“It’s HOW MUCH?” asked my reasonably affluent but slightly grumpy husband. 950 Dihams. That’s about $300, for dinner. Each. Champagne is not cheap, despite it’s ability to turn all ladies into cheap harlots when they have enough of it. I suppose that’s why he finally caved, rather than my reasoning – “We love a glass of good wine, we know exactly how much a bottle costs, how much we will probably drink, and for goodness sake, we get to try the Grande Dame. And there was going to be food, lovely food from the blokes at Table 9″… No – he probably just realised it was a good opportunity to have me bubbly.There will always be that price barrier with Champagne for him, and I suppose for me also. I’ve recently discovered a Cremant de Bourgogne (Pierre Janny) that sells for about 80AED, at least half what we buy a lower level Champagne for. And it’s turned my head, I must say. But I just keep coming back to the real stuff. Janny is my cheap little mistress, but I’ll never marry her. As soon as a lacklustre vintage ruins her sparkle, I’ll dump her. I’ll never leave my three genuine wives – Joseph Perrier, Pol Roger and Taittinger.I’ve been lucky enough to taste through some entire ranges of Champagnes in single sittings recently, so let me take you through the goods.
At the dinner mentioned above at Table 9, where we were presented with Veuve Cliquot in all its glory, matched (very well in many cases) with a unique food menu. It’s a hard task, matching Champagne to food, and one that cannot be undertaken without some very, very careful consideration. Firstly, it’s acidic (not quite as sour as a lemon, but hovering around the level of a grapefruit) and very dry (I mean not sweet – we all know it’s wet). Thirdly, it’s flavours are subtle, delicate. Finally, it’s choc-a-block full of carbon dioxide, which makes it taste drier than it actually is, and of course messes with texture pairing. The greatest matches on the night were a crab rillette in a cold melon soup with the NV Veuve, and a dessert of yellow peaches, raspberries and cream (with other gorgeous bits and pieces) with the Demi-Sec.
- Brut NV (Yellow label) – Current bottling seems a little lighter in character than some years. It can be a very broad and yeasty Champagne, but is very nicely balanced at present. Nutty, brioche, red apple. Not overly dry, and a good introduction to Champagne.
- Rosé NV – Generous red fruit on the nose, voluptuous palate full of wild strawberries and biscuit. Lovely length. Slight sweetness (only marginal, it’s still a dry wine) and very fine bead.
- Vintage Rosé 2004 – Similar fruit to the previous but more toasty and yeast dominated. There is a huge candy/vanilla mid-palate that some will love, and makes it a great Champagne for food – Christmas turkey would be perfect. Trophy winner Decanter World Wine Awards.
- Vintage Brut 2004 – Presents dryer and crisper than the NV, with more bready character and a concerntration on mineral and savoury characters with some reserved green apple fruit.
- La Grande Dame 1998 – big yeasty nose with a slap-in-the-face character of honey and butter on hot toast. Threads of hair-thin bead trail in the glass. Lovely mineral/autolytic palate with a finish of strawberries and rhubarb laced with malt and sherbet.
- Demi Sec NV – served out of decanter in this occasion to limit bead. Sweeter of course, lemon-puff and candied peel style with soft marshmallow and white peach middle. A little short on the finish, but that’s pretty common with a dessert fizz.
- The NV Rosé – explosive flavour, very good value.
- Grande Dame – for it’s length, which just went on for minutes, and superb development.
- The balance in the 2004 Rosé was a little off for me, but others loved that huge vanilla hit. A matter of personal taste, as can be seen by its trophy win.
A few weeks ago, I had a look at the Joseph Perrier range at African and Eastern’s trade tasting. Jean-Claude Fourmon himself (GM of Joseph Perrier) took us through his wines, including some stunning new releases in traditional bottles (the 2004 BdB and Rosé). It took me straight back to Chalons in 1995, where an aspiring sommelier knocked on the door with no appointment, and the man himself shared a bottle of his Champagne with her and her two ragamuffin friends in his classic office – he’s quite the brand ambassador – Non?
- Brut NV (Cuveé Royale) – My favourite NV at the moment. Intense nose of red apple, strawberry and croissants. Gorgeous autolysis character in the palate, very mouthfilling and creamy. Lip-smacking.
- Rosé NV – toasty colour, but clean fruit character on the nose. Ripe red berry characters, vanilla and floral nuances. The toast comes through on the finish, which is surprisingly very dry.
- Blanc de Blancs 2004 – Lovely pale colour and very fine bead. Aromas of citrus, apple and brioche. Very elegant wine, bracing acid and some minerality. Great aperitif style.
- Rosé 2004 – Powerful rose and strawberry nose with cream and biscuit undertones. Substantial mousse. Tantalisingly sweet fruit on the front – red fruits and candy, with spice moving through the palate. Beautiful.
- Vintage Brut 1995 – Richly developed. Some citrus and pear fruit, but dominated by toast, caramel and tobacco. Bead very soft, but definitely still present.
- The NV – it’s (almost) always a great one, with so much more flavour than many other NV cuveés.
- The new 2004s were fab. I can’t decide which is better. The Blanc was so clean, and the Rosé was super fresh – rare for a vintage rose. At this stage both are un-stocked in Dubai, but hopefully we’ll see some soon.
- The 1995. I drank quite a bit of this when it first came out, and it was one of the best 1995 Champagnes around, particularly for the price. Now, I find it’s just leapt over the crevasse that separates perfectly-aged-wine and starting-to-wither. Some will still enjoy its very toasty characters, but I’d prefer to be drinking the 99 or 02 right now.
Also tried at the A&E event, battling my way to the front of the table with so much resistance, I gave up before trying the vintage or Grand Siecle.
- Brut NV – tighter than usual, and edging towards a Moet style. Tart pear and greengage plum fruit. Slightly bready, with a little less yeast flavour than last bottling I tried. Lean, aperitif style.
- Cuveé Rosé NV – Strawberries, peaches and cream. It’s very dry but not too lean, nor is it too developed and toasty, but has gentle hints of honey and biscuit. Beautiful shade of salmon pink with a substantial fizz.
- Ultra Brut- Fabulous bubbles – very fine, persistant and prickly. Zero dosage means totally dry, so not for wimps. Green apple, sherbet, lemon peel. A little brioche, but without food, it’s hard to see the flavours. Hand me some oysters please!
- The Cuveé Rosé. It’s just so girly – I love it. And totally sold by the pretty bottle.
- The NV. It’s a little leaner than the old style, which I thought was right on the money – many may prefer this though, it’s totally a matter of opinion.
A slightly shambollic dinner at Desert Palm showcased Taittinger’s range, and the kooky style of self-proclaimed “black sheep” of the Taittinger Family, Clovis Taittinger, who refused to smile for a photo, instead insisting on sticking his tongue out. I’m endeared. I also got to meet the effervescent Champagne Jayne, who has somehow managed to make a career out of a tipple and a giggle.
- Brut NV – Always a favourite, and ever the crowd pleaser. Taittinger’s NV is exactly in the middle of the flavour spectrums – dry and toasty, yet clean and fruity. The fruit profile is pear and orange peel, the development just right, a touch of mineral, and the bead exceptionally fine.
- Rosé NV – , but heaps of berry fruit and cream up front – it almost smells like dessert, but is beautifully dry. On the palate it’s very creamy with elements of stone fruit and stollen.
- Comtes de Champagne 2000 – Incredibly powerful wine. Mousse is delicate, but bead is persistant and very fine. Yeast and developed characters are foremost but do not dominate, and are accompanied by whisps of white flowers, nuts and crisp pear. Palate is quite explosive, intense and full, then tapers beautifully into a lean, long citrus and mineral finish.
- Demi Sec NV – floral and fun with peaches and clemantines, a little biscuit and caramel.
- Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2004 (tried separately) – A very savoury rosé. Salmon/peach in colour with stone fruit, saline and sourdough on the nose. Palate is complex and mineral, creamy and bone dry.
- Comtes de Champagne 2000 – a blanc de blancs wine (100% Chardonnay) that spent 10 years on lees. Incredible. The best Champagne I’ve had in 10 years.
- The Demi-sec is a little off the mark – a nice wine, but the sweetness covers any complexities that make it worth more than some great sweet Italian sparklers.
- The Comtes Rosé was also a marginal disappointment after the Blanc de Blanc Comtes. It is a wonderful wine, but a very savoury and secretive wine for a Rosé. I expect it needs more time in bottle as the structure is there, but as yet the flavours are a little hidden. I would like to see it develop some richer toast and honey characters before tasting again.
A few months back, was an evening with Bollinger and some marginally wanky behaviour at The One and Only on the Palm with Confrérie du Sabre d’Or. They’re the blokes who dress up like Davinci Code cult leaders, enter to theme music from “The Mission” and swipe the tops off bottles with a whopping great sword. Unfortunately all the pomp and ceremony of the event sent me cringing, but I’ll put up with anything to have a glass of Bolly in my hand. Luckily there was a sedate dinner at Voi later, where sadly they made a bit of a mess of the food matching. I think the Chef needs to be given some Bollinger freebies pre-event in order to get it right next time.
Beheading a bottle is easier than it looks, incidentally, and I would probably do it as a party trick if I could just get my hands on an appropriate sabre.
- Brut NV (Special Cuveé) – Known by many as the Champagne for blokes, it’s exactly what you would hope. Big, bold, rich and meaty on the nose, but with some sneaky cooked apple and caramel flavours creeping into the palate. Plenty of body and a long dry finish.
- Rosé NV – Keeping in line with the Special Cuveé, it’s a rich and meaty wine, but with the added bonus of redcurrant and cranberry, some strapping tannin and a little more spice. Good stuff.
- Grande Année 2002 – This wine has been on the market for a couple of years now (2004 in most stores now), but it’s still very youthful. It’s bracing and mineral, so those who love the NV style will have to wait a few years for age to bring the richer flavours. It’s going to be great.
- Grande Année Rosé 2002 – That trademark Bolly grilled meat is on the nose, but partnered beautifully with red berries and rhubarb. The palate is still a little austere, and will take time to mellow. Another keeper.
- The Grand Année 2002. Can’t wait to see what this is going to turn into.
- All great wines, so hard to find one. I just wish they had stocks to keep their Grand Année wines back a few more years like they used to. It’s just so hard to watch a Champagne wait in the cellar.
Now – I know I’ve made you all jealous. I’m a lucky girl to drink all that Champagne, aren’t I? And there’s a stack in there I haven’t mentioned too. If you want to partake in some of these events in Dubai, this is what you have to do:
- Get yourself involved with Lime and Tonic, a social concierge who constantly have lush events on the go. (I found out about the Taittinger and Bollinger events through them)
- Subscribe to The Juice, an independent and anonymous blog detailing Wine and Spirits events in Dubai.
- Follow MMI on Facebook, or subscribe to Grapevine here
- Have a look at African and Eastern’s “What’s On” page every now and then.
- And of course, follow me on Twitter or Facebook for updates from all the wonderful events that get plopped into my own inbox.