Views from the judges
Jonathan Pedley MW
Perhaps because of the improvements in winemaking, resulting in greater clarity of aroma and structure, it seems to be easier to discern the components of many Champagnes. Of course the finest wines still have a seamless nose and palate, but on several occasions during the tasting one could sense the elements making up a wine.
Two groups of wines spring to mind.
Non Vintage: In several cases one had a sense that the aged reserve wine was sitting uncomfortably on the youthful base wine. I just wonder if some producers are not giving their wines enough time after disgorging to allow the components to harmonise?
Rosé: There was a phenolic note on a number of the rosés that took away some of their charm. I guess the challenge will always be how to get the colour and fruit from the red wine (assuming the blended method) without introducing drying tannins. Vibrant young rosés can do it – the youthful fruit dominating any astringency (the Piper Brut Sauvage), as can ultra-aged mature wines – any tannins having resolved in bottles (the Charles Heidsieck Vintage Rosé). Dosage can help a bit but it would be a shame to spoil the balance of the wine in a quest to mask the phenolics.
Patricia Stefanowicz MW
Champagne will never be inexpensive, but finding good-value wines in the £20-£30 bracket, especially some of the co-operative wines, with appealing fruit and fresh bread or brioche accents, was a delight.
The Vintage Champagnes, from a mixed lot of vintages ranging from 2014 back to 2005, showed very well, with plenty of gold dust and a smattering of Master awards. Interesting, too, were the different styles: youthful and fresh with toasty nuances through the fruit-driven with fresh bread accents and some wines complex, layered and fully developed. Brut styles seemed to work best in terms of integration and complexity.
There was a nice group of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes, poised with racy acidity, delicate and elegant.
Prestige Cuvées sometimes had the wow factor that one associates with these wines: textured, layered and complex, and very moreish. A few could not really justify their stratospheric prices.
The rosé sparklings were a disappointment; and I’m someone who loves pink. While the range of colours was visually enchanting, many of the wines simply did not deliver on the nose and palate. And, of course, they are mostly expensive, costing £30 and upwards. That said, there were a few gems.
On a positive note, the very best of the Champagnes we tasted were exemplary: concentration of flavour, lovely autolysis and well-judged, integrated dosage.