A major blind tasting of Champagnes last month saw lesser-known labels from the region’s cooperatives score better than famous bottles of branded fizz.
Among the seven Champagnes that gained a Gold medal or higher in the Brut Non-Vintage category of 2018’s Champagne Masters were two bottles that hailed from the French appellation’s cooperatives – those producers who are owned and run jointly by its members, who are growers.
Rubbing shoulders with the likes of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label and Charles Heidsieck in this year’s Champagne Masters were Champagnes Palmer and Pannier, two first-rate brands owned and run by cooperatives.
Such Champagnes were placed ahead of more illustrious labels, such as Champagnes Pommery and Laurent-Perrier, which come with higher prices too.
Meanwhile, taking home the ultimate accolade in the vintage Champagne category was another cooperative label, with Champagne Castelnau achieving a near-perfect score for its release form the 2006 harvest.
Within the same category was a further stand-out wine from a cooperative, with the 2008 vintage from Champagne Chassenay d’Arce – a growers’ co-operative based in the Aube – picking up a Gold.
Finally, one of the highest-scoring Champagnes of the day’s tasting – which saw almost 200 bottles sampled blind by highly-experienced judges – was also from a cooperative.
Gaining 97 points out of a possible 100 was the Egérie de Pannier 2006, the top cuvée from Pannier, which was praised for its wonderful combination of complementary flavours, from lemon and honey, to toast and grilled nuts, along with an uplifting, lasting and very fresh, dry finish.
Costing £75, the Pannier prestige cuvée is far from cheap, but amazing value relative to other special blends in this top-end Champagne category, from Dom Pérignon to Cristal, which can retail for almost double the price of the Egérie.
Among other cooperative Champagnes that performed well in the 2018 Champagne Masters were labels from Nicolas Feuillatte, Montandon and Jacquart, which each picking up Silver medals for a range of cuvées.
Although Champagnes sourced from growers’ cooperatives are often believed to be of lesser quality, the tasting in August proved that such producers can achieve outstanding results, and even make superior cuvées than the famous Grandes Marques, despite the lower prices generally charged for cooperative brands.
For those who know the Champagne region well, however, such an outcome may not surprise, with cooperatives being major suppliers of grapes and wine to many well-known names in the region, who own few vineyards themselves.
As proved by the blind tasting, Palmer, Pannier and Castelnau are definitely three names to seek out for those looking for an outstanding ratio of quality-to-price in Champagne, along with the larger cooperative brand of Nicolas Feuillatte, particularly for its vintage and blanc de blancs expressions.
Although not tasted in this year’s Champagne Masters, further quality-minded cooperatives include Beaumont des Crayères and Mailly Grand Cru – with the latter’s winemaking formerly run by Hervé Dantan, who is now cellar master for Champagne Lanson.
A full report on all the medal winners in the 2018 Champagne Masters will feature on thedrinksbusiness.com and in the magazine shortly.
About the Champagne Masters
The Champagne Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as regions such as Rioja and Chianti.
The competition is exclusively for Champagne and the entries were judged by a selection of highly experienced tasters using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted.
The top Champagnes were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those Champagnes that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Champagne Master.
The Champagnes were tasted over the course of a single day on 23 August in the Mayfair Suite at The Langham Hotel in London.
The judges were:
Clement Robert MS
Jonathan Pedley MW
Patrick Schmitt MW
Roberto della Pietra
Simon Field MW
About the tasting process
All the entries are tasted blind, ensuring that the judges have no knowledge of the identity of each wine beyond its price band and basic style.
Once a score for each wine from every judge has been revealed, and the reasons for the result given, the chair of each judging group will compile an average score, and award medals accordingly.
Each wine is scored on the 100-point scale, with pre-set scoring bands corresponding to the medals awarded, which range from Bronze to Gold, and Master – the ultimate accolade, awarded only to outstanding samples. The judges are told to consider the resulting medal when assigning their score.
The bands are as follows: 85-88 – Bronze; 89-92 – Silver; 93-96 – Gold; 97-100 – Master.
Although the judges are tough, they are accurate and consistent, and the open judging process allows for debate and the revision of initial assessments.
Within the style and price category, the judges are looking for appropriate flavours – be they attributable to the vineyard or the winemaking processes. They are also in search of complexity, intensity and persistence at levels expected of the style and price band. In particular, the judges will reward wines highly if they have both balance and personality.
Thanks to the quality of the judges and the sampling process, the Global Masters provides an unrivalled chance to draw attention to hidden gems, as well as confirm the excellence of the renowned.