Last night I had the good fortune of being able to attend a tasting of Champagne and Sparkling Wine at Tilbrook Estate, who produce the Moneypenny Sparkling Wine I sampled not so long ago. It was a lovely evening, and while I won’t give each of the 19 wines the full region, grape, producer, wine treatment, I will list the wines and comment broadly on some of the topics of the evening.
First, the wines:
- Larmardier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Premier Cru (NV)
- Larmandier-Bernier Vieille Vignes de Cramant Grand Cru 2006
- Ashton Hills Blanc de Blancs 2004
- Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition Grand Cru (NV)
- Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru (NV)
- Jérôme Prévost La Closerie Les Béguines Extra Brut (NV)
- Louis Roederer Brut Premier (NV)
- Louis Roederer Vintage 2004
- Louis Roederer Cristal 2002
- Nyetimber Première Cuvée Chardonnay 2000
- Nyetimber Classic Cuvée Classic Blend 2000
- Ridgeview Bloomsbury 2006
- Arras E. J. Carr Late Disgorged 2000
- Croser Late Disgorged 2000
- Chandon Zero Dosage Vintage Blanc de Blancs 2006
- Arras E. J. Carr Late Disgorged 2001
- Tilbrook Estate Moneypenny 2010
- Honey Moon Vineyard 2010
- Ross Gower Pinot Noir Brut 2007
They were arranged in flights of three or four, with the first three being all Blanc de Blancs from growers, which is to say that they were all made exclusively from white grapes (Chardonnay) and were from producers who rely predominantly on grapes they grown themselves. The second flight was three growers Champagnes of Blanc de Noirs, meaning exclusively red grapes, the first two blending Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier and the third being solely Pinot Meunier. Next we had a flight of four wines, then three, but thematically I’ll say we had three English sparklers, and then four late disgorged wines from Australia and one from Champagne. Finally we had a flight of wines that people had brought, two from the producers themselves and one that I brought because I thought the audience would find it interesting.
The audience is worth a quick note. There were about 15 people – enough that that it felt like sociable, but not so many that we needed more than a single bottle of each wine for everyone to get a tasting sample. People fell into roughly three categories: wine makers and trade professionals, Champagne aficionados, and a few civilians. In such company, I hesitate to put myself in the first category, especially when some of the others in it have been making wine or working in the trade for longer than I’ve been alive. The main difference between the professionals and aficionados I put down to focus, in that the Champagne aficionados might be able to describe all the holdings of every great house in Champagne, but might not know a thing about sparkling wine from the rest of France or anywhere else in the world. The winemakers and professionals didn’t have as much detail on Champagne as a region/business, but had greater breadth of knowledge in terms of the greater world of sparkling wine. All in all, a very high caliber group of tasters.
The wines were typically very good. One thing worth noting is that many of the wines were ZD, or zero dosage. In making sparkling wine in the traditional manner, there is a point at which the wine has completed the in-bottle fermentation, been aged, and needs to be disgorged. The bottle will at this point be upside down, and ideally the lees (generally dead yeast in this case) is ready to be removed. The neck of the bottle is typically put in some sub-freezing brine to freeze the liquid and lees closest to the opening, the bottle is turned right side up, the closure (a crown cap often) is removed, the now ice plug of frozen wine and lees is expelled, liqueur d’expédition is added to top up the bottle, and it is corked. Done with machines on a bottling line, this takes a fraction of a second.
I described that process to get to the liqueur d’expédition, the liquid added liqueur d’expédition is more than just a bit of liquid to get the right level. Its content can vary greatly, but it often is a bit of base wine, sometimes things like Port or Cognac, and very often dosage, or a bit of sugar. The amount of sugar can vary from none at all, or zero dosage, to a fair amount. The middle point in between is generally the amount the winemaker thinks is required to balance the acidity of the sparkling wine, not to add any discernible sweetness, though there are sweeter styles of sparkling wine. Many of the wines were zero dosage, which is very fashionable. And at the risk of being unfashionable, I’m not keen. I appreciate that some people prefer the leaner style and think that it allows the quality of the grapes to shine through better, but I found many of the zero dosage wines less full and rounded than I would prefer, and in some cases it made them seem underripe or too acidic for my taste. Still, that I think is down to both personal taste and fashion. It bothered me less with younger wines, in that I think they still had enough primary fruit that it was able to balance the acidity, such as with the Moneypenny 2010 and the Ross Gower 2007.
Many of the wines were a decade or more old, which made for some interesting comparisons. At one end, we had the Arras wines from 2000 and 2001, which I believe both had ten years on lees. Both were excellent, and the age showed through in the autolytic character of complex but very well integrated flavours and a creamy character. In the middle was the Roederer Cristal 2002 which was ten years old, but only spent five of those years on lees. So while it was complex, rich and full, it also had a different array of developed flavours more associated with aged still wine. And at the other end of the spectrum were the two Nyetimbers from 2000.
I don’t have the exact numbers, but they were likely on lees for only a year or two, and have had the remainder of their ageing after disgorgement. [It turns out the Nyetimbers were on lees for at least three, and more likely five years. That's what I get for writing without checking, which is silly when most everything I could possibly state can be verified or disproven online somewhere.] Someone described them as white Burgundies with bubbles, which I think was apt. They were darker in colour, closer to what you would expect from an aged, still Chardonnay, and had more honeyed characteristics.
All in all, a lovely tasting with excellent wines and company. I’ll follow this up with a gallery of bottle shots and a more detailed post about the wine that I brought.