My inner geek and the Champagne Bureau of Australia

Image credit: Michel Guillard – Collection CIVC

Since completing my WSET Diploma last year, it is not often I find myself in a room geeking out about structure, blind tasting and blending components. But a few weeks back that is just where I found myself and it was perfect!

The Vin de Champagne is a competition held in Australia every two years by the Bureau du Champagne Australia, in association with CIVC (Le Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne). There are two entrant categories for the competition; one for industry members and one for so-called amateurs, although I am told by a reliable source that it is those devoted “amateurs” who will surprise you!

After submitting a series of essay questions and completing a blind tasting round followed by a panel interview, a winner is selected from each category to receive a two week trip to Champagne.

And so it was that a group of people gathered at Smalls Bar in South Melbourne for a Sommeliers Australia event led by two previous winners of the Vin de Champagne. The task? To elevate our Champagne skills in the context of assessment and identification.

Image credit: Alain Cornu - Collection CIVC
Image credit: Alain Cornu – Collection CIVC

Kate McIntyre MW and Wiremu Andrews led us through a tasting of five flights of Champagne consisting of two wines each. The focus of the seminar was to broaden the discussion about how to assess Champagne and the need to use more than only aroma and flavour descriptors. Succinctly put by Kate McIntyre MW, “We need to talk more about the shape of the wine; the bubbles, the layers of flavours, the acid structure and the way it travels across the palate.”

The concept of acid structure was further developed by Wiremu Andrews, where he described the structure of a Chardonnay dominated Champagne as having a very linear acid structure that traveled from the front to the back of the palate. For Pinot Noir, the structure is more powerful and shows more breadth on the palate, the acid structure being more horizontal.

Another insight gained from the seminar was regarding the two pinots of Champagne – Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – and how they develop with age. These two grapes typically show autolytic characters earlier than the third grape in the Champagne trinity – Chardonnay. Thus, wines possessing a longer ageing capacity and that take longer to reveal autolytic notes are typically those wines with a higher portion of Chardonnay in the blend, or indeed, the Blanc de blancs, which is made completely from Chardonnay.

While it is difficult to make finite statements about the structure of any wine, especially Champagne with its use of reserve wines and bubbles, it was a useful starting point and as the group progressed through each flight, there was some evidence of success as we tasted each wine blind.

Image credit: Philippe Exbrayat - Collection CIVC
Image credit: Philippe Exbrayat – Collection CIVC

Another topic for discussion was extending the role of Champagne when pairing it with food. As Ms McIntyre says, “We should match Champagne to food more often because it is very versatile and it is possible (with the right Champagne) to match to all courses in a meal.” This is something I was reminded of during my visit to the Champagne House, Salon, where there were several menus on display showing how Champagne could be successfully paired with even the most complex of dishes.

It may be that all you would like to do is relax and sip your Champagne without being bothered by acid structure and autolytic characters. But for those of us who get a wee thrill from unraveling the intricacies of those mesmerising bubbles this was just the ticket!

However, the next time you are looking for wines to pair with food, take a closer look at Champagne – you will be in for a treat!

Happy Drinking!

Champagnes tasted

  • Flight 1: Canard Duchene Cuvée Leonie NV, Bollinger Special Cuvée NV
  • Flight 2: Delamotte Brut NV, Delamotte Blanc de Blanc NV
  • Flight 3: Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006, G.H. Mumm Brut Le Millesime 2006
  • Flight 4: Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV, Pol Roger Extra Cuvée de Reserve 2004
  • Flight 5: Pommery Brut Rosé NV, Jacquart Rosé NV

Published by Happy Wine Woman

Wine consultant currently based in Melbourne, Australia.

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