Champagne gems

Dom Pérignon (Photo: Champagne Dom Pérignon)

My old friend and colleague, the late Mark Shield, used to say that talking about the great wines you’ve drunk is like skiting about your sex life: unless you were a participant, it’s not very interesting.

At the risk of breaking Mark’s golden rule, here we go.

In the build-up to the year’s end, I was lucky enough to attend several BYO dinners for hard-core wine heads, including two Champagne dinners where some of the icons came under serious scrutiny.

Two that featured repeatedly were Dom Pérignon and Louis Roederer Cristal.

These are expensive, luxury wines – prestige cuvées which we expect not only to deliver when young but to age well.

The Dom Pérignons starred – except for a corked bottle of 1996, which went straight down the drain. The others more than lived up to their exalted name. The youthful Dom Perignon 2004 was very fine, but the value of judicious cellaring was demonstrated by two great bottles, first the wonderful 1999 and then as a finale, a great bottle of 1990. These were both sublime experiences.

Cristal 2004 was magnificent, but a bottle of 1990 was brown, oxidised and very tired. That’s the luck of the draw.

Other top bottles:

2004 and 2000 Boizel Grand Vintage, 2002 Piper Heidsieck Rare, 1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires, 1998 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée magnum, a pair of Palmer & Co vintages in magnum: 2002 Vintage Brut and 1996 Blanc de Blancs. Also a remarkable magnum of 1986 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses. A bottle of 2006 Deutz Cuvée William Deutz was also magical and proved that an earlier bottle sampled in October had been subliminally cork-damaged.

All of these were outstanding wines. I won’t describe them here as the tasting notes are on the website.

The two Palmer wines were a revelation to me. Both were exquisite – helped no doubt by the magnum format. It is often said that the magnum is the best bottle size for ageing Champagne, and I’ve seen this theory proven time and time again. The theory is that the larger the volume of wine in a container, the more slowly it ages. But big bottles are inconvenient in several ways – you need a lot of people to drink one, they tend to be disproportionally more expensive, and the risk of loss due to a bad cork is much greater.

A magnum provides the best compromise.

2 thoughts on “Champagne gems”

  1. Gillman Ken says:

    Can anyone tell us which of the champagne houses are using Diam closures? and when they started using them? As an ordinary consumer, for whom one of these deluxe champagnes is a significant investment, and, hopefully, a special treat, it is exceedingly galling when they are substandard, or frankly TCA affected — as were my last bottles of Sir Winston & Bollinger. It is not always convenient or possible to return them to the supplier.

    Perhaps it should now be routine practice for reviews of these wines, and all premium wines, to contain precise information about what type of cork has been used in the closure. It was only recently that the CEO of Diam informed us that they produce versions with different oxygen permeabilities (excellent), and that principle, I understand, is now possible with Screwcap closures — so I think we are now in an era where more sophisticated closure information might usefully become de rigueur.

    Perhaps we could all adopt the policy of not purchasing premium price wines, unless full closure details are provided?

    1. Huon Hooke
      Huon Hooke says:

      The Diam/Mytik closures are not perfect but they are far preferable to regular cork. If you are a subscriber to this app, you’ll know that all my tasting notes record the closure type, where known. I intend to do a round-up of Champagnes with alternative closures soon, and your message has spurred me on. In the meantime, I do know that all Mumm Champagnes (including the great Cuvee R. Lalou) are sealed with Diam/Mytik in the Australian market, and most if not all Billecart-Salmon wines as well. On the local front, Diam is rapidly taking over from regular corks among the top sparkling producers, Arras is notable for not being interested, but everything from Domaine Chandon, Jansz, Deviation Road, Daosa, Howard Park, Sidewood, Sittella, Oakridge, Taltarni, Yarrabank, Stonier, Gembrook Hill, The Lane, Ross Hill, Blue Pyrenees and Centennial Vineyards is under Diam. And many more small producers.

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