Our Grey Lynn store was overcome with customers the other Saturday. We’d like to think it’s because we’re so popular.
But it might have been something to do with the free sandwiches of tender smoked brisket we offered – prepared over many hours by Ryan Clarke, the ‘Pit Boss’ of Miss Moonshines barbeque restaurant. Ryan backed into our carpark with such an impressive smoker-trailer that every male had no choice but to shuffle over and watch it getting fired up – all trying to think of technical questions that would sound sensible (while not appearing to be gutted with jealousy).
Oh, we also opened sixteen sparkling wines for tasting, so this too contributed to the crowds that day. Yes sixteen bubbles were opened: it was such an effort, as you can imagine. A full ten of these wines were Champagnes – including three vintage Champagnes. So it was an opportunity for our hard-working customers to get down to brass tacks on their choices for summer bubbles.
But not everyone could be in Grey Lynn that day, so we thought we’d offer due diligence on how they all tasted and compared – perhaps giving an inside look at the value sweet spots.
Stars in value were the Prosecco, the sparkling Vouvray and the exceptional Champagne Beaumet NV and Rosé. Also standout were the ever-classy Laurent-Perrier NV – which we are discounting heavily – and their vintage ‘Millesime’ 2006, also discounted. These wines appear below with stars next to the name, along with the full tasting notes from the day – so those who were absent can eke out some benefit from our labours.
While most of the bubbles were yeasty and Champagne-like, the natural order of tasting began – and ended – with two cleaner tank-fermented wines from Italy.
* Ora Prosecco, $21.99
The Ora Prosecco is crisp and clean, with peachy citrus and florals poised in a mousse that is perfectly elegant, light and dry. Ora’s low price is higher than some very ‘ordinary’ Prosecco. But other products out there are usually labelled ‘Extra Dry’ – which in Prosecco terms means, oddly, just off-dry (slightly sweet). Don’t be fooled, Ora is properly dry and therefore labelled ‘Brut’ (the driest and most serious designation for Prosecco). Ora is also distinguished as ‘Prosecco Superiore’, meaning it originates in Conegliano-Valdobbiadene. Don’t worry, you don’t have to say the name, it’s just the elevated ‘classico’ territory of Veneto where the Prosecco is no less delightful, but is also officially considered ‘serious’.
Cogno Moscato d’Asti, $29.99
The Moscato d’Asti was the last wine you’d want to taste in a bubbles line up, not because it isn’t delicious – it is outrageously so – but because it is sweet. But as a consequence the alcohol levels are incredibly low – 5% by volume. With bright acidity giving perfect balance, this light-bodied and fresh frizzante is the perfect thing with salmon blinis on Christmas morning, or for sun-struck refreshment later in the afternoon. Not to be confused with the mass-produced bubbles from Asti, this is proper “Moscato d’Asti” made – as many of the best ones are – by one of our top Barolo producers, Elio Cogno. There may be some who read this and still think sweet sparklers are bad: it is a well-known condition affecting a large part of the population. The only permanent cure is two glasses of this gorgeous stuff.
The term ‘Methode Traditionelle’ means any wine made outside Champagne according to the Champagne method – i.e. still wines made bubbly and yeasty by a second fermentation in bottle. The Methodes all showed well next to the ‘real’ Champagnes. But compared to Champagne every region is warm, so the fuller fruit of many Methodes add riper flavours to the style’s bready yeast and fresh acidity.
Highfield ‘Elstree’ Cuvee Brut 2010, $29.99
A clean and fruit-forward style, long deep citrus flavours were rounded nicely by the 6 years of age since harvest. Great balance and Marlborough’s bright, concentrated fruit made this quality bubbles still youthful, but beautifully tempered.
Highfield Cuvee Rose Brut 2008, $29.99
A smooth and elegant, slightly savoury rose bubbles – this one was nicely softened with 8 years of age. Slightly copper-toned fruit and a gentle, layered finish make this classy and moderately complex choice a unique option in Kiwi bubbles.
* Bernard Fouquet Vouvray Brut, $29.99
One of the stars of the day, this Methode from France’s Loire Valley shows why Chenin Blanc makes such great bubbles. Though still a cool climate, the Loire’s warmth relative to Champagne showed up as beautiful lashings of ripe tree fruit, while the grape’s fresh acidity and ability to convey minerality keeps this mouth-filling wine on it’s feet. With fruit deeply wrapped in yeasty and oyster shell complexity this is a satisfying, complex and complete Methode – showing why Loire bubbles are flavourful competition for Champagne.
Ronco Calino Franciacorta, $39.99
Bubbles from Franciacorta in Lombardy are, unlike Prosecco, made in a Methode Traditionelle style. Some degrees warmer than Champagne, we expect to see a wine less purely about yeasty winemaking influence and more about fruit ripeness, roundedness and flavour. The Ronco Calino has that quality in spades: a full mousse carries ripe tree fruit and citrus pith characters to a big, toasty, nutty, brioche finish. Made with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, this has all the structure and finesse of Champagne, just with a much more generous and compelling palate.
* Beaumet Brut NV, 39.99
A super classy drop from the Laurent-Perrier stable, this proper Champagne is our own import and enjoys a soft, fluffy mousse balanced with elegant fruit and bready roundness. A gentle yet perfectly complete wine, for less than $40 it was not the most long and concentrated of the Champagnes. But it was one of the most effortlessly pleasant and ready to drink now. Superb value.
* Beaumet Brut Rosé NV, $44.99
This exceptional wine won the coveted spot for number one in Cuisine magazine’s tasting of Champagnes under $100. A light colour and restrained Pinot fruit exerts subtle power over this balanced, stately bubbles. A sense of body is coupled with perfect refinement, making this a must for any serious Champagne aficionado, in addition to being a Rosé-lover’s delight.
Beaumet Brut Vintage 2012, $49.99
This new 2012 wine has just arrived, from a vintage Jancis Robinson calls “exceptional” and “exemplary”. It is certainly concentrated, with racy citrus giving a core brightness to the wet minerals and background yeast. It has greater depth but behaves in a cleaner and fresher way than the more bready, more mature NV bottling. As the youngest vintage Champagne on the day it was refreshing now, but with serious potential to improve. And as the cheapest by far – almost half the price – it was a no-brainer for the cellar or summer aperitif.
Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut NV, $58.99
This wine was the first NV Champagne to be made in a dry style, and it remains a super-elegant, pretty and delicate style. A decent amount of the Pinot fruit includes Pinot Meunier, giving the wine a soft, fruity and floral nature – which is completed beautifully by gentle biscuity yeast. One of the lightest Champagnes, it was possible to overlook among the more showy wines. But this easy nature was favoured by some, a product of perfect form and gentle harmony as an aperitif Champagne.
* Laurent-Perrier Brut NV, $53.99
In an uncommon house style dominated by Chardonnay, the Laurent-Perrier was one of the picks of the day. Lemony citrus flavours are classy yet vibrant, with a length and presence on the palate that holds in place the other mineral and brioche notes. Expressive yet restrained, this is a sophisticated Champagne from the cleaner, aperitif end of the spectrum. A lot of people loved it and our special price of $53.99 (down from $90 odd) made it one of the day’s big sellers.
Ruinart Blanc des Blancs NV, $89.99
One of the stars of the show for style, the Ruinart Blanc des Blancs was the only 100% Chardonnay on offer. It was a bubbles that really tasted like Chardonnay: vibrant green apple and citrus filled the mouth with an expressive juiciness and breadth that felt very wine-like, delicate yeast and fine bubbles in the background. This distinctiveness had a kind of X factor or charisma – making this lesser known, connoisseur Champagne a paradigm-changer for first time tasters and new fans.
Taittinger Brut Reserve NV, $62.99
This classic bubbles showed beautifully but come across as notably richer and fuller on the palate than the others. Ripeness and generosity of citrus and stone fruit (and a little more dosage?) seemed to place it on the upper end of the Brut spectrum, balanced by mellow yeastiness and toasty notes against a less overt acidity. With great depth and roundness in a layered, non-linear style, this was a winner for those who find many Champagnes too crisp or harsh.
Veuve Clicquot Rosé NV, $79.99
This Rosé was admirably ‘serious’ and very similar to the Beaumet in elegant styling. At this much higher price the bubbles might have been slightly finer and more persistent. But the concentration and quality expressed itself in a comparatively youthful and austere feel, with a long dry finish in which tart fruits, biscuity yeast and salivating acidity were each impressive – but still in the process of melding together. Serious wine, but the Beaumet Rosé was more harmonious and ready – for much less money.
Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2008, $89.99
Very much like the Rosé, this vintage level is a far cry from the ‘yellow label’ NV that Clicquot is known by. A deeply concentrated and properly dry style, the finish was long, focused and salivating. But like the Clicquot Rosé there was a sense of yeast being over here, fruit over there and austere acidity underneath. As a wine to age it had obvious clout and potential – especially on such a heavy discount. But for drinking now in vintage bubbles the Beaumet has just as much freshness, while the Laurent-Perrier Millesime had more roundness, harmony and integration.
* Laurent-Perrier Brut Millesime 2006, $84.99
Usually well above $100, the discounted Laurent-Perrier showed its supremacy and class, in a vintage that we seem to particularly love for Champagne – 2006. With excellent depth and a yeasty profile that was beautifully integrated yet dry and biscuity in character, this was a wine in which the paradoxes of great Champagne – power and breadth with fine elegance and focus – were consummately on show. With equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it had more weight and yeast-derived character than their house NV, as well as more restraint in fruit expression. But it also had huge depth and presence, with the sheer sophistication and completeness of the style earning it the top spot in most people’s ranking.