A guest post by the Wine Man.

Hello from Sydney, where I was invited to the annual Champagne Bureau Australia tasting which was held at the salubrious Doltone House, overlooking Hyde Park.

This yearly tasting features all of the grand marque Champagne houses and a selection of smaller artisanal producers. There were more than 80 Champagnes on taste – and were there some treasures! It is these that we want to present to you as the 12 picks for the upcoming dual carnivals of spring racing and Christmas.

So, to bring you up to Champagne tasting speed and to explain what we were looking for, I will give you a quick framework, for this tasting business is more than difficult unless you first determine what it is that you are looking for in a good wine, whether it be sparkling, still or fortified.

In making my tasting notes, and I have them for all of the wines I tasted, I was looking for wines that had an attractive fragrance on the nose that invited you to want to drink them. Then in the mouth I was looking for wines that were focused and not at all broad or flabby, which are traits that I don’t like at all in Champagne. I believe that good Champagne should make one salivate and desire another mouthful, and broad and flabby wines do not allow this.

That said, a number of the Champagne houses were clumsy, for they allowed their Champagne to get too cold by keeping them on ice for too long. This is a great tragedy, for excessive chilling suppresses aromatics and more importantly, flavour and if you are spending a good sum on a bottle of Champagne you certainly want to maximise the drinking experience.

So here are my 12 picks (mixed dozen?) for the upcoming fun season. In keeping with the turbulent fiscal environment that we find ourselves in, I have focused on non vintage wines that retail for under $70, then two roses, and three vintage Champagnes which can be afforded if you do well at the races or seriously want to spoil yourself.

To determine the prices I trawled the web to find the best deal I could and ideally you can too.

Non vintage Champagnes under $70. Ranked 1 to 7 considering the quality and value:

  1. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV:  Straw-like in colour and the wine wants to be broad but is too well-made and focused. Great wine for the price.  $40
  2. Perrier-Jouet Grand Brut:  A lovely, lifted sparkling which is simply a great drink.  $60
  3. Lanson Brut NV:  Good flavour spectrum and confers interest. An honest toiler. $45
  4. Louis Roederer Brut Premier: Strawberries and cream. Base wine gives complexity. Nice wine. $70
  5. Bollinger Special Cuvee:  Grassy notes on the nose. A focused and happy drink which I describe as a nice proposition.  $60
  6. Billecart-Salmon:  Good balance and nicely styled.  $60
  7. Moet et Chandon Imperial NV:  The surprise package of the tasting, for I’ve found these wines to be quite variable, but this was fruit-driven and fine.  $50

Pipped at the post:

  1. Paul Barra:  Don’t let the daggy packaging put you off, for this was the NV of the tasting;  fragrant, considered and a lovely long acid drive.  $70
  2. Gosset Grande Reserve NV:  What a great celebratory drink. Lots of interest and acid.  $95
  3. Gosset Grand Blanc de Blanc NV:  Like a Grandma’s cuddle.  Affable, pure and driven.  $120
  4. Charles Heidsieck:  A complex and great offering with plenty of mouthfeel.  $90
  5. Pommery Brut Royal NV:  Clean, focused albeit served too cold.  $70

Rose:

  1. Perrier-Jouet Blason Rose NV:  Very impressive.  Lighter in colour but makes up for it in finesse, balance and most importantly, flavour.  $90
  2. Louis Roederer Vintage Rose 2010:  An intoxicatingly good wine that is delightful across the palate.  $130

Vintage:

  1. Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995:  Oh my. I haven’t tasted anything this good in some time, and it’s 20 years old to boot. It is still so fresh and poised. The wine of the tasting, week, month and possibly the year.  $310
  2. Piper-Heidsieck Vintage 2006:  Lovely richness and embraces you like an old friend.  Great value for the $$$.  $65
  3. Pol Roger Brut Vintage 2004:  Wonderful fragrance and an intoxicating wine.  A great drink.  $110

Missed by a nose:

  1. Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc 2005:  A developed and very evocative undertaking which is a meal in a glass.  $300

So there you have it – all that you need to put a spring in your step for the races and festive season.