Following a blind tasting of almost 200 samples for db’s Champagne Masters earlier this year, we bring you the top-scoring cuvées of 2021, taking in illustrious names and little-known labels, as well as all styles from brut nature to blanc de blancs.
This entry point to a slightly-under-the-radar Champagne house is a fine example of Brut NV in a dry but fruity style. Using equal parts of Champagne’s three major grapes, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier, it has plenty of flavour, from ripe apple to strawberry and citrus, with some appealing notes of honey and brioche, before finishing with a zesty, cleansing edge.
The world’s biggest Brut NV Champagne is also one of the best, gaining some of the highest scores of its category in this year’s competition. Praised for its fresh fruit flavours, from apple to raspberry and lemon, and gently bready and chalky notes, it was deemed a textbook taste of Champagne at a relatively accessible price.
Taking its name from the first pressing in Champagne, known as La Cuvée, this Brut NV from Laurent-Perrier is a fine example of its category, clean and fresh, but with plenty of bread-like characters from ageing in contact with the wine’s lees. Flavours range from a smoky toasty note to grapefruit and lemon zest, along with chalk dust and cream, in what is a lively, refined style of fizz.
Here’s an excellent example of very dry Champagne for those on a budget. Costing around £35, it’s a relatively affordable entry-point to a non-vintage extra brut – which means that it contains less than 6g/l of sugar. In terms of taste, the Champagne is not harsh, but clean, bright and precise, with a tangy citric edge, and lingering nutty notes, along with some ripe apple fruit to compensate for the low sugar level.
The latest vintage release from Piper-Heidsieck is another stunner. Hailing from the 2014 harvest – a good if not outstanding year in Champagne – it has the hallmark traits of this producer, mixing a zesty, lively character with masses of moreish smoky, nutty and toasty notes from extended cellaring. So, expect a richly flavoured but wonderfully refreshing glass of fizz.
For those who love Piper-Heidsieck’s vintage expressions as much as we do, it will come as a welcome relief to know that its Champagne from the exceptional 2012 harvest is still on the market. One of the highest scoring cuvées of this year’s Masters, it’s a delicious combination of gun-smoke and toast, grilled nuts and lemon zest, with a persistent chalky edge to dry the palate ready for another sip.
As anyone who works in the Champagne trade will tell you, Palmer – which is a cooperative uniting a selection of first-rate growers – produces some of the regions best-value cuvées, with this magnificent 2012 vintage very much included. The characters here are complementary and moreish, with ripe red apple, fresh grapefruit, cream and bread, and then a smoky edge, like grilled toast, adding a yet further layer of interest.
This – the latest release from relatively new house Champagne Frerejean Frères – is a pure Chardonnay from grand cru vineyards in the Côte de Blancs, and while it seems expensive at £90 a bottle, it is made from some of the most prized grapes in the region, and has spent at least seven years ageing in the producer’s cellars before release. Stylistically, it is fresh and extremely dry, but has plenty of richness from ripe fruit, from pear and pineapple, to pink grapefruit, and a creamy coffee character too, before finishing with a lingering chalky sensation – it even seems to grip the palate.
This pure Chardonnay Champagne takes fruit from grand cru sites in the prized Côte des Blancs, so it’s little surprise that the result is excellent. Made by relatively little-known producer Albert Lebrun, it has the hallmarks of delicious Blanc de Blancs, with notes of pineapple and lemon, a touch of butter, cream, hazelnut and chalk.
This is a fascinating and first-rate specialist Champagne from the fine house of Joseph Perrier. Using only Pinot Noir, this blanc de noirs takes grapes from a premier cru plot in the village of Cumières. It’s also a vintage expression – from the great harvest that was 2012 – and a brut nature, which means there’s no added sugar. In terms of taste, the Champagne is a brilliant example of pure Pinot Champagne, with notes of raspberry and ripe apple, with a touch of freshly-baked pastry and a chalky sensation on the very dry finish.
Champagne serves up a broad range of Brut NV rosé styles today, but a benchmark for quality is Piper-Heidsieck. With its Rosé Sauvage you get a hint of red berry and cherry fruit from the Pinot-based wine that’s used to give this wine its fairly deep pink appearance, but after that comes all the delicious flavours of fine blanc Champagne, from fresh apple and citrus zest to toast and hazelnut, and then a lingering chalky, dry finish.
This pale salmon coloured fizz from Pommery offers a refreshing and pretty take on pink Champagne, offering notes of wild strawberry, fresh apple and just-baked baguette, making for a delicate, and very drinkable style of rosé.
A wonderful rosé from pink fizz specialist, Champagne Devaux, which has extensive landholdings in the Pinot-dominant Aube area. The cuvée D is the producer’s top rosé expression, and a delicious fruity-fresh style, combining chalk and citrus characters from the Chardonnay in the blend, with redcurrant and ripe apple from the Pinot component. Then there are lovely toasty and nutty notes, from the five years this wine has spent on its lees in Devaux’s cellars.
If you like your Champagne full of flavour, with a richness and character not unlike fine white Burgundy, then this is the prestige cuvée for you. It comprises wines from the great 2008 and 2009 vintages, which were made using fruit from grand cru Côtes des Blancs Chardonnay vines dating back to 1926 – hence the name VV26 (Vieilles Vignes from 1926). As a result, this is a fizz with plenty of fruit and character, and, because the base wines underwent seven months ageing in oak barrels, there’s a creamy complexity too. Put all this together, and this is a layered and structured Champagne, with notes of yellow fruit, chalk and citrus, follows by nuts and brioche, along with vanilla and beeswax, before finishing dry and zesty, as well as gently tannic – an attractive trait that helps to refresh the palate.
One of the stand-out discoveries from this year’s blind tasting was the brilliance of GH Mumm’s prestige cuvée expression, the vintage Cuvée Lalou. Currently from the 2006 harvest, it’s a magnificent and mature glass of serious fizz, using seven grand cru wines to produce a Champagne with flavours ranging from honey and dried apricot, to freshly-baked croissants, wood smoke and a touch of zest citrus on the finish. And, at £80, it is the best-value ‘Master’ winner of this year’s competition.
The top expression from Perrier-Jouët – the beautifully-packaged Belle Epoque – is always a great glass of fizz, but this year it tasted especially good, perhaps because it was made using the finest grapes from a particularly fine vintage: 2012. The result is a Champagne with plenty to excite the palate, from candied lemon, to dried apple, a touch of honey, and then lingering notes of toast and hazelnut, even a touch of roasted coffee, followed by citrus zest and chalk on the finish.
There are few better bottles of fizz than Rare, and this – the latest expression from the prestige cuvée-only offshoot from Piper-Heidsieck – is another impressive fizz. It’s still quite taut in style, despite its age, and shows notes of freshly struck match, lemon zest and chalk, but there’s also depth to the Champagne, with additional flavours of creamy coffee, hazlenut and a touch of yellow fruit. In short, it’s a deliciously complex and deeply refreshing glass of very fine fizz.
The Champagne Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business, and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties, such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as regions like Rioja and Tuscany. The competition is exclusively for Champagne, and the entries were judged using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted. The top wines were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those expressions that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Champagne Master.
The Champagnes were judged on 5 August at London’s 28-50 Wine Workshop and Kitchen in Chelsea by Patrick Schmitt MW, Tim Tiptree MW, Matthew Stubbs MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, William Lowe MW and Matthieu Longuère MS.
The results in full will feature in the 2021 edition of db’s annual Champagne Report, which will be out next month.
Please visit The Global Masters website for more information, or, to enter future competitions – giving you the chance to feature online and in print – please call +44 (0) 20 7803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at: [email protected]
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