Tastings, tips and tipples: champagne drinking, champagne tips
There’s a few things to note about drinking champagnes and sparkling wines. First, you don’t get a real ‘wine flavour profile’, as such. Sure, the blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in a still wine might be weird. But it sure works in bubbles. These wines have a real resonance, not just in flavour but definitely also in texture. A truly great bubbly should be a textural as well as a vinous experience. The Champenois say that great cuvées are made from great base wines. Yet time on lees (yeast sediment in the bottle) and of course winemaking techniques can also have an effect. Most importantly, site is the key. In champagne and sparkling, the smallest of changes in micro-climates can have a startling effect on the finished product, as the border of cool-climate growth for these wines is at the extremes of winemaking possibility.
My latest tasting notes also show one other important thing – disgorgement! Blended wines are as susceptible as vintage wines to changes fter being removed from their yeast lees. Unless you’re paying for the most premium of premium champagnes, most bubblys will begin to deteriorate at some point not long after their disgorgement. This is even more acute if they’re sitting on bright bottle shop shelves for years on end, waiting to be bought. There was one surprise in these tasting notes that really astonished us with its change since being disgorged. The tell-tale sign? A cork that refused to ‘mushroom’ back into shape after opening. Basically, a good sign of freshness in your bubbly is to open the bottle and see if the cork ‘springs’ back into shape on the bottom half (the half that was in the bottle). If it springs back in a short time, it’s generally quite new. If it stays a small and shriveled size, odds are you’ve got a very old champagne or one that has been disgorged 2, 3 or even 4 years ago, and may have since deteriorated.
1. Look for champagnes or sparklings with disgorgement dates. Not many have them, but check, or ask the shop assistant.
2. The most expensive champagnes and sparklings, as a guide, are generally pretty on point, but there are always surprises.
3. Tasmania definitely has a flavour profile all of its own – strong acids, and definite zesty twang in non-vintage cuvées.
J. Paul-Martin Brut 2007 Bouzy Grand Cru, RRP around $70
Bought from a major Australian alcohol retailer, this is one of three champagnes tasted blind (the others being Piper Heidsieck NV and Kreglinger 2006 Brut). There’s a few key words that jump out from the label. Bouzy Grand Cru. Brilliant champagne village and fabulously good Pinot Noir grown here. Bouzy produces its own special Pinot Noir table wine, Bouzy Rouge, which is sold under the Coteaux Champenois appellation. A rich, gold, decadent colour. Immediately it looks mature and full. Smells of intense leatherwood honey, bark, choc honeycomb (violet crumble?), dirt and, after some swirling, mushrooms and/or manure. Definite tertiary flavours. A look at the cork later confirmed an older disgorgement, very mature wine here. Gobfuls of honey in the mouth, texture galore, but not all will love the maturity here. Slightly bitter finish takes it down a notch or two points-wise. Still available at retailers I believe, and worth a try if you want to experience mature champagne in its later phases.
Piper Heidsieck NV Brut, RRP around $41-$45
Something about the Heidsieck family name. The Charles Heidsieck is an absolute ripper, but this being completely different, I was really curious about it. Haven’t had Piper for a few years, and wanted to see if the style had changed at all. Tasted blind, as was the previous wine and the next. Gold colour with a transparent rim. Aromas of white flowers, white peach, buttered toast, smoke and nuts. Drinking the wine, you’ll get a whack of brown lime, zest, minerality, subtle yeast and high-toned acidity. Steps up to the plate, and only narrowly miscues by a slightly short finish. Impressive nonetheless, and a good champagne buy in my estimation. Sits somewhere between aperitif and main-meal type champagne. Great with a substantial entrée I would think!
Kreglinger 2006 Brut, RRP $55
I have tasted this wine once before and here I tasted it blind. Made by the Kreglinger label from Tasmanian fruit. Big, thickset bottle gives this an air of luxury. As for the wine itself, it’s a fuller, solid gold colour than the Piper. Smoky buts, brioche, stone fruits cores coming on through the nose. My notes have ‘mousse!’, and in translation I think this is big praise for the mousse and creamy feel of the wine. Expansive with softer acid, it is oddly a little sour but with this doesn’t ‘sour’ the wine. Has a lime cordial edge to it as well, juicy. Oddly intriguing aromatics in the mouth on the finish too, mouth-coating and medium-long finish. Worth the pennies, and should be wheeled out to impress your guests. It’s not just a pretty face.
Home Hill Estate, Huon Valley, Tasmania
Home Hill Estate Pinot Noir 2013, RRP $36
This estate can’t get enough plaudits at the moment. Every couple of weekends I cruise past the vineyard on the way to Huonville, about 35 minutes drive from Hobart. Great apples out there, and great wine too. A good deal of winemakers are buying fruit from here, or making great wine from their own fruit. It’s one of the most southerly possible winemaking regions in the world. Home Hill have won awards for their Kelly’s Reserve range and for their Estate range. The sparkling is tops too. Here we have the Estate Pinot, from the good 2013 vintage. It reeks of luxury. Gorgeous aromatics here, wow. The most perfect cherries you could imagine, raspberries, more red fruits, and a lovely savoury touch intermingled with undergrowth. Curvy, smooth body to this wine, I could drink it all day. Elegance and fullness from some whole bunches in the ferment. Acidity underpins a beautiful structure here, but it’s not the structure but the feel of the wine that gets me. If you could somehow bottle one vintage’s worth of perfect winemaking in one bottle, this would be it. I can’t fault it, yet I reserve my right to an even higher score as I await the best that is surely yet to come from this vineyard.
Cloudy Bay Pelorus Brut NV, RRP $30
A pelorus is a sighting device on a ship, that apparently takes bearings of objects at sea. Basically, it helps to keep you on course. Great thought when drinking sparkling wine, isn’t it. ‘Keeping me on the straight and narrow.’ Excellent wine here – pale straw colour, but doesn’t shirk its ask. Zest, apples and citrus fruits on the nose, but the palate is where the real punches land. Creamy and textural, yet retaining real purity of fruit and flavour. The website says they use Montrachet yeast. Aiming high, I see, but there’s no pretension to the wine. Only two years on lees, but any more might’ve compromised the great achievement of this tasty wine. A steal at $30.
Altos R Rioja Blanco 2013, RRP around $15
Haven’t had a great deal of these – in fact I could probably count them with two or three fingers. Lifted and aromatic fruits, pears and peaches. The acidity holds the wine in a steely embrace, but the fruit is exuberant and really reaches along the palate. A true surprise here. With swirling and a little warmth, it became gorgeously viscous. Really evocative of Rioja, a warm day looking out over vineyards and olive trees. Love this.