Deciding what wine to serve at a party can be somewhat daunting.
A long weekend away with many friends and family took me to a house in the country and numerous bottles were shared.
The French invented, perfected and continue to make the world’s best bubbles. I have attended many blind sparkling wine tastings. Believe me, the wines from Champagne stand out from the rest. To be labelled “champagne” the wine must be from a defined area in the north of France, only three grape varieties (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) can be used and the wine must be made to exacting standards. Other countries, including New Zealand, use the same grape varieties and winemaking methods but they never make wine that is the equal of champagne. A limestone-rich soil that was once a seabed and a cool, marginal climate are the two trump cards that make champagne unique.
I’ve just spent an amazing week in Champagne with 44 other former winners of the Vin de Champagne Award, on a 40th anniversary reunion trip. The first-ever award winner, Jack Monti (pictured above singing), a former Sydney-based wine educator and wine judge now in his
Tyson Stelzer’s ‘The Champagne Guide 2014-2015” (Hardie Grant hardback; $39.95) doesn’t dwell too much on the history or romance – that’s well covered in many books, from Patrick Forbes to Francois Bonal to Richard Juhlin and others. And there have been guides before, notably by Tom Stevenson. But Stelzer’s book broaches a number of subjects that others found too touchy to handle, such as grape yields (too high, and rising), the vineyard classification (‘antiquated’), parallel importing, and most contentiously, presentation problems such as cork taint, oxidation, light strike, staleness and generally irritating variability. Stelzer lets the reader into all the secrets of Champagne; the thorny issues that producers would prefer consumers weren’t aware of.
Pol Roger Brut Reserve Champagne NV $60-$80 Balance is the key with all Pol Roger wines. It’s creamy, floral and peachy to sniff, with subtle yeastiness, the accent on fruit expression. Seamless in the mouth, fresh and lively with some dried-fruit characters. Not too dry;
Pol Roger’s export director and soon-to-be company president, Laurent d’Harcourt, was in Australia recently launching the fantastic new 2002 Blanc de Blancs ($140) and 2000 Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill ($240); great vintages of great wines. (Pol Roger tasting notes) With the kind of self-deprecating humour
Nine chefs from four countries presented an eight-course degustation at the Berardo’s restaurant Saturday night dinner, which can only be described as nirvana. I had the unenviable task of matching wines to all eight dishes, without having tasted the food. Talk about flying blind! Japanese
The 15 beautiful bubblies served at the Vin de Champagne Awards night last week, at Pavilion on the Park where Justin North dished up a superb meal. The new-vintage 2002 Pol Roger and 2005 Roederer Cristal were stand-outs, and the new Charles Heidsieck label –
Is French champagne necessarily better than New Zealand bubbly?
In my opinion champagne (we don’t need to prefix that with “French” because all champagne is French) is significantly better than sparkling wines from any other region. In blind tastings with a mix of champagne and Méthode Traditionnelle sparklers, the champagne has always stood out as being superior. That’s not to say that the best Méthode isn’t better than lacklustre champagne but, across the board, the French do it very well.