A journey across three centuries of top champagne: 1890 to 2004

Pekka Nuikki as editor of FINE magazines, founder of Tastingbook, wine investor and prodigious author needs little introduction to those with an interest in fine wines. Above and beyond his obvious abilities, Pekka has a real talent for bringing together ultra-rare wines in unique settings which makes for some truly memorable tastings.

Performance

Tuula’s prelude to Krug ’59!

Clos & Cru, given our passion for champagne was delighted to be invited to a recent event in Helsinki. The tasting was held at the FINE Magazine studio in the heart of the city, a handsome airy room, illuminated by the summer sunshine. We arrived early, straight from the airport, and were welcomed with a glass of 2006 Beaumont de Crayeres Rose. As the rest of the guests arrived a glass of 1996 Duval Leroy, Cuvee Femme in magnum was offered to calibrate our palates for the day’s tasting ahead.

All wines during the tasting were served blind, however Pekka did give us tantalizing hints to point us in the right direction. The only information he gave us about the first flight was that the oldest and youngest wines had 40 years between them!

1st Flight
1966 De Saint Gall, Cuvee Orpale Blanc de Blancs 1er Cru – 92 points
Made by a top Cote de Blancs co-op. Subtle aromas of dried fruit peel on the nose. Fresh on the palate, with minerality, some toasty and forest notes.

1923 Moet & Chandon Dry Imperial – 92 points
This wine smelt of dry pine bark, walnuts and rich fruit cake. The palate was slightly lean but with a fresh acidity and notes of a top class Sercial Madeira.

NV Moet & Chandon (1890’s) – not scored
Sherry–like nose, lean, austere, and completely oxidized

2nd flight
Our second tasting flight was accompanied by a performance of five songs on the piano. We had been advised to continue tasting during the recital, but it was hard to focus – even on 1959 Krug – with such a captivating performance taking place just meters away from you.

1959 Krug – 97 points
Incredibly complex, smoky, floral nose – concentrated with notes of petrol. It was slightly more closed in the mouth and felt a little lean to start, but it just needed more time to show its full potential. One of my all-time top ten wines.

1952 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses – 90 points
A complex nose of prunes, walnuts with a touch of tobacco. Slightly austere on the palate with bitter smoky notes. The bottle wasn’t in perfect condition despite coming directly from Philipponnat.

1937 Perrier Jouet – 93 points
Lovely aromas of bark, cigar box and prunes. Fresh precise acidity and a long finish.

3rd Flight
1979 Heidseick Monopole Diamond Blue – 93 points
This champagne was incredibly floral with notes of rose petals. It was precise and mineral on the palate, delicious although it slightly lacked concentration.

1969 Mumm Rose – 96 points
A wonderful nose rich and earthy, showing impressive depth and concentration. The palate was equally impressive – ripe strawberries and cream, mature notes and a long finish.

1981 Taittinger Collection – 88 points
Developed, notes of chestnut and rye bread, a little lean on the end.

4th flight – a trio of roses
1995 Dom Perignon Rose P2 – 95 points
Austere to start, with herbal notes, lavender and long finish. It took time to open up but when it did it was marvelous.

1990 Veuve Clicquot Cave Privee Rose – 94 points
In comparison to the DP it had so more mature notes – dried apple, chestnuts, and delicious finish.

2004 Cristal Rose – 96 points
Renowned for its delicate pale salmon colour, but this doesn’t mean it lacks power – a wonderful purity of fruit balances the intensity and makes this a real wow wine!

5th flight
1964 Dom Perignon – 97 points
Stunning – complex aromas of nuts, earthiness and dried mushrooms. A long finish with fresh acidity.

1955 Maxim’s – 92 points
Maxim’s in Paris was a byword for celebrity and style from the mid twentieth century – it tells you something that their house champagne was produced by Salon. This bottle had a smoky nose with sweet vegetal notes. These flavours were even more pronounced in the mouth.

NV Ritz (1960’s) – unfortunately corked

6th flight
1964 Bollinger – 95 points
Sweet aromas of chestnut, dark chocolate and molasses. The palate was round and powerful with cinnamon and caramel. Medium acidity and long finish.

1929 Ruinart – 83 points
Interesting – more like Madeira than champagne

1914 Joseph Perrier – 90 points
A lovely creamy palate with dry floral and apricot notes – a stunning champagne for its age.

7th flight
1998 Dom Perignon P2 – 91 points
Lean and austere but elegant – closed on the nose and palate. Slightly disappointing as the original release of 1998 was much better, time will tell if this improves in the bottle.

1988 Philipponnat Clos des Goisses – 97 points
Huge concentration of fruit, powerful and intensity with some petrol notes. Balanced in the mouth with fresh acidity and concentration of fruit. A long and complex finish.

1996 Cristal – 94 points
Very slightly corked but still what a powerful wine. I can’t wait to taste a perfect bottle!

8th flight
2005 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rose – unfortunately corked

1995 Salon – 92 points
Elegant and restrained with notes of marzipan and honey. Palate is attractive but lacking concentration.

1996 Krug Clos du Mesnil – 96 points now, with huge potential ahead
A steely minerality on the nose, smoky notes and a powerful undertone of oak. A complex palate with high but balanced acidity and oaky notes – just a baby at this stage.

NV Selosse Exquise – 94 points
Textbook Selosse nose – like entering a Middle Eastern market – rose petals, honeycomb, cinnamon, apples, candied fruits… On the palate it was rich and spicy with a long finish.

The after party
The official tasting was finished but the mood was so buoyant a number of the guests decided to continue for one more drink. I was in two minds, should I quietly digest the stunning set of wines I had tasted or should I join them at Muru Wine Bar? I decided to be sociable, and I was so glad I did.

“One drink” never quite turns out that way, the seven of us took it in turns to choose a wine from the menu and the sommelier decanted each one and served it blind.

Afterparty  bottles

The impressive line up at Muru

The first wine was chosen by Essi Avellan MW – it was not surprising that this renowned champagne critic and author chose a champagne and it was stunning.

2000 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne – 96 points
Oak is very evident even though lightly used – intense, complex and powerful but with a commanding regal elegance. Needs to be decanted for 2 hours to show its full potential.

2011 Gevrey Chambertin Clos St Jacques, Armand Rousseau – 92 points now
Quintessentially elegant: the palate not yet delivering the promise of the nose but it is young and will develop and blossom.

Then came my turn, how could I keep the momentum up? I decided to try a Barbaresco, to compare with the Burgundy, and to be really sure I took the “phone a friend” option and consulted my good friend and colleague Rostislav who knows the area well.

2004 Barbaresco Vigneto Starderi, La Spinetta – 92 points
Initially the nose could have been mistaken for top class Burgundy, but gradually the Piedmont power and intensity emerged. Still youthful with edgy tannins and ripe cherry fruits. A great counterpoint to the elegant Rousseau.

2010 Chablis Butteaux, Raveneau – 95 points
An absolutely stunning wine, the oak backed up with fruit and a long finish. This is the best Chablis I have tasted in years, expensive but worth every penny.

2004 Musigny, Comte de Vogue – 92 points
Super concentrated dark berry aromas with huge depth. Slightly stalky and austere on the palate, but with lovely dark fruit. Will it improve?

1998 Billecart Salmon Alexandra Rose – 93 points
Concentrated red fruit mingled with smoky mineral notes. Powerful, you could almost detect tannin. A bitter pip aftertaste brought down the overall score of this wine.

A truly educational drinking game!

And what could I conclude after these two epic tastings?

  1. Champagne has an incredible and often overlooked ability to age – The 1959 Krug and 1964 Dom Perignon were mind-blowing, but even 1937 Perrier Jouet it was still alive and kicking.
  2. You can decant champagne – this tasting demonstrated that even older vintages can benefit from this
  3. Blind tasting – the ONLY way to avoid the reputation of a wine clouding your judgment! As demonstrated by my beloved Musigny, Comte de Vogue.
  4. Reputation is earned – there is a reason that certain wines from particular vintages are fêted and command high prices – they deliver the goods. When tasted blind they shine among their less prestigious neighbours.

A big thank you to Pekka for arranging such a memorable tasting and to Tuula for the wonderful musical accompaniment – undoubtedly one of the best tastings I have ever attended.

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