Tyson Stelzer is in town with his 'Taste Champagne' roadshow and everybody is excited. This is one of the major events on the wine calendar, and before I start the tasting I notice that people have even come in various costumes to celebrate the return of an event that has been away for far too long (so it's hello to the Grande Dame of Champagne and a man is a jacket that's covered in Champagne icons). We seem to be a happy crew, and friendships are renewed face-to-face as the chatter is full of excitement and anticipation. I even find that Tyson has time for a few words before he heads off to conduct one of the 'Masterclasses'. If it feels like people are celebrating life after a couple of years of sheltering away then it is only to be expected.
There are sixty-one producers in total, and each are keen to show you how much their approach to Champagne production has changed, or how much their traditional values have been enhanced. In a lot of cases this is both. One thing I know for sure is that it's going to be impossible to taste everything. There is so much and my senses will become tired long before the end. With this in mind I tried to pick a mixture of the famous, the lesser known to the public, and one or two who I just thought might be interesting. With this in mind I give you the Champagnes I tried and found to be lovely little stand-outs. There were a lot of good ones I tried, but these stayed in my memory.
La Grande Année 2014
There's something special about tasting this wine, and it feels like your meeting a celebrity who you've idolised. Will it prove a let down?
There's a wonderful pastry aroma that just grows. I'm getting brioche, apple tart, almost dark honey, yeast and nutty tinge.
It really is a lovely wine that has a lot of body, toasty flavours and then there are almonds in the mix.
6.5 out of 7
Brut Sous Bois Bois NV
They say that you shouldn't mess with a classic and the nose profile of this wine is that wonderfully familiar Champagne odour that feels like a celebration in a glass.
There's toast, vanilla, and a buttery creamy nose to this wine. In the mouth I'm getting buttery pastry, green apples and a slightly spiced peach.
It's so frothy and the mix of flavours is deceptively subtle.
5.5 out of 7
Extra-Brut Prestige Premier Cru NV
Before I taste I watch the mousse. It appears to have a good length but I'm surprised by just how quickly it vanishes. Could this be the end of a beautiful friendship?
On the nose there's a really intriguing smell of baked goods simmering away nicely and requesting your presence for further pleasures.
There's a nutty brioche odour that is supported by a mixture of lemons and apples.
The taste is like a bakery working overtime as pastry mixes with zesty dough and biscuit. Then a delightful mixture of citrus, floral and ripe apple play a strong supporting role.
6 out of 7
Grande Reserve Brut NV
Gosset is one of those Champagne 'Houses' that deserves greater recognition by the general public. They produce wines that are so enticing and should be a welcome addition to any Champagne lovers cellar.
The mousse has more length than a row of swimming pools. I actually took a call and it was still frothing away when I returned.
On the nose there was reigned in nut, pastry, hint of liquorice and green apples. Then I started to detect biscuit, toast and vanilla and there was no stopping it.
When you taste you get oodles of ripe green fruit, yeasty flavours, balanced acidity, cream and chewy bread.
6 out of 7
Belle Epoque Brut
What a flamboyant bottle of wine! It seemed designed to be brought out at a party so that all the attention can head its way.
At the start, a small disc of mousse refuses to go, and I was pleased by this.
On the nose it started with a tickle of baking powder that grew into a dominant yeast odour that surrounded to a creamy elegant balance of bread, marzipan and various fruity treats.
The vibrant lemon and citrus taste is what you notice first before giving way to apricot, pear and apple.
If the real Belle Époque was this interesting, get me a time machine!
5.5 out of 7
La Grâce D'Alphaël Extra Brut Grand Cru 'Cramant' NV
For me this 'House' was the find of the show, and the three I've recommended demonstrate the consistency that exists through the range that they produce.
Just take a moment to look at this wine and you'll see that the mousse goes on and on like a geek taking you through computer coding!
The nose is such a lovely bread, pastry and marzipan mix that it's quite intoxicating. Let's not forget the green apple, pear and cake that come if you are patient.
The taste starts as liquorice but develops into vanilla marrying pear, while quince and minerals act as ushers.
This is a triumph!
6 out of 7
Génésis Extra Brut Grand Cru 'Cramant'
Take two, and once again 'The House of Glavier' are taking the battle forward and not waiting in the shadows.
There's a lovely expression of Chardonnay coursing through this wine and the acidity is crisp and sharper than an epigram by Oscar Wilde.
Smell that brioche, vanilla, raisin and fruit loaf and you'll wonder how you existed without it.
The taste is apple, lemon, candied fruit and floral notes demonstrating a balancing act with creamy, tastes from a pattiserie.
5.5. out of 7
Idylle Céleste Rosé Extra Brut Grand Cru 'Cramant'
Once again, this is a wine that is built to last, and I will be making sure that I've got a bottle or twelve in my cellar to introduce to my friends (although I might have to lose some friends to keep more of the bottles for myself)!
It is so delicate that I'm almost reaching for a pillow so that the bottle can have a nap.
The bubbles are fine when rising up the glass, accompanied by notes of cherry and red grapefruit. Revisit and you'll get minerals, toast and more red fruit.
As I taste I am smiling as I say hello to strawberries and apple, and there's almost a portion of fruit salad in the glass. It actually feels luxurious in the mouth and you can't say more than that.
5.5. out of 7
Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV
Last, but by no means last comes this offering from that legend that is Pol Roger (no wonder Churchill liked to keep a bottle handy).
Bubbles dance is circles intent on sticking around as long as they can, and once you dip your nose into the glass there's peach stone, biscuit, nuts and a pure expression of Champagne production at its best.
Take a taste and be rewarded with baked goods and a creamy backing. Apple, pear, marzipan are there for starters.
In the battle to seduce your tastebuds you're under attack from lemon, honey and buttery pastry.
What a delightful way to spend ones time!
5.5. out of 7
I'll hold up my hands and say that sometimes being a wine writer is a job that starts and ends with pleasure, with a little bit more pleasure in-between.
The wines I tried were varied, interesting and showed me that Champagne is still capable of being the wine to celebrate with and to rest beautiful memories upon. What it is never, is boring because with so many beautiful offerings, a boring Champagne is a wine that will not be around for long.
I'm sure that some of you (particularly if you were at the event) are cursing and wondering how I could miss out on this wine or that wine, but I'm only one man and time always plays a factor. If you've got something to say, or contribute then please get in touch.