Champagne $100 & under - Wine tasting 2011

With such a classy array of wines, it was not at all easy for the panel to rank the Top 10, writes Ralph Kyte-Powell.

by Ralph Kyte-Powell | Cuisine issue #149 | Wednesday, 7 December, 2011

Champagne $100 & under - Wine tasting 2011

It’s easy to run out of superlatives when judging Champagne. The average standard of quality has always made this unique French luxury one of the world’s most admired and imitated wines, but in this tasting the panel was amazed by the number of exquisite examples. Panel chair John Belsham
was excited at the “completeness” of the wines, displaying “the full spectrum of classic Champagne – great aromatic presence, a combination of fruit and toasty brioche, bready notes, balance and precision, nothing too overt”. Reinforcing the idea that texture is just as important as aroma and flavour
in great wines, the panellists marvelled at the feel of the wines in the mouth. John Belsham sums it up: “I was struck by the refined, almost rice-paper-like texture of the wines – very moreish, so that you want another mouthful.” More than half the under-$100 entries received four stars and above, all worthy of the best tables and the grandest occasions.

At the ready
Our wine reviews usually give an ageing forecast, but Champagnes arrive on the market ready to drink. Cellaring recommendations are therefore not given for the Champagnes and sparkling wines reviewed in this issue. A few may surprise with longer bottle age, but most are released with enough age already. Sant!

The Tasting panel
Panel chair John Belsham, respected international judge, winemaker and owner of Foxes Island Wines in Marlborough, was joined by our Australian wine judge Ralph Kyte-Powell, and Steve Voysey, Indevin regional winemaker for Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne. Our associate judge (non-scoring) was Jane Boyle.

TOP 10

1. Mot & Chandon Imperial Brut NV $75-$85
Mot NV is so famous it’s become a bit ho-hum to the fashionistas, but the quality has never been better. A foaming, lively wine, the nose says “Champagne” loud and clear via biscuit, citrus and white-flower aromas of appealing delicacy. And the creamy, super-fine palate has an elegant balance of fruit and yeast-derived
qualities. [F]

Style and substance
Mot must be one of the most recognisable brand names in the world. To generations of wine drinkers it is synonymous with celebration, sophistication and prestige. For many years it was linked with the Grand Prix circuit, where winning racing car drivers would spray it over the adoring crowd. It was also the Champagne of the Melbourne Cup, but Mot has pared back this sort of promotional activity in recent years, in favour of a younger, more feminine demographic via the fashion world and cinema, with the new face of Mot & Chandon, Scarlett Johansson. The Mot style of Champagne also seems to have changed. After a lacklustre period,
the non-vintage wine has become fresher and brighter, with classical flavours, depth and presence. Despite the weight of tradition, companies like Mot keep pushing the threshold to keep their wines fashionable and contemporary, while not losing sight of their heritage. Brut Imperial, Mot’s international flagship, has never been better.

2. Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Brut NV $95-$99
Founded in 1729, Ruinart is one of Champagne’s oldest houses. This 100 per cent chardonnay wine is plump
and smooth, with beautiful aromas of white fruits and citrus. The palate follows a straightforward path in a lovely, slightly unctuous, luxuriousmanner, described by John Belsham as “deliciously decadent”. [F]

3. PIPer Brut NV $69.90-$74.90
The quality of Piper NV always surprises. In its modern pillar-box-red incarnation, it’s light years ahead of the Pipers of yesteryear, with generously yeasty overtones, smoky pinot noir influence, white stone fruit and biscuity elements, all in stylish harmony. The smooth, layered palate is mature with outstanding balance. [C]

4. Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label Brut NV $78-$90
Veuve Clicquot is one of the world’s best-known Champagne names and it’s easy to see why. This encapsulates the house style – a lovely classical nose of biscuity notes, mellow fruit and yeasty, nutty complexity, a smooth, mouthfilling texture, great depth of flavour and a lingering nutty finish. [F]

5. Laurent-Perrier Brut NV $94-$99
We’ve noticed a lot of improvement in Laurent-Perrier’s wines lately and this non-vintage version reflects the
step up from another respected Champagne producer. Well made, refined and delicate, it is fresh, bright, long and focused, with spiced apple and herb aromas, silky texture and real presence. Excellent acidity finishes it with perfect poise. [J]