A Blind Champagne Tasting (Go Costco!)

Posted by | Posted in Wine Reviews | Posted on 02-04-2013

There’s never been a better time to explore Champagne.

For years, the wine market has been dominated by large producers like Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot. These “big houses” purchase their grapes from growers across Champagne and blend their wines to deliver a consistent, high quality product year after year.

These wines are delicious, to be sure. But thanks to wine importers like Terry Thiese, Americans now have access to dozens of Grower Champagnes, which are made by the farmers who grow the grapes.

Just as we understand why an apple grown in Virginia tastes different from an apple grown in Massachusetts, we understand why a Chardonnay produced in Sonoma tastes different from a Chardonnay produced in Napa. Champagne is no different. And Grower Champagne conveys a sense of place — something that large producers simply can’t offer. Plus, for the same reasons food consumers feel better about purchasing fruit at the local farmers’ market, wine consumers feel better about supporting grower-producers.

So over the past few years, wine geeks have become obsessed with “farmer fizz,” going gaga over grower-producers like Agrapart & Fils, Chartogne-Taillet, Egly-Ouriet, Pierre Peters, and Vilmart.

Consequently, many of us — myself included — have lost any reference point when it comes to Champagne. Until this past weekend, I couldn’t tell you the last time I had Veuve Clicquot. I know I’ve enjoyed Moët’s Brut Impérial in the past, but I certainly haven’t advised anyone to buy it.

So, with Valentine’s Day just around the corner, I decided to put together a blind Champagne tasting focused on the brands you can easily find at the local wine shop. We focused on blends, avoiding Blanc de Noirs and Blanc de Blancs. We also avoided anything other than Brut style. We threw Chartogne-Taillet into the mix to see how a popular Grower would do. We also included Costco’s Kirkland Signature Champagne.

Seven of us gathered and we scored the wines on the 100-point scale so we could arrive at a group ranking.

The biggest surprise? Costco. With five first place votes and an average score of 90.3 points, it won the tasting! Pol Roger — the big house Champagne I most frequently endorse — came in last.

Results as follows, with full notes below the fold:

1. N.V. Kirkland Signature Champagne Brut. Group Avg: 90.3
2. N.V. Moët & Chandon Champagne Brut Impérial. Group Avg:89.1
3. N.V. Bollinger Champagne Special Cuvée Brut. Group Avg: 89
3. N.V. Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier. Group Avg: 89
5. N.V. Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Cuvée St. Anne. Group Avg: 88.3
6. N.V. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut. Group Avg: 87.6.
7. N.V. Taittinger Champagne La Française Brut. Group Avg: 86.6.
8. N.V. Delamotte Champagne Brut. Group Avg: 86.3
9. N.V. Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Champagne Blue Top Brut. Group Avg: 84.3
10. N.V. Pol Roger Champagne Brut Réserve.* Group Avg: 82.7

A few important notes:

- We were drinking Champagne, of course, so in the grand scheme of things, all the wines were delicious!

- One of the attendees was Aaron Nix-Gomez of Hogs Head Wine. His notes are already up.

- All the wines were purchased at retail, save for Moët’s Brut Impérial, which was received as a press sample.

Tasting notes and scores (personal and group average) below the fold!

Review: N.V. Bollinger Champagne Special Cuvée Brut
France, Champagne
A blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier. A serious Champagne that’s marked by sweet biscuit along with bright apples, apricots, and citrusy grapefruit. On the palate, the Champagne is relatively heavy — but thanks to zippy acidity, it’s quite vibrant. Quite pure and delicious.
My Score: 92
Group Avg: 89

Review: N.V. Pol Roger Champagne Brut Réserve
France, Champagne
A blend of 33% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, and 33% Pinot Meunier. Very simple. On the nose, not much beyond toast and stone fruits, alongside a hint of lime zest. The palate is quite enjoyable but the wine just isn’t compelling.
My Score: 84
Group Avg: 82.7
*Note that Terroirist Scott Claffee, who drinks quite a bit of Pol Roger, called this out as an off bottle prior to the unveiling. Once the wine was unveiled, he was convinced that the wine wasn’t correct. Because there was some disagreement as to whether the bottle was off, I decided to keep the wine in the running. While not perfect, it was still quite drinkable.

Review: N.V. Louis Roederer Champagne Brut Premier
France, Champagne
A blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 20% Pinot Meunier. A delicate, pretty nose of yeast; bright apples and apricots; orange rind; flowers; and honey. On the palate, a well-balanced, rich Champagne with mouth-watering acidity.
My Score: 93
Group Avg: 89

Review: N.V. Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Champagne Blue Top Brut
France, Champagne
A blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, and 10% Pinot Meunier. The Champagne opens with oxidative notes, butterscotch, apples, waxy apple skin, and biscuits. On the palate, the wine is schizophrenic — as it seems both serious and awkward.
My Score: 86
Group Avg: 84.3

Review: N.V. Delamotte Champagne Brut
France, Champagne, Côte des Blancs, Champagne
A blend of 50% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, and 20% Pinot Meunier. A shy, simple nose of tart green apples with a hint of white flowers. On the palate, the wine is marked by aggressive bubbles. While enjoyable, this seemed more like a Cava than a Champagne.
My Score: 89
Group Avg: 86.3

Review: N.V. Taittinger Champagne La Française Brut
France, Champagne
A blend of 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 10% pinot meunier. Notes of sweet apples dominate the nose — and it’s hard to find much else, aside from a hint of yeast. On the palate, powerful, aggressive bubbles. Enjoyable and refreshing, but not very complex.
My Score: 87
Group Avg: 86.6

Review: N.V. Kirkland Signature Champagne Brut
France, Champagne
A blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, and 10% Pinot Meunier. A rich nose that explodes with toasted biscuits, bright, green apples, rich tropical fruits, lees, and a hint of nuts. On the palate, the wine is equally serious — showing a hint more sweetness than I would have expected. Extremely delicious.
My Score: 93
Group Avg: 90.3

Review: N.V. Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Cuvée St. Anne
France, Champagne
A blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. On the nose, bright pears and green apples, fresh-from-the-oven biscuits, and a hint of slate. On the palate, the wine is equally bright, with strong acid leading to a long finish.
My Score: 91
Group Avg: 88.3

Review: N.V. Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Brut
France, Champagne
A blend of 50-55% Pinot Noir, 28-33% Chardonnay, and 15-20% Pinot Meunier. The nose opens with toasty brioche, fresh McIntosh apples, mangos, and Chardonnay (it almost seems like a blanc de blancs). The palate is creamy and classy, with flavors that match the nose. Very tasty, but not very complex.
My Score: 88.
Group Avg: 87.6

Review: N.V. Moët & Chandon Champagne Brut Impérial
France, Champagne
A blend of 30-40% Pinot Noir, 30-40% Pinot Meunier, and 20-30% Chardonnay.
An extremely bright nose of fresh tropical fruits ( think mangos and papayas), flowers, honey, and yeast, along with a hint of lime rind and charcoal. This would be a delightful summertime Champagne. Please note that this wine was received as a press sample.
My Score: 91
Group Avg: 89.1

Comments (4)

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  2. Two notes on a great tasting:

    (1) It is worth mentioning that the Kirkland Champagne is serious juice, not some industrial plonk. It is produced with care and attention by Manuel Janisson, a well-known Champagne producer with a long history in the region. (As an aside, he’s also a partner in Thibaut-Janisson sparkling wine, the high quality producer of Blanc de Blanc right here in Virginia);

    (2) We drink a lot of Pol Roger in our house. Seriously, a lot. And we both think that was an off bottle on Saturday. This wouldn’t be the first time we encountered something not quite right in the “white foil” bottles. Perhaps they are more susceptible to poor storage than other wines. (Or, the DC distributor is careless, but I don’t want to slander anyone.)

  3. Scott, I agree with both of your statements. I’ve had Pol Roger before and have always been impressed. Before this wine was unveiled, you already said, “This might be an off bottle,” and I’ll take your word that it was an off bottle.

    Here’s my take on an awesome experiment. Thanks again, David, for putting this together: http://isaacjamesbaker.blogspot.com/2013/02/champagne-blind-taste-off-youll-never.html

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