Crafting exquisite Champagne doesn’t come cheap, says John Belsham, but the results are worth the wait.
Producing première cuvée Champagne is not for the faint-hearted. It is very costly to either purchase vineyards or to buy fruit from premier cru and grand cru sites to make the base wines for these blends. Following this, significant capital is tied up in reserve wines held – sometimes for decades – in cellars and for wines which are bottle-aged on lees for many years in temperature-controlled cellars. Without this investment in time and money, these wines cannot reach the desired levels of complexity and concentration to warrant their status. It is therefore not surprising that these top cuvées are mostly produced by significant Champagne houses that have either been in a family for generations or are part of a larger company with deep pockets. Nor is it surprising that they come with hefty price tags. Are they worth it? Try some of these to decide for yourselves.
TASTING PANEL For this Champagne tasting, John Belsham, an international wine judge and owner of Foxes Island Wines in Marlborough, was joined by Steve Voysey, the proud owner of Spade Oak Wines in Gisborne and a consultant winemaker with over 35 years of experience. The third panellist was Jane De Witt the very experienced and multi-awarded head sparkling winemaker for Lion.
In the early 2000s Louis Roederer Champagne unwittingly made headlines when ‘Cristal’ was briefly celebrated by high-profile hip hop artists. The love affair ended abruptly when a dismissive comment by Roederer’s managing director, Frederic Rouzaud, was published. However, this mini crisis barely dented the reputation of this revered house which was founded in 1776.
Foresight & fortitude
Louis Roederer inherited the house in 1833 and committed to identifying and acquiring the best vineyard land, an unusual strategy as, at that time, farming grapes held little value. But his foresight paid dividends and in 1876 he crafted the first ever prestige cuvée named ‘Cristal’, specifically for Tsar Alexander of Russia. Sadly, more than half of the vineyards were destroyed during WWI, however with typical determination they rebuilt. Roederer now owns 240 hectares of vineyard encompassing 410 parcels across a range of crus and varietals. They remain fiercely independent and deeply committed to crafting exceptional wines, producing three million bottles annually. To ensure continuity of style and quality during periods of uncertainty, Roederer has created a signature blend from multiple vintages comprising 40% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay and 20% pinot meunier. Aged for three years before disgorgement, this blend is labelled Brut Premier and is Cuisine’s top Champagne over $100 for 2019.
A classic style that is fresh and energetic yet powerfully complex. Warm toasty, yeasty aromas lead to rich flavours that are layered and creamy. A long structural line and textural finish adds to the sensual architecture that is seductive and delicious.
A precise and elegant blanc de blancs style with a seamless and …2
A beautiful example of the balance between power and delicacy, which is …3
The delicate lilac hue sparkles freshly in the glass. The aromas of …4
Bright lemon and red apple aromas lead to warm, rich flavours of …5
A vibrant and deeply coloured rosé with aromas of fresh strawberry jam. …6
A pale copper colour with delicate and inviting toasty aromas. Toasty brioche …7
With a delightful salmon hue, this wine is focussed with an elegant …8
A lively mousse with floral and berry fruit aromas lead to cherry, …9
Lovely lifted aromatics of fresh citrus and white florals lead to a …10