Ok Champagne, let’s play….the generation game!

Fizzmongers The Finest Bubble put on a memorable tasting last week with Finnish Master of Wine Essi Avellan, author of the excellent Champagne. Essi was there to talk us through a selection of five pairs of vintage wines, from 2012 back to 1983, all sourced and vouched for by our hosts.

The importance of provenance was repeatedly brought up, with the 1983 Charles Heidseick having come directly from their cellars as part of the ‘Collection Crayeres’. It was quite a bottle. 
We tasted sighted. Here are my notes and scores, just tidied up but unedited. These are scores based on how the wines are currently drinking – we scored out of 20 on the night as a group, so I’ve kept it like that here. 
Taittinger 2012
So clean – lemon tart, fresh red apple with dried apple and thyme. Grapefruit peel, a touch smoky. Lovely progression of acid. Subtle but fine. 16/20 
Taittinger 2002 
More tatin, ripe apricot and milk chocolate here. Open and generous with honey, marizpan and touch of pineapple. Showy but has balance and refreshing length. Great 18.5/20
Pol Roger 2009
A bit quiet here – sweet fresh strawberries behind sharper apple notes. Not so much persistence. 15/20 (This seems harsh seeing as I’ve tasted this wine before and enjoyed it. Perhaps it just wasn’t showing so well today?)
Pol Roger 2002
Much more open and fine – ripe apple and toast. Less of the opulent ripe fruit than in the Taittinger – more creamy, with sourdough and hazelnut. Really liked this – it wasn’t especially popular in the group though 17/20
Louis Roederer 2012
After the reserved Pols, this just seemed so expressive. Intense orchard fruit, quite potent with meaty, savoury Pinot in evidence. Still a lot of apple freshness – no malo. Delicious 16.5
Louis Roederer 2002
So controlled and elegant, but with richness in the tank. Quince and baked pear pastries. Sense of fullness on the palate – nice dosage. 18/20
Dom Perignon 2009
A touch smoky/flinty with forward fruit. Still tightly-packed, a little creamy with ripe fruit towards lime/grapefruit/peach. Electric energy on palate, great length and acid persistence. 17/20
Dom Perignon 1996
This is still so youthful. Such depth of creamy, fine bakery aroma, both savoury and sweet. Citrus cake, seville orange and candied fruit. There’s a sense of roundness, then a real rush of acid energy on the palate. Super 18/20
Charles Heidsieck 2005
Meaty, toasty lemon curd, with vanilla and cream. Ripe candied citrus too, and a lovely, textured almond sweetness on the palate. Punchy. 17/20
Charles Heidsieck 1983
This was quite a bottle – jumps up with intense lime curd, toast and sourdough, with ripe notes of honeyed mango and apricot frangipane tart. A real sense of togetherness and richness, with superb length. This bottle has aged magnificently. 19/20
The whole group was mostly in agreement about the top two wines. Dom Perignon 1996 is one of those wines that divides opinion – is it as good as it should be? I can’t say. I don’t think anyone was calling it into question on this showing – this had plenty of gas in the tank. The Charles Heidsieck 1983 was just beautiful, and everyone’s clear stand-out wine.
Essi described how some 2002 wines were showing over-ripeness as they age, with botrytis-like aromas creeping in. I looked down at my notes for the Taittinger, Roederer and Pol Roger 2002s and saw the words ‘ripe apricot’, ‘pineapple’, ‘toffee apple’ and ‘richness’ strewn about. The opulent but balanced Taittinger was my favourite on the day, closely followed by the classy Roederer. I enjoyed the Pol Roger, but oddly enough neither of the Pol Roger wines really sang on this occasion. 
Taittinger’s 2012 was actually very good and I (and the whole group) possibly under-rated it. However the Roederer 2012 was the pick of the more recent vintages for me, including the 2009s. True, I scored Dom Perignon 2009 half a point higher on the day, but I’d probably buy two Roederer 2012s and stick them in the cellar for the same price. 
There are a million ways to run a tasting like this, but I think it was a good idea to do it sighted and ordered in this case. Doing it this way forces you to confront your preconceptions there and then, with glass in hand, rather than just after a big ‘reveal’ at the end. With fine, expensive wines, sometimes the weight of preconception and hearsay can be greater than the weight of actual experience, so here’s to more events like this to help redress the balance!

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