I have added notes on Champagnes tasted at a number of houses visited, and the Annual Champagne Tasting in London, plus the latest release of
Dom Pérignon and Dom Pérignon Oenothèque.
Vintage 1990 Krug (150)
The best Krug I've ever tasted, and that includes the legendary 1928.
See all 1990 Krug stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Dom Pérignon 1996 Moët & Chandon (95)
Exquisitely rich, sumptuous, yeast-complexed fruit, dusted with vanilla aromas. This will age for decades to come, but it already has such fabulous finesse that you should not deny yourself the experience of enjoying at least one bottle in this, its first youthful flush of beauty. A hedonist's dream-feast!
See all 1996 Dom Perignon stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Pol Roger 1996 Brut Vintage (44)
A stunning combination of sumptuousness and complexity.
See all 1996 Pol Roger stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Cristal 1996 Louis Roederer (150)
Relatively forward for a 1996, with mellow biscuity aromas already building in the fruit, but that just makes it all the more wonderful now, rather than later. Disgorged November 2002.
See all 1996 Cristal stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Grande Année 1996 Bollinger (60)
Extremely rich, very classy, yeast-complexed, oaky fruit. Great length. Has a huge lifetime ahead.
See all 1996 Bollinger stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Cuvée William Deutz Rosé 1996 Deutz (130)
Such delightful, fresh fruit. Elegance and finesse personified.
See all 1996 Deutz Rosé stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Brut 1996 Lanson (27.50)
Like gargling with razor blades at the moment, this is the most definitive and the best-value 1996 on the market.
See all 1996 Lanson stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Noble Cuvée Blanc de Blancs 1996 Lanson (80)
Startling acidity. A rapier of a wine. For those only with great cellars and enough potential lifetime to see this great Champagne start to achieve its potential. Drink 5-25 years.
Brut 1976 Lanson (en magnum)
Deep-coloured, with complex aromas of molasses and dried fruits, followed by very rich, intensely concentrated Pinot fruit on the palate. Beautifully long and lingering (also reviewed at the end of this feature, as part of a vertical tasting on a different date).
Amour de Deutz 1997 Deutz (95)
Very elegant, fresh, delightfully fruity Champagne of some finesse. Amour has a greater emphasis (60%) on Le Mesnil-sur-Orger than found in the standard Deutz Blanc de Blancs, but remains true to the house style with its smidgen of Montagne Chardonnay (5% Villers-Marmery).
See all 1997 Deutz stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Cristal Rosé 1995 Louis Roederer (300)
The most recent disgorgement of this vintage (April 2003) is still very tight, with high acids, and needs another two or three years, but it will be worth waiting for.
See all 1995 Cristal Rose stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Vintage Brut 1996 Louis Roederer (55)
The UK shipment is excellent (90 points), but doesn't seem as exciting as the cuvée in French distribution, which is massive, with show-off huge acids. I had imagined that this would be because Roederer would disgorge bottles for the French market much earlier, yet this was disgorged in September 2002.
See all 1996 Roederer stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Millésime 1996 Alfred Gratien
A very silky mousse enhances the creaminess of the fruit. Great acidity. A truly wonderful wine.
See all 1996 Gratien stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Clos des Goisses 1991 Philipponnat
Lovely toasty-creamy-peachy fruit!
Comtes de Champagne Rosé 1996 Taittinger (120.00)
Delicious red-fruit richness. Only just starting to drink well.
See all 1996 Taittinger Comtes Rosé stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Blanc de Blancs 1970 De Castellane (magnum)
this brought back happy memories. It was exactly 10 years that I mentioned this wine briefly amongst others in the annual Champagne supplement I used to write for WINE Magazine. It was sweet and toasty then, but is not so toasty now, thanks to a more recent disgorgement, and the magnum effect. It really is quite remarkable for its age, and surprising to find it still available (I specifically requested mature vintages that are still commercially available, so don't be shy in asking De Castellane for a price). At that vertical tasting a decade ago, the best De Castellane Blanc de Blancs was the 1961, but the 1966 had the most impressive structure. If they are also still available, it would make a great three-pack!
Clos du Moulin 1er Cru NV Cattier
A creamy-rich delight that will add biscuity finesse to its already complex and elegant fruit.
See all Cattier Moulin stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Blanc des Millénaires 1990 Charles Heidsieck (64.50)
Not just toast, but burnt toast, with alternating layers of sweet Chardonnay fruit. Absolutely delicious for those who can like burnt toast!
Celebris Rosé 1998 Gosset (75)
Rich, cranberry fruits. Needs another year to settle in, but has a big potential. Drink 1-7 years.
See all 1998 Celebris Rosé stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Brut millésimé 1990 Henriot (Jeroboam)
Put most of this producer's mature vintage up against the same years of its peers, and the Henriot wines will show their age, but this is an exception. At a time when a number of 1990s are unexpectedly falling by the wayside, this has remained beautifully fresh, with lovely crisp acidity on finish, and not all of this success can be due to the large Jeroboam format. It has to be an exceptional Champagne in the first place.
See all 1990 Henriot stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Dizy 1er Cru Corne Bautray 2000 Jacquesson
Delightful, delicate, fruit. So fine and elegant. Amazing for the vintage. Not yet released.
Grand Vin Signature 1996 Jacquesson
Still very young, with full-throttle fruit and high acids in command.
Krug Grande Cuvée Krug (110)
Rich, luxuriant oaky fruit with truly excellent acidity.
See all Krug Grande Cuvée stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Noble Cuvée 1996 Lanson A classy 1996
that will improve under ideal cellarage conditions, but is ready to drink now.
Grand Siècle Alexandra Brut Rosé 1997 Laurent Perrier (160)
Aristocratic rosé, with nice fruit and a refreshingly crisp finish. This cuvée has the most elegance of all the Alexandra blends since the inaugural 1982 vintage.
Grand Millésime 1990 Brut Napoléon
A beautiful wine. This vintage is expressive of the quality and style that so attracted me to this small producer (the Prieur brothers) a quarter of a century ago. These Champagnes deserve to be better known.
Grand Millésime 1987 Brut Napoléon
Not a grand millésime for Champagne, but certainly for Napoleon. Beautifully fresh and vital.
Cuvée Louise 1995 Pommery
Elegant, citrus fruit. Wonderfully fresh. Amazing how such a light wine can be so slow to age.
Joyau de France Chardonnay Brut 1989 Boizel (49)
Simply amazing combination of richness and freshness for the year, with true aged-complexity without being overly toasty. So long and satisfying. Rare to find such mature blanc de blancs, albeit in limited quantities. It's a steal at the price.
Cuvée Louise 1989 Pommery
The UK shipped version is wonderfully coconutty (from post-disgorgement ageing, not American oak!), with supremely rich fruit. Really quite delicious, but for the dinner table only.
See all 1989 Pommery Louise stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Millésimé Grand Cru 1995 Pommery (25)
At least as good as the excellent Louise Pommery 1995. Great elegance, finesse and class. Sweet ripe fruit, although a true Brut style.
See all 1995 Pommery stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Blanc de Blancs Millésime 1995 Salon
Unless you get a high from free sulphur, you should leave this vintage in the cellar for at least 8-10 years. See all 1995 Salon stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Cuvée Rare NV Piper-Heidsieck (35)
I don't think I am being unduly influenced by the name, but this cuvée does show rare finesse for a non-vintage Champagne. When Rare replaced Cuvée Florens-Louis as Piper's deluxe cuvée, it was vintaged (1988 was the last year), but going non-vintage is a risky strategy for a deluxe cuvée. With a vintage, the consumer is at the very least willing to give the Champagne time to show its true potential, whereas a non-vintage cuvée has to hit the spot as soon as it is released, and when it is put on the pedestal of being a deluxe cuvée, the expectations are of the highest order. Hopefully Piper-Heidsieck can maintain the current level of excellence.
Mis en Cave 1998 Charles Heidsieck (25)
Vintage quality at a non-vintage price, the Mis en Cave 1997 (i.e., 1996-based) and 1996 (1995-based) rate even higher, at 91 points.
See all 1998 Heidsieck stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Cuvée sous Bois Brut 1990 Boizel (40)
I wondered why one sample of Cuvée Sous Bois was so different a couple of years ago that the wine I once describes as 'Boizel meets Bollinger', had oxidative/aldehydic character, and the fruit was beautifully fresh with finesse. Now I know. Evelyn and Christophe Roques-Boizel, two of the nicest, most genuine people I know in Champagne, served three versions of this cuvée blind at dinner last November, and the differences were startling. The notes and score above apply to the odd one out, which had a was pale in colour, whereas the other two were golden. It not only looked younger, but tasted fresher, with more focused fruit and greater finesse. The reason? It was sealed with a cork for the first fermentation and time on lees, whereas the other two were sealed with crown-caps. See all 1990 Boizel stockists on wine-searcher.com.
Vintage Blanc de Blancs 1998 Louis Roederer (55)
Very fresh, and crisp, with an intensity of fruit that is a step above most 1998s, and promises to go creamy-lemony. Really quite special. Roughly 50/50 Mesnil/Avize, with a splash of Cramant, thus 100% grand cru, and 15% fermented in barriques.
Brut Rosé 1997 Deutz (40)
Deliciously delicate fruit, so pure and elegant. A joy to drink.
Dom Ruinart Rosé 1990
Ruinart Vanilla-sweet red fruits.
Prélude Grands Crus Taittinger (32.00)
A delight to drink now, with elegantly rich, ripe, sweet fruit, but promises to develop some serious complexity over the next 5 years or so.
Vintage Réserve 1996 Veuve Clicquot
I've enjoyed many a bottle of this vintage, all consistently refreshing and delicious. In blind tasting mode the malolactic aromas might stand out, but consumed in isolation for pleasure, they never intrude.
Blanc de Blancs 1995 Bruno Paillard
A new product. Soft, creamy fruit. Although the palate is very amenable, the nose needs a little post-disgorgement development. Drink 1-3 years.
Brut 1996 Joseph Perrier
A baby! Very crisp and tight with loads of fresh fruit. Should gain biscuity richness in 5 years or so.
Vintage Rosé Brut 1998 Louis Roederer (55)
Luscious red fruits. Quite full and delicious. Disgorged September 2003.
Vintage Rosé Brut 1997 Louis Roederer (55)
Lighter than Roederer's 1998 rosé in both weight and mousse, but this makes it finer, with more elegance, although the same quality overall.
Millésimé Grand Cru 1996 Pommery (25)
Very toasty, maturing fast, but plenty of acidity and still has a long life. Great length.
Mis en Cave 2000 Charles Heidsieck (25)
There was no 1999 (i.e., 1998-based) Mis en Cave, as that was the year the late Daniel Thibault used to balance production with sales, as the former had been in excess of the latter. I am constantly in awe of the precision at which the style of Mis en Cave is replicated each year. Some will outlive the others, but for the first five or six years they all evolve in a remarkably similar, and utterly beguiling fashion. The 2000 (i.e., 1999-based) Mis en Cave is deliciously fresh and ready to drink, with a touch of vanilla beginning to build.
Joyau de France Brut 1991 Boizel (40)
Tasting this side-by-side with the 1995 Joyau, the 1991 is by far the better wine, which is a great compliment considering the lacklustre reputation of that vintage. This is bigger, richer and longer, yet far more elegant, with very satisfying toasty fruit. Still available in limited quantities.
Tsarine Rosé 1999 Chanoine (29.95)
The best 1999 I've tasted. Elegant, fresh, delicate fruit. I purchased a case for my niece, who was married in 1999, but you are not likely to find this wine outside of a few selected restaurant accounts. You could try banging on Chanoine's door, but no promises!
Divin Blanc de Blancs NV Piper-Heidsieck (25)
The first release of this cuvée is one of those rare pure Chardonnay Champagnes that are fruity guzzlers from the moment they hit the shelf.
Blanc de Blancs 1996 Ayala (27.47)
Rich fruit and excellent acidity. Leave for at least two years. Will go quite toasty, but not at all blowsy.
Blanc de Blancs Millésime 1997 Delamotte (22.00)
Toasty, elegantly rich, ripe-sweet finish, vanilla-cream aftertaste.
Grand Vin Signature Rosé 1995 Jacquesson
This has the richness and potential to achieve a similar creamy-walnut complexity to the 90-point Brut version of Grand Vin Signature 1995.
Grand Vintage 1996 Boizel (25)
Easily accessible, creamy-biscuity richness. This applies to the first release (35% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir, 15% Meunier), which was disgorged in June 2002, not the second release, which was not only disgorged one year later, but is also an entirely different blend (30% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 30% Meunier).
Avize Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 1995 Jacquesson
The latest disgorgement of this wine is extraordinarily young, fresh and fruity, and should in time evolve into a much richer, more serious, vanilla-dusted mode.
Brut Classic NV Deutz
Fresh and elegant fruit, going biscuity
Cuvée Victoire Fût de Chêne 1996 Martel
The Martel range has never had much standing. Not that it's actually bad, just not special, but there again, the price is not special either. Despite this, I have consistently recommended Cuvée Victoire as an exceptional buy for the past 20 years. Produced through strict selection, this Champagne has all the richness, quality and style that is so glaringly absent in the rest of the range, but because the other Champagnes are so inexpensive, Martel is restricted in the premium it can place on its best cuvée. The 1996 Fût de Chêne is definitely oaky, but not too oaky, and the oak is rich and clean, not raw or estery, with lovely creamy-rich fruit, and a crisp, refreshing finish.
Ay Moet & Chandon
Although very much in the Moet style of light and elegant, this wine is also hunkering down for development into its next stage of development.
Mumm de Cramant NV Mumm
Very fresh, with nice acidity. One of the more exceptional Mumm de Cramant cuvées.
Le Clos Saint-Hilaire 1995 Billecart-Salmon
A disappointing score for a Champagne that has a potential score in the mid-90s, but it fails to achieve its potential because it has no dosage, and will therefore grow oxidative and coarse. Since it will never realise its true finesse without a dosage, it is best drunk on purchase. Hopefully future releases will not be marred in this way. This one-hectare, single vineyard, pure Pinot Noir Champagne from one of the region's most gifted producers deserves better. The next vintage will be 1996, of course. After which the 1998 and 2000 were fermented in three- and four-year-old barriques (Jadot Montrachet).
Grand Blanc 2000 Philipponnat
More elegance than the Réserve Millésime. Not yet released.
Chouilly Moet & Chandon
Light, elegant, creamy fruit
Brut 1998 Ayala (21.06)
More evolved than Ayala's older 1996 vintage, which is to be expected, given the contrasting character of the two years, but the mellowing yeast-complexed fruit here is just as enjoyable for the moment.
Blanc de Chardonnay 1998 Duval-Leroy (35.00)
So toasty! High acids. For lovers of toasty Chardonnay.
Grand Millésime Brut 1991 Napoléon
Sweet and rich, with a succulence of fruit that will attain biscuity finesse after a little ageing.
Grand Vintage 1998 Boizel (25)
Although much lighter than the 1996, this vintage has a creamy-biscuity richness
Wintertime Blanc de Noir NV Pommery
Rich Pinot fruit. Some strawberry. Quite solid. Will develop.
Cuvée Paradis NV Gratien
Rich fruit, good acidity. Leave a couple of years to go toasty.
Demi-Sec NV Taittinger (26.07)
Fresh, clean, and almost too easy to drink!
N.P.U. Nec Plus Ultra 1990 Bruno Paillard
The oxidative nose is redeemed by sweet-rich yeast-complexed fruit on the palate but, as I have said before, this particular vintage of N.P.U. should have been disgorged no later than 1996. Whilst ageing increases the richness of fruit on the palate, it also accentuates the barrique aromas, clouding the focus and finesse.
Brut 1995 Alan Thienot
Two years ago this vintage needed some ageing, since when the fruit has become fatter and juicier.
Brut NV Théophile Roederer (23)
The 2000-based cuvée (45% Chardonnay, 55% Pinot Noir) disgorged in January 2003 was the current shipment on the UK market in November 2003, and likely to be so until mid-2004, has lovely fruity aromas, fresh and crisp on the palate, with a smooth cushiony mousse and true brut dryness on the finish. I'm surprised that more consumers do not grab as much Théophile as they can. Owned by Louis Roederer, this second label is produced not from its own vineyards, but from cooperative purchased fruit. Wouldn't you be interested if Louis Roederer was given the run of a cooperative to craft a Champagne to its own demanding standards? Well, it does, and this is the result.
Special Cuvée NV Bollinger Special Cuvée
devotees will enjoy the typically aldehydic oak, but the rest of us would much prefer the fresher, better focused version of the same cuvée in magnum.
Cuvée Henri Giraud Aÿ Grand Cru Fût de Chêne Millésime 1990 Henri Giraud
Very rich, but does not have succulence of fruit or the finesse of the 1993, despite it being from a superior year.
Brut 1997 Théophile Roederer
I prefer the 2000-based non-vintage cuvée to this particular vintage, which is softer and fruitier on the palate, but more developed on the nose and a tad shorter on the finish.
Dizy Le Clos 2000 Jacquesson
Fresh, light and delicate, but nowhere near the finesse, length and beauty of the Bautray. Not yet released.
Brut Rosé NV Théophile Roederer
The 2000-based cuvée is clean, and fresh, with fatter fruit than the non-vintage brut. It's okay, but lacks crispness and length of its colourless stable mate.
Castellane Brut Rosé NV De Castellane
Light, fresh, but lacking any real depth.
Ultra Brut NV Laurent Perrier
Peppery, basic. Alain Terrier's favourite cuvée leaves me stone cold.
Petit Meslier 2000 Duval-Leroy (33.00)
Resinously reminiscent of James Irvine's Eden Crest Petit Meslier (Australia) from the 1980s. Not yet released.
Blanc de Chardonnay 1er Cru "La Bouverie" 2002 Duval-Leroy (35.00)
Full of ferment odours, as expected for a Champagne that has been in bottle just six months and barely completed its first fermentation. Good structure, promises well, but difficult to ascertain much more. A new single-vineyard Champagne due to be commercialised in 2005.
Réserve Millésimée 2000 Philipponnat
Sulphur (understandably since it was disgorged the day of the tasting),with an interesting green fruit and fig richness. Not yet released.
Lady Rosé NV Duval-Leroy (17.00)
Special dessert cuvée in half-bottles. The higher the dosage, the longer the post-disgorgement ageing required, and this was simply too young, as the residual sugar masked everything. Not yet released.
Non UMC houses
Eclipse 1993 Drappier
There was no total eclipse of the sun in 1993, but there was one in 1999, when this very rich, creamy-biscuity cuvée was launched. The second fermentation took place at 9°C and low sulphur was a feature of this wine's making (lower than the already low sulphur regime Drappier regularly employs).
Cuvée Victor Mandois 1998 Henri Mandois (19)
The sample I tasted had been disgorged only the day before, yet showed fine autolytic finesse and a richness of fruit that promises to go creamy-biscuity.
Blanc de Blancs, Brut Premier Cru 1993 Henri Mandois
Very crisp, needs time. Will go creamy-biscuity.
Grande Sendrée 1999 Drappier (27.50)
Excellent acidity for the year, with clean, crisp, youthful fruit that will repay cellaring 2-3 years, when it will become creamy-biscuity, attaining much more gravitas in the process.