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tasting notes

Champagne is possibly the world's most famous wine, and one inextricably associated with celebration. This is the most northerly wine region in France, and if you manage to track down one of the few still wines in the region (labelled Coteaux Champenois), you'll realise what an inspired idea it was to introduce bubbles into these thin, tart, mean wines by allowing a secondary fermentation to occur in the bottle. Champagne is usually made from a blend of grapes sourced from different vineyards across this large region, and the varieties used are predominantly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. Although you'd be forgiven for thinking that Champagne is all about image, once you get away from the often unimpressive inexpensive Champagnes and sample the vintage-dated examples from quality-minded producers, you'll see what all the fuss is about. Three quarters of all Champagne sold is designated as 'non-vintage': this is a blend vintages (predominantly the most recent) and can vary widely in quality depending on the producer. Champagne from a single vintage is designated 'vintage', and is produced in lower quantities and only in the better years, so it is usually much higher quality. Many Champagne houses also make a prestige cuvée, which is often the pinnacle of Champagne production both in terms of quality and price: examples include Dom Pérignon from Moët & Chandon, Belle-Epoque from Perrier-Jouët and La Grande Dame from Veuve Clicquot. Other terms to look out for on the label include Blanc de Blancs (made from Chardonnay only) and Blanc de Noirs (made only from the red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier). 

(Prices and stockists in the UK are listed in brackets; as a rough guide £1 = US$1.50. Date of tasting is indicated by month/year at the end of the note.)

see also:

Les Pionniers Vintage Champagne 1999
From P&C Heidsieck. Warm, rich and full flavoured with distinctive toastiness as well as some citrussy freshness. Stylish and sophisticated with nice fruit. 12%. 89/100 12/08

Champagne Taittinger Prélude Grands Crus NV
12% alcohol. £39.99 Lea & Sandeman, Harrods, Roberson, Soho Wine, Luvians
Crisp, tight and complex, this is a really delicious, precise Champagne with fresh citrussy notes and taut, dense, pure fruit. Balance is the key here: it’s a linear, focused style. 92/100 12/08

Mumm de Cramant Grand Cru Champagne Brut Chardonnay
12% alcohol. This Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs is beautifully precise with crisp lemont fruit and nice herb and apple complexity. It's concentrated and intense with lovely fruit expression. Quite dry and savoury - this has a lower dosage (sugar addition) than is normal for Brut Champagne. A brilliant effort. 93/100 (£43.99 Thresher, Harrods, Ocado) 12/08

Champagne Heidsieck & Co Monopole Red Top Sec NV
A rich, rounded, toasty style of Champagne with lots of flavour and a bit of sweetness. It’s very attractive and easy to drink – almost off-dry. A smooth effort with lovely fruitiness. 88/100(£23.98 Asda) 11/08

Champagne Carlin Brut Rosé NV
Nice bright salmon pink colour. It’s lively, full flavoured and toasty with a nice savoury bite. Deliciously complex and nicely dry. Good stuff. 90/100 (Realwineco.co.uk; 12%) 01/09

Champagne de Saint Gall Rosé Brut NV
Salmon pink. Broad, savoury and a bit herby. Lovely complex palate combining some strawberry sweetness with a spicy acid bite. A delicious, slightly sweeter style of rosé. 89/100 (M&S, 12% alcohol) 01/09

Champagne Bisinger Grand Prestige Premium Cuvee NV
Fresh, fruity and bright with a subtle herbal edge to the zippy fruit, as well as some citrus notes. Nicely balanced Champagne. 86/100 (Lidl, 12%) 01/09

Champagne Ulysse Collin Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut NV
First vintage for this new producer – a non-dosage wine at 12.5% alcohol. Deep yellow coloured with lovely toast and herb aromatics. The palate is savoury and spicy with lovely depth and some richness, despite the lack of dosage. Lovely complexity and some notes of toffee, too, emerging after a while. Interesting stuff. 92/100 12/08

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 1998
I love Taittinger’s Comtes, a Blanc de Blanc from Grand Cru vineyard sources, part aged in oak. Toasty and intense with lovely precision and complexity. Bright, expressive and fine with lovely toasty complexity as well as some lemony freshness. A really complex, refined fizz of great appeal. 94/100 12/08
Champagne Jacques Lassaigne Les Vignes de Montgeux Blanc de Blancs NV
No dosage.
Lovely aromatic nose is gently lemony with real refinement. The palate is lively and crisp with savoury citrus character, and really good length and balance. Doesn’t seem harsh despite the lack of dosage. 93/100 05/08

Champagne Delamotte Brut Rosé NV
Lovely lively, grapey fizz with good acid and toasty notes under the subtle strawberry fruit. Quite delicate and really attractive. 91/100 (09/08)

Champagne Perrier-Jouët Belle Epoque 1996 France
Lovely fine, balanced, complex nose is fresh and toasty, and nicely fruity. The palate is full but elegant with fresh lemony fruit. There’s a savoury edge, too. 94/100 05/06

Champagne Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV, Champagne
Tight, focused lemony nose with bright fruit and some depth. Real presence on the palate which is concentrated, savoury and very fresh, with good acid and assertive citrussy fruit. Pure and concentrated: a savoury, tight style. 93/100 (£40 Oddbins, Adnams, Berry Bros & Rudd, Lay & Wheeler, Noel Young) 11/07

Champagne Jean Moutardier Cuvée Selection NV
Quite deep coloured, this is a 50:50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It’s a serious Champagne. The intense, toasty nose has a fine herby edge and hints of toffee. The palate has rich toast and brioche notes, along with a bit of nuttiness and some citrus freshness. Great depth and intensity: a full flavoured style that is just delicious. Brilliant stuff. 92/100 (£19.95 Great Western Wine) 01/08

Champagne Fleury 1996
A yellow/gold colour, this has a sensational nose: it's complex and full, with notes of honey, baked apples, lemons, toast and pastry. The palate is concentrated with powerful flavours of lemon, herbs and toast. It's a rich style, with lots of impact, but kept fresh by piercing acidity. A really super effort - worth the relatively high asking price. Beginning to drink well now, but with this level of acidity it isn't going to fall apart any time soon. 94/100 (£38 Vintage Roots) 11/07

Perrier Jouët Grand Brut 1998 Champagne
Fresh, precise, lemony perfumed nose. The focused palate is crisp and savoury. Quite tight with lovely freshness to the fruit and nice lemony, toasty complexity. There’s a subtle green edge too. A nice wine that’s youthful at the moment with a real sense of presence. 90/100 (£31.99 Majestic, Selfridges) 03/07

Champagne Georges Vasselle Grand Cru Bouzy ‘Juline’ NV
Mainly Pinot Noir. Colourfully packaged. Deep gold colour in the glass. Rich but balanced perfumed nose with a lemony undercurrent to some bright, bready, toasty notes. The palate is dry and fresh with toasty depth to the fruit. A beautifully balanced, quite rich style, with good concentration. 92/100 (£49.35 www.lovelybubbly.co.uk) 05/06

Champagne Lallier Grand Cru 1999
Intense, quite complex nose is tight and yeasty, with savoury bready notes. The palate is savoury and concentrated with toasty, herb-tinged lemony fruit and good acidity. Quite a serious savoury style with a long future ahead of it. 91/100 (£40.71 www.lovelybubbly.co.uk) 05/06  

Champagne Oudinot Cuvée Rose NV
Quite fresh and savoury: not as sweet as many fizzy pinks, with a tight, savoury, herby acid edge to the strawberry fruit. A good food fizz. 86/100 (£20.99 Marks & Spencer) 02/07

Champagne Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV
Nice complex toasty nose, with a bit of herbiness. Quite tight. The palate is fresh and complex with tight herby flavours and a lovely savoury character. Impressive. 91/100 (£25.99 Oddbins, Majestic, Harrods, Selfridges) 02/07

Champagne Pommery Brut Royale NV
Lovely fresh yet deep nose, with vanilla, toast and some sweet honeyed fruit. The palate is crisp, with lemony freshness and good acidity, as well as warm, nutty vanilla flavours. Great balance here with good complexity. Nice stuff. 92/100 (£24.99 Oddbins) 11/06

Champagne Zoémie de Sousa NV
Disgorged 09/09/05. An unfiltered wine with 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier. Interesting stuff with an aromatic nose that's appley with some apple crumble notes and a hint of raisins. There's also some lemon and a hint of cream, The palate is quite open and fruity with an acidic kick. A little funky, this is a wine with lots of personality in a slightly oxidised style. 85/100 (Great Western Wines) 11/06

Champagne Bollinger Grand Année 1997
Lovely complex, full-flavoured fizz, with rich, toasty, nutty flavours and good acidity. Bold but balanced, this is delicious. 92/100 11/06

Champagne Pol Roger Cuvée Winston Churchill 1996
Delicate, fresh and balanced with real finesse. Lemony, bready and complex. Good acidity. A fantastic wine with finess and complexity. Precise. 93/100 11/06

Champagne Mumm de Cramant NV Grand Cru Brut Chardonnay
There's a bright, fresh, perfumed, almost salty quality to the nose. It's tight, savoury and shows lemony freshness alongside some denser herby, toasty notes. The palate is bright, fresh and savoury with complex toasty, honeyed, herby depth. There's precision here, as you'd expect from a Blanc de Blancs, but there's also some midpalate depth and savoury weight. All in, it's a really lovely fizz. Bottled with 8 g/l dosage and a lower pressure (4.5 atmospheres versus the usual 6, which makes it less fizzy). Very good/excellent 93/100 04/07

Champagne Gosset Brut Excellence NV
Lovely open stylish fruity nose: aromatic, fresh, herby, appley. The palate is elegant and very fruity with lovely balancing acidity. Itfs complex, full flavoured, but not at all clumsy. So overall, an unusual combination: a Champagne that is very fruity, but at the same time complex and stylish. Very good/excellent 92/100 (Great Western Wine) 03/07

Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve Champagne NV
Full yellow colour with hints of green. Lovely nose combines fresh lemony fruitiness with light toasty richness and hints of honey. Notes of straw and hay, too. The palate has good concentration with some structure. Rich flavours of toast and sweet-edged fruit, with good balance. A beautiful Champagne. Very good/excellent 91/100 12/05

Champagne Drappier Grande Sendrée 1996 Champagne, France
A full flavoured, complex Champagne that’s rich, full and malty. Perfumed, toasty nose has some finesse, and I’m guessing that there’s a fair bit of Pinot Noir here because of the richness. There good fresh acidity and fine balance on the palate: lovely and quite serious. Very good/excellent 92/100 04/06

Champagne Drappier Grande Sendrée 1998 Champagne, France
Quite tight with a dense flavour and good acidity. It’s fresh, with nice complexity. A full flavoured fizz that has some developing to do. Delicious now but will be better in a couple of years. Very good/excellent 91/100 04/06

Jacquart Brut Nominée NV, Champagne, France
From magnum. Deep yellow colour. Very fresh, perfumed nose of lemon, toast and herbs with nice balance between the richness and freshness. The palate is packed with flavour, showing savoury, toasty evolved characters along with sharp lemony acidity. Some savoury depth here – a good food-compatible fizz. Very good/excellent 91/100 04/06

Sainsbury’s Champagne Premier Cru Extra Dry NV (Duval Leroy)
Really nice nose with some honey and a bit of toast. It’s yeasty and creamy. The palate is very dry with a nice savouriness. Verging on the austere. Nicely complex and a highly food compatible style. Very good+ 89/100 (£?? Sainsbury) 11/05

Mumm Rosé Champagne NV
Nice soft full strawberry fruit on the nose. The palate has a nice richness with soft, full fruit and nice herby complexity. Very approachable. Very good+ 88/100 (£28.99 Oddbins) 02/06

Heidsieck & Co Monopole Rosé Champagne NV
Herby, yeasty edge to the nose. Palate has nice herb-tinged fruit with some strawberry sweetness. Tangy acidity keeps things fresh. Very good+ 88/100

Champagne Devaux Cuvée Rosé NV
Lovely salmon pink colour.
Very fine nose of herbs, toast and soft strawberry fruit. The palate is quite broad with delicate balance, nice fruitiness and a creamy, bready texture. There’s even a bit of grip on the finish. Very good/excellent 90/100 (£24.95 Moriarty, Frank Stainton, Robersons, Villeneuve, Liberty Wine) 01/07

Champagne Trudon Cuvée Tradition NV
From Noel Trudon’s 7 hectare family estate, this is a fizz mainly from the 2002 vintage which is a varietal Pinot Meunier, which is unusual. It’s full flavoured but with some finesse, too. Savoury and subtly herby with some toastiness, and rich, almost structured fruit. Good density and concentration. There’s some lemony delicacy and it finishes very dry.
Very good/excellent 90/100 (£18.95 Waitrose) 07/06

Laurent Perrier Champagne Brut NV, Champagne, France
Nice nose: fresh with herby, toasty complexity. The palate shows good weight and concentration. There’s some savoury, toasty richness together with plenty of fruit: a rich style of wine with a lemony freshness backing up the full, savoury palate. Great balance here. Very good/excellent 91/100 (£24.99 Oddbins) 01/06

Moët et Chandon Vintage 1999 Champagne, France
Full, attractive nose of herb-tinged, slightly sweet fruit with a richness to it. Hints of caramel and vanilla. The palate is forward and classy with some vanilla richness and nice balance. Good concentration and a distinctive herbal edge. Very good/excellent 90/100 (£30 Waitrose) 12/05 

Château Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV, Champagne
This is lovely: mealy, oaty edge to the complex, refined, fruity nose, which is savoury and engaging. The palate has a lovely freshness combined with a savoury depth. It’s not too rich but there’s a lovely finesse to the fruit. A serious effort. Very good/excellent 91/100 12/05

Lanson Gold Label Brut 1996 Champagne
Refined nose with a fresh lemony edge and some tight, toasty bready notes. Clean and youthful. The palate is very fresh with concentrated flavours of lemony fruit with a slightly savoury, rather herbal toasty streak. Very high acidity suggests that there’s a long life ahead for this wine, but it’s touching on the austere at the moment with its killer acidity. Very good/excellent 90/100 12/05

Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 1998 Champagne, France
Nice bright yellowish colour. It’s really refined and fruity with clean, crisp, rather citrussy fruit and a bit of toasty, spicy complexity. Quite sophisticated. Very good/excellent 91/100 11/05

Roederer Brut Premier Champagne NV
A deliciously rich Champagne with an aroma of warm toasty, herbs and lemons. It tastes rich and broad, with toasty notes at one end and the fresh lemony fruit at the other. A well balanced, almost complete wine. Very good/excellent 92/100 (£26.99 Oddbins, Waitrose, Selfidges, Harvey Nichols) 11/05

Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru Champagne Blanc de Blancs NV France
Fresh nose is showing appley, yeasty, lemony notes. There’s a nice savoury, yeasty depth to the palate which shows yeasty, toasty notes. Plenty of concentration and weight: a nice wine. Very good/excellent 90/100 (£15.50 H&H Bancroft Wines) 11/05

Pol Roger 1998 Champagne
Pol Roger is famous for being Winston Churchill’s favourite Champagne, and the 1998 version is pretty good. It’s fresh and very savoury, with a tight, smoky, minerally aroma and a precise taste with good weight and complexity. It’s only a baby at the moment: expect this to develop wonderfully over the next five years, but the class is already apparent. Very good/excellent 92/100 (£39.99 Sainsbury, Oddbins and Majestic, where it is £29.99 if you buy two)

Mumm Grand Cru Champagne NV
Blending together Chardonnay from Avize and Cramant with Pinot Noir from Bouzy, Verzenay and Aÿ, Mumm have produced a very successful fizz. It has a lovely full-on nose that is rich, smooth and elegant with notes of herbs, toast and honey. The palate is smooth with rich, ripe fruit and some toastiness, kept fresh by lovely acidity. A sophisticated, rich style. Very good/excellent 92/100 (£30.99 Waitrose) 10/05  

Krug NV Champagne
This is fantastic. Delicate yet intense nose with slightly toasty, lemony fruit. With time in the glass this becomes progressively more toasty and rich. The palate has lovely crispness and long, minerally, subtly toasty fruit. Almost perfect. Excellent 95/100 08/04

Fleury Brut Champagne NV
From vineyards that have been run on biodynamic lines since 1992, this is a rarity: an organic Champagne. It’s quite an elegant fizz, with an open, fruity, yeasty aroma and fresh, tangy fruit in the mouth. Lots of flavour, and worth the relatively high price tag. Very good/excellent 91/100 (£21.99 Waitrose) 10/05

Gosset Grand Millésime 1996 Champagne, France
I like Gosset’s Champagnes. This is from the classic 1996 vintage. It’s firm, complex and very classy with good acidity. A serious, tight vintage Champagne with lots of class. Very good/excellent 92/100 (£42.95 Berry Bros) 10/03

Bollinger Special Cuvée NV, Champagne
A blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Meunier. Quite deep coloured. Lovely classy, intense nose shows savoury bready notes and a touch of lifted acidity, with a complex toasty edge. The palate is very full flavoured with great intensity and almost austere savouriness. Impressive stuff. Very good/excellent (retails for just under £30) 08/02  

Louis Roederer Brut 1990, Champagne
Nicely poised with a taut, herbal, slightly toasty nose. Lean, intense palate shows herbal complexity with a yeasty, bready character. Satisfying in a savoury style. Very good/excellent (£45 Waitrose) 10/02  

Heidsieck Brut Héritage NV Champagne
Toasty, yeasty nose. Good depth of flavour on the herb-tinged, toasty palate. Attractive. Very good+ (£16.49 Majestic) 10/02

Canard Duchêne Brut NV Champagne
Rich, creamy nose with a touch of toasty character. Fresh, lively full flavoured palate is quite classy and satisfying. Very good/excellent (£17.99 Majestic) 10/02

Nicolas Feuillatte NV Champagne
Rich, appealing nose shows a touch of caramel. Slightly lifted. The boldly flavoured palate has good acidity and lovely balance. Impressive fizz: rich but balanced. Very good/excellent (£17.99 Majestic) 10/02

Jacquart Brut Mosaique NV Champagne
Racy, assertive acidity on the palate. Quite a structured wine. Very good (£19.49  Majestic) 10/02

Piper-Heidsieck Brut NV Champagne
Slightly herby, toasty nose leads to a full flavoured herby, structured palate with high acidity. Intensely savoury. Very good+ (£19.99 Majestic) 10/02

Heidsieck Gold Top 1996 Champagne
Taut and structured with some classy herby and savoury toasty notes on the palate. Tight at the moment but with room for development. Very good+ (£22.49 Majestic) 10/02

Jacquart 1996 Champagne
Lovely intense focused nose is toasty and slightly buscuitty – very savoury. Intense, boldly flavoured palate with good acidity and savoury richness. Very good/excellent (£25.49 Majestic) 10/02

Champagne Raymond Boulard Grand Cru Mailly Brut
A pale yellow-gold colour, this has an enticing yeasty, biscuitty nose with a lifted streak of acidity (a tiny bit volatile?), a touch of grapiness and fresh-baked bread notes. The palate is full, complex and balanced if just a touch rustic, with a lovely savouriness and tingly acidity. Quite delicious in a full flavoured style. Very good/excellent 07/01

Salon Blanc de Blancs Le Mesnil 1985, Champagne
A vintage Champagne made solely from Chardonnay grapes, this is still alive but is just beginning to show its age a little. A full golden colour with a rich, toasty, part-oxidized nose. On the palate it is rich, full flavoured, bready and with fine bubbles. I like it a lot: it’s nice, full flavoured stuff, but others at the table think it may be a little past its best. Very good/excellent. 1/01

Deutz 1990 Champagne
Smoky toast and biscuit-like notes. Mature and complex, with good concentration of flavour. Very good 1/00