Currently, the warm weather has us searching for the cool and refreshing drink that can provide the best satisfaction while trying to cope in the heat. Assuming that driving or heavy machinery isn't involved, minds may tend to wander towards a glass of cool beer or impure thoughts about cider. Other minds however, will have different bubbles in mind. So when a friend contacted me to ask if I wanted to attend a Champagne and Sparkling wine tasting event, it didn't take too much persuasion.
On the warm and balmy evening of 25 July 2013, Oddbins in Chorlton hosted a tasting of 9 different fizzes from around Europe and Australasia. Sounds expensive doesn't it (and I haven't even told you what the wines are yet) but what if I said that to sample these beauties, it would have only cost you the same as one glass of wine (about a £5). That is great value which ever way you look at it.
Without further ado then...................................................................................................
First off is this light and friendly fizz from Italy. A great wine to start because it's approachability makes it an ideal aperitif, putting it naturally at the front of the queue. The nose delivers generous fresh grape and apple tones and while my tasting buddy, Nic (of @ofmustandmash fame) felt he could detect biscuit, this was too faint for me to care. The taste is everything that you may expect, dry, light, fizzy with small bubbles and a fruit core of grape and overripe pear coming through towards the end. Winner.
Over to Spain for their contribution next; the often understated Cava. Aged for 15 months and a short stay in oak barrels before release, this wine has an immediately noticeable, added depth to the wine before. The barrel influence can be picked up on the nose with an almost subtle waft of smoke combined with a more textured and biscuity aroma. Fruit comes through as cooked apple whereas the taste delivers a more fresh apple taste with a fine acidic finish. Amazing value at the price.
Jansz Rose (Non Vintage) - £15.25
Very popular during the tasting, this hails from Tasmania and is made by Yalumba who mix 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and create this wine in the traditional Champagne method. Noticing the slight rouge tint, I stuck my nose in the glass, only to be greeted by a sweetness that is associated with red fruits. In the end I settled on it smelling like 'Cherry Lips' sweets. The sweetness is not lost on the taste and remains a strong presence on the borders while the great crisp character of the Chardonnay grape asserts more presence. Very pleasing and easy to see why it was so popular; it had something for everyone.
Next, is a distinct climate and hemisphere change. From Kent (UK), grapes are grown on limestone soil, similar to the terra firma in the Champagne region of France. 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier, and upfront this wine has great depth to the nose, very leesy and reminiscent of a good blue veined cheese. Sweet aromatics were also picked up but were difficult to identify. Maybe sweet liquorice or violets. The taste is smooth and textured with a good whack of busy bubbles. The crispness grows to present great acidity with lemon influence. The 'Brut' element living up to it's name.
Philippe Guidon Brut (Non Vintage) - £20
The first Champagne of the night and it did not disappoint. Fresh apple peel with pear peeking round the edges, enforced by biscuity/leesy flavours that provide depth, rather than overtly influencing the aroma. To taste, big lively bubbles help to deliver fresh green fruit, mainly influenced by apples but the acidity and autolytic balance is superb and gives the drinker a great wholesome feel. The aftertaste was markedly lengthy and dry. A tasty Champers, well worthy of the price tag.
Staying with the Champagnes for a while, this is a larger producing house which makes it in the traditional way and once again, calls on all three Champagne grapes to exert their influence. On the nose comes distinct dough with a sweaty (but in a good way), sulphurous edge. Once again, good old apple provides the fruit which sits more in the background on this wine. The taste however, turns this around and presents the sweetness of apple right at the start before immediately giving way to sharper acidity which beautifully balances the texture and taste of light dough and gives a great fresh finish.
Drappier Cuvee Exception 06 - £26
Another small Champagne house that like to keep their prices down to make their product more accessible. Their top of the range Grande Sendree goes for the region of £42 but boasts exceptional vintage quality. On the nose, this was lesser stated and more buttery than the Canard Duchene but comes across with a fresh clarity which helps the apple come through. Apple and gooseberry are on the tongue and the acidity is less pronounced and more subtly balanced. This was my favourite of the night.
Laurent Perrier Demi Sec (Non Vintage) - £39
By far the priciest Champagne of the evening, however, a good familiar and reliable name. The nose delivers smooth mature cheese and mild burnt match. Sounds weird but these are great characteristics. Not particularly fruit driven, mild biscuit or dough added further depth and character. This is a wine that smells of experience. As a demi-sec, this was noticeably off-dry and had a great petrol element to it, similar to some amazing Reislings. The melody of different tastes provides distraction as one flavour gives way to another. The taste is not influenced by fruit but there is a base of stewed apple detectable throughout.
Peter Lehman The Black Queen 08 - £18
The final wine of the night demanded something completely different and Oddbins certainly chose a great talking piece. From the Barossa Valley of Australia comes this sparkling, chilled red! Made in the same Champagne method, this is made from Shiraz grapes and the different approach certainly brought interesting flavours and split opinions. On the nose it comes across as any typical Shiraz, with deep dark and red fruits and a slightly aromatic wood finish. The taste is a full blown assault on the senses. The dark fruits are lifted by the bubbles but this is by no means a light drink. There is great depth into the dark red berries and cassis before providing a peppery finish. This wine brought confusion to the tasting as people battled with what their brains were used to in a sparkling wine (and a Shiraz) and resulted in people deciding it wasn't for them. On balance however, there were those of us that thought this was a great drink and happily finished off the sample. One thing is for sure though, bring this to a party, it is guaranteed to turn heads.