Champagne $100 and over 2012

All of the 12 entries in this tasting earned four stars or above, with nine awarded the ultimate five-star accolade.

by Ralph Kyte-Powell | Monday, 3 December, 2012
Although the Cuisine tasting panel was super-impressed by many of the sub-$100 entries, another level of Champagne presents itself when only the best will do and expense is not an issue. At the other end of the spectrum, the prestigious labels that occupy the rarefied air above $100 per bottle continue to offer the maximum Champagne experience. Few other wine types can boast such consistency over the years and very few can excite the senses in quite the same way. That’s not to say there aren’t occasional expensive disappointments among these top wines, but they are incredibly rare. Champagne has worked hard at its image over generations, often fighting to protect its name and reputation from those who would misuse or degrade it. Today, wines labelled Champagne have an unmatched quality cachet synonymous with luxury, quality and civilisation.

The Tasting panel
Panel chair John Belsham, respected international judge and owner of Foxes Island Wines in Marlborough, was joined by Cuisine’s Australian wine judge and writer, Ralph Kyte-Powell, and Sarah-Kate Dineen, winemaker and co-owner of Maude Wines in Wanaka. The associate judge (non-scoring) was Andrew Parkinson, fine-wine and on-premise manager for Negociants NZ.

1. Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé LP 2002 $119-$139

The Champagnes from Laurent-Perrier have been steadily improving and this superb 2002 vintage confirms it. Elegant and composed, it’s a very subtle and refined wine, but with lovely understated richness. Citrus, marshmallow and biscuity notes run through a beautifully dissolving, sherbetty wine of impressive length and purity. [I]

Laurent-Perrier is France’s largest family-owned Champagne house and, founded in 1812, it’s also one of the most historic. It had almost disappeared just before the second world war, but its fortunes were subsequently restored. Its growth since the 60s has been impressive. Always at the forefront of technical advances, Laurent-Perrier was a pioneer in the use of stainless steel tanks for winemaking and storage, created the first non-vintage prestige cuvee and rediscovered the concept of brut nature wines (made without any sweetening). It’s also one of the few houses to make a rosé Champagne (also a five-star winner in this tasting), using the skin-contact method for colour and complexity, rather than the much more common practice of blending red wine into white. Wine quality has never been better than at present and this Laurent-Perrier Brut Millésimé LP 2002 is a worthy example of one of the greatest Champagne vintages of recent times.

2. Taittinger Brut Reserve NV $99-$110
One of the most consistent of NV Champagnes, the flamboyant Taittinger Brut Reserve has pristine apple and citrus-accented fruit interwoven perfectly with toasty yeast and Marmitey complexity. Harmony is the key and an integrated dab of sweetness rounds off the equation. John Belsham described it as “burlesque, raunchy and super-sexy”. [L]

3. Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2004 $110-$120
Moët’s excellent 2002 vintage would always be a hard act to follow, but the 04 is a worthy follow-up (the 03 was released before the 02). It’s rich and complete, with creamy appley and truffley notes beautifully integrated. Smoky and mocha threads enhance its complexity, and it finishes with
lovely line, length and precision. [F]

4. Laurent-Perrier Cuvee Rosé NV $179-$209
Pale and coppery pink in colour, this rosé Champagne looks oh-so-delicate, but it’s no blushing violet. Strawberryish fruit is pure and focused, bottle ferment complexities give meaty depth, and it’s creaming and long in the mouth. Depth of flavour, structure and racy acidity combine to give it a rather “masculine”, emphatic personality. [I]

5. Bollinger Special Cuvee Brut NV $116
Bollinger Champagnes remain true to tradition, resulting in high-toned, powerful wines. In recent years the style has freshened a bit, a move praised by the judges. This NV has apple and some cidery-Calvados aromas with a nutty overlay. A rich and generous wine, it’s hauntingly long on the finish [G]


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