Superlatives flowed when our panel tried the under-$100 bubbles, says Ralph Kyte-Powell.
“Champagne is endlessly fascinating,” said panel chair John Belsham, summing up the judges’ sense of awe when confronted by the many impressive wines in this tasting. For consistency of high quality, Champagne is unique – the result of centuries of refinement and a genius for combining tradition and innovation without losing focus. Of the 34 wines in the Under $100 category, no less than 21 were awarded four stars and above. Among them were some real bargains and for sheer brilliance, our Top 10 encouraged a range of superlatives from the judges, aptly encapsulated by Eveline Fraser. “They are much more consistent than New World sparkling wines,” she said. “They simply have another dimension.”
The tasting panel
John Belsham, Panel chair
Ralph Kyte-Powell, Cuisine’s Melbourne-based judge and wine writer
Eveline Fraser, a Marlborough consultant winemaker with a speciality in sparkling wines.
The associate judge (non-scoring) was Andrew Parkinson, national fine-wine and on-premise manager for Negociants NZ.
Cellaring recommendations are not given for the Champagnes and sparkling wines reviewed in this issue, as they arrive on the market ready to drink. A few may surprise with longer bottle age, especially younger examples of vintage wines, but most are released with enough age already. Santé!
Wow! The revamped Charles Heidsieck non-vintage Champagne is super-impressive. Described by Eveline Fraser as “bold, gorgeous, out-there,” it has an absolutely classical bouquet reminiscent of toasted brioche, stone fruit, patisserie and creme brulee. Sumptuous and complex, it’s full-bodied, smooth and complete with an ultra-long, moreish, deliciously bready aftertaste. Superb.
Charles Heidsieck was only 29 when, in 1851, he founded the Champagne house that bears his name. By all accounts, ambitious “Champagne Charlie” was a showman, a dandy and an adventurer, infected by a wanderlust that saw him pioneer the American market for Champagne. His wine became a benchmark with quality that lived up to its hype, but many ownership changes affected its status. In 1985, Remy-Cointreau reappointed highly respected former chef de cave (chief winemaker) Daniel Thibault. He upped the quality, insisting on the use of 40 per cent of older reserve wines in the non-vintage blend without increasing its price (no other Champagne house in this price range uses anywhere near as much of these enriching reserves). Tragically, Thibault died in 2002, but his legacy continued. In 2011, private owners took the helm and further fillips to the quality credentials have come in the form of an even more rigorous selection of base wines, a sleek new bottle and an elegant new label. It all adds up to a worthy winner.
A surprise packet from a relatively unknown, but century-old Champagne house, this …2
The typically pale, subtle bronze colour that typifies good rosé Champagne introduces …3
This red-labelled non-vintage always punches above its weight in the quality and …4
The Ayala style is normally drier than most, but this example seemed …5
Veuve Clicquot’s Yellow Label is one of Champagne’s most reliable wines. John …6
Coppery pink in colour, this lightly blushing rosé Champagne offers a charming …7
Pol Roger’s white labelled non-vintage is the perfect Champagne for spring and …8
An elaborate wine of refinement and style. The nose is reminiscent of …9
Lanvin’s remarkable price tag belies the quality in the bottle. It’s a …10