Champagnes tasted on the Kirker Champagne Tour

Now this was a pretty spectacular line up of Champagnes by any stretch of the imagination.

First evening tasting:

Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve

G. H. Mumm “Mumm de Cramant”

Brut Alain Mercier “Cuvée Emile” Blanc de Noirs Brut

Jacquesson “Cuvée 742” Extra Brut

Gosset Grand Millésime 2006 Brut

Louis Roederer Rosé 2012 Brut

We started by comparing a couple of the most respectable NVs on the market and it was surprising that the Charles Heidsieck seemed so much the better; but then it has a huge proportion reserve wines in the blend. Very classy.

I then threw in a special NV, different price point, single Grand Cru village and pure Chardonnay – Mumm’s Cramant. Now, I’ll be frank, in the past I’ve loathed this wine but it seemed pretty good and a well done rendition of the village. Humph. Either it’s improved or I’ve mellowed. The Alain Mercier “Cuvée Emile” was pure Meunier and …… sorry no.

Jacquesson’s 742 – superb. Jacquesson don’t do NV, each year they recreate the house Champagne, making the best Cuvée they can. You never quite know what you are going to get, the blend varies quite a lot but there IS a style that springs from factors such as where the grapes are sourced, the use of foudres, lack of manipulation etc. Pretty uncompromising but great for aficionados.

However the star of the evening was Gosset’s Grand Millésime 2006. A soft rich flavour kind of honey on brioche and with tingling acidity going onto the finish. Few Champagnes could have followed this and Roederer Rosé 2012 tried. A bigger flavoured rosé, such as one from a grower in Bouzy or Aÿ might have got away with it. That’s not to say the Roederer Rosé 2012 was anything other than very good though.

At Pol Roger

Pol Roger Brut (Magnum)

Pol Roger Blanc de blancs Vintage 2012

Pol Roger Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill 2008

This was the first visit and it’s always a privilege to visit Pol. We had already tasted the Brut NV the previous evening at our restaurant, so interesting to try the magnum, which was more profound with both more maturity and greater freshness that the bottle. Sir Winston was absolutely magnificent of course. This wine is always more elegant that I expect it to be. Preconceptions, preconceptions….

At Bollinger

Bollinger Grande Année Rosé 2007

Bollinger Grande Année 2008

Bollinger RD 2004

Bollinger Special Cuvée

A superb lunch at Bollinger with equally superb Champagnes. When tasted side by side, I often prefer the Grande Année to the RD. It’s a personal taste thing, the Grande Année is a more taut, with more tension and potential…. anyway, that wasn’t the case here; the RD was from the awesome 2004 vintage and was possibly the wine of the tour; certainly people went out to look for it in Reims. Telling that Bollinger are confident enough in the Special Cuvée to put it immediately after such a great wine.

Second evening tasting

Marguet Shaman 15

Georges Laval Brut Nature 15

Tarlant “Zéro” Brut Nature

De Sousa Reserve Grand Cru Extra Brut

Moutard “6 Cépages” 2008 Extra Brut

Marguet “Trepail 1er Cru” Blanc de Blancs 14

Henri Giraud “Dame Jane” Rosé Brut

So, here we have a collection of Champagnes by the Young Turks of the organic / bio-dynamic / natural / rare grape varieties / unusual methods persuasions.

Benoit Marguet I’ve known for many years – he has an outrageous sense of humour and I’m sure he’s got an unusual attitude to responsibility. About the things that really matter, such as honesty in wine and attitude to the environment he’s super-responsible. But yeah, he forgot my last appointment…. The wines were divisive, some loved them but for others they were just too edgy.

Georges Laval is a legend, founder of bio-dynamie in Champagne and his Cumières rouge, (tasted some years ago on one of the more bizarre wine nights of my life), was far and away the best Coteaux Champenoise red I’ve ever had. New generation; the Champagne an absolute stonker! Stole the show. Except that Talant’s Zero, following it, had a crystalline purity that was really lovely. De Souza good too.

Then we had the Moutard; except we didn’t! Some plonker gave us Moutardier thinking that was close enough. What’s an “ier” between friends? So we had another a non-so good Meunier vintage, not MoutardIERS’s fascinating blend including the rare Arbanne and Petit Meslier grape varieties….

Henri Giraud “Dame Jane” Rosé – A Champagne from base wines fermented in amphora, or rather pithos. Yes, very good. A nice Rose from Aÿ, and what I like, bit of strawberry. No you couldn’t taste the amphora and to my mind that’s right.

It’s worth mentioning that the 14 and 15 are not misprints nor vintage dates. They are Cuvée dates.

At Philipponnat

Philipponnat Royal Reserve Philipponnat

Philipponnat Royal Reserve Rosé

Philipponnat Blanc de Noirs Vintage 2008

I’m a big fan of Philipponnat, but I don’t think many in our group had heard of them and so there were a few converts! The Blanc de Noirs Vintage needs some explanation: It’s very much a wine of the Grand Vallée de la Marne wine, (where the house is based) and it showcases the lovely Pinot Noir of this area. As such it’s important wine in the portfolio delivering something very special from the house at a highish but not extremely expensive price point. Redfruits, cream, brioche intense, lively and scored at 90 to 92 points for those that like that kind of thing.

At Taittinger & La Marqueterie

Taittinger Brut Réserve

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2007

Taittinger Prelude Grand Cru

Taittinger Millesimé 2013

Taittinger Folies de la Marqueterie

Taittinger Préstige Rosé Brut NV

Comtes is one of the greatest of all blanc de blancs Champagnes and it’s more versatile and ‘user friendly’ that the other greats, such as say, Salon. I find that the Prelude has greater clarity, purity and depth than the Brut Réserve but the Millesimé is somehow more dynamic. The single vineyard Folies de la Marqueterie is great fun and a good meal wine. Really worth trying. The Rosé is much improved lately too. The NV, which has been on offer in the UK recently is pretty good, but it gains a lot from being well chilled and decanted… yes, decanted!

At Vilmart

Vilmart Cuvée Grande Réserve

Vilmart Cuvée Grand Cellier

Vilmart Cuvée Grand Cellier d’Or 2010

Vilmart Cuvée Grand Cellier d’Or Coeur de Cuvée Vintage (2008?)

The Vilmart Champagnes just keep getting better and better. Wonderful to taste the Coeur de Cuvée, shame I didn’t notice the vintage! Vilmart Champagnes are really age-worthy. I’m still sitting on quite a few bottles from the 1990’s.

At André Jacquart

André Jacquart Vertus Experience Blanc de Blanc 1er Cru

André Jacquart Mesnil Experience Blanc de Blanc Grand Cru

André Jacquart Rosé Expérience Rosé de Saignée Premier Cru

The Mesnil was very good. Shame they were out of stock of the Mesnil Vintage which, now that Salon is strictly for Billionaires, is one of your best chances to experience something extraordinary from the village.

Round and about!

Sanchez-Le Guédard Cumières 1er Cru Clos Saint Hélène Special Club 2012

Sanchez-Le Guédard Cumières 1er Cru Cuvée Nature

Sanchez-Le Guédard Cumières 1er Cru Rosé de Saignée

Sanchez-Le Guédard Cumières 1er Cru Grand Réserve

Sanchez-Le Guédard are a new discovery for me and newish entrants into the Special Club. Cumières is an interesting village with a great south facing slope with fairly deep soils. The style is powerful, almost brutal. Sanchez-Le Guédard are organic and work fairly naturally. Impressive, especially the Club and Rosé .

Pol Roger Brut (Bottle)

Lanson Vintage 2008
Lanson Green Label Bio

Over the past 30 or so years, Lanson have been consistently one of my least favourite houses, so I leapt at tasting these two. No really, I did. You see last summer at Wimbledon there had been a monumental screw-up to do with the catering at the opening party of the new roof at Court no 1. Following a complaint, we were offered a bottle of Champagne. GREAT.  (Turned out to be Lanson, shit…) We duly collected aforementioned bottle and were offered this Green Labelled jobby. Hmm, why not? …. and it was lovely, fresh and profound. It’s also a Cumières, from the old Le Clerc-Briant bio-dynamic vineyards.

So, not a bad haul, 44 Champagne in 4 days and it was a great tour!

6 Wines from Waitrose

Welcome to the Wine Blog

This will be regular, there’ll be some recurring themes like “6 wines from….”, reports from areas I visit, discussion of ideas such as Organic & Natural wines, history of wine and whatever seems interesting at the time. Every blog must start somewhere so here’s no 1….

Six Wines from….. Waitrose

Reyneke Organic 19 Chenin Blanc.  Western Cape – South Africa. £9.00

I’m a big fan of Reyneke, South Africa’s oldest biodynamic wine estate. It’s perched on a hill above the great Jordan estate and founded and run by surfing fanatic, Johann Reyneke.  We’ve have been really pleased that a couple of their wines have appeared on the Waitrose shelves as part a general perking-up of the White Range here, for Reyneke is a place with a lot of soul that makes profound and harmonious wines.

So to this wine:  On opening we were immediately struck by a note of what we call “bubble gum” on the nose. Unwelcome, and often a sign of selected aromatic yeast – highly unlikely at Reyneke, so maybe it’s a maybe cold and reductive fermentation aroma that might lift off. As the wine was a bit warm, we stuck it back in the fridge, cork out, to chill and get a bit more oxygen to it. 

Half an hour later – bubble gum gone, nose nice citrus and honied, with a bit of apricot. Now that’s more like it Johann…..   It took on more weight over the couple of hours too. It is fairly near the bottom of Reyneke’s range, so whilst it isn’t as wonderfully harmonious as his top wines, it’s an attractive wine that delivers a lot for the price. I will buy it again.

Served with:  Guinea Fowl in Avgolemono sauce.  The wine married with this dish. It had enough weight to take it and the citrus note echoed the egg and lemon sauce. Also it suddenly seemed nuttier and much more complex with the food.  Actually, really good food and wine marriage.

Other Gumpf: Integrity & Sustainability Certified. Organic certified by Ceres. (This is not an Estate Wine or from their Biodynamic range).  Closure: Agglomerate cork. 

 

Waitrose Fairtrade Chenin Blanc.  South Africa.                              £3.95

This wine is made by an outfit called A921 who I’ve never heard of. It was reduced from £5.49 to £3.95 plus 5% case discount so £3.75! Now I can’t remember the last time I bought a wine at this price in the UK, so grabbed a bottle with no great expectation – and thought “maybe we’ll cook with it”.…

Mild pleasant lemon nose, reasonable balance, mid weight and reasonable persistence. Nice zingyness on the palate, but a slight lactic note. Far from unpleasant and a lot better than it could have been.

It didn’t improve in the glass under critical inspection. The lemoniness subsided, replaced by a basic mineral ‘stringy’ Chenin nose and a bit of gronky-dirtiness on the palate. Maybe it really was only a cooking wine…. But we’re being really picky! It tasted fine when first opened and heck, it cost under 4 quid!

Served with:  Guinea Fowl in Avgolimeno sauce too!  By this time the wine had been open for an hour or so and the lemon character had subsided. It didn’t have enough weight for the dish. The fact that bit had been used in the sauce didn’t help it. It didn’t work very well, but the sauce was GREAT!

Other: Gumpf – Integrity & Sustainability Certified. Closure: Screwcap.

 

Tsantali Organic Cabernet.     Greece                                          £9.49

There’s no doubt about it, Waitrose’s Greek range is a miserable offering. There’s only ONE Greek red and it’s not even made of a Greek grape variety, and Greece has loads of wonderful wines and almost as many grape varieties. 

Tsantali are a fairly big outfit.  I’ve never visited the winery, which is south east of Thessaloniki. However, I have seen it when visiting their near neighbour, the wonderful Gerovalisiou, and it’s kind of a factory….  Now Tsantali do do some good stuff.  Their ‘Rapsani’ red is well distributed in Greece and is one of our standard ‘go to’ wines when nothing else looks exciting. It’s good, reliable and authentic. The ‘Metoxi Chromitsa’ from the Monastic vineyards of Mount Athos is just wonderful. The Tsantali website by the way is excellent. Anyway that’s enough creeping to large wineries for one day, what about this wine?

Tsantali Organic Cabernet

Opened and poured directly into the glass (as most people would drink it), it gave little away on the nose and was dense and hard on the palate – any fruit was deeply buried. Immediate conclusion – a not particularly subtle version of a hot climate Cab.. A couple of hours later, still no openee….. It was re-corked and left lying around for a couple of days, then opened again and for a brief moment there was a window through to some blackcurrant fruit, but the finish had taken on a sour character, perhaps if it was aged properly it might all come together OK. Now are Waitrose really selling this wine in the expectation that people will age it for several years?  

A bit of a disappointment then, but I’ve tasted this wine before and been more impressed. It’s now available on offer at £7.12. Would I buy it again at that price? Maybe, but not in a great hurry when there are so many other wines to try.

These days people are much more interested in wines form the huge number of Greek autochthonous grape varieties. The region though has some pedigree for Cabernet and 30 years ago a Greek Cab from here was considered utterly ground breaking….. and Greek Cabs can be super! If you do want one, I would point you in the direction of Attica for Kokotos or to the Peloponnese where there are several really good ones: Any’s Animus from the Southwest coast, Domaine Gioulis from the mountains near Corinth and Tselepos ‘Avlotopi’ from the high Arcadian plain. Also there are good ‘Super-Greeks’ (ie Cab and local variety blends) from Thrace and Macedonia. The thing is though, you won’t find them in Waitrose…. 

Other: Gumpf – Certified Organic. Closure: Screwcap. 

 

Brokenwood Thompson Road Semillon 2015  Hunter Valley             £9.49

With our stock of 1er Cru Chablis running low, and it being so being darned expensive to replace, we’ve been trying quite a few wines as stand-ins as day to day wines to go with fish. It has to be said that we’ve had a good number of wines from Macon, the Rhone and Southern Italy that were pretty average and should have been better.  So how fab to see one of Australia’s classic white wines (and from an excellent producer too) here on the shelves at Waitrose at a must buy price. – In the past the Aussies used to sell such wines as “Chablis”!

Brokenwood are based in the Hunter Valley north of Sydney. I’ve quite visited them a few times over the years, the first time must have been back in the early 1990s. It’s often hot and sticky-humid around harvest, which was when we tended to be there. I never got to love Hunter reds and the guys at Brokenwood found the region unreliable for reds too and so started sourcing grapes from South Australia. However the whites are another thing, showing as lightweight and elegant with high, even austere acidity when young, but ageing well to show great almost unexpected complexity after a few years.

Brokenwood Thompson Road Semillon

So with a certain amount of excitement we opened it for lunch! – It did exactly what was expected: a lot of citrus on the nose and intense lemon / austere grapefruit on the palate with racy acidity and good length. It’s not rich, full, heavyweight or exactly complex, it’s more straightforward and snappy and it packs intensity.

Having tasted many Hunter Semillons, both young and with a few years under the belt, I feel very confident that this wine, (that’s drinking very well now), will age superbly. It’s well worth squirrelling a few bottles away to get that toasty-complexity of a great aged Hunter Semillon.

Will I buy it again? Yes for sure and I’m also going to bury a few bottles in the cellar but for that I’ll probably wait until Waitrose have one of their 25% off deals; it then comes down to £7.49, which is an absolute steal!

Served with: Baked Cod, Oven Baked Chips & Ultimate Mushy peas. Just the job – no need to squeeze lemon over the fish!.

Other: Gumpf – Closure: Screwcap. 

 

Waitrose Australian Shiraz (St Hallet’s)               £9.49

I’m a bit of a sucker for the Barossa.  Other areas in Australia might have cooler climates and a wider range of fashionable grape varieties, or have more gourmet restaurants or fancy designer wineries, but they haven’t got what the Barossa has; it’s the beating heart of the Australian wine industry. For me the focal point of it is a cross roads just out of town, where on one side you have Rockford and Charlie Melton (and you could continue to Grant Burge and on round to Bethany); straight on you come to a ditch called Jacob’s Creek and on the other side, St Hallets.

Whilst looking for my 6 wines, I spotted a Barossa Shiraz from St Hallets and reduced from 11.99 to £9.49. That was one for the trolley then.

The wine had a berry and spice nose, was mid-weight and was not gloopy (ie correct – this is Barossa). To sum up: satisfactory, but not that exciting.

On a ‘St Hallet’s roll’, I noticed that Majestic had the ‘Faith’ Shiraz, knocked down from about 17 quid to £13.99. Now this was an entirely different cuttlefish…. A much stronger nose loaded with toasty oak, berry fruit and spice. On the palate, again mid-weight, but lively, fresh and elegant. (I remember a few years ago, the winemaker Stuart Blackwell making a lot about the importance of this elegance, which for him was a signature of the Barossa that he wanted to express faith in). And on to the finish, racy with little notes of chocolate.  WOW.

Now I know this isn’t comparing like with like, but the cost isn’t that different. Would I buy the Waitrose Barossa again? Maybe. Would I buy Faith again? Try and stop me. 

Other: Gumpf – Closure: Screwcap. 

 

Hill Smith Estate Eden Valley Chardonnay                          £11.99  

The Hill Smith family own Yalumba, one of Australia’s most important wine companies. Unlike so many other longstanding firms in the industry, Yalumba have avoided going down the corporate route, loosing their identity and having their good name used to push out oceans of plonk. Despite all this, I’m afraid to say I’ve only been there once, quite a long time ago, and was completely zonked at the time by jet-lag.  So without any real excuse, I haven’t followed their wines particularly and wasn’t in a hurry to go back there simply because the visit hadn’t been exiting. Likewise Australian Chardonnay, although above the basic price point it’s always very decent and nothing like the false archetype, I rarely think “gosh, must have an Australian Chardonnay”.

As I said, we’ve done a fair bit of wine-hunting this year looking for a good stand-in for a 1er Cru Chablis what with the pound being a bit crunched and everything. So this bottle, coming with key words “Hill Smith” “Estate” “Chardonnay” and “Eden Valley” (ie the cooler part of the Barossa), plus classy looking labelling, said “hit me”!  It had a nose of fine French oak with an elegant, yeastiness that was sort of reminiscent of blanc de blanc Champagne. (Surprising, for Eden Valley isn’t THAT cool!) Nice creaminess on the palate, and a restrained steeliness on the long finish. 

Well, conclusion: Quite a lot of wine for £11.99!  I think it would age nicely if kept for a few years too.

Other: Gumpf – Closure: Screwcap.