Geoff Kelly Wine Reviews
Independent reviews of some local and imported wines available in New Zealand, including earlier vintages.

What a pleasure it is to go to a vintage champagne tasting,  in New Zealand.  Glengarry Wines has become quite the place to go,  if the range of champagnes available in New Zealand is to be explored.  It is just a pity though,  given that this same tasting had already been presented in Auckland,  that the firm is so reluctant to present thoroughly researched and documented tastings,  with an informative and meaningful handout for tasters.  You have to do it yourself,  even though you pay to attend the tasting,  and on the tastings side,  the firm has a surprising number of paid staff.   Their feeling is,  apparently,  that most customers are not interested in technical detail.

But nonetheless,  the importance of their tastings arises because of the astonishing level of wine commentary on bubbly in New Zealand.  Over and over again technically competent but otherwise quite modest / straightforward methode champenoise wines from Champagne and elsewhere are reported on in prose more encomium than critical assessment.  Far too many 'correct' but simple wines are likely to rate five stars / gold medal,  in the eyes of most New Zealand wine commentators.  It is as if these people never study a line-up of true quality bubblies.  One reason may be simply that one has does have to pay to share good bottles,  something which too many New Zealand winewriters simply will not do.  Sad,  really,  not so much per se,  but for all the people misled,  since the hustler end of the wine retail trade adores these credulous reviews and flagrantly uses them to push ever more 'product'.

Accordingly,  expectations are high for a vintage champagne tasting such as this,  since the 2008 vintage in Champagne has had very favourable reviews.  For most people,  the vintage level is where the best wines should be found.  Prestige champagnes are for those who drink labels,  not the wine,  people who are out to impress,  rather than communicate understanding of the wine.  Wine snobbery is at its most pervasive,  when it comes to bubbly.  At the other end of the scale,  non-vintage wines have improved dramatically in quality over the last four decades.  Some now are routinely as fine as other people's vintage wines.  But even so,  one is looking for that little bit extra in the vintage offering,  and hopefully lower dosage / sugar.

This batch of eight wines gave a pretty good result,  with three simply lovely.  Most were competent,  but magic was lacking in several.


2008  Champagne André Jacquart Grand Cru Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs
2008  Champagne Louis Roederer Brut
2008  Champagne Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut
2008  Champagne Piper Heidsieck Brut
  2008  Champagne Taittinger Brut Millesime
2008  Champagne Veuve Clicquot Brut Vintage
2008  Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs Brut
2008  Pol Roger Rosé Cuvée de Reserve Brut

2008  Champagne Veuve Clicquot Brut Vintage   19 +  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $118   [ standard compound cork;  PN 61%,  Ch 34,  PM 5,  all premier or grand cru vineyards;  5% of the base wine fermented in foudres;  MLF employed;  en tirage c.6 – 7 years;  dosage 8 g/L;  www.veuveclicquot.com ]
Quite a rich lemon,  below midway in depth (of the whites).  Bouquet is simply astonishing,  exhibiting rich mealy ‘fruit’ (yet not fruity in the sense of so many New Zealand methodes) with a depth of autolysis which is classically Le Moulin-quality baguette crust,  but includes a hint of Vogel’s Multigrain too.  Flavour is equally perfect:  a remarkable melding of the constituent varieties with nearly cashew autolysis depth and complexity,  and a richness confirming the wine is all premier cru and grand cru fruit.  Sweetness to the finish is near-perfect at 8 g/L,  a level that pleases many enthusiasts (apart from those subscribing to the latest fad of zero-dosage,  for the snobs).  You can't easily tell from the highly integrated flavours whether chardonnay or pinot noir is dominant,  but Veuve Clicquot is typically a pinot-led wine.  With the depth of autolysis,  it hardly seems to matter.  There was comment that the depth of autolysis added a little bite to the very long finish,  so perhaps it wouldn't be rated so highly by the delicacy brigade.  This wine displays perfectly what yeast autolysis in the methode champenoise class is all about.  And the oak-fermentation in foudre component is a textbook example of how oak should be used in the elevation of serious methode champenoise wines.  Anyone interested in the methode champenoise winestyle must try this …  and secure a case,  for reference.  Cellar 5 – 25 years,  perhaps longer.  GK 05/17

2008  Pol Roger Rosé Cuvée de Reserve Brut   19  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $125   [ standard compound cork;  PN 50%,  Ch 35,  all premier or grand cru vineyards,  + 15% PN as red wine;  all s/s fermentation;  MLF employed;  en tirage 6.5 years;  dosage 10.5 g/L;  www.polroger.com ]
Coppery salmon hue.  Once the gas is settled,  one sniff and this is a pinot noir-dominant wine,  but with remarkable purity of autolysis for a rosé.  All too often,  rosé methode champenoise wines can be a little bit clogged / muddied,  but not here.  The flavour is nearly as rich and complex as the 2008 Veuve Clicquot,  but on a clear-cut red cherry base.  Even when you taste the 100% chardonnay alongside,  it is very hard to single out the chardonnay component in this rosé,  so highly varietal is the palate,  and so lovely the autolysis.  Richness here is as impressive as the Veuve Clicquot.  Even though it has a higher dosage,  because it also has higher total acid,  you simply don't notice.  It tastes much drier than the next sweetest,  the Piper.  Cellar 5 – 25 years.  GK 05/17

2008  Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs Brut   18 ½ +  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $125   [ standard compound cork;  Ch 100%,  all grand cru vineyards,  all s/s fermentation;  MLF employed;  en tirage 7 years;  dosage 8 g/L;  www.polroger.com ]
Clearly the lightest wine,  and the palest hue,  the colour is lemon with a wash of green,  but it does not look weak.  Bouquet is remarkable for its purity, delicacy and subtlety.  The fruit has chardonnay-like characters reminiscent of young Meursault,  and the autolysis component is supremely pure and subtle.  If the Veuve Clicquot is crust-of-baguette with a touch of multigrain,  this is more brioche than baguette.  The wonderful purity continues in the flavour,  suggestions of citrus freshness,  and an apple like sturmer (for example),  just lovely.  Total acid might be slightly low.  This is as subtle as the top two are characterful,  but it is not at all weak.  The third of the outstanding wines.  Cellar 5 – 30 years.  GK 05/17

2008  Champagne Piper Heidsieck Brut    18  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $95   [ standard compound cork;  PN 55%,  Ch 45,  mostly premier or grand cru vineyards;  MLF employed;  en tirage c.6 – 7 years;  dosage 9.5 g/L;  www.piper-heidsieck.com ]
A deeper colour,  one of two wines to be more straw than lemon.  Bouquet is intriguing,  beautifully clean,  nearly floral,  some citrus,  a hint of mandarin,  all suggesting high chardonnay.  The autolysis side is slightly strange at first,  but settles down in glass to be convincing,  improving in mouth to give quite a mealy quality,  a hint of citrus zest,  and trace cashew.  This tasted the sweetest of the eight wines,  but at 9.5 g/L is still within bounds.  A good all-round champagne,  to cellar 3 – 12 years.  GK 05/17

2008  Champagne Louis Roederer Brut   17 ½ +  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $125   [ standard compound cork;  PN 70%,  Ch 30,  37% of the wine is fermented and matured in large oak;  MLF blocked;  en tirage c.4 years;  dosage 9 g/L;  www.louis-roederer.com ]
Clearly the deepest of the whites,  straw rather than lemon.  This is a strange one,  showing quite a lot of character which seems good to first sniff.  Coming back to it though,  you wonder if what you at first pass thought to be autolysis is not in fact just a bit cidery,  a trace of oxidation along the way,  now obscured by the secondary fermentation characters.  Later,  once you find the percentage that is fermented in oak,  you have to think again.  The wine is quite rich,  with good length and complexity of flavour,  dosage middle-of-the-road at 9 g/L.  Like the Taittinger,  the whole thing is clearly premium methode champenoise,  but doesn't quite sing – a bit much tannin.  Cellar 2 – 8 years.  GK 05/17

2008  Champagne Taittinger Brut Millesime   17 +  ()
Reims,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $115   [ standard compound cork;  PN 50%,  Ch 50,  ‘mostly’ grand cru vineyards;  MLF employed;  en tirage c.6 years;  dosage 9 g/L;  www.taittinger.com ]
Good lemon,  right in the middle for depth.  There is a shadow of something in the bouquet which reminds me of shellfish,  and initially detracts very slightly from otherwise clear autolysis on fair fruit.  In mouth the blend of fruit,  autolysis and dosage is harmonious and pleasing,  though the flavours are stronger than some.  The whole thing doesn't quite sing,  you realise after several sips –  trace reduced sulphur somewhere,   I suspect,  but you can't put your finger on it.  With the richness,  the nett result if you are not looking for perfection is pretty good.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  probably to marry up agreeably.  GK 05/17

2008  Champagne Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage Brut   16 ½  ()
Epernay,  Champagne,  France:  12.5%;  $99   [ supercritical Diam 'cork';  CH 40%,  PN 37,  PM 23,  all grand cru vineyards,  all s/s fermentation;  MLF employed;  en tirage 7 years;  dosage 5 g/L;  the website description of this wine sounds superb;  www.moet.com ]
Lemon,  the second freshest.  Back to older times on bouquet here,  a quite clear sacky / wet washing component to the bouquet,  slightly reductive,  reminding of the 1980s.  Below there is fair fruit and autolysis,  but the autolysis is compromised.  Palate is more in line,  fair richness,  some bread crust complexity,  just a hint of a sour note,  on its own.  As the French like to say,  this one needs food.  Cellar 5 – 20 years,  doubtfully.  GK 05/17

2008  Champagne André Jacquart Grand Cru Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs   16  ()
Vertus;  Champagne,  France:  12%;  $99   [ standard compound cork;  Ch 100,  100% barrel-fermented and matured in three-year-old barrels;  MLF blocked;  en tirage c.5 – 8 years depending on the season;  dosage 4 g/L;  cumbersome website – www.a-jacquart-fils.com leads to;  www.couleursdoyard.com ]
The deepest of the lemon-hued wines.  One sniff,  and the wine is clearly from Spain – then you taste it,  despair.  There is no hint of the beauty of chardonnay,  or the subtlety and complexity of good yeast autolysis.  All the components which normally make methode champenoise wines so enticing are here totally drowned / obscured.  All you can smell and taste is oak.  This is a wine made for Krug groupies,  and those whose preferences are shaped by social pressure rather than accuracy of tasting.  What a disappointment.   Otherwise it is pure and technically well-made,  and interestingly dry at 4 g/L.  I suppose it would go with salami or something equally coarse.  Not worth cellaring,  if subtlety and grape character matter to you.  GK 05/17