English fizz trumps champagne in blind tasting - Jancis Robinson

 
English fizz trumps champagne in blind tasting - Jancis Robinson
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Written by
 Jancis Robinson
14 Jul 2016

English fizz trumps champagne in blind
tasting

14 July 2016 To complement all our articles about sparkling wines and champagnes this week,
and as a rather cheekily English celebration of Bastille Day, we are publishing this tasting report
from last October free for all as part of our Throwback Thursday series, with a few added links to
more recent relevant restaurant reviews by Nick. See also An awfully big English adventure.

29 October 2015 We are publishing this article, scheduled for tomorrow, because the Daily
Telegraph website staff have jumped the gun and published Victoria Moore's report of the
tasting results already.

On Monday 28 September my morning newspaper was full of lurid pictures of an anarchist group
throwing red paint and abuse at an outfit they had decided exemplified the wicked gentrification
of East London. I would have thought estate agents' offices a more suitable target than the
crowd-funded Cereal Killer Café set up in Brick Lane by the affable-looking (and of course
bearded) Keery twins, but I did feel a twinge of concern as I was due to spend the morning in
The Marksman gastropub in the deepest East End blind tasting champagne – and benchmarking
English sparkling wine against it.

As it happens, there was indeed a bombshell at the tasting, but it was metaphorical. English fizz
won.

I have been sworn to secrecy about the results of this tasting until now because it was
organised by Dan Keeling and Mark Andrew of the estimable new(ish) Noble Rot magazine, a
deserved winner at the recent Louis Roederer international wine writers awards, and they
wanted to be able to report on the event themselves without being scooped weeks before.

The blind tasters were not just us three (The Marksman staff kept track of what was what) but
three more potential embargo-breakers – Jamie Goode of wineanorak.com, Neal Martin of
erobertparker.com and Kate Spicer of The Sunday Times – as well as eminent tasters from the
food and restaurant world: French sommeliers Raphael Rodriguez of Fera, Xavier Rousset ex
28-50 (now Blandford Comptoir) and Fred Sirieix of Galvin; Ruth Spivey of Wine Car Boot fame;
chefs Stephen Harris of The Sportsman (who is advising on Noble Rot's wine bar in Lamb's
Conduit Street) and Mikael Jonsson of Hedone; and cheese expert Patricia Michaelson.

We tasters certainly hadn't been chosen for our partiality for English wine and, unbeknown to all
of us except the Noble Rot duo, the odds were stacked in favour of champagne because of the
dozen wines presented to us, eight were some of their favourite champagnes and only four had
been grown in England's pleasant land, four of their favourites. There turned out to be three big
champagne brands and five growers' champagnes and I was told beforehand that all the wines,
champagne and English sparkling, sold in the same price bracket, roughly £30-40 a bottle retail.

Before we were served four flights of three wines each, in completely random order as you will
see, we were told by the Noble Rot team, 'we're not looking for identification, just quality
assessment', but of course it was very difficult not to try to work out the provenance of each
wine. I had assumed there would be six of each but was a bit surprised not to find six likely
English candidates among the wines served, in Zalto Universal glasses. I found four, of which
three seemed to me to be very good and possibly English (they were). Our bottle of Berèche
was so odd that I meanly wondered whether it could be English. But what thrilled me was that
the best English wines were (a) so good and (b) pretty obviously English.

The best English sparkling wines have always been very well made, and have always been very
fresh and clean. What they have for long seemed to lack in general is complexity, but the two
favourite wines of the group were both English and were very fine by any measure.

My favourite two wines overall were this particular cuvée of Veuve Clicquot NV (not popular with
most tasters) and Wiston Estate with 17.5 points each. But I gave 17 points, my next highest
score, to the other three English wines, including the overall winner Hambledon, from the first
English vineyard of the current era and the first one I ever visited, back in 1976, as well as
bottlings from Gusbourne and Nyetimber. This was a sterling performance by the small English
corps (which could have been chosen from many more top-notch contenders), and a rather
disappointing one by some of the champagnes.

Here are the group totals, winning wine at the top:
Hambledon, Classic Cuvée NV England                                          178.5 points

    Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée Brut 2010 England                                   175 points

    Pol Roger, Réserve Brut NV Champagne                                         173.5 points

    Taittinger, Réserve Brut NV Champagne                                        173 points

    Bérèche & Fils, Réserve Brut NV Champagne                                    167 points

    Wiston, Estate Cuvée Brut 2010 England                                       166 points

    Frerejean Frères, Brut NV Champagne                                          165.5 points

    Marguet Père et Fils, Extra Brut Premier Cru NV Champagne                    164 points

    Gusbourne, Réserve Brut 2010 England                                         160.1 points

    Chartogne-Taillet, Ste-Anne Brut NV Champagne                                160 points

    Veuve Clicquot, Yellow Label Brut NV Champagne                               159 points

    Savart & Fils, L'Ouverture Brut NV Champagne                                 150.5 points

The 12 wines are listed below in the order and the flights that they were tasted in.

FLIGHT 1

●    Chartogne-Taillet, Ste-Anne Brut NV Champagne Tasted blind. Came 10th out of the 12 wines
    in the tasting. Greenish gold. Steady bead. Light nose – not much autolysis. Masses of acidity
    and quite youthful and almost lemonade-like. Very well made. Clean and a tad green. Super
    fresh. Not much finish. Drink 2015-2019
     16
●    Bérêche & Fils, Réserve Brut NV Champagne Tasted blind. Judges' fifth favourite out of 12.
    Pale coppery pink. Frothy. Strange nose more reminiscent of Edinburgh rock than wine.
    Attractive, non-aggressive frothiness. Green acidity on the end. Odd nose and colour put me
    off. English? Drink 2016-2018
     15
●    Marguet Père et Fils, Extra Brut Premier Cru NV Champagne Tasted blind. Came eighth out of
    12 in the tasting. Deep pinkish gold. Savoury nose suggests champagne. Mouthfilling mousse
    and lots of Chardonnay crispness but the breadth on the palate is really satisfying. Drink 2014-
    2019
     17

FLIGHT 2

●   Veuve Clicquot, Yellow Label Brut NV Champagne Tasted blind. Came 11th out of 12 in the
tasting. Pale straw gold. Light, complex nose. Good savour. Some smokiness. Really neat and
    tight. Lots of potential. Some appley acidity and really clean on the end. Very complex on the
    end. Full of vitality. One of the most youthful wines in this dozen. Delicate bead. Drink 2016-
    2020
     17.5
●    Pol Roger, Réserve Brut NV Champagne Tasted blind. Overall the judges' third favourite out
    of the 12 wines. Pale greenish gold. Not much nose. Off-dry start. Then some evident acidity. A
    bit sweet and sour. Well made and assertive in terms of structure. Clean and neutral. A tad
    stolid. But good length. Quite a sturdy champagne. Just a bit sweet and sour.Drink 2015-2017
     16
●    Gusbourne, Reserve Brut 2010 England Tasted blind. Came ninth out of 12 wines. Pale
    pinkish gold. Lots of froth. Very light nose. But very delicate structure and well built and
    blended. An edge of elderflowers - may mean English - if so, it’s an excellent one. Extremely
    flirtatious Extra Brut style. English?Drink 2015-2019
     17

FLIGHT 3

●    Hambledon, Classic Cuvée NV England Tasted blind. Scored overall highest of the 12 wines in
    the line-up by 3.5 points. Pale straw gold with a tiny bead. Lots of savour and even a hint of
    oak. Dense and tense. Really tart but impressive. This could be a very good English with all
    that acidity. It has masses of fruit and the start of some complexity. Is this Nyetimber’s top
    bottling? Bracing! Like a seaside walk. Could be a very good English.Drink 2015-2020
    £120 per case of 6 ib Atlas Fine Wines 17
●    Savart & Fils, L'Ouverture Brut NV Champagne Tasted blind. Lowest overall score of the 12
    wines in the blind tasting. Pinkish deep straw. Very tiny bead. Malic nose. Very demanding. Not
    much interest. A bit coarse in texture. English? Drink 2017-2018
     14.5
●    Wiston, Cuvée Brut 2010 England Tasted blind. Overall score placed it sixth out of 12 wines in
    the tasting. Tiny bead and a fair degree of froth. Light, floral nose with a hint of putty. Layers
    of interest. Clean and green but with an undertow of seriousness. Very racy. Very youthful.
    Quite sophisticated. Could be a very good English.Drink 2016-2021
     17.5

FLIGHT 4

●    Nyetimber, Classic Cuvée Brut 2010 England Tasted blind. Overall the judges' second-
    favourite wine. Pale straw gold. Mid-sized bead. Rather broad and friendly on the nose. Golden
    on the palate. So easy to like! The acid seems much less evident than on most of them. Open
    and ready. This was the most evolved wine and least tart wine of the lot, so not obviously
    English! Drink 2013-2017
     17
●    Frerejean Frères, Brut NV Champagne Tasted blind. Came seven out of 12 wines. Mid coppery
    gold. Rather beery, even old nose, hugely developed. Less appetising than most of these.
    Round and burnished. Slightly burnt finish. Good balance but rather timid. A bit heavy. Drink
    2013-2016
     16
●    Taittinger, Réserve Brut NV Champagne Tasted blind. Overall score placed it fourth out of 12
wines. Light straw. Sweetish nose – one of the few! Candied violets on the nose. Light and off
dry. Quite chunky, lime-marmalade impression. Not much undertow. Good texture and
refreshment value on the finish. A little chew on the end. Lots of acidity underneath. Drink
2015-2018
 16
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