longer and straighter line of flavour, and speak of the growing conditions for that year, i.e., wet years might produce more elegant but less powerful fruit, warmer years might produce more powerful and complex wines but with lower acid or finesse.
I blind tasted five wines recently, and the difference was very discernable. Also in the mix was a country French sparkling wine, which threw our tasters a little! Wines are scored in a range rather than a single number, as there was a large group tasting with much conversation, and so might serve as a guide.
Champagne Aubert et Fils NV (Champagne), RRP $25
I have drunk this cuvée on numerous occasions and have not been let down, but I could not pick it out in a lineup of quality wines. It has a strong colour with fine and delicate beading, and really punches over its price range. The nose is warm, toasty, with elements of citrus and clean sea-spray notes. In the mouth the wine is slightly foamy but also a little crunchy, a nice texture. The finish is persistent and lasting. What value!
Champagne G. H. Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut NV (Champagne), RRP $45
A consistently good drinking champagne, without spectacular complexity or lees aging, but still with the quality of a fine blend. A little paler than the Aubert et Fils, and without the level of toast or biscuity lees and yeast notes on the nose. To the taste, the wine shows some soft acid, but overall the fruit flavour is round and of a very good quality. Buyers should be wary of always buying French champagnes merely for the labels, but in this instance, Mumm is one I would recommend, even though, for the price, there are other options as good or better.
Pierlant Blanc de Blancs Brut NV (France), RRP $10
The surprise of the bunch, with a completely different makeup and taste. This blanc de blancs was a very pale yellow, and the nose lacked the complexity found in the other wines. The flavour was good, but not lasting or profound in any way. A good midweek drinker, I should think.
Clover Hill Brut Vintage 2009 (Tasmania), RRP $40
A quality cuvée. There is real brilliance in the colour, a shimmering gold with a solid centre. The nose is very attractive, and you’ll find notes of buttered toast, brioche, hints of yeast and also some nuts, perhaps cashews. There is also, on the nose and the palate, a lingering and bright fruit presence. But it is embedded in the lovely acidity and structure of the wine, and the finish lasts and lasts. Not picked as a vintage by the tasters, but it was generally agreed that this was the second best cuvée in the tasting.
House of Arras Brut Elite Cuvée 801 NV (Tasmania), RRP $35
Always, always a quality wine from House of Arras. I have been privileged enough to taste the 601, the 701 and the 801. The 801 is mostly based on the 2008 vintage, with other years blended into the mix. This is the closest you will find to Australian ‘champagne’, but why would you want to compare it? It is better than most French wines I’ve tried, and contains the yeasty, biscuity, brioche and nutty notes one looks for in prestige cuvées. A full and bright flavour in the mouth shows great quality fruits, citrus, elements of sea foam, but a general ‘richness’ of flavour and presence. The finish is impressive, and I rated this my best (as did the majority of others).
With dinner, we drained a bottle of Chateau Tanunda Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, which was a good wine enjoyed with a lamb curry. Low in tannin, the year (a wet vintage) seems to have reduced the power of this wine, but has perhaps given it a gentler presence in the mouth. A good pairing here!