Is there anything more luxurious than a large format champagne? Our tasters thought there might be, so they put a range of non-vintage magnums to the test in the name of research. Holly Motion reports
Is there anything more show-stopping than ordering a champagne magnum? Fizz might be a more every-day tipple nowadays for many of your customers but ‘I’ll have a magnum of your finest champagne’ is still an expression reserved for the big group celebration or the uber-wealthy.
Niched they might be, but recent stats from the Comité Champagne indicate that production of magnums is on the rise. With this in mind, Imbibe put 19 non-vintages to the test in a comparative tasting to see how the wines stood up – and what impact the larger format might have on their style.
Our sommelier panel were not only looking out for the signature styles of different maisons, but also considering which wines might offer potential for food pairing, as an aperitif or by the glass.
Noelia Calleja, Aster Restaurant; Michael Fiducia, Coworth Park;
Greta Ghiardello, Skylon; Rita Kardos, Gauthier Soho;
Heesoo Kang, Galvin at Windows; Marc Lacroix, Four Seasons;
Seamus Phillips, Temper; Julie Sheppard, Imbibe
How it works
We asked UK agents to submit NV champagne cuvées in magnum format. These could include rosé, blanc de blancs and blanc de noirs expressions. Wines were tasted blind, with tasters only aware of price. Wines were scored out of 20 with the totals then collated to give a final percentage score. All prices given are RRP.
93 Gosset Grand Millésime
‘Full and rich aromas of confit apricots and warm stones leads onto a well-rounded, warming palate with great length,’ MF. ‘Lots going on here: a layered palate with lovely tertiary characters, plus roasted nuts, freshly baked biscuits, fresh pink grapefruit, and candied peel,’ JS.
£84, Louis Latour Agencies, 020 7409 7276
93 Palmer & Co Blanc de Blancs
‘Very complex, delicate, well-structured and balanced,’ NC. ‘Elegant but pronounced aromas of waffle and a medley of stone fruits, moving to a harmoniously rounded palate,’ MF. ‘Super-complex on the nose: nutty, creamy, bready. Well-balanced – amazing!’ HK.
£160-170, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924
91 Billecart-Salmon Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
‘Elegant, fresh, fine,’ GG. ‘Very elegant aromas with persistent mousse,’ MF. ‘Full, developed style, savoury and citrus, layered palate. Creamy and buttery notes balanced by acidity that’s really well managed. A very accomplished fizz – if a little pricey,’ JS.
£160-£170, Berry Bros, 020 7022 8973
89 Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label
‘Very expressive, full-bodied, delicate. To me, it is outstanding,’ HK. ‘Good example for food-pairing. It’s very elegant. Subtle notes of citrus fruits and a touch of orange zest,’ NC. ‘Classy nose of soft stone fruits and crumble mix, with lifted palate of apricot fool,’ MF.
£80, Moët Hennessy UK, 020 7808 4400
88 Deutz Classic Brut
‘Interesting toffee apple nose with red apple aromas. Soft mousse and citrus finish,’ MF. ‘Very easy to drink,’ HK. ‘Very long finish,’ NC. ‘I think it would go well with root vegetables and spicy food. Grilled, slightly gamey meats,’ SP.
£75, Gonzalez Byass UK, 01707 274790
88 Palmer & Co Rose
‘Bread crust aromas, followed by floral perfumes,’ GG. ‘Red fruit-forward. Full-bodied, fruity, nice length,’ HK. ‘Very elegant nose. Great for food pairing,’ NC. ‘Pretty. Sweet and sour cherries, strawberry, raspberry; all underpinned by a persistent mineral note. Lovely fruit. A great rosé,’ JS.
£130, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924
87 Pommery Brut Royal
‘Very well integrated. Quite full-bodied and expressive. I really like it,’ HK. ‘Kind of mineral aroma, with balanced freshness,’ GG. ‘Slight sweetness,’ RK. ‘A comforting nose of citrus and lees; the palate is silky smooth and warming,’ MF.
£75, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924
86 Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve
‘Nice complexity with the aromatics; toasted/roasted notes, nuts, touch of red fruit. On the palate, strawberry note to the fruit here, along with poised citrus; approachable, crowd-pleasing style. Well-balanced acidity and nice persistence on the finish,’ JS. ‘Lovely, buttery, round,’ SP.
£82, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350
85 Ruinart Blanc de Blancs
‘Persistent mousse on pouring and very fresh citrus lead to aromas that are mirrored on the palate with pear and lemon peel/pith flavours,’ MF. ‘Outstanding and full-bodied. I’d love to have an oyster with it. Well integrated and balanced,’ HK.
£132, Moët Hennessy UK, 020 7808 4400
83 Castelnau NV
‘Mellow aromas of peach cobbler with a richness and flavours of apricot and quince. A good amount of acidity and minerality on the palate,’ MF.
£28, Castelnau Wine Agencies, 020 7751 2490
82 Bruno Paillard NV
‘Elegant aromas of pre-baked apple crumble leads to a minerality, soft citrus palate with a pleasant but short length,’ MF. ‘Potential for ageing,’ HK. ‘Loads of butter on the nose, a touch of crisp fruit as it goes on,’ SP. ‘Well balanced,’ NC.
£70-80, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924
82 Moët & Chandon Impérial Brut
‘Surprising finish in terms of freshness and citrus notes. Delicate on the palate. Gentle, with a fresh structure but well balanced,’ GG. ‘Good balance and complexity here. Enticing notes of toasted apricot brioche with a nicely approachable mousse,’ ML. ‘Quite drinkable,’ SP
£72, Moët Hennessy UK, 020 7808 4400
81 Autreau 1er Cru
‘Hazelnut, interesting spice,’ GG. ‘Lovely stone fruit freshness with soft persistent mousse, rounded off with a toasted brioche finish,’ MF. ‘Like a fresh wine with a whiff of salinity; alongside grapefruit citrus on the nose,’ JS. ‘Like the freshness and the minerality,’ ML.
£55, Connoisseur Estates, 01344 862230
81 Gobillard Brut Grande Reserve
‘Mellow but light nuances of fresh brioche. Fresh white peach and toastiness that has moderate length,’ MF. ‘A bit of tart ripe fruit. Lightly dry, quickly drinkable,’ SP. ‘Floral and fruity on the nose and palate. Very good acidity and good length,’ HK.
£53, Enotria & Coe, 020 8961 5161
81 Lanson Black Label NV
‘Very enticing notes of stone fruit and brioche with a touch of citrus peel. The palate is rich, but in balance with the acidity,’ MF. ‘Still young in colour, there is freshness and long length on the palate,’ GG. ‘Great acidity here and zippy bubbles. Saltiness on the finish, which I really like,’ JS.
£65, Bibendum Wine, 0845 263 6924
80 Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV
‘Nice body and texture here; brisk acidity, brisk bubbles. Great palate-cleansing quality. This would be good by-the-glass,’ JS. ‘Nice on its own
or try pairing it with seafood,’ NC. ‘Wonderful nose of apple crumble,
with a very soft mousse. The palate is very elegant,’ MF.
£59, Maisons Marques et Domaines, 020 8812 3380
79 Devaux Cuvée D
‘Nougat notes, some dried apricot/candied peel, ripe citrus and bready hints,’ JS. ‘Nice depth of aromatics. Palate is quite light in acidity,’ MF. ‘Almond and brioche notes,’ NC.
£63, Liberty Wines, 020 7720 5350
79 Thiénot Brut NV
‘Lots of green apple on the palate. Long, dry finish,’ SP. ‘Very refreshing. Good on its own or with food. Well-rounded apricot cobbler palate with a well-balanced finish,’ NC.
£58, Champagnes & Châteaux, 020 7326 9655
77 Canard Duchêne Cuvée Léonie Brut NV
‘Great balance here – no harsh edges. Bright acidity, which supports a clean, nicely rounded palate,’ JS. ‘Crisp and dry start,’ SP. ‘Light, fresh and approachable. Very light palate with short finish,’ MF.
£52, Laithwaite’s, 03330 148168
Tasting such an extensive line-up of magnums was a first for all of our judges and they were unanimous in their praise for the quality of all 19 wines, making magnums a reliable option for lists.
Luxury serve or not, price was important for our judges. The magnums that overdelivered for the price generally scored best.
Magnum sales remain highly niched. Many customers are unfamiliar with the magnum format, so there is plenty of potential for education, inspiration and growth here. Maybe by the glass is the answer…
Noelia Calleja, Aster Restaurant
‘It was such a unique opportunity to compare different styles and approaches to this wonderful wine, and there were really good examples of good value for money.
'Unfortunately, for the moment, Aster is not a venue in which magnums succeed. Our customers go more for champagne or sparkling wines by-the-glass.’
Michael Fiducia, Coworth Park
‘I particularly enjoyed this tasting – it was a rare insight into how they all compete on a level playing field.
'There were quite a few surprises too. Such an interesting exercise, especially in the build up to Christmas. We hold a number of magnums on our list, both non-vintage and vintage, but unfortunately I don’t sell as many as I would like. Maybe Christmas...’
Greta Ghiardello, Skylon
‘I really prefer freshness in the magnums tasted here today. I was very impressed by the quality of the wines and one of them almost reached perfection for me.’
Heesoo Kang, Galvin at Windows
‘I love very full-bodied champagne, especially for food-pairing. I love to recommend champagne with oysters and shellfish or something creamy and refreshing on the palate.’
Rita Kardos, Gauthier Soho
‘I think choosing a favourite champagne is very personal. I’m really drawn to smokiness in champagne and there were a few examples of that style here today.’
Marc Lacroix, Four Seasons
‘Champagne is interesting for the complexity and vibrancy coming through when the wine is young, as well as for ageing in the future.
'We don’t serve that much champagne from magnum, just for private dining or groups when the guests pre-order it. People still do not understand well the difference between magnum and bottle.’
Seamus Phillips, Temper
‘I found the tasting incredibly useful to explore such a range. Tasting the magnums blind kept me from leaning on my opinions or any preconceptions.’
Julie Sheppard, Imbibe
‘Personally, I like the champagnes that have more of an oxidised note with some tertiary character and there were some great examples of that today.
'Quality throughout was high; I think restaurants should consider serving by-the-glass from magnum (assuming they have the volume to make it worthwhile); it makes a real statement and adds a point of difference.’
Many thanks to the team at Le Pont de la Tour, Tower Hill for hosting this tasting and for all their help on the day.