Battleground Champagne: growers v grandes marques

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We taste some of the biggest Champagne grande marques in the world and see how they compare to artisan grower Champagne producers from the same region.  Spoiler alert: the biggest budgets don't always produce the best bubbles. 

The idea for last night’s tasting came about six months ago, at the end of our grower Champagne tasting. Most guests were really impressed with the overall quality of the Champagnes on show, but they were curious to see how they would fare against the Grandes Marques in a comparative tasting. No sooner said than done, there we all were last night, geared up and eager to find out which would come out on top. The line-up included Moët & Chandon, Veuve-Clicquot, Laurent-Perrier, Taittinger and Bollinger for the Grandes Marques and Bérèche et Fils, Agrapart, Chartogne-Taillet, Egly-Ouriet and Dosnon & Lepage for the growers – plus Nyetimber 2003 as a ringer.

The Champagnes were tasted semi-blind in three separate flights according to their style: I told everybody what we were about to taste before each flight, but not in which order, leaving guests to work out which was which and choose their favourite.

 

FLIGHT ONE: LP BRUT, TAITTINGER BRUT RESERVE, NYETIMBER BLANC DE BLANC 2003 AND AGRAPART LES 7 CRUS

 

tasted very different from how I remembered it – it was really quite oxidative and not quite as fresh as it should have been. Sophie Eccles, who works for Nyetimber, was present and said that it didn’t taste as fresh as usual but still, I thought it was interesting because it offered something different. Agrapart was a bit of a let-down. I was hoping it would blow its competition out of the water but, sadly, it didn’t. I still enjoyed it quite a lot – I thought it was complex and long, with real character. It almost reminded me of an Alsace Riesling with its soft, fleshy fruit and crisp minerality.

 

FLIGHT TWO: CHARTOGNE-TAILLET SAINTE-ANNE, BÉRÈCHE & FILS BRUT RESERVE AND BRUT IMPERIAL

Well, one thing’s for sure: didn’t taste so imperial last night. It was the least popular of the three by a distance. Chartogne-Taillet split the room, with some people finding it a bit tough and others enjoying its complexity and character. The 60 % Pinot Noir shone through, bringing structure and presence to the wine, and the low dosage of 4.5g/L meant that there was a lot of tension and purity on the palate (I particularly liked the saline/mineral finish). Everybody seemed to agree on the Bérèche et Fils – it was a little beauty. In fact, I don’t know when I have tasted such a pretty champagne. The nose was very elegant, with delicate lemon and floral aromas, and it had real class on the palate, with just enough creaminess to balance the mineral-driven finish.

 

FLIGHT THREE: VEUVE-CLICQUOT, DOSNON & LEPAGE RÉCOLTE NOIRE, BOLLINGER SPECIAL CUVÉE AND EGLY-OURIET BRUT GRAND CRU

and it was certainly the one champagne where the oak was the most obvious, but it still found a lot of takers in the room. It’s a very serious wine with lots of guts, and I’d be happier to drink it at the table with a meal than on its own at a tasting.

 

THE RESULTS

At the end of the tasting I asked everyone to vote for their favourite champagne of the evening, then their second and third choices. We then allocated each Champagne a score as follows:

  • 1st choice = 3 pts
  • 2nd choice = 2 pts
  • 3rd choice = 1 pt

So here’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for…

Drum roll please…

  1. Bérèche et Fils Brut Reserve with 45 pts
  2. Dosnon & Lepage Récolte Noire with 39 pts
  3. Egly Ouriet Brut Grand Cru with 32 pts
  4. Taittinger Brut Reserve with 32 pts
  5. Bollinger with 22 pts
  6. Chartogne-Taillet Sainte Anne with 17 pts
  7. Veuve-Clicquot with 11 pts
  8. Agrapart les 7 Crus with 8 pts
  9. Nyetimber Blanc de Blanc 2003 with 5 pts
  10. Laurent Perrier Brut with 2 pts
  11. Moët & Chandon with… 0 pts (Oh dear)

So there you have it, grower Champagnes are better than Grandes Marques and that’s the end of it. OK, so it’s not quite that straightforward. But still, these are very interesting results. It shows just how good grower Champagnes can be and what they have to offer.

To follow: a profile of the three best growers of the evening. And for those of you who’d like to see what the fuss is all about, Bérèche et Fils Brut Reserve will soon be available on robersonwine.com and in the shop and should retail at just under £40 a bottle. Don’t hesitate to if you’re interested and we’ll let you know when it arrives.

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