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FICOFI: Champagne Masterclass

November 10, 2019

Comprising some 15,800 growers, of which 4,400 are producers and of which 306 are established champagne houses, the cold-climate region of Champagne is one of the most difficult to understand, complicated further by the fact that most bottlings are blends of meunier and pinot noir, with or without chardonnay, and the grapes may come from a myriad of multi-district parcels. For those with the appetite and aptitude to understand all the intricacies, good for you but for simpletons such as moi, I prefer to concentrate on enjoying the wine itself. For starters, may I be allowed to enter a simple plea that it is high time we start drinking champagne with food rather than relegating it as a pre-meal aperitif which is a total waste of the vignerons’ efforts, not to mention already the sheer scarcity of stuff like Salon and Philipponnat Clos des Goisses. The tasting on this occasion was hosted by FICOFI on 19 October 2019 at 11.00 AM at the Four Seasons, Singapore, guided by Michael Hill-Smith, MW. With generous well-thought pairings that included the fabulous vintages of 2002 (allowing a fascinating side-by-side comparison between Delamotte and Salon, no less) and 2008 as well as a couple of far older vintages, coupled with Michael’s insightful commentary, this was an excellent way to spend a Saturday morning. Merci FICOFI.

Champagne Krug Grande Cuvée Brut NV. Pale luminosity. Lovely deep yeasty and oxidative tones on the nose with a suggestion of zesty lime and citrus. Has that classic Krug dryness, dense concentration and intensity of fruit underscored by a distinctive deeper darker streak of meunier buttressed with great acidity. Good potential complexity. An excellent calling card for this cardinal estate which sources its grapes from more than 240 different parcels to supplement those from its own 20 ha in Aÿ, Le Mesnil and Trépail.

Champagne Egly-Ouriet Brut Tradition NV. Clear luminosity. Compared with the Krug, this wine has a softer, finer and more detailed bouquet with a lifted light floral tone. Shows excellent open concentration and dryness, imbued with delicate minerality, fine acidity and definition throughout its length, finishing with good persistence. Egly-Ouriet’s holdings are all grand cru: 9.5 ha in Ambonnay (79% pinot noir, the rest chardonnay), 3 ha pinot noir in Verzenay and 2 ha pinot meunier in Vrigny. Francis Egly prefers a practical approach to his winemaking, neither biodynamic nor truly organic. Dosage is low.

2008 Champagne Agrapart & Fils Minéral. Very pale, exuding a delicate but layered bouquet. Good depth of clear citrus and lime with a yeasty oxidative trace. Quite seductive. Lovely intensity, structured with well-defined acidity and very fine bubbles. Good gentle finish. A wine of great elegance and finesse. Excellent. The brothers Pascal and Fabrice Agrapart own 12 ha of grand cru mainly in Avize within the Côte des Blancs, comprising 90% chardonnay, 10% pinot noir.

2008 Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal. Good colour. Smooth rounded bouquet, slightly smoky. Excellent concentration of clear citrus, pomelo and white fruits, rather bright with taut lively acidity, complemented with rounded smooth bubbles. Finished with superb youthful intensity. Phenomenal potential. First fashioned for Tsar Alexander II, Cristal quickly became the emblem for flashy jet-setters. Louis Roederer is the first Champagne maison to move into biodynamic viticulture. It is staggering to note that in spite of owning some 240 ha of vines, it still needs to buy in another one-third of grapes in order to fulfil its annual output.

2002 Champagne Delamotte Blanc de Blancs. Still quite light in colour with a floral bouquet. Gently layered. Very fine concentration of delicate green fruits and citrus, highly harmonious and rounded with a sheer sheen of fine bubbles, never too dry. Excellent refinement. May not have peaked. Easily held its own, and more, next to its sister estate Salon of the same vintage. Unfairly snubbed by snobs who only drink Salon, Delamotte may turn out to be a most astute buy in those vintages where its Salon is not declared, as the latter’s grapes will be poured into Delamotte.

2002 Champagne Salon. Good colour. Lovely bouquet, slightly toasty, displaying beguiling complexity with a very delicate lift. Explosive expanse of pears, green apples and complex citrus seamlessly merged with very fine bubbles that traverse the palate with open transparency on a bed of highly refined subtle creamy chalkiness, revealing excellent precision, inner detail and definition. Has superb poise and power, all wonderfully proportioned and balanced. Truly a Salon for the ages. Outstanding. Making only one single cuvée, the S de Salon, only 42 wines released between 1905-2008.

1996 Dom Perignon Rosé P2. This Second Plenitude seduces the senses with a beautiful soft glow of delicate red fruits that leapt from of the glass, distinctly feminine and rounded with a high-toned dryness. Still has a rather full presence though it doesn’t quite plumb the depths, finishing with good persistence.

1989 Champagne Henriot Rosé Millesime, poured from magnum. Beautiful deep golden lustre, proffering aged red fruits and grapefruit amid recessed chalkiness with an unique savoury trace, showing very good concentration and depth of fruit on a bed of understated ferrous minerals and oxidative characters. Still imbued with great intensity and a high-toned acidity. At its best and will still hold for many more years.

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