Champagne versus méthode

The UK is New Zealand’s largest market for fizz with Finland second then the USA, Australia and Sweden. (Photo: iStock)

French wine critic, Michel Bettane, invited a number of wine-wise friends to attend a wine tasting. They were instructed to each bring two bottles of wine from the same grape variety. One bottle from the New World and the other from the Old World. They then tasted the wines masked in pairs and tried to pick “New” from “Old”.

The difference between New World and Old World was not obvious and the success rate was low in all except one pair, Champagne vs sparkling wine. Most correctly identified the Champagne.

I had an opportunity recently to compare two Champagnes with a good local méthode traditionnelle. The wines were tasted blind although I was aware that two of them were Champagne.

The first wine I tasted was also my favourite. The Champagne Lanson NV Black Label Brut was clearly Champagne with a lifted aromatic character derived from lengthy yeast autolysis and, I suppose, the chalky soils and cool climate that leaves its imprint on the local wines (both sparkling and still). This is a very impressive wine offering great value at an RRP of NZD $55 (the astute buyer should be able to buy it for less).

Next wine in the tasting was Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte NV Brut Reserve, an apparent bargain at just NZD $50. It had the perfume I expect to find in Champagne and was therefore easy to identify, but the wine’s relatively generous dosage crossed the line between sophistication and crowd-pleasing status. It lacked the yeasty complexity of Lanson.

Quartz Reef NV Methode Traditionnelle Brut Zero Dosage was bone-dry by comparison. An assertive wine with plenty of bright fruit flavours, with a suggestion of brioche-like yeastiness. I liked the wines power and sheer energy. Clearly not Champagne but a very good example of a local méthode. I’d like to see it after another couple of years on the yeast lees and with just a few grams of residual sugar.

One thought on “Champagne versus méthode”

  1. Mahmoud Ali says:

    The N/V Lanson Black Label is made without malo-lactic fermentation and is ofen considered too austere in it its youth. However, given a good five or more years in the cellar and it develops a vintage Champagne character. Look for the disgorgement date on the back label and start from there.

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