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Brian Elliott: Champagne still top for sparkling wine

Many layers of sophistication have been introduced within the Champagne region, writes Brian Elliott

Published: August 31, 2015
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Impressed as I am by the classy sparkling wine now emerging from places like Brazil and Southern England, October’s National Champagne Week should remind us about the first – and best – masters of sparkling winemaking.

Many layers of sophistication have been introduced within the Champagne region in the 300 years since Dom Pierre Pérignon first (allegedly) cried out: “Come quickly! I’m tasting stars!” Blending is key to most of them.

Blending of grape varieties is one obvious example but the adroit integration of reserve wines – in the right proportions – is also important. These are wines preserved from previous vintages to iron out inter-vintage variations and maintain consistency especially in, for example, “house styles”.

Equally, with hundreds of small separately owned plots across the region, another critical skill is assembling the right mix of source vineyards – or parts of them. This far north, even small geographic differences can fundamentally change the soil components, micro-climate and temperature range.

That terroir is critical to the toasty yet floral Champagne Taittinger Prélude Grands Crus (£45 at Asda). This 50:50 pinot noir and chardonnay blend draws grapes exclusively from grand crus vineyards and uses them to create an elegant champagne with zingy lemon acidity, busy bubbles and a minty finish.

In a different example of blending, the dark pink Taittinger Prestige Rosé (£48.99 at Waitrose) contains a 15 per cent portion of wine initially vinified as conventional, still pinot noir. On the palate, it introduces touches of sweetness to sit behind that cherry and strawberry fruit, and vibrant acidic ripple.

Finally, to another variable, sweetness, and Oudinot Medium Dry (£20 a bottle at M&S), which contains a relatively high residual sugar level, but uses it simply to soften the wine’s toasty, red apple and nectarine flavours, and rein back its acidic influences.


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2013 Aglianico del Vulture Basilicata, Italy, 13 per cent
This smooth, gently oaked red with limited tannin is produced from a local grape variety grown on the slopes of an extinct volcano. The wine’s soft bramble and cherry fruit is embellished with mocha, vanilla and cinnamon touches, but unusually assertive blackcurrant acidity for this far south.
£6 – instead of £10 – until 7 September at M&S

2014 Finest Steillage Mosel Riesling Germany, 11 per cent
At under a fiver, surely even riesling sceptics will flock to try this modern, lemon-edged, soft, smooth, apple-centred version. The steep south-facing slopes of the vineyard (and carefully timed harvesting) maximise the ripeness of the grapes, while ageing on its lees gives the wine extra richness and texture.
£4.99 – instead of £7.99 – until 15 September at Tesco

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