Article

The wonder years

Vintage champagne

With prestige cuvées harder to sell than ever, now seemed the perfect time for Imbibe to take a look at ‘straight’ vintage champagne. Chris Losh joins our tasters several hundred feet above London for a taste of the high life


With champagne sales hardly setting the heather alight at the moment, we at Imbibe figured that now is probably not the time to be taking our semi-regular look at the world of prestige cuvée. Instead, as the festive season approaches, we figured it might be more useful to put the world of ‘standard’ vintage to the test.

Obviously, houses all have different vintages on the market at the moment, but we turned that to our
advantage, by using this as a chance to compare and contrast two of the most widely available: 2000 and 2002. The former was reckoned, on release, to be very good, but marginally less exceptional than the 2002, which attracted near-hysteria in Reims and Epernay.

With a fair bit of age on them now, to go with their reputations, this seemed like a good chance to taste wines that should be delivering decent bang for their buck.


HOW IT WORKED

The wines were split into two flights, according to their vintage. They were flighted in approximate order of weight, with any blanc de blancs tasted first, and weightier examples last. The tasting was, as usual, carried out blind.

Half the tasters began with the 2000 vintage, and half with the 2002. Our tasters were asked to score the wines out of 20, awarding marks for complexity, balance and, if appropriate, food-friendliness. These results were then converted into a total score for each wine out of 100.


TASTING PANEL

Nicolas Angelina, Sommelier’s Friend 
Andrea Bricarello, Galvin La Chappelle
Joris Beijn, Andaz
Giles Fallowfield, champagne guru
Mickael Hannequin, 40/30 Searcy’s at The Gherkin
William Hutchings, The Bell at Skenfrith
Dominic Jacobs, Epernay
Chris Losh, editor, Imbibe
Alessandro Marchesan, Zuma
Thomas Sorcinelli, The Ritz


THE RESULTS

2000 VINTAGE

86 Bollinger Grande Année 2000
Elegant white flowers, with hints of toasted nuts in between. Complex and really rather charming. ‘Very good balance, and a good complex finish. This is elegant and sophisticated,’ said AB. ‘That long finish really tingles on the palate,’ added WH.
£40, Mentzendorff, 020 7840 3600

81 Piper Heidsieck 2000
Rich colour, a delicate nose of biscuits and ripe melon, croissants and beeswax, an attractive mousse, with a nutty finish. Balanced in the mouth, with a good texture. ‘Good minerality – this would pair well with smoked-chicken salad,’ mused DJ. ‘Refined and refreshing – good with seafood,’ said TS.
£41.99, Matthew Clark, 01275 891400

81 René Geoffroy Extra Brut Millésime 2000
Stone fruit flavours, with creaminess on the palate and lingering acidity, this won over the tasters with its mouthfeel and overall structure. ‘So deep in complexity and minerality, with almost perfect texture. Smart, well-defined, just beautiful,’ said MH. ‘This would be good with smoked fish,’ added DJ.
£41.95, H&H Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5470

80 Billecart-Salmon Cuvée Nicolas François Brut 2000
Toasty apricot flavours, punchier green apple notes in behind topped off with white flowers and a good mousse. All backed up with some chalkiness and lightly grilled almonds. Long finish. ‘Needs time,’ mused AM. ‘Has real minerality and will develop nicely.’
£42, Billecart-Salmon UK, 020 8405 6345

80 Gosset Grand Millésime 2000
A subtle, nicely-put-together wine with an ultra-fine mousse. Many tasters
were quick to pick up on the lovely focused purity of its fruit. ‘Very delicate light nose, with good acidity. Creamy and buttery – a lot of elegant Chardonnay in here,’ remarked DJ. ‘It’s not overpowering and nothing is screaming at you,’ added WH.
£38, McKinley Vintners, 020 7928 7300

79 Laurent-Perrier 2000
A balanced nose – crisp and citrusy with lime and grapefruit characters, with good acidity and persistence, intensity on the palate and a floral finish. ‘Lots of life ahead for this one,’ said AB. ‘Acacia, slightly minty. Very refined texture,’ noted MH.
£20.38, Laurent-Perrier UK, 01628 475404

79 Pol Roger Brut 2000
Good buttery toastiness here, with plenty of ripe fruit, but all the way through, taster after taster praised its equilibrium, which is just about perfect at the moment. ‘Drink now... or never!’ intoned AM. ‘Awesome balance between fruit and acidity. Top wine!’ enthused JB. ‘Quite subtle, with a nice honey
overtone,’ added WH.
£32, Pol Roger Portfolio, 01432 262800

76 Charles Heidsieck Brut 2000
Rich, toasty brioche and caramel nose, with a full, complex palate with plenty of earthy red fruit and a muscular palate. ‘Smooth, ripe, round fruits and a light toastiness. Great length,’ concluded
JB. ‘Good mouthfeel – rich but elegant,’ said DJ.
£45-50, details of stockists from First Drinks Brands, 01256 748100

75 Champagne de Castelnau Brut Vintage 2000
Yeasty, toasty nose. Creamy, round and still quite floral with some fresh citrusy acidity. ‘Nice texture,’ said NA. ‘Exotic and lively with beautiful ageing potential,’ commented MH.
£23.91, Patriarche Wine Agencies, 020 7381 4016

75 Lenoble Grand Cru 2000 Blanc de Blancs
Attractive, vinous nose of brioche and summer flowers, that was rather let down by its finish, which tailed off rather. ‘Very ripe white fruit and quite intense palate, but maybe just lacking a bit of finesse,’ said AB. ‘A perfect food Champagne,’ noted MH.
£25.17, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5550

75 Philipponnat Réserve Millésimée 2000
White flowers and tropical fruits on the nose, with freshly cut pineapple and some creamy, leesy characteristics on the finish. ‘Quite appley – this would go well with shellfish,’ commented WH. ‘Lovely developing earthy notes oftruffle,’ added AM.
£30.60, Les Caves de Pyrène, 01483 538820

70 Jacquesson 2000
Quite floral and elegant in style, with a certain femininity to it, despite its tropical fruit palate. This is an undoubtedly good wine, even if it is still rather tightly wound. ‘Savoury, with a crisp finish,’ concluded AB.
£58.85, Fields Morris & Verdin, 020 7819 0360

Also tasted: Pommery 2000


2002 Vintage

88 Joseph Perrier Blanc de Blancs 2002
A lot of chalky crunchiness in here, which won over all the tasters, though most agreed that, for all its honeyed notes it needed a few more years yet. ‘Very Blanc de Blanc,’ admired JB. ‘Good body with welcome acidity. Top wine!’ ‘Nice persistence,’ added TS. ‘Elegant and creamy with very pure fruit. Drinking well, and will improve,’ said AM.
£40, contact Joseph Perrier UK for details of stockists, 01452 812977

88 Taittinger Brut Millésimé 2002
With richness, toastiness and citrus all dialled up to 10 and a palate of dried flowers and marmalade, this doesn’t hold back at all. ‘Full fruity nose. Perfect for food and ageing,’ said JB.  ‘One for the City boys!’ added AB.
£30.60-£32.10, contact Hatch Mansfield for details of stockists, 01344 871800

84 Philipponnat 1522 2002
Intense and aromatic, but with good minerality and actually quite subtle, with myriad layers of fruit and oak all interwoven. ‘This is still young – it needs time to develop,’ said DJ. ‘Good depth of aromas, and the flavours all blend together nicely on the palate,’ added WH.
£40.65, Les Caves de Pyrène, 01483 538820

84 Louis Roederer 2002
A sweet richness to this – caramels and pineapple – but held together with a firm core of citrusy acidity. ‘Lots of good ripe red fruits here. Long finish, butstill young,’ said AM.
£34.19, MMD UK, 020 8812 3380

82 Veuve Clicquot 2002
Powerful nose, with great mouthfeel and lovely frangipane characters coming out on the palate. ‘Would pair well with roast chicken,’ commented DJ. ‘Stylish Champagne,’ added TS.
£47, Moët Hennessy UK,  020 7235 9411

82 Drappier Millésime Exception 2002
A lovely elegant nose, with subtle honeycomb and mineral flavours and a lick of Marmite. A little young still, but beautifully balanced. ‘Excellent on the palate – the acidity blends in beautifully,’ said WH. ‘Vibrant nose, intense but charming,’ decided MH.
£23.47 (2003 vintage), Anthony Byrne Fine Wines, 01487 814555

81 Thiénot Brut Millésimé 2002
Tight mousse, with an elegant and soft nose of pears, peaches and melon and a whiff of expensive leather that pulls it all together on the palate. ‘I love that sweet marzipan finish,’ said AB.
£28.91, Champagnes & Chateaux, 020 7326 9655

79 Mumm 2002
Feminine, flowery nose, with caramel and nuts and a broad, long finish. Quite light-bodied and herbal style. ‘Fresh and crisp, with an interesting mid-palate, it’s complex, but not invasive,’ said AB.
£32.33, Pernod-Ricard UK,020 8538 4484

79 Joseph Perrier Vintage 2002
Gorgeous nose of freshly made bread gives way to crisp white fruits on the palate, then green melons and peaches. ‘I love that texture,’ said AB. ‘It’s rich but not aggressive. Well balanced.’
£32.35, contact Joseph Perrier UK for details of stockists, 01452 812977

78 Lenoble Grand Cru 2002 Blanc de Blancs
A well-developed nose of manuka honey and brioche, though not quite so much on the palate yet. ‘Yeasty and toasty – quite a masculine nose,’ mused TS. ‘Plenty of lime and tropical fruit – this has an elegant, balanced finish,’ said AB.
£35.12, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5564

77 Nicolas Feuillatte 2002 Blanc de Blancs
Quite full and fruity on the palate – complex, with notes of bonbons and candied almonds and a textbook finish of liquorice and stone-fruit flavours. ‘Quite full and intense, with good mineral notes and an exuberant palate,’ remarked AM.
£27.23, Thierry’s Wine Services, 01794 507100

77 Moët & Chandon 2002
Full-bodied and quite well developed, with a rather smoky, malty nose. ‘This could hold up to smoked fish, and would develop nicely with age,’ commented DJ.
£34, Moët Hennessy UK, 020 7235 9411

75 Mailly Grand Cru 2002
Honeyed and quite rich, but subtle, with nice balance and punchy, refreshing acidity. Drinking well now. ‘Apple nose, with sweetness at the back and an apricot stone and Marmite aftertaste,’ said WH.
£27.62, Ellis of Richmond, 020 8744 5564

74 Pierre Moncuit Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2002
Pale, with gentle aromas of passionfruit, but a little green still, and needing time to come together. ‘This needs extra ageing,’ said DJ.
£36, H&H Bancroft Wines, 020 7232 5470

72 Pommery Brut 2002
Pale gold colour, with some aromas of fruit gums, stone fruit and honeysuckle, but both the nose and palate were generally a bit on the thin side.
£37.50, Justerini & Brooks, 020 7484 6400

70 Besserat de Bellefon Cuvée des Moines Brut 2002
Pale, with a decent balance of ripeness and elegance, earthy minerality lifted by a herbal kick – but needs at least two more years.
£35.99 (RRP), Lanson International, 020 7499 0070


NUMBER CRUNCHING

The 2002s had a slightly higher average score – 79 compared to 78 for the 2000s, though the latter’s score did not include the faulty Pommery.

Almost half of the 2002s (7 out of 16) scored more than 80 – a slightly higher proportion than the 2000s.

The 2000s, though, were slightly more consistent – all but two clustered from 74 points to 86; the 2002s were both better and worse. They provided the two highest-scoring wines of the tasting, but rather more at 74 points or fewer. And many of the high marks were awarded with the proviso that the wine still needed further ageing.


Sommelier comments

Thomas Sorcinelli, The Ritz
‘I found a big difference between the two vintages. 2002 was more refined – it had a touch more acidity, so it could last a few more years. You can drink it now or later. I thought the 2000s were a bit tired just by looking at the colour. The 2002 flight

was like a patchwork. When you just try three or four, it doesn’t make sense, but when you taste so many together, it does. It’s a flexible, good-quality vintage, with the potential to age for another three to five years. It’s for people that want freshness now as well as those that want maturity in a few years.’

Andrea Briccarello, Galvin La Chappelle
‘For me, the balance between fruit and oak is important. I was a bit disappointed by the 2000s. I think there were more precious gems in the 2002 flight, with more white fruit and acidity, and they had a crisp, flowery note that makes you want more – a few of the 2000s felt tired and overextracted. With vintage, you want to match it with food, so balance is essential. There were nutty, fruity notes in the 2002s, with melon, cucumber and greengages. In the 2000s, there were more dried and toasted nuts and smoky flavours. 2002 had more consistency, while 2000 was more up and down.’

Mikael Hannequin, 40/30 Searcy’s at The Gherkin
‘I thought the Blanc de Blancs were great – really stunning. In the rest of the flight, some were evolved and ready. There were some that were oxidative, honeyed – wines that aren’t going to go far, but are showing well today. 2000 is ready, and beautiful; 2002 was consistent, but very young, fresh and clean. Maybe after tasting the 2000s they just seemed a bit boring, tighter and more shy. They will age, though – they’re very fresh. I found the 2000s are riper, stone-fruit driven, while the 2002s were more citrussy, zesty, and yet more mineral.’

William Hutchings, The Bell at Skenfrith
‘I thought the tasting was very interesting. Maybe the 2002s needed a bit more bottle age, some
time to blend some of that acidity. There were a lot of apple notes in the 2000s – very enjoyable. I thought they’d be too young, but a lot are drinking very well, and still have plenty of time. I could see these with fois gras, with that bit of acidity. The 2002s maybe need to be left for a bit before pairing them with food.’

Nicolas Angelina, Sommelier’s Friend
‘There was a consistency in the 2002s, and more highs and lows to the 2000s. 2002 will develop better, I think; they have bigger potential. If we tasted them in two years’ time, they would show
better than the 2000s did today. The good 2000s, though, did extremely well, and some had an interesting oxidation – a nuttiness.’

Alessandro Marchesan, Zuma
‘I think 2002 is a better vintage in terms of structure and finesse – it will go further than 2000. The fruits are ripe but delicate, and generally speaking, there’s no sharpness. The minerality expresses itself a lot more on the finish. But the 2000s are drinking well now – creamy, buttery, rich and developed. If you were looking for a vintage to drink now, it would be that one; it’s at its peak. Overall, the value for money was not bad, and it’s interesting for a restaurant to have two different styles of wine that will both deliver well with food.’

Joris Beijn, Andaz
‘2000 was a lot more opulent and mostly drinking well now. For food wines, I’d go with the 2002s – they’d mostly work with fish or white meat. The consistency was there in terms of quality, but you could still pick out house styles, which was good. My only problem is the prices. Champagne is consistently overpriced, and we keep having to drop our margins to sell them at all. It’s ridiculous.’

Dominic Jacobs, Epernay
‘A few of the 2002s were really well developed considering their age, and overall, I thought that a few of the 2000s will develop better than the younger vintage. Generally speaking, I preferred that vintage. It’s drinking better, and it will age as well. I didn’t think the prices were too high, either. Less than £50 a bottle for 10-year-old Champagne is not bad!’

Chris Losh, editor, Imbibe
‘Bar one duff bottle, the quality was very good: significantly better than NV. The 2000 is a cheerful and rounded vintage that is almost impossible to dislike; 2002 is a bit more reserved and elegant.’


Many thanks to Mickael Hannequin and the team at 40/30, Searcy’s at The Gherkin at St Mary Axe, London, who looked after us in style and ensured unparalleled views over London.

PHOTOS: CHARLIE NELSON

Editorial feature from Imbibe Magazine – November/December 2010

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