Masters of Wine Champagne Tasting

San Francisco, CA
Tasted Monday, September 28, 2009 by BrandrB with 652 views

Introduction

A truly amazing event! Ever since I began my love affair with Champagne about three years ago I’ve been trying to attend the annual Institute of Masters of Wine Champagne Tasting. My schedule finally permitted this year, and it proved well worth the effort. The tasting featured more than 100 Champagnes divided into six categories (Extra Brut, Blanc des Blancs, Vintage, Non-Vintage, Rosé, and Dosé). Easily, the finest wine tasting that I’ve ever attended.

Overall, I tasted more than 50 of those Champagnes, and managed to take detailed notes on the ones listed below. My wines of the night were the 1995 Henriot Cuvée des Enchanteleurs, 1998 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs, 1995 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires, 1998 Dom Périgon Rosé, and the non-vintage Vilmart Grand Cellier.

Many thanks to the staff and students at the Institute of Masters of Wine for organizing such a remarkable tasting and to Moët-Hennessy for their generous contributions.

Flight 1 - Extra Brut (2 Notes)

  • NV Ayala Champagne Brut Nature Zero Dosage 85 Points

    France, Champagne

    The same blending as the Brut Majure but without dosage. Great bead. Tight toasty floral nose, little fruit. The lack of fruit continues on the palate with just a hint of apple alongside significant minerality. Incredibly dry, as anticipated. Somewhat flat and unstably balanced on the palate, but perhaps I’m not acclimatized to this extra-brut style. Long finish. Quite an interesting Champagne.

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  • 2000 Pierre Gimonnet Champagne Blanc de Blancs Extra-Brut Oenophile 90 Points

    France, Champagne

    Zero dosage. Premier Cru. Intense. Light golden color. Stunning nose: oak with a slight citrus element. Beautiful citrus and mineral creamy mouthfeel that wraps nicely around the palate. Very long finish. Very dry. It will be fascinating to see how this matures. Fantastic – the finest zero/extra-brut I’ve tasted yet.

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Flight 2 - Blanc des Blancs (6 Notes)

  • 1995 Charles Heidsieck Champagne Blanc des Millénaires 94 Points

    France, Champagne

    Fantastic, this was just singing tonight! Just as good - perhaps even better - than two years ago. Straw-yellow color. Hugely expressive nose: fresh baked brioche with smoke spice. Full yet elegant doughy lemon mouthfeel. Long finish. Simply an incredible value for vintage Champagne of this caliber. The great acidity indicates to me that there’s plenty of age left in this wine and I suspect this will be drinking quite nicely until 2015 or beyond. Vintage Blanc de Blancs at its best!

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  • 2000 Perrier-Jouët Champagne Cuvée Fleur de Champagne 89 Points

    France, Champagne

    100% Crémant Chardonnay. Pale yellow. Quite large bubbles. Big fruit-focused nose. Palate bears apricot, vanilla, and honey notes. Long finish. Oddly balanced nose and palate which lacks the elegance many would expect from such a pedigreed Blanc de Blancs. Perhaps this just needs more time in the bottle to work through its adolescence? Very expensive ($300+) – right now I just don’t see anything here that warrants such a price. A definite pass for me, for now at least.

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  • NV Pierre Péters Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvée de Réserve 89 Points

    France, Champagne, Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Champagne

    Great! Light yellow color. Rich toasty nose. Multifaceted palate with flavors of apple, citrus, toast, spice, and nuts. Long finish. Medium-full bodied. Dry and crisp throughout with great acidity. Very good value – one of the top Champagne QPRs of the evening. Excellent overall – everything you could want in a fuller-bodied Blanc de Blancs.

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  • NV Bruno Paillard Chardonnay Champagne Blanc de Blancs Réserve Privée 87 Points

    France, Champagne

    Quite good, but well underperforming at this price-point. Light yellow color. Simple citrus nose. Tight apple palate, perhaps this needed more time to open up? Nice medium-long finish. Showing relatively little delicacy, character, or development, especially for the price. Somewhat disappointing overall.

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  • 1998 Ruinart Champagne Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 92 Points

    France, Champagne

    Splendid! Very pale yellow color. Tiny bubbles with a thick bead. Sherry nose with a subtle floral oakiness. Medium-full bodied with a citrus palate and strong mineral presence. Beautifully long finish. I’m continually impressed by Ruinart and this remains one of my favorite Ruinart Champagnes.

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  • 1998 Taittinger Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs Comtes de Champagne 94 Points

    France, Champagne

    Incredible! Light golden color. Moderately sized bubbles. Distinctive mustard nose. Apple, lemon, toast, minerals and herbs on the multilayered palate. Long finish. Refined and elegant. Drinking beautifully now but with plenty of room to grow even further. Incredible character and body for a Blanc de Blancs. The best Blanc de Blancs of the tasting and a strong contender for the best Champagne of the evening!

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Flight 3 - Vintage (9 Notes)

  • 1999 Charles Ellner Champagne Brut Prestige 91 Points

    France, Champagne

    Fabulous! My first experience with Charles Ellner. Light golden color. Small bubbles showing good bead. Rich creamy/doughy nose with lots of yeast. Palate shows lemon, dried berries, and nuts. Nicely balanced. Medium length finish. Excellent QPR for vintage Champagne.

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  • 1997 Lanson Champagne Gold Label Brut 89 Points

    France, Champagne

    Excellent. Light straw yellow color. Good nose shows green fruit and citrus notes. Nose continues onto the plate with green apple, lemon, honey, and mineral flavors. Medium length finish. I suspect this should continue to improve slightly over the short-term. Nice QPR.

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  • 1999 Alfred Gratien Champagne Brut Millésimé 90 Points

    France, Champagne

    Beautiful. Light golden color, moderately sized bubbles. Typical Alfred Gratien in many senses – though the oakiness is subtler. Apple and toast nose. Green apple, oak, and spice on the palate. Medium length finish. Quite young – I will probably wait at least three years to open my one bottle of this Champagne. Right now, I actually prefer the Alfred Gratien’s N.V. Brut at nearly half the cost. Nonetheless, an excellent Champagne which I expect will continue to develop beautifully.

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  • 1995 Henriot Champagne Cuvée des Enchanteleurs Brut 94 Points

    France, Champagne

    Stunning – my favorite Champagnes of the tasting! Light golden color. Moderate bead. Beautiful creamy nose showing brioche, lemon, and spice. Palate is decidedly towards the citrus side of the house with loads of fresh lemon, vanilla, spicy, and nuts. Long mesmerizing finish. This is a good example Champagne at its finest, but still with further room to mature, and is well worth the moderate price. Outstanding!

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  • 1998 Henriot Champagne Brut Millésimé 91 Points

    France, Champagne

    Big and bold! Light golden color. Expressive nose: smoke, nuts, spice. Palate of apple, citrus, spice, and nuts, with an underlying minerality. Could definitely use more balance – my only real complaint. Long finish. While certainly I love the rich honest style here, it probably isn’t for everyone. I imagine this will develop beautifully and gain a bit more elegance given quite a bit more time.

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  • 1999 Bruno Paillard Champagne Assemblage Brut 89 Points

    France, Champagne, Montagne de Reims, Champagne

    Light golden color. Fine bubbles. Rich biscuity nose. Creamy mouthfeel of citrus, toast, and hint of caramel. Medium length finish. Questionable QPR. While this is unquestionably an excellent Champagne, oddly, the more I drink vintage Bruno Paillard the more I seem to find myself preferring the non-vintage Brut Premiere for a fraction of the cost.

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  • 2000 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon 91 Points

    France, Champagne

    Moderate yellow color. Relatively large bubbles with a persistent fizz. Yeasty apple nose. Delicate palate with lovely apple, spice, oak, and lemon flavors. Light-to-medium bodied. Medium-long finish. There’s definitely elegance here, but it’s hesitant. My one complaint with young Dom is that it’s too light and simple when young. The 2000 vintage is slightly fuller than I recall other recent Dom vintages, but overall it’s still too light for my taste. Far more time aging is needed. In my mind, at this price any Champagne should not only have great aging potential but should also be far more drinkable while still relatively young. Nonetheless, a truly excellent wine and perhaps the best young Dom I can recall.

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  • 2000 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Coeur de Cuvée 93 Points

    France, Champagne

    Stunning! Light golden color. Big, deep apple spice nose that really draws your attention. Fresh baked apple pie, spice, citrus, and creamy/toasty oak palate. Beautifully long finish. Superb balance. Very well integrated oak throughout, by no means oppressive. One of my top Champagnes of the evening and the best 2000 vintage Champagne I have tasted. Beautiful in all aspects!

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  • NV Vilmart & Cie Champagne Grand Cellier Brut 91 Points

    France, Champagne

    Beautiful! Light yellow with small bubbles and a great bead. Fabulous nose: oaky and earthy with pear and apple showing a touch of oxidation. Nose continues onto the palate with pear, apple, spice, and toast. Medium-long finish. Judicious oakiness throughout. My favorite non-vintage of the tasting! If you’re into barrel-fermented bigger-bodied styles this is a must-try. Incredible value and performance for a non-vintage.

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Flight 4 - Non-Vintage (7 Notes)

  • NV H. Billiot Fils Champagne Grand Cru Brut Réserve 90 Points

    France, Champagne, Ambonnay, Champagne

    Wow! Powerful. Light golden color. Rich dried berry and yeasty aromas. Smooth rich palate with tons of ripe fruit. Pears, apple, lemon, dough, with a chalky minerality towards the medium-long finish. High acidity. Very good QPR. This powerful fruit-forward style of Champagne probably isn’t for everyone, but it definitely appeals to me. One of my favorite non-vintages of the evening.

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  • NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne Tradition Brut 1er Cru 84 Points

    France, Champagne

    Underwhelming. Small bubbles, thick bead. Funky green apple nose. Apple and lemon palate. Light bodied. Slightly harsh medium-length finish. Easily drinkable but overall unremarkable – nothing really stands out here.

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  • NV A. Margaine Champagne Le Brut 1er Cru 87 Points

    France, Champagne

    Light golden color. Apple and citrus nose. Palate of apple, lemon zest, and light toast. Good length: medium-long finish. Clean and crisp with good bit of acidity. Medium-bodied. Average value when priced around $40. A very nice Champagne overall.

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  • NV Alfred Gratien Champagne Cuvée Paradis 91 Points

    France, Champagne

    Superb! Golden color, tiny bubbles. Aromas of roasted nuts fill the nose. Rich citrus palate showing tons of citrus, spice, and nuts. Medium-long toasty finish. Excellent complexity. While I do truly enjoy this Champagne, I like the Brut Classique nearly as much for less than half the price. So, relatively speaking, not the best of values. Nonetheless, I am continually impressed by this house and this wine only furthers my high opinion of Alfred Gratien. Excellent!

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  • NV Henriot Champagne Brut Souverain 87 Points

    France, Champagne

    Golden color. Fine bubbles. Nice toasty citrus nose. Green apple, citrus zest, and mineral palate. Medium-bodied. Medium-long finish. Slightly sweet, which takes away from the rest of the wine, and also lacking any real wow-factor. Nicely priced – solid QPR. I must admit that I was hoping for a little more based on my excellent experience with vintage Henriot, this is nonetheless a lovely entry label non-vintage.

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  • NV Krug Champagne Brut Grande Cuvée 93 Points

    France, Champagne

    Classic Krug, what more can be said? Consistent with my previous notes. The highlights: doughy/citrus nose, lemon/mineral/biscuity full body, long finish. This wine is what turned me onto Champagne and continues to impress today. Fantastic consistency. While not the very best I’ve ever had of this label, quite close and the finest showing of the past year.

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  • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Brut Selection Grand Cru 88 Points

    France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne

    Grand Cru. Light golden color. Moderately sized bubbles. Closed apple nose. Apples, minerals, and light toast flavors. Strong minerality. Medium-long crisp finish. Medium-bodied. Good value. While a bit slow to get started, this wine builds on itself nicely. Very good overall.

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Flight 5 - Rosé (4 Notes)

  • 1998 Moët & Chandon Champagne Cuvée Dom Pérignon Rosé 93 Points

    France, Champagne

    Exceedingly superb! I’m not really a Rosé aficionado nor am I a big Dom fan so I wasn’t expecting to be blown away quite like I was here. Pale pink color. Strawberry and floral aromas. Ripe strawberries upfront on the palate which then develops an elegant vanilla nuttiness. Slightly creamy medium-long finish. Medium bodied. Incredibly elegant. Still quite young – too young, in fact, as there seems to be a nearly perceptible refinement that’s waiting to emerge – this will continue to develop beautifully over the next decade. Altogether lovely, but the exorbitant price makes this difficult to recommend when so many Champagnes of similar quality are available at a fraction of the cost.

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  • NV Alfred Gratien Champagne Cuvée Paradis Rosé 91 Points

    France, Champagne

    Beautiful! Very pale pink color with miniscule bubbles. Lots of bread and yeast on the nose. Earthy strawberry and biscuity body. Good complexity. Medium-long finish. There’s much to love here from this great – and oftentimes underappreciated – Champagne house. Superb!

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  • NV Camille Savès Champagne Brut Grand Cru Rosé 90 Points

    France, Champagne, Bouzy, Champagne

    Complex and honest. Huge bead. Medium-pink color. Strawberries, raspberries, and citrus flavors. Tons of raw earthinesses to it – a characteristic I don’t typically see in rosé. Medium-long finish. Full-bodied, one of the weightier Rosés that I can recall, and personally I love the style. Nice QPR. Impressive all-around.

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  • 2003 Taittinger Champagne Comtes de Champagne Rosé Brut 93 Points

    France, Champagne

    Fantastic! Salmon-pink color. Tiny precise bubbles. Light red berry and citrus nose. Palate of red berries, citrus, and mineral flavors with a subtle earthiness. Quite elegant. Long finish. Medium bodied. This will develop beautifully over the next decade, though probably not the best choice for very long aging. My favorite rosé of the night and the best Champagne I’ve had yet from this difficult vintage. Remarkable.

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Flight 6 - Dosé (2 Notes)

  • NV Moët & Chandon Champagne Nectar Imperial Rosé 84 Points

    France, Champagne

    Light pink color, small bubbles. Sweet strawberry nose. The sweet strawberries – and only strawberries – continue onto the palate making this wine just a bit too simple and one-dimensional for the $45 price. Long finish. Too sweet for my liking. Most likely a pass due to the below-average QPR.

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  • NV Taittinger Champagne Nocturne Sec 88 Points

    France, Champagne

    Excellent! Beautiful deep yellow color with a great bead. Lightly toasty nose showing no indication of excessive sweetness. Beautiful palate – light and crisp with some apple, citrus and toast. Medium-length finish. Excellent balance throughout. Just slightly sweet. The best Dosé of the tasting!

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