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Matthew Jukes' Guide to Vintage Champagne


With summer in full swing, what better way to chill out than with some serious fizz? And, as columnist, author and ace wine list creator Matthew Jukes points out, this is going to be a very good year

champcork - Champagne_Cork_2.jpgChampagne – it’s the lifeblood of any really upscale social gathering. And, at this time of year, as midsummer beckons and the heat is here to stay, my biggest challenge is to find you Champagnes that offer both elegance, quality of fruit and, most importantly, leave you looking forward to that next glass.

Some years I’m helped by the release of some cracking vintages from the finest names in the business. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes I am forced to dig deep, throw on the drinking boots and taste a few hundred bottles to put together my list of beauties for you to sample yourselves.

Not this year. As it turns out, 2009 is going to be the year of the fizz, with the news that, purely coincidentally, several fantastic vintages have been and are going to be released into the UK market. So if you like your bubbly with a bit of age, now is the time to strike, as there are some true gems to be had.

Make your marque

So, with so many fine wines out there, which have the edge? These days, with non-vintage Champagne becoming ever more common and prestige cuvées being sprayed in clubs and pubs around the world, how does one choose Champagne and still stand out from the crowd?

Being made from a blend of different years, a non-vintage Champagne shows the winemakers’ art to the full, seeking as they do to match the house style and deliver a bottle of fizz that tastes identical and fabulous year after year. Vintage Champagne, however, shows not just this skill (even a vintage Champagne has to conform to a certain house style), but also allows the individuality of that particular year – in other words, the weather and its effects on the vines – to show to the full. This makes for exciting, exhilarating and, above all, very individual drinking. Which is why each new vintage from every good Champagne house is awaited with such excitement.

In compiling my top five Champagnes, listed opposite, I’ve taken into consideration ‘palate for the pound’. Even with the more expensive examples, the experience you have when drinking them will be truly sublime.

Matthew Jukes’ Fab Five

Krug 1998

vintage2 - pic_1.jpg£230, Berry Bros & Rudd, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Selfridges

The 1998 Krug is without doubt one of the House of Krug’s finest to date. It has a wonderful mix of rich brioche and floral notes on the nose, followed through with crunchy apples and fresh-baked bread on the palate – all of which rolls around the mouth and slips down the throat more easily than the average bank balance would allow. A classic vintage from a classic house.

Veuve Clicquot, La Grande Dame 1998vintage4 - veuve_3.jpg

£89.50, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Jeroboams, Majestic, Selfridges 

La Grande Dame is one of those prestige cuvée Champagnes that is consumed by those who really are ‘in the know’, so to speak. It doesn’t do the rounds that much but is made by a genius, Jacques Péters, and tastes like it has been. The 1998 is a bigger, more full-on vintage than the 1996, but still has the breeding and sophistication of its forebears. Pinot-dominated, it has a delicious nose with citrus notes working through rich brioche flavours, all of which is amply reflected on a crisp, clean, pinpoint sharp palate. Amazing length.

Bollinger, La Grande AnnEe 1999

vintage - boll_3.jpg£65, Berry Bros & Rudd, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Majestic, Oddbins, Selfridges

What can we say? Bollinger’s La Grande Année has spent too long in the shadows of the likes of Dom Pérignon or Cristal. This is unfair and yet wonderful, because it means it isn’t known by everyone or wastefully sprayed across the walls of trendy nightspots like Movida. Very Pinot Noir-dominated, it has a lovely bready, mushroomy nose that is followed by a rich lemon shortbread palate, with a crisp, clean acidity and wonderful length of flavour. Sublime.

Pol Roger 1999vintage3 - pol3.jpg

£47, Berry Bros & Rudd, Goedhuis & Co, Handford Wines, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Oddbins

The 1999 is a fine example of why Pol Roger stands apart as a Champagne house par excellence. The perfect use of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay has created, in my view, one of the finest vintage Champagnes on the market. It has wonderful light, toasty notes on the nose, deliciously citrus fruit characters, a lovely underlying minerality that makes it a great food fizz, and a fabulous, nervy acidity that keeps it perfectly bright and sparkling.

Moet & Chandon, Dom PErignon 2000

vintage1 - dom3.jpg£95, Fortnum & Mason, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, Sainsbury’s, Selfridges, Waitrose

Still one of the most amazing prestige cuvées around. I tasted the 2000 with Dom Pérignon’s winemaking guru, Richard Geoffroy, just as I was preparing this list, and I promise you it is one of the best vintages yet. As with all Dom Pérignons, it has a very elegant beginning, but with a forward, fulsome structure, endless length of crisp, citrus flavours and a slight prickle to the finish. It is one of the most alluring yet and I advise fans of Dom Pérignon to put as much aside as possible.

Editorial feature from Square Meal Lifestyle Magazine Summer 2009

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