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         MyTH OR MAGIC?
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    Process and place                             Champagne houses                                                      problematic wine to me was
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    The tasting included both                                                                                           Dom Pérignon. It is undeniably
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    blended Champagnes and                have long encouraged the notion                                               a great wine, but even though

                                                                                                                                                                                                                    single-vineyard wines, which
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    highlighted the issue of
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             that a bottle is ready to drink                                            the 1998 has developed
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        markedly since its launch, it is
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    terroir. Champagne is an             when launched. This has contributed                                            still a vino d’arrivo. It only
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    elaborate wine in which the                                                                                         makes me wonder whether all
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  to consumption but

        Cuvée CHAMPAGNe
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    fermentations add layers of                                                                                         the people who drink it now
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    complexity over the fruit, as
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    does prolonged bottle aging on
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            at the same time hindered the                                               can really enjoy the taste, or
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        whether its prestigious image
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    the lees. The addition of sugar                   perception of                                                     is able to hide its premature
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    (dosage) dilutes the aromatics,                                                                                     state. The first Dom Pérignon
              Essi Avellan MW introduces a round-table open tasting                                                                                                                                                 while residual sweetness hides         Champagne as a “serious” wine.                                               vintage, 1921, was launched in
               shared with Hugh Johnson OBE, Simon Larkin MW,                                                                                                                                                       delicate nuances as well as            Moreover, many prestige cuvées                                               1936—at 15 years of age. And
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    masking imperfections. It is                                                                                        based on the Oenothèque 1992
                    and Anthony Rose, in which they reflected on                                                                                                                                                    therefore quite reasonable                  work against the entire                                                 tasted by the panel, 15 years
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    to ask whether a (positive)                                                                                         seems to be the earliest
        the quality and range of the current releases of the region’s top wines                                                                                                                                     gôut du terroir can be perceived
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            category if launched too early                                              reasonable drinking age for
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    in such a highly processed                                                                                          this famous wine.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                    product. But at our tasting, Jacquesson’s most recent single-                    The multivintage luxury cuvées—Krug Grande Cuvée,
Champagne has perhaps the                                                                                           of these Champagnes made it—                                                                    vineyard launch, Corne Bautray 2000 Non Dosé, and Philipponnat’s             Laurent-Perrier Grande Siècle, and Piper-Heidsieck Rare—share
highest luxury:money ratio of                                                                                       as they should have—into the                                                                    Clos des Goisses 1996 both afforded a striking vindication of the            the positive attributes of being ready to drink while retaining
all things. A bottle at any                                                                                         17-to-19-point range. With such                                                                 terroir concept in Champagne. Krug’s Clos du Mesnil 1995 and                 significant aging potential. But while the multivintage nature of
price has the remarkable ability                                                                                    superb wines as the top luxury                                                                  Cattier’s Clos du Moulin were comparative disappointments in                 these wines fits in well with the blending philosophy that will
to create atmosphere and                                                                                            cuvées, enjoyment was as good                                                                   this respect, failing to deliver either the expected quality or suitable     always prevail in Champagne, they somehow lack the kudos
deliver      enjoyment,       both                                                                                  as guaranteed.                                                                                  terroir expression. Rémi Krug has repeatedly stressed that “Clos             of their vintage rivals. The Krugs insist that Grande Cuvée is as
gustatory and emotional. But                                                                                              I always find tasting                                                                     du Mesnil is always different but never better than the other                great as any wine in their range—but why then is it priced the
as the elitist image slowly                                                                                         Champagne blind one of the                                                                      Krugs.” We agreed that the Champagne was by no means bad, but                lowest? Connoisseurs, in particular, value the authenticity and
evaporates and Champagne                                                                                            most challenging exercises. But                                                                 taking into account both its price (£470 a bottle from Berry Bros &          variety seemingly vouchsafed by vintage. Lack of communication
becomes everybody’s drink,                                                                                          tasting these luxury cuvées open                                                                Rudd in London) and its reputation, it failed to charm the panel. It         regarding the age of the wines in a non-vintage Champagne
there is a challenge in preserving                                                                                  proved to be an even tougher                                                                    is a good example of scarcity’s effect on price, since only some             (especially in luxury cuvées) is a controversial topic—and, to me, a
its carefully cultivated mystique.                                                                                  task. Champagne has always                                                                      8,000 bottles are produced in vintage years.                                 major mistake. I can appreciate that buying Champagne is made
As major branding tools, the                                                                                        been one of the most strongly                                                                                                                                                easy for the consumer who has no knowledge of vintages. But for
prestige cuvées represent super-                                                                                    branded fine wines, and it is                                                                   Age, information, and style                                                  the connoisseur with a deeper interest in the wine, then its age,
                                                                                                                                                         Illustration by John Spencer

luxury, with perfected contents                                                                                     impossible to let go of one’s past                                                              Champagne houses have long encouraged the notion that a bottle               encépagement, and so on are of great interest. Champagne is one of
and exquisite packaging—not to mention extravagant pricing.                       experiences or present perceptions. I, at least, struggled to                                                                     is ready to drink when launched on to the market. This has                   the world’s great wine styles—the greatest in my opinion; therefore,
They may well have started as product-line extensions, but their                  neutralize my palate from previous encounters and                                                                                 contributed to consumption but at the same time hindered the                 one would like to see a shift to a more serious focus on the wine per
importance has been increasing ever since. In these economically                  preconceptions. In an open tasting of prestige cuvées, the status                                                                 perception of Champagne as a “serious” wine. After all, a                    se and an increasingly connoisseur target. How easy would it be on
sound times, with many new image-conscious markets opening up,                    of each wine will always play a role, no matter how hard we try to                                                                significant emotional value is derived from wines that continue to           the Internet to let those of us who are deeply interested know more
demand for these luxury cuvées far outstrips supply. Production is                be objective. Another issue to bear is mind is the commentary of                                                                  improve with age. Moreover, many prestige cuvées work against                about these great bottles?
generally rising, but most houses prefer to remain secretive about                one’s fellow tasters, whose views will inevitably affect one’s own—                                                               the entire category if launched too early. Cristal and Salon are                 Returning to the question of the optimum age for Champagne,
the total volume. Scarcity does, after all, increase desirability.                or at least those to which one gives voice. I did not agree with the                                                              classic examples of wines that require long aging. Cristal, happily,         we were treated in the tasting to some late-disgorged wines:
     At our round-table tasting we sampled a comprehensive range                  majority of the panel on a few of the wines but chose to remain                                                                   is gaining an extra year of bottle maturation from the 2002 vintage          Jacquesson DT 1989 and 1990, Dom Pérignon Oenothèque 1992,
of major houses’ prestige cuvées currently available on the market,               silent, since the opinion of the rest appeared unanimous. The                                                                     onward, but Salon’s tendency has been the opposite. The Salon                and Bollinger RD 1996. These were the wines that swept me, at
including some older releases. Our emphasis was on understanding                  conclusions drawn toward the end of this introduction are largely                                                                 1996 is only now starting to approach maturity, showing, as Hugh             least, off my feet. I hope that this category will thrive in the future,
the wines and vintages rather than on ranking them. After all, most               mine, but I have also attempted to summarize the consensus.                                                                       Johnson put it, “purity, simplicity, and class.” But the most                because at a more mature age, Champagnes are able to reveal their

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        1996 showed its class in riveting style. Its acidic backbone, concentration,
              and ripeness make it the vintage of the decade, if not of the century.
                                             Most 1996s were just starting to drink

full personality and potential. However                                                                    to stock up on them for the years to
outstanding the RD 1996 is now, it still                                                                   come. The 1995s were rich, weighty, and
seems too early a launch for this special                                                                  drinking extremely well. Henriot’s Cuvée
style, resembling more closely than it                                                                     des echanteleurs was a positive surprise,
should the regular Grande Année, which                                                                     with its classy ripe fruitiness and richness.
compromises the RD concept.                                                                                The Krugs were as good as ever, the
    The tasting included only three Rosé                                                                   vintage leaving no doubt of its excellence
Champagnes, but they were enough to                                                                        and future potential. The Clos du Mesnil
generate lively conversation on the quality                                                                divided opinion and was viewed by some
of these wines, particularly in relation to                                                                as inferior in quality to the vintage due to
their premium pricing. Hugh Johnson                                                                        a less complex and less harmonious
articulated his view that Rosés are fashion items first and foremost,              nature. The fine 1990 vintage showed its balance and positive
whose high prices cannot be justified. I agree with Johnson’s view                 qualities in both the Dom Ruinart Rosé and the Jacquesson DT.
regarding the standard Nv and vintage wines. But the best luxury
cuvée Rosés show a different, more vinous style, which some                        Conclusions
Champagne lovers will welcome. The best of this admittedly                         All in all, the tasting let us compare the qualities of the major
outrageously pricey but wonderful style was exemplified by the                     houses’ prestige cuvées side by side. The Krugs were consistently
outstanding Dom Ruinart Rosé 1990. Billecart-Salmon Cuvée                          great, as was Cristal, with its powerful roundness and edgy
elisabeth Salmon 1998 was stylish, as usual, but not up to the great               personality leaving no room for doubt. Among the others,
1996. Lanson Noble Cuvée Rosé Nv was considered a                                  Jacquesson did exquisitely well, being able to show both
disappointment by the panel, with inadequate intensity and lack                    personality and fine terroir characteristics. Billecart-Salmon’s
of character and charm.                                                            phenomenal cleanliness and technical perfection combined to
                                                                                   great effect throughout the line. The lesser-known top cuvées
Vintages                                                                           that charmed with character and elegance were Gosset’s Célébris
The tasting demonstrated the full range of recent vintages. The                    and Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses, both counting for some of
Bollinger Grande Année 1999 was a delightful wine, as was the                      the best bargains on offer. Clear disappointments were Cattier
second bottle of Cristal 1999 (the first one likely suffered from very             Clos du Moulin, Lanson Noble Cuvée Rosé Nv, Lanson Noble
light cork taint, which dampened down the fruit). The high level                   Cuvée Blanc de Blancs 1997, Mumm Grand Cru Nv, Perrier Jouët
of ripeness in 1999 was evident in both, but without the                           Belle epoque Blanc de Blancs 1999 and, to a lesser degree, the
correspondingly low acidity that afflicts many wines of the vintage.               Belle epoque 1998. One wine that stood out was the Henri Giraud
The most represented year was 1998. Fine wines, undoubtedly, but                   Fût de Chêne 1998, with is high oak maturation influence and
the high yields must be responsible for the slight lack of fruit intensity         intensely vinous style. This highly atypical Champagne has great
and finesse: a very good vintage rather than a great one. The 1997 had             structure, and the style doubtless has its fans.
the misfortune to follow the superb 1996: no greatness, but some                       This tasting demonstrated the great range of quality and style
good wines for mid-term drinking. The 1996 showed its class in                     among prestige cuvée Champagnes, as well as the variety of the
riveting style. Its acidic backbone, concentration, and ripeness make              region’s vintages. These qualities should be used even more
it the vintage of the decade, if not of the century. Most 1996s were just          persuasively to strengthen Champagne’s position as a serious fine
starting to drink, with Dom Ruinart and Salon showing the elegant,                 wine. At the same time, Champagne’s big business interests, easily
tight-knit mineral side, whereas Billecart-Salmon Grande Cuvée,                    saleable image, high-profile marketing, rising grape prices, and
Jacquesson, Philipponnat Clos des Goisses, and Pol Roger Sir                       supply shortages all pose a threat to the future quality of some of
Winston Churchill demonstrated the vintage’s exceptional power                     the mass-produced prestige cuvées. So the gap between the best
and structure. Luckily there are still some available, and it is wise              and the rest will surely widen.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             per se
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               pREsTIgE cuvéE cHampagNE

Flight 1: Non-vintage                                 AR: Yes, I preferred it of the two.            drink. A soft and caramelly nose,             AR: It was quite delicate—surprisingly      fruit, a touch of nut and steely fresh            and tightly winey palate, but the acidity
Jacquart Brut de Nominée Nv                           HJ: I don’t think the Mumm quite hit           harmonious and well put together, with        delicate—with good berry-fruit acidity      acid structure. Worth aging several               brings juiciness as well as balance and
piper-Heidsieck cuvée Rare Nv                         the spot, a bit low key.                       a well-integrated mouthfeel.                  and freshness, though perhaps not           years in bottle.                                  personality. No hurry to open this for
cattier clos du moulin Nv                             SL: No great shakes. An aggressive bite,       SL: Gently bready nuances, yes, but           quite at cuvée-prestige level.              SL: A very tight coil, certainly, fine,           years to come.
mumm grand cru Nv                                     darting acidity, little generosity, leaving    still an appley, tangy nature to the fruit.   EA: I also found it delicate on the nose,   minerally cut, lean and precise, though,          AR: Full-flavored Bollinger personality,
Laurent-perrier grand siècle Nv                       an unappealing, lean impression.               Compact rather than expansive, but a          with cherry and strawberry fruit and        like Hugh, I noted a bruised-apple                yes, and an intriguing iodiney evolution
Krug grande cuvée Nv                                  HJ: Not short, though, and it had some         lively, mouthwatering, pristine style,        no discernible autolysis aromas. Fruity     quality on the nose, and I can’t help             on the nose, with baked apple, smoke,
Lanson Noble cuvée Rosé Nv                            qualities: It was pleasant and lingering.      with good depth and length.                   palate with slight bitterness and           feeling this is a bit stripped down, even         ginger, cinnamon, and tobacco spice.
                                                      And I would defend the Jacquart: If            HJ: I thought the Krug was an absolute        refreshing acidity. Comparatively long,     though the terroir does shine through.            HJ: I think Marmite, a brown character
HJ: I hoped this would be a question of               that’s commercial, good for commercial.        knockout.                                     with a pleasing bubble structure.           A gastro-Champagne?                               typical of Bollinger, on the nose. But a
coming up with 40 synonyms for                        It had the advantage of being the first        AR: The Krug and Cattier were top for         HJ: I thought the nose gave room for        HJ: Exactly, it needs food.                       real wake-up entry, the marshmallow
scrumptious.                                          glass of Champagne, and I was dying            me. The Cattier needs drinking now,           imagination. With the whiff of Pinot        AR: I find it beautifully creamy, but it          taste at a tangent, leading on to slightly
SL: I thought this first flight ranged                for a glass of Champagne. But it was           but the Krug will last a long time...         Noir, I could see the Montagne de           would also be palate-cleansing before             green oak. Dry, unfinished. Keep.
from the correct and refined to the                   very nicely put together, with shining         HJ: Twice as much flavor. The nose is         Reims.                                      a meal. I’d be happy to have it as an             SL: Yes, still very young, still not fully
more characterful.                                    almond blossom on the nose and a               absolutely arresting, like a Paris            SL: I just kept wondering whether it        apéritif as well.                                 knit. Promising, but does need time.
AR: Yes, very mixed. My favorite for                  clean finish—very long and fine.               perfume for men: musk, almond, vanilla.       was worth the higher price as a Rosé…       HJ: I still think it’s severe. There’s not        AR: As does the Cristal, which I find
now was the Cattier, which had great                  EA: I agree it had an attractively toasty      So brisk and fresh on the palate, but         HJ: I don’t know why anybody pays           much fun in it; it’s not made for joy, as         the tightest of the first four in this
complexity, and I said more about it in               nose, but the bubbles foamed too               mouth-coating.                                extra for Rosé. It’s a complete rip-off.    Champagne should be.                              flight, seemingly with the structure and
my notes. I liked its sourdough-yeast                 much in the mouth. I found it a little         AR: Mmm. Nice, rich, mouth-filling            AR: It would be interesting to know         EA: There certainly couldn’t be a bigger          texture for aging, and showing
quality, nicely evolved brioche aromas,               rustic, a little short.                        mousse with some toasty evolution,            how much more it costs to make.             difference between these first two                elegance in a tightly wound package,
and appley fruit richness. But the Krug               HJ: It had character. What about the           creamy texture, almost a touch of             EA: It does require the best grapes and     Blanc de Blancs…                                  but elemental as yet.
was also classic, pretty spot-on…                     Piper-Heidsieck? For me this had a             marmalade, good acidity, and a distinct       is the most difficult style to make.        AR: I’m disappointed by the Belle                 HJ: Marie-Antoinette, face powder.
HJ: Oh, I think the Krug stood out. The               soft, unexciting nose. It started out          touch of honey on the finish.                 HJ: I still think it’s a complete scam.     Epoque. After the finesse of the                  Utterly Paris salon, sweet-smelling,
Cattier also stood out for me, but not                quiet… and went on quiet… but then             SL: Very ripe acidity, I agree; nothing                                                   Jacquesson, I found it a bit coarse on            dangerous…
for such good reasons.                                there was some fine acidity and an             edgy or nervy, and so well knit to the        Flight 2: 2000, 1999                        the nose, pongy, rustic…                          AR: Have you been to a Toulouse-
SL: I agree it was distinctive, evolved,              appley finish, quite long.                     wine. In some of the others the acidity       Jacquesson corne Bautray 2000               HJ: Absolutely. A boudoir nose, faint             Lautrec exhibition recently, Hugh?
and a little oxidative on the nose, but               AR: Yes, a vanilla, almond/marzipan            seemed too perky for the fruit. Here              Non-Dosé                                cheese… merde… All human life is there.           HJ: No, but you could be forgiven for
more pristine on the palate.                          sweetness on the nose, with a nice             the fruit was very ripe, too, with a hint     perrier Jouët Belle Epoque Blanc de         Better on the palate. Fine, penetrating,          thinking that. Develops into a slightly
HJ: I wrote brown apple…                              feeling of evolved reserve wines, but          of red berry. Complex, lingering, lovely          Blancs 1999                             fairly simple flavor, with a good, long,          more predictable cooking-apple finish.
AR: I wrote Bramley apple…                            still very youthful. A slightly aggressive     purity, but bready, toasty—this really is     Bollinger La grande année 1999              fresh finish. All in a high register,             Starts better than it finishes, so keep.
HJ: A shortcut to excellence in                       mousse and tartish acidity, finishing a        very complete.                                Roederer cristal 1999                       though: needs bass.                               SL: Yes, bready, loose mousse, mouth-
Champagne rather than the real thing.                 little angular and pointed, but goodish        HJ: Absolutely. Don’t you feel you’re as                                                  SL: No real drive or purity. Soft, a sweet        filling, good length but still not
Slightly too much sugar, too.                         quality and length.                            much in Burgundy as in Champagne              AR: I love the Jacquesson. Lovely           accent on the fruit, cream-soda touch.            together. I’m less sure than I was of the
AR: For me it had complexity and real                 EA: Stylish. A broad, bready, but              with Krug? The question is whether it’s       finesse on the nose, subtly yeasty and      HJ: Don’t you think it would be better            ’95 and ’96. The vintages I’ve tasted
personality.                                          cleanly elegant nose, beginning to             white or red Burgundy. It’s Burgundy          winey; slightly smoky, too, with a hint     with other grapes? Its legs are bare.             since then haven’t impressed me as
EA: I agree it had personality, but it                broaden into brioche, dried fruit, nuts,       plus, plus, plus. Wonderful wine.             of bitter aloes. Very nicely textured,      EA: It reminds me of not-very-good                much as I expected.
lacked pedigree, and I was left wanting               and toast. A finely made, Chardonnay-          EA: A classic, very stylish, successful       creamy mousse, full-flavored, with          Chablis, with its gunpowdery, strawy              EA: This Cristal isn’t as good as the last
more depth and length.                                dominant blend of several vintages.            Krug blend, with perfect balance. The         good length; bone-dry on the finish,        nose. A tightly mineral Chardonnay still          bottle I tasted a few months ago. Could
AR: For me the most commercial wines                  SL: Creamy and rich, certainly, on             mouthfeel fulfills the promise of             not austere but rather classic and          almost undrinkable due to its young               we try the other bottle?
were the Jacquart and the Mumm; the                   the nose. No great complexity, but             the       nose—mouth-filling,      broad,     mineral, with good potential.               age. The promise of an interesting                HJ: This second bottle is even better—
Jacquart with a slight plastic/plasticine             mouthwatering, ripe acidity, and an            winey, brought to perfection by the           HJ: Is it not austere? I said austere,      future, however: elegant structure                fuller and longer. Heaven.
character on the nose and a finish that               apéritif lift to the palate. Good length.      gentle bubbles. After a few slight            slight brown apple/bonbon anglais           combined with a long, tight, and                  SL: More harmonious and intense.
was a bit sweet; the Mumm with a                      AR: Unlike the Laurent-Perrier, which          disappointments, the last two Grande          nose. A 2D severity on the palate, brisk,   concentrated taste.                               AR: Better, yes, more concentration
rather aggressive acidity, making for a               was a bit unexciting. I would have             Cuvées have again reached the near-           super-clean, with a strong finish, but      SL: As on the Jacquesson, I get a very            and intensity.
fresh, citrussy style, but not particularly           thought Non-Vintage. Quite shy on the          perfect level typical of Krug.                no special fun.                             bruised-apple note on the nose of the             EA: Not nearly drinkable yet. The
complex or long.                                      nose, also a little strange, with a slightly   AR: The fact that these have all been         AR: I just love the balance.                Bollinger—almost a little cinnamon and            closed nose promises concentrated
EA: I agree the Jacquart was the most                 toasty element. Nicely balanced, with          NV suggests they should be drinking.          EA: Balanced, yes, though the wine is       Brazil nut as well. Full, rich, not really        fruit and charm, but the nuances are
commercial, but the Mumm was                          notes of toast and honey, but not              EA: Yes, but the Krug can still age.          totally dry. The nose has old wooden        together on the palate at this stage,             still hidden. Very powerful mouthfeel—
powerfully reminiscent of Pinot Noir                  overcomplex or long.                           After it, the Lanson Rosé was in a tough      barrel and light oxidation, true to the     but lovely intensity nevertheless, and            strong and tight. Knowing the product,
for me: masculine, powerful, and                      HJ: The shortest of all of them. It didn’t     spot…                                         house style. But this is also a terroir     good length. Very Bollinger.                      it is easy to have faith in its future, but
vinous, if missing grace and style, with              go anywhere.                                   SL: I’m afraid it did struggle there, and     wine at its best—a tightly mineral          EA: A wonderful nose, charmingly                  this needs to be locked up for another
a promising structure.                                EA: I liked it because it was ready to         seemed a little bit lackluster.               Chardonnay that is just opening. Ripe       spicy, and I also got cinnamon. Austere           5–10 years at least.

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                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            per se
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              pREsTIgE cuvéE cHampagNE

Flight 3: 1998                                        the men. I kept waiting for the chaps to     and needs time, but plenty of potential.     HJ: So good. Wonderful perfume—that           winey and structured, with a slight               angular in terms of its steely acidity,
Taittinger comtes de champagne                        come in. Louise had super-fine ripe          Quite an imposing style…                     boudoir smell again; a long-inhabited         phenolic element to it, but improving             but good, classic Chardonnay finesse.
    1998                                              apple on the nose, but was all               HJ: Absolutely, full-on, almonds and         room. Sweet layers of flavor, almonds         on the palate and becoming quite                  The Noble Cuvée also had an attractive
pommery cuvée Louise 1998                             correctness. Straitlaced and unsexy.         peaches. Big-bodied, winey, a food wine.     prominent, but sugar-coated, leads on         intriguing and potentially classy.                fresh nose, good concentrated fruit,
Deutz cuvée William Deutz 1998                        You’ve got to salute her. But austere;       Finishes keen and long. Very good.           and on…                                       SL: The wood is less prominent than I             tangy and zesty acidity. Also a little
perrier Jouët Belle Epoque 1998                       more fine than fun.                          AR: Certainly the greatest cellar            AR: Smoky coffee, cashew nut, and             expected from the name and the                    linear, softer than the Blanc de Blancs,
veuve clicquot La grand Dame 1998                     SL: I found the Belle Epoque rather          potential of any of the ’98s so far.         toasty aromas, nice evolution, elegant,       winemaking. I think it carries it off             though also quite fine and tangy.
Billecart-salmon cuvée Nicolas-                       lackluster…                                  Elemental still on the nose, but good        with a degree of richness and power.          quite well. Minerally acidity, red fruit,         EA: I thought the Noble Cuvée was a
    François Billecart 1998                           AR: I thought it more classic and            intensity and richness of flavor, evolving   Fresh mineral characters, a citrus-zest       toasty, and I like the texture of the             stylish, pure, and fruity wine, with more
Dom pérignon 1998                                     concentrated than the Belle Epoque           nicely now, though still relatively          zing, and a fine-textured richness that’s     fruit—creamy, harmonious, layered,                nuances than the Blanc de Blancs,
Billecart-salmon cuvée Elisabeth                      ’99 Blanc de Blancs. This has better         youthful, the power and structure            powerful but still youthful. Not sure yet     vinous. The fact that it’s effervescent           where the acidity felt aggressive.
    salmon Rosé 1998                                  flavor and a degree of class. Straw and      topped off by citrussy-zesty acidity.        if it has the complexity of the 1996…         is almost incidental.
gosset célébris 1998                                  biscuit on the nose, savory sourdough        EA: The tight nose, with toffee, apple,      EA: The ’96 was brilliant…                    HJ: Very unusual…                                 Flight 5: 1996
Henri giraud Fût de chêne 1998                        yeast and apple, quite good evolution,       and brioche, needs time to open. Very        AR: A great wine…                             AR: Yes, but well made; it stands up to           Dom Ruinart 1996
                                                      nice, full-flavored richness.                pure on the palate, concentrated and         HJ: A great wine…                             scrutiny. It’s different but works well in        salon 1996
SL: Among these 1998 wines it’s                       EA: A world of aromas, soft coffee and       full, but this will not reach the quality    EA: This is still very closed, very           its own way.                                      veuve clicquot La grande Dame 1996
difficult to see much vintage similarity—             toffee, but the palate is a disappointment   of the very best vintages.                   minerally and streamlined, but the time       HJ: The oak brings a sort of dryness,             pol Roger sir Winston churchill 1996
the house style is much more obvious.                 after the charming and promising nose.       SL: I thought that the rest of these ’98s    since its release has helped it over the      and the fruit doesn’t seem to have                Jacquesson 1996
The Taittinger was in a very refined,                 Will improve with maturation but does        were very consistent…                        past few months. Toast and coffee are         room to play. But maybe it just needs             Billecart-salmon grande cuvée 1996
understated style: lovely ripe acidity,               not have the makings of a top wine.          HJ: At a high level, yes, and very young     beginning to emerge, and the wine             time. Arresting and spicy, certainly.             Bollinger RD 1996
complex, creamy, fine, with a minerally               HJ: The nose is delicate, far from           still—all keepers.                           improves in the glass. If experience is       EA: Personally, it’s not my style—it’s            philipponnat clos des goisses 1996
touch, but fades a little on the finish.              simple, but I agree the palate is less       SL: The only one that seemed really          anything to go by, this should be             not Champagne at all to me. But it’s
The Pommery had a more aggressive                     interesting—apple and almond, good           ready to me was the Billecart-Salmon         delightful after another ten years!           really well made, and the structure is            EA: I’m a bit of a masochist, maybe,
bite on the finish and lacked a little                length. But there’s something slightly       Cuvée N-F Billecart. Already complex,        SL: Yes, capable of serious evolution.        great, if that’s what you like. Very              but I loved the cold and steely style of
purity and length.                                    specious about it. Do you ever use that      with lovely intensity, but quite forward,    Impressive, powerful, and refined.            abundant, broad mouthfeel in which                these ’96s.
AR: I thought the Taittinger was good,                wonderful word, specious? It’s one of        soft, and vinous, while still minerally      EA: I really liked the Gosset and found       the bubbles feel soft. Long and very              AR: All were absolutely excellent, really
rich, full-flavored fizz, nicely creamy               Michael Broadbent’s favorites.               and pure. Complete and harmonious.           it very enjoyable even now. Classic           personal palate. A Champagne for a                showing the class of ’96.
and textured, with toasty flavors in a                AR: I enjoyed the Deutz: lightly smoky,      Apart from the color, the Cuvée              charm combined with a small                   red-wine aficionado, and one that                 HJ: I loved the Dom Ruinart. An
classic Chardonnay style, but possibly                spicy, and yeasty on the nose, lovely,       Elisabeth was barely discernible as a        producer’s personal charisma. Open            needs to be accompanied by food.                  extraordinary, seashell nose, resonant;
not for long aging. The Pommery had                   full, rich flavors on the palate, fine,      Rosé on the nose or palate, and it was       and giving nose, with cinnamon, spice,                                                          complex, a coffee element. It started
an attractive evolution, a touch of                   creamy mousse, with apple and toast          tauter than the N-F.                         and red fruit. Charming, feminine.            Flight 4: 1997                                    brilliantly, with sweetness and poise;
sweetness and quite straightforward—                  and real balance and finesse.                HJ: I agree, very pretty, but no hint of     HJ: I’m waiting for something to              Lanson Noble cuvée Blanc de Blancs                less good on the finish, but a real
classic rather than thrilling.                        EA: Aristocratic. Classic dignity and        Rosé on the nose. Almonds give it            happen—it’s so restrained. The fruity             1997                                          original, with lots of class. I thought,
HJ: Is it fair to put Blanc de Blancs in              style. Toasty nose with ripe fruit.          away, and a certain tannic tightness on      entry is surprising, but it doesn’t yet       Lanson Noble cuvée 1997                           I’ve really made an old friend here.
with real Champagne?                                  Strong, winey palate with well-balanced      the palate. I prefer the N-F, which was      follow through. An infant.                                                                      AR: A fine nose, classic, winey, nutty,
SL: Maybe 1998 is more of a Pinot                     acidity. A fine personality.                 seamless.                                    AR: Youthful, yes, but with evolved           HJ: Of these two I enjoyed the Blanc de           praliney, with good, creamy-textured
vintage…                                              HJ: It shows various aspects of              EA: Very balanced and charmingly             toasty characters, in a very attractive,      Blancs more. A really beautifully made            fruit richness and concentration; full-
EA: I also liked the Taittinger, which                Champagne very clearly without quite         velvety structure typical of the             full-flavored, winey style.                   wine, smelling more like Chablis than             flavored with lots going on. Ripe, zesty
had an exquisite nose—creamy but                      turning them into a whole. Biscuity,         producer. The Rosé was suitably winey,       SL: A lot of power there, bold,               Champagne, but very complete. There               acidity, finesse and power, and nice
elegant and flowery. The creamy                       gingery, cooking-apple sharpness,            with an exquisite, silky mouthfeel. Not      distinctive, waxy fruit, very Gosset,         was something sugary about it, but it             nutty flavors on the aftertaste.
nuances of Chardonnay are beginning                   lovely brightness of flavor… At first I      up to the majestic 1996, but clearly one     huge potential…                               had very good acidity and single-line             EA: Challenging, minerally, and coolly
to show on the palate, and there is                   wondered if it led anywhere, but there       of the best Rosés of the vintage.            HJ: All potential…                            length. The Noble Cuvée had another               stylish nose, with a hint of cashew nut.
excellent acidity for the vintage.                    is a good, long line.                        AR: The N-F had expressive, sweet,           SL: Too assertive to be enjoyable now.        dimension, but less drive, less line.             The steely structure lifts the wine to
Balanced and light as a breath. I agree               SL: For me this was sound but not as         marzipan aromas, nice, rich honeycomb        AR: Assertive acidity…                        SL: I also thought the Blanc de Blancs            lightness. But not easily approachable;
this is beginning to drink, but there is              impressive as anticipated. A very            fruit with a soft-textured mousse, and       EA: No malo. But I still find this more       was of good quality and, despite the              powerful and puckering. Badly in need
no rush whatsoever. The Pommery                       bruised-apple nature on the nose—            citrussy acidity for finesse, balance,       drinkable now than the Dom Pérignon.          sugary palate, was tightly wound. The             of time to show the broad, charmingly
nose is delightfully fruity and toasty                cooking apple, yes—but not much              and purity. I thought the Rosé did have      And while it’s not perfect, it has a lot of   Noble Cuvée was almost sweet and                  creamy side of Chardonnay.
but slightly dusty. On the palate, there              backbone or complexity, if good              a good, rich, smoky, red-berry nose,         personality.                                  lacked some precision and poise.                  SL: Unappealing to me, very aggressive
is fullness and power, but the charm                  length. I preferred the Grande Dame,         with good Pinot Noir character showing       SL: I rated it highly too, and I’d love to    AR: I also slightly preferred the Blanc           and edgy. There’s also an almost
and harmony are not showing yet.                      which was rich but understated. A            through on the palate. A delicate style      come back to it.                              de Blancs. An almost floral nose, a hint          piercing acidity to the Salon, but there’s
HJ: I thought the Taittinger had a sweet              good biscuity character, firm, rich          but with considerable vinosity. But I        AR: The Giraud seemed more evolved.           of lead pencil, some richness and                 lovely density and purity here, real
ripeness but not much backup. There                   mousse, bold, Pinot Noir-dominant,           thought the Dom Pérignon was the             An appley spicy nose, with a degree of        concentration on the palate; perhaps a            poise, but it needs years.
was a high register only. A choir without             powerful and long, not quite knit as yet     best wine so far…                            attractively evolved fruitiness, quite        little linear and at the same time                AR: Absolutely. Elemental, subtle

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aromas; nutty and yeasty; still very                  Jacquesson was lovely again. I’m a real      AR: Intriguing, exotic nose, nutty, lead    the Henriot, which was really good…            is layered and nuanced. Exceptional,                Taut taste, still very youthful and vivid,
tight on the palate; very good richness               fan of that biscuity, savory, sourdough      pencil, fruits, some of that typical        AR: Really good, yes, as was the ’90…          magnificent structure. The abundant                 full, creamy, and freshened by acidity. In
and concentration; very tangy, youthful               character; very dry, but complemented        ginger and cinnamon spice oak from          EA: For me, this ’95 had an enticingly         fruit of the vintage is exquisitely                 its optimal drinking age, but no hurry.
fruit with enormous potential.                        by a rich fruitiness that is tempered by     cask fermentation, with lovely savory       sweet and toasty ripe-fruit nose. On           combined with the streamlined acidity               The ’89 had a strong caramel and toasted
EA: Very pure and stylish nose with                   the yeasty character, the fine mousse,       sourdough intensity, textured richness      the palate, the complexity of aromas           of Chardonnay. Good concentration                   palate—sweeter than the ’90, and not as
cream toffee and minerals. Tight palate,              and the bite on the finish.                  and balance, with plenty of potential.      was complemented by a long, dried-             and length of palate that leaves nothing            deep or as magnificently structured.
but made lighter by its steely backbone.              EA: I agree that the concentrated            EA: Light, house-style oxidation            fruit finish. Perfect acid structure and       to be desired. The 1995s are, generally             Drinkable now. The Dom Pérignon
The palate is beginning to open,                      mouthfeel works very well with the steely    combined with delicate oriental spice,      soft mousse in the mouth. A very               speaking, ready to drink fairly young,              Oenothèque, on the other hand, was still
revealing both width and depth.                       acid backbone. Long and very stylish.        citrus, and exotic fruit. An open,          positive experience.                           but one would hope that the slightly                very young for me. Minerally, still very
Beginning to be drinkable, but another                SL: Almondy and nutty on the nose,           extremely intense, and vivid wine           AR: For me, too. Fine, toasty, autolytic       loose oak aroma here will integrate                 youthful nose. Broad but clean and
ten years in the cellar will reveal the               and quite viscous. But green acidity—a       whose acidity promises an almost            character, creamy rich mousse, very            into the fruit over time. Already lots of           streamlined on the palate. Concentrated,
real nature of Salon.                                 little severe.                               endless life. A desert-island wine. The     savory and dry, but intensely flavored;        personality, though.                                fresh, but will benefit from cellaring for
HJ: With Salon I often find the structure             HJ: Vivid nose but a slight Marmite          Clos des Goisses, meanwhile, is one of      delicacy and balance, lots of class, and       HJ: My notes praise completeness                    at least another five years.
very youthful but the fruit a little                  note, the acidity dominant and raw.          the best-kept secrets of Champagne.         still plenty of time to go. The Heidsieck      rather than personality. Balance is                 AR: Still surprisingly youthful in terms
oxidized. There’s a strongish color, and              AR: I’d say austere and steely rather        Stylishly reserved, powerful nose. Ripe     also had a fine nose, grilled nuts, lovely     the most wonderful thing. If you can                of acidity, yes, and still a tad austere on
a touch of toffee on the nose. But on                 than raw.                                    fruit, cherry, and promising toast. Tight   fruit concentration, and toasty richness;      describe it, it’s no good, really. I thought        the finish. But a lovely, complex, and
the palate, lovely fresh apples lead into             HJ: It feels very malic to me—the            linear structure whose direct acidity       full-bodied, creamy texture, yeasty-           the Krug ’95 had more ginger and                    pure nose—honey and beeswax; winey,
a long finish. Purity, class, simplicity. I           acidity bites. I thought that, of these,     leaves nothing to be desired. Clos des      toasty autolysis character. Still youthful     spice than the Clos du Mesnil, softly               voluptuous, rich fruit quality and
felt a little let down by the Grande                  the Pol Roger and the Billecart best         Goisses has a reputation of needing         with nice richness.                            voluptuous, still with vivid acidity.               texture. But still with a lot of potential.
Dame. Face-powdery nose, fine, appley,                reflected the art of blending, the need      time to open, which is even more the        HJ: The Heidsieck wasn’t special for           EA: The ’95 is every Krugist’s dream.               HJ: The wine seems more pungent
tarte fine, but a lot of acidity. Not quite           to cover one thing with another…             case with this brilliant 1996.              me, but pretty; gentle, gingery nose;          Toasty, strongly autolytic nose typical             than rich to me; creamy almonds but a
what I expect from the Lady.                          AR: I agree that they are the two            AR: Great nose, poised—brioche and          sugared almonds. The Henriot was               of the house, with a hint of vanilla. On            bit of cabbage/sulfur on the nose; drier
AR: An almost austere acidity, yes, but               classiest wines, though personally I         cashew nut. Mineral, layered, complex,      gently developed, with rich flavors.           the palate, full, austere, and faultlessly          than most DPs, and not their best
bringing intensity of flavor and length,              love the Jacquesson.                         intense, and long on the palate, with       AR: The one that doesn’t quite work            harmonious: apple, nut, and toasted                 vintage by a long way.
and seemingly fine aging potential.                   HJ: The Grande Cuvée had a sweet and         creamy, praliney richness on the finish     for me is the Bruno Paillard. An odd           bread. Long finish and great structure,             AR: I think the Dom Ruinart Rosé is
Fine nose, floral, nutty, and toasty, with            suave nose, tight knit and classic, the      and excellent balance.                      nose, initially out of kilter, rather plain,   the promise of a long life, but this wine           exactly as it should be. Smoky nose, a
excellent concentration and length.                   high-acid finish still (almost) covered.     HJ: A fine patisserie nose. Intense,        and a slightly one-dimensional palate;         can be enjoyed already.                             whiff of armchair leather, slightly
EA: The fine acid structure of a top                  Very good.                                   mineral, more intense than complex in       tangy, youthful acidity but lacking a bit      AR: I agree, but this is still a very youthful      animal, rustic, very winey, but still very
vintage really becomes La Grande                      EA: I also thought the Billecart was a       a way. Straight to the point. Very good.    of complexity in the present company.          ’95. Nutty, praliney notes on the nose,             fresh with good acidity and bone dry.
Dame. Creamily broad and opening                      magnificent wine. Very strong nose,                                                      HJ: Still pale, still tight on the nose,       intense cask-fermentation aromas of                 EA: Very winey, yes, and a developed
layers. Deceptively light for a Pinot                 with cream and toast. The concentration      Flight 6: 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989            delicate, with a slight spice. But seems       ginger, spice, and citrus, with sourdough           nose with a distinctive toasty note. On
Noir-dominant Champagne. Austere,                     continues on the palate, with hardly         charles Heidsieck Blanc de                  a little feeble, however interesting.          yeast and almonds; creamy, complex,                 the palate, full and round, velvety
linear, but stylish wine that still belongs           discernible     oak    aromas.      Velvet       millénaires 1995                        EA: Distinctive and nuanced on                 huge structure, and excellent aging                 smooth, and stylish. Like good red
in the cellar.                                        combined with power and purity,              Henriot cuvée des Echanteleurs 1995         the nose, with dark-berry aromas               potential. The Jacquessons strike me as             Burgundy. A mature wine still retaining
SL: Still very Grande Dame for me:                    brought to a shine by the super acidity      Bruno paillard Nec plus ultra 1995          reminiscent of bubblegum and wax.              purist’s wines. Initially I didn’t like them,       brilliant acids and classic elegance.
expressive, heady, rich, Pinot Noir                   of the vintage.                              Krug clos du mesnil 1995                    Very concentrated, winey palate. A             but they grew on me. At first, odd notes            HJ: Deeper pink than most Rosé
aromas, powerful palate.                              AR: Still very youthful on the nose,         Krug 1995                                   dinner wine to be taken seriously and          on the nose of the ’90, slightly minty;             Champagnes, but by no means tawny.
HJ: I thought the Sir Winston was                     almost elemental, a hint of toasty and       Jacquesson 1990 Dégorgement Tardif          at a very enjoyable stage.                     ditto on the palate, as if the fruit was            Creamy mousse; a rich, soft, strawberry/
beautifully handled, so delicate, a                   nutty evolution, confirmed on the                (1996) Non-Dosé                         HJ: I wasn’t absolutely knocked out by         drying up; peppermint characters,                   Pinot Noir nose, creamy and sweet,
model of balance; plenty of body, but                 palate by nutty, coffee flavors,             Jacquesson 1989 Dégorgement Tardif          the Clos du Mesnil. Spice and vanilla on       which you don’t look for in Champagne,              suggesting       old     red     Burgundy.
still teasing. Very good.                             sourdough, savory-fruit richness, and            (1996) Non-Dosé                         the nose. Big, spicy, vanilla-flavored, but    and an austere drying finish. But it                Sumptuous but still structured; big-
SL: Yes, pristine; brioche notes but very             tangy acidity. Very pure fruit quality       Dom pérignon Oenothèque 1992                quite severe; slightly 2D, but very long.      improved on the palate, delivering more             bodied but elegant. A wonderful wine.
focused, linear, and taut.                            and fine aging potential.                    Dom Ruinart Rosé 1990                       AR: Intense, buttery, nutty, and smoky         complexity and interest. The ’89 was a              Looking over my notes for the entire
EA: Beautiful. A full nose with ripe fruit            SL: Yes, but already complex. A lovely,                                                  rich nose of new oak that’s not yet            tad over the top, but intense and pure.             tasting, my overall conclusion is that
and toast—close to perfection. Full,                  fine weave; scintillating acidity.           HJ: On the whole, I liked the previous      quite integrated; a hint of appley             HJ: I found the ’90 smooth and complex,             Champagne needs Pinot Noir. Blanc de
round palate freshened by fine acidity.               HJ: The Bollinger is such a contrast.        flight better than this one.                oxidation, with cinnamon; more like a          austerely dry and yeasty, but better                Blancs just don’t really do it for me, let
Still a very young wine whose harmony                 Nothing very subtle about it: almost         EA: More heaviness and richness here.       fine Corton-Charlemagne or Bâtard-             balanced than the ’89, which was                    alone justify higher prices. But red
promises a long, magnificent future.                  beefy on the nose, ginger and Marmite,       But I liked the Heidsieck, which was        Montrachet. Hugely rich, smoky,                wonderfully fragrant on first opening,              Pinot Noir is not a good idea either, let
AR: Yes. An almost exotic, pineappley-                there to be noticed. That marshmallow        pretty classic. Well developed, very        and winey, with honeyed, almost                then rather austere, lean, and lemony,              alone justifying silly prices for Rosés.
citrussy nose. The classic, firm acidity of           flavor again, vivid, eccentric, lingering.   toasty and full, cream-and-coffee nose.     honeycomb-like        character.    Toasty,    developing a mature mushroom/                       Only the Dom Ruinart Rosé 1990 stood
the vintage and plenty of fruit intensity,
yet with great finesse, balance, and
                                                      SL: Yes, again very Bollinger, heady,
                                                      apple and cinnamon on the nose, but
                                                                                                   Correspondingly stylish, winey palate.
                                                                                                   Very harmonious and attractively
                                                                                                                                               savory richness and complexity, with a
                                                                                                                                               refreshing zing on the finish.
                                                                                                                                                                                              Marmite character. Very long.
                                                                                                                                                                                              EA: The 1990 had a developed nose
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  out as totally special.
aging potential. I also thought the                   dense, poised, taut on the palate.           rounded whole, if not quite as fine as      EA: The toasty, even slightly oaky nose,       reminiscent of burned sugar and caramel.            Glasses kindly supplied by Riedel UK

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