In 2012 I presented a ‘Prestige Champagne Evening’, with 10 of the world’s greatest Champagnes, to a fizz-mad audience in London. The event was such a success that it was repeated in December 2013, presenting two wines each from five great Champagne houses, Salon, Dom Pérignon, Gosset, Laurent-Perrier and Taittinger. For each we showed their top ‘prestige cuvée’ plus another wine chosen by the house. These notes were taken on the evening.
Founded in 1812, Laurent-Perrier has been creating Champagnes for nearly two hundred years. The house was acquired by the Nonancourt family in 1939, and for over 65 years Bernard de Nonancourt dedicated his life to innovating and perfecting Laurent-Perrier Champagne. It remains the largest family-owned Champagne brand.
Laurent-Perrier, Cuvée Ultra Brut, France
A zero dosage Champagne made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this has a delightful yeastiness and meatiness, real depth but huge freshness too. Masses of lemon and grapefruit pith acidity on the palate, seems razor sharp and grippy, the low dosage giving this a steely backbone and terrific length. 91/100. Around £45, Majestic and see all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Laurent-Perrier, Grand Siècle, France
Launched in 1959, Grand Siècle is Laurent-Perrier’s Prestige Cuvée, a blend of cru vineyards from the best vintage years. Some toast here, some roasted fruit and apple pie, a lovely sense of creaminess and depth. Bursts with fruit on the palate too, a raciness to the mousse and masses of lemony acidity. Bracing dryness, but this is burgeoning with hints at richness and depth. 93/100. Around £80, Majestic and see all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Gosset, founded by Pierre Gosset in 1584, is the oldest house in Champagne. A family business it is today owned by the Cointreau family and makes just over one million bottles per year. Gosset Champagnes are presented to the market ‘recently disgorged’ and the house avoids malolactic fermentation in its wines.
Gosset, Grande Réserve, France
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with a little Pinot Meunier in this multi-vintage blend. Rich, nutty stuff with bruised pear and apple nutty oxidation. The palate has that vinous, super-charged character, but retains a slippery freshness and lovely crisp, dry apple acidity against that nuttiness. 93/100. Around £50, Berry Bros & Rudd and see all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Gosset, Grand Millésime 2004, France
55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, this ramps up that bruised fruit character into a toffeed richness, but it is leesy with an earthy, umami character too. Really racy on the palate, with concentration here, plenty of honeyed, biscuity flavours, in a wine that is just a baby. 93/100. Around £70, Berry Bros & Rudd and see all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Champagne Taittinger remains one of the few Champagne houses to be owned and actively managed by the family named on the label. Since Pierre Taittinger began making his champagnes in 1931, Taittinger has grown to become one of the great Houses and is manage today by Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, his daughter Vitalie and son Clovis.
Taittinger, ‘Prelude’ Grand Cru NV, France
Composed of Chardonnay (50%) and Pinot Noir (50%), coming exclusively from Grand Crus vineyards and made from the first pressing only. Fabulous yeasty, baked apple richness, but immediately racy and lacy. The delicious orange and lime blast of fruit is terrific, streaking across the tongue, with masses of fine bubbles adding to the fresh edge. Lovely breadth and dryness into the creamy finish, this is drinking beautifully and is something of a bargain at £40 if you shop around. 94/100. Around £45, Majestic and see all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2005, France
100% Chardonnay from the greatest crus of the Côtes des Blancs, Comtes is made only in exceptional vintages and is aged for over eight years. This has an absolutely gorgeous and quite subtle nose, with floral notes and an immensely fresh but delicate bouquet. Subtle white fruits and Asian pear on the palate give a sense of cool crispness. Pure and sophisticated stuff, this has gossamer-like finesse and freshness and will age very well. 95/100. This is brand new to the market and many retailers are still stocking the 2000, 2002 or 2004. Around £100, Majestic and Berry Bros & Rudd and see all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Champagne Dom Pérignon
The Dom Pérignon story began in 1668 when a young monk called Pierre Pérignon was appointed cellar master for the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers in France. Today the house is part of Moët & Chandon, itself part of the Luis Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy luxury goods brand.
Dom Pérignon, Vintage 2004 Blanc, France
Following the tough and extremely hot 2003 vintage, Dom Pérignon 2004 (a blend of 53% Pinot Noir and 47% Chardonnay) was presumably much easier to make, with excellent growing conditions and yields of 10-11,000kg per hectare compared to the 3-4000kg/ha in 2003. The nose is extraordinarily deep and toasty, with hot buttered brioche and it’s vinous too, with small red berry fruits and that lovely baked apple richness. Fabulous, rounded and creamy on the palate, the filigree delicacy of the mousse marries with pinpoint acidity. Hugely long, deep and undoubtedly long-lived stuff with fantastic class. 96/100. Around £115, Berry Bros & Rudd and see all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Dom Pérignon, Vintage 2003 Rosé, France
DP rosé is an assemblage rather than a saignée, that is, it is made by adding some red Pinot Noir to the base wine for the blend, and whilst the heat of 2003 was exceptional, Dom Pérignon seem to have embraced it to make a very ripe rosé Champagne. It has a beautiful pale to medium salmon colour. Really fresh and bright, strawberry and raspberry soar from the glass. Notes of the baked apple and vanilla richness of the 2004, are there, but what this majors on is the sweet fruit richness and vinous depth. Layered and yet delicate, there is a meaty substance here too that is Pinot-like, suggesting this would be a great food wine. This style wasn’t universally popular on the night, but I really enjoyed it. 93-94/100. Around £300, champagnedirect.co.uk and see all stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Champagne Salon and Champagne Delamotte
Salon is one of Champagnes most unusual wines: there is only one cuvée, produced only in vintage years (there were only 37 releases in the entire 20th century), only from Chardonnay and only sourced from the Grand Cru vineyard of Le Mesnil. Sister house Delamotte is next door, and both houses share the same chef de cave and ownership.
Delamotte, Blanc de Blancs 2004, France
A historic house in its own right (the fifth oldest in Champagne, founded in 1760) the house concentrates on Chardonnay from the Grands Crus of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant. Owned, like Salon, by the Laurent-Perrier group, it shares a Chef du Cave, Didier Depond, with Salon. With eight years in the cellar this has quite a developed, creamy but sour lemon and apple nose, showing nice complexity with a bit of breadth, yeastiness, but citrus freshness too. Again a bit of breadth to the palate, a vinous character, rounded with a fine mousse and good length. 91/100. Around £40, Corney & Barrow and see all stockists on wine-searcher.
Salon, Blanc de Blancs 1999, France
This is not a Champagne that instantly wows, but unravels and beguiles. Fabulous nose, instantly creamy, buttery, but immensely tight and fine too, like a very high quality young white Burgundy. Hints of apple skin grip and structure, but also such delicate floral nuances. On the palate that impression of silky, intense, natural concentration is mesmerising as is its sense of completeness and balance. Despite a low dosage, it is very fruity, but it is that long, creamy and dreamy mineral finish that so impresses. 96-97/100. £220, Corney & Barrow and see all stockists on wine-searcher.