Sunday, 31 August 2008

Arno's Champagne Tasting - It's a blinder!

My Aussie mate and I are off to Epernay next month so we felt it only fitting to find out a little bit more about the sparkly wonder....Champagne. Who better than to guide us through the basics than the amazing Arno.

From an underground room in the heart of Edinburgh Arno explains the complexities of fermenting, blending and time it takes to produce a fine vintage and the short sharp creation of a sparkling wine. The background over, we move on to the challenge of the evening.

Arno presented Group A, only described as Wine 1 and Wine 2:

Wine 1
To look at: Very pale salmon pink, the mousse dissipates quickly, leaving large bubbles.
On the nose: Fruity, fresh raspberries and strawberries.
To taste: Dry, with balanced acidity, it's light, the strawberry features too. Not great length.
It's a pretty good, fresh tasting wine.
Wine 2
To look at: Pale again but with a coppery tinge. The bubbles are smaller, the mousse stays a little longer than wine 1.
On the nose: Less fruity, crisp apples and toast.
To taste: Very dry, higher acidity, astringent with bursts of crisp apples.

After much deliberation the majority of the group decided that wine 2 was the champagne and they were correct, a wine from Henriot 2002 (£38). Wine 1 being a prosecco from the Veneto region of Italy. Both wines having a time and a place to be enjoyed.

Arno now presents Group B:

Wine 1
To look at: Bright pale golden straw, a few small slow moving bubbles.
On the nose: Buttery toast, yeast and caramel. Hints of honeysuckle and apples.
To taste: Very dry with a burst of fizz. It feels light and elegant coating the palate with crisp apples and butterscotch. It has amazing length.
Wine 2
To look at: It's paler than wine 1 and has small bubbles and lots of them.
On the nose: Not as strong on the nose, grassy, spicy and lemony.
To taste: Burst of bubbles that quickly fade. A slight sweet but bitter after taste, medium length.

We all picked wine 1 to be the champagne, another success for us! Wine 1 being a non vintage Krug (£129) and wine 2, a 2002 vintage from Chapel Down in Kent. With the same soil as Champagne country the Kent area is getting some recognition for it's sparkling wine although personally I'm not sure I 'd choose this one off the shelf.

Onto Group C

Wine 1
To look at: Pale golden straw yellow with a hint of green, a few small bubbles.
On the nose: Quite green/grassy, butterscotch, spicy and smokey. But all aromas quite faint.
To taste: Dry and savoury. Flat, the bubbles don't last. Has a slight metallic/sulphur taste.

Wine 2
To look at: Similar colour, small fast moving bubbles.
On the nose: Delightful on the nose, elegant orangy, lime and vanilla.
To taste: Dry with balanced acidity. But buttery and astringent too. Fizz is long as is the length.

I think this was a pretty obvious one. Wine 1 was Cremant de Limoux, Toques Clochers (£13.99). Wine 2 Champagne from Taittenger (£31.99), a really nice wine for the price.

And finally, Group D
Wine 1
To look at: Very pale, hint of green, lots of small bubbles.
On the nose: Gooseberries, apples and honeysuckle.
To taste: Dry, crisp apples with a sweet finish. Bubbles don't last.
Wine 2
To look at: Golden yellow, few bubbles that don't last.
On the nose: Honey, kerosene, savoury, a bit like sherry almost medicinal.
To taste: Dry, you feel the sparkle on the palate. It's full bodied and has a nutmeg/honey long finish.

Wine 1 was a little disappointing although drunk independently without a Champagne comparison and with a nice piece of fish who knows? It's a Reme More, Creme d'Alsace, it's a Pinot Blanc, a grape that is never going to dazzle. Wine 2 is a 1993 vintage La Grande Dame from Veuve Clicquot (£109). It's the oldest champagne I have tasted and I like how it as developed into a more vivacious, full bodied wine, a real treat.

My favourite? Based on value for money and enjoyment I would choose the Taittenger .

All in all a fun evening with the opportunity to try some great wine and learn a little too.