Yesterday Harpers Wine & Spirit Magazine hosted its 2nd annual Champagne Summit at the trendy Soho Hotel in London. This year’s theme was consumer education and communication and how the trade can improve its efforts and therefore its profits. Supported by four main sponsors: Champagne de Castelnau, Champagne Taittinger, Champagne Lanson and Champagne Perrier-Jouet, the comprehensive program featured tastings, panel debates and seminars alongside masterclasses hosted by Dr Jamie Goode, Richard Bampfield MW (winner champagne educator of the year award) and Xavier Rousset (champagne best buying team award winner) of Texture restaurant. The industry panel included MW’s (wine buyers) from Sainsbury’s, Waitrose, Marks & Spencer and the Spar along with Champagne Warehouse, Le Bouchon Breton, Robert Joseph and Françoise Perretti of the CIVC. In the great traditions of the champagne business where once there was conflict between the grape growers and houses over both price and quality issues, in 21st century terms, now there is debate between champagne merchants and wine bloggers.
Famous wine blogger Dr Jamie Goode conducted a blind tasting master class of non-vintage Vs vintage champagnes. Guests tasted 6 champagnes – 2 each from De Castelnau, Lanson and Perrier-Jouet and a specially selected Deutz blanc de blancs 2004 was thrown in the mix as a surprise ‘bonus’. Attendees were asked to assess both wines and determine the style of each. Aside from the Lanson bracket which was easily identifiable due to its light fresh crispness on the palate (no malolactic fermentation here), in each flight, the vast majority of the room believed the NV to be the vintage, usually because the broad and solid texture of the NVs suggested a greater quality wine. This is something I have witnessed myself with students during Champagne Jayne events.
During his presentation, Dr Goode explained that most NV champagne is composed from 50 – 60 different cuvees, with different acidity and alcohol levels, blended to achieve a finished product fit to represent the brand. “Champagne is more an indication of human skill than a true reflection of terroir” he continued. As the results of the live tasting became apparent he posed the question “why spend more (on a vintage champagne) when you can achieve such greatness at this price(non-vintage)?” before reassuring those present that he did not wish to cause a downturn in sparkling spending, but rather to highlight the quality achievable at these non-vintage levels.
The results of Goode’s master class experiment, which suggests that consumers are perhaps better off choosing NV champagnes for special celebrations, rather than spending up to 50% more on a vintage champagne cuvee in a pretty box, offers little comfort to the champagne merchant community, who in recent years, have been soundly beaten around the head by major retail buyers and leading restaurants. Nevertheless champagne sales are steadily climbing back to pre GFC levels. Already rumours abound of imminent new champagne supply shortages as early as Easter 2011. Harpers Wine and Spirit Magazine will be releasing a full champagne focused issue in due course.
Watch IWC (International Wine & Spirit Competition) videow interview with Jamie Goode here
Read Jamie Goode’s own article reporting on Champagne Summit 2011
Finalists Harpers Champagne Awards 2011
Best Buying Team/Buyer Off-trade: Majestic, The Sampler, Waitrose
Best Buying Team/Buyer On-trade: Searcys, Bibendum, Texture
Best Independent Champagne Retailer: Barrica Wines, Harrods, Lea & Sandeman, The Sampler
Best Multiple Champagne Retailer: Majestic, Marks & Spencer, Waitrose
Best Online/Direct Sales Champagne Retailer: Champagne Warehouse, everywine.co.uk, Laithwaites, Wine Society
Champagne Educator of the Year: Tom Stevenson, Michael Edwards, Richard Bampfield MW.
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