Tasting Notes - 2008's best Champagnes

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Fashion at the Spring Racing Carnival - Caulfield, Victoria

Fashion at the Spring Racing Carnival - Caulfield, Victoria [©Visions of Victoria]

Choose the right wine every time - Taste Food and Wine 2008 by Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer

If your horse comes in on the Melbourne Cup you'll need to put something exquisite into your glass to celebrate. From Taste Food and Wine 2008 we have 10 great French Champagnes for your Spring Carnival celebrations.

Larmandier-Bernier, Non-Dosé, Terre de Vertus NV    $85
Pierre Larmandier is one of the most fastidious (and hard-working) small Champagne producers. He oversees every facet of production himself and is virtually completely biodynamic (ultra-organic) in growing his grapes. Terre de Vertus means “soil of the village of Vertus”, which is one of the most famous sites in the whole of the Côte des Blancs, in Champagne.

Unlike normal Champagne, which is blended across vast vineyard sources, and is therefore an average of its components, this is a singular expression of this beautiful site. The result is uniquely intriguing and wondrous 100% Chardonnay, with no added sugar whatsoever (Non-Dosé). This wine is very rare, usually only seen in top French restaurants, but we keep spotting it lurking in some of Australia’s best merchants. Try it – you are likely to adore it if you are a fan of houses such as Pol Roger and Ruinart.

Taittinger Prelude Grand Cru
NV    $85
The clever thing about this wine is that there is an in-built ripeness (fruitiness) that fills out the middle palate and makes it one of the most succulent Champagnes on the shelves this year. This flavour doesn’t come across as sweetness, but instead it feels luxurious and hedonistic. While the nose swoops and soars in the glass, the palate tenderly caresses your taste-buds with its silky fingers, leaving you feeling more than aroused.

Gosset Grande Réserve Brut NV    $88
This wine flies so low under the radar that we wouldn’t be surprised if you never came across it in all of your days, outside of stumbling across it in this list of champions, of course. But it’s actually remarkably easy to find in Australia, and sometimes for as little as $50! Gosset’s top non-vintage cuvée (there is a delightful Brut Excellence offering below this wine) is made in exactly the same way as Krug!

It is a blend of ‘finished’ vintage wines that are then blended together, thus losing its claim to a single year and rendering it non-vintage. The class and intensity of flavour in this wine are staggering. We rarely drink Krug (at many times the price) because this wine ticks all of the majestic, swaggering, pimp-my-ride boxes. If you like full-bodied, serious Champagne, then you will be blown away by Grande Réserve.

Bollinger Special Cuvée NV    $90
The biggest and boldest wine in the NV section is always Bolly. Bolly is more than just a sparkling wine – it is a way of life and code of honour, no less. Being part of the Bolly movement makes you feel like you are in some sort of ultimate members club. Remember that James Bond favoured this brand and he wasn’t wrong about much (excepting Roger Moore, of course, who was wrong about virtually everything!)

Bollinger uses some oak barrels in the recipe and this gives the wine some body and biscuity notes – it can handle roast chicken, such is its bravado on the palate. Don’t launch into this wine unprepared, because it is a special drink – hence the name. You have to really be up for it – just like Bond.

Louis Roederer Brut 2000
The millennium vintage was a good one in Champagne and there are some pretty ripe wines around, which means that they are drinking very well now. Roederer’s vintage is always a treat, and usually a wine that takes a few years after release onto the market to get itself in order. The 2000 is already fully composed and waiting to amaze anyone keen enough to rip its top off.

Pol Roger Vintage 1999    $99
The 1999 vintage Pol is a wonderfully forward, luscious and juicy wine. It is busty and succulent and far less linear than many of the nervier, straight-jacketed wines in this section. If you like to be wrapped up in layers of scintillatingly hypnotic fruit then this is your baby.

Jacquesson & Fils Grand Vin Signature Brut 1998    $145
Tighten up the ratchet and pull in those sails because this is not a billowing galleon of a wine, but a lightening quick torpedo of flavour that slams into your palate and then explodes into layers of crisp, mineral, thirst-quenching aftershocks.

One of the smaller producers, Jacquesson is, however, and always has been, in our top ten Champagne houses and this 1998 vintage wine is an utterly memorable experience. Rarely found outside of top restaurants (except in Australia), take advantage of this retail listing and broaden your horizons with this mesmerising wine.

Bollinger La Grande Année 1999    $189
Vintage Bolly is unutterably serious wine. Iconic in every way, the 1999 is an awe-inspiring creation with a nose, flavour and finish that leave you feeling like you have just found the meaning of life. Our advice is to keep it to yourself! This level of sheer delectation should only be shared if you are foolish, loaded or feeling really, really benevolent. (Jedi Master voice:) You have the power to change someone’s life forever if you are wielding a bottle of vintage Bolly – use it wisely.

Taittinger Comtes des Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1998    $250
It is a very intellectual or well-informed person who would opt for Comtes over, say, Dom or Roederer’s Cristal. It says that you are not a label shagger, but a purveyor of extremely fine taste and that you are prepared to demonstrate this gift in the form of one of the most delightfully suave and sophisticated wines on the shelves today.

1998 Comtes de Champagne whispers its message breathily into your ear (we can’t write here what its says – that would break the unwritten vow of the wine writer), but we can let you into a small secret – you will like what you hear. There is no fanfare, no marching band of Spartans menacingly taunting your taste buds, but Audrey Hepburn pole dancing silently, for your eyes only, in the glass. You cannot afford to miss this performance.

Dom Pérignon 1999    $280
The Dom has it all – the image, the bottle shape and the flavour to back it up. The 1999 is a tight wine, though, so you should really hang on to it for a few years to allow it to mellow and reach some semblance of harmony. But you won’t, will you, ‘cos you’re too anxious to see what it’s like! Once you sniff, swirl and sip, the rest of the case will disappear, too, on account of its mind-blowing orchestra of nuances. Don’t say we didn’t tell you, though, when one of your abstemious, wine nerd friends opens a bottle five years from now and it is astonishingly different (read ‘better’). Just a warning – DP loves bottle age like no other prestige cuvée. Shop around – prices vary from $180 to $395 this year (what the?!).

Billecart-Salmon Grande Cuvée 1996    $425
Please don’t look at the price of this wine. It is very rare to actually say that money is not the object in the world of wine because we try so hard to find you great value wines, and in our humble opinion we have done just that in this very tome. But, if you will pardon a moment of enormous and self-indulgent vinous navel-gazing, this wine is so good that it is one of the top two young Champagnes that we have ever tasted in our thirty-something years on this planet. The other wine, just so you know, is 1996 Billecart-Salmon, Le Clos Saint-Hilaire (which might as well cost a million dollars, because that’s what it tastes like and there is bugger all made, so if you see it, sell one of your kids or the car or something and get hold of some). Anyway, Grande Cuvée is only released after ten years of ageing. It is also made from the finest fruit that they have and, in our opinion, 1996 is the greatest vintage in the last twenty years.

This is the wine that we served to the great and the good before our dinner to celebrate the conclusion of this year’s The Great Australian Red competition. It left our guests totally and utterly flabbergasted. It will do the same to you – this is perfect wine. I (MSJ) have only said this ten or perhaps fifteen times in twenty years in the wine business.



Reproduced with permission. © Copyright Matthew Jukes and Tyson Stelzer 2007

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  • Melbourne (VIC)

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