Choice Champagnes – The Best Bubbles of 2012

Thanks to a glut of recent celebratory occasions and the discovery of some quirky Champagne bars while travelling, I’ve probably consumed more Champagne in the past year than in the rest of my days combined. This sort of ad hoc tasting doesn’t lend itself to detailed analysis of the sensory merits of Champagne, but it does allow you to quickly get to grips with those Champagnes that you’d like to drink more often, for the enjoyment Champagne shouldn’t merely be confined to special occasions. Below you’ll find some of the more notable ones I tasted this year.

Billecart Salmon Brut Réserve NV: Fulfilling only one half of that most English of monikers – ‘Billy & Bolly’ – but for my money always the star of the partnership is Billecart Salmon Brut Rosé. While it’s the Rosé that garners so many plaudits for this house, I think the regular non-vintage is fantastic too. Floral with a hint of spice, fine mousse and good length made this a favourite of mine. It’s definitely not as showy as many other NV Champagnes and on first tasting you could easily, but foolishly, consign this to the also-rans. Once it reveals its finesse and elegance you’ll become a devotee.

Champagne PhilipponnatPhilipponnat Royale Réserve NV: I actually only got to taste Philipponnat Champagne by accident this year when a hotel had run out of the Champagne that I had originally ordered; a fortuitous eventuality because I found this Champagne to have a lovely balance between intensity, richness and freshness. A lot more interesting than most NVs that find their way onto hotel winelists, and ahead of the curve in terms of transparency as on the back label you’ll find grape, base vintage, dosage and disgorgement information.

Champagne TaittingerTaittinger Brut Réserve NV: The film should be called “How to destroy a brand image in 10 days”. Thanks to Tesco’s, presumably loss leading, sales philosophy, at varying times over the past 12-15 months, this Champagne could be had for as little as €18.75 per bottle in Ireland when buying a half case (6). How an illustrious house, which produces an exalted prestige cuveé like Comtes de Champagne, could allow a major retailer to devalue the base mainstay of their brand is beyond me but, as long the quality is maintained, I’m only going to complain once I’ve stocked up myself. If you get it anywhere south of €30-€35, and you should because it’s always reduced, it’s pretty good value.

Marie Courtin ‘Resonance’ Extra Brut NV: Grower Champagne is somewhat of a new frontier for me, but many of the examples I tasted in 2012 offered so much more in terms of interest and character than the big houses. This one was another feather in the hat of the minimal intervention, organic and biodynamic devotees – a rich blanc de noirs from a small estate in the Aube.

Champagne TarlantTarlant 1998 Brut Prestige: Last but not least and probably my favourite Champagne of the year; powerful yet balanced, toasty with pronounced minerality, good structure and the extra hint of class that many NVs just can’t attain. Tarlant are of particular interest to me both for their terroir focussed Champagne making philosophies and also their impressive social media engagement – a far cry from many of the old school Champagne houses. I also had the fortune to try the Tarlant Brut Nature NV this year, a zero dosage Champagne that was so precise, vibrant and racy that it could also have merited inclusion here on its own. This is definitely a producer that I vow to further explore in 2013.

Image from www.tarlant.com

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