James Halliday's Top 100 Wines of 2011 - Champagne


61 wines submitted 
12 selected

Australia and Champagne have had a love affair stretching back to the last decades of the nineteenth century, Australia’s per capita consumption at times taking it at or near to the top of the tree. Inevitably, fluctuations in exchange rates, waxing and waning in the financial strength of Australia (and elsewhere), recurrent changes in ownership of some of the major producers with consequent changes in distribution arrangements, and the GFC have all impacted in one way or another on Australian consumption. But even before the rise in the value of the Australian dollar this year, shipments to Australia were on their way up. In the 2010 calendar year shipment rose 25.8% to 3,687,140 bottles, out-performing the overall export growth of 19.5%.

Cattier Brut Premier Cru NV
90 points, $44.99
This is one of more than half a dozen wines made by a small, but highly regarded, family-owned business with 20 ha of vineyards and an annual production of 35 000 cases. it is a blend of 40% pinot meunier, 35% pinot noir and 25% chardonnay. Fine, elegant and well-balanced, it has some brioche/nutty notes, but is predominantly fruit-driven, with a long, clean finish. Vintage Cellars exclusive (20% less by the case).

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Selection Belles Années Premier Cru NV
92 points, $59.99
The Gimonnet family has been growing chardonnay in Cuis since 1750, but did not begin bottling and selling its wines until 1945, with a single-minded focus on chardonnay. Bright lemon-gold, this blanc de blancs has great length and intensity, with citrus peel and grapefruit flavours enhanced by acidity. Tom Stevenson (World Encyclopedia of Champagne) is a strong advocate of the House. Vintage Cellars exclusive (20% less by the case).

Champagne Devaux Blanc de Noirs NV
93 points, $69
This wine is 100% pinot noir, in stark contrast to the Gimonnet wine, with 20% to 30% reserve wine, and three years on lees. Its strong bronze hue introduces a wine with multiple layers of flavour, its mix of nutty, creamy cracked yeast notes interwoven with small red berry fruits. Devaux is a large co-operative in the Aube that joined Yering Station in 1993 to produce Yarrabank.

Rathbone Wine Group
T (03) 9730 0100 (Mark Cunliffe)

Jacquesson Cuvee No. 734 NV
94 points, $98
The back label provides more information than any other, with the cuvee number changing annually: 73% of the wine came from ’06, 22% from ’05 and 5% from ’04, the varietal blend 54% chardonnay, 26% pinot meunier and 20% pinot noir. Fermented and lees-aged in cask, it was disgorged in the fourth quarter of ’10. It is an immediately appealing wine, full of ripe stone fruit layered with creamy smoothness, the palate long and supple.

T 0409 836 939 (Patrick Walsh)

Pierre Gimmonet & Fils Special Club Premier Cru 2004
95 points, $99.99
It is most unusual for me to pick two wines from a small family producer, but the wines demanded inclusion, this from 80% Grand Cru vineyards, 50% of the vines older than 40 years. Bright straw-green, it has a fine, persistent mousse, and a very fragrant bouquet pointing to the bright grapefruit and white stone fruit flavours. It has excellent mouthfeel and a long, lingering finish. Vintage Cellars exclusive (20% less by the case).

Champagne Taittinger Cuvee Brut Prestige Rose NV
95 points, $130
A deliberately youthful blend of ’07 and ’08 base wines, 30% chardonnay and 70% pinot noir (of which 15% is back-blended pinot noir red wine). Pale salmon-pink, this is a superfine and elegant rose style, with wild strawberry flavours and a minerally structure. The freshness of the finish is not compromised by excess dosage. It is obvious the fierce battle that returned this House to Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger shortly after it had been sold in 2005 has in no way harmed the quality of its wines.

T (02) 9722 1200(Katherine Morgan)

Bollinger Rose NV
96 points, $135
First released in 2008, it is in fact almost identical to the Special Cuvee with the addition of 5% deeply coloured pinot noir table wine made from grapes grown in Ay and Verzenay. This blend of ’06 and ’07 base wines was tiraged in ’07; it is still bright salmon-pink, and enters the mouth with almost juicy red berry fruit flavours before changing stride into spice and fruit paste, finishing with an almost toasty, savoury finish. Lovely wine.

Fine Wine Partners 
T (02) 8335 8016 (Fiona McDonald)

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose NV
96 points, $144
Surely the most consistent rose on the market, with a very strong and loyal following to prove the point. The pale, bright salmon-pink colour comes from the addition of 7% aromatic pinot noir table wine from Mareuil-sur-Ay, joining the 53% pinot and 40% chardonnay base wines. This release is definitely on-song, with an abundance of fragrant red berry fruits and spice on the bouquet and palate alike; then follows a long, penetrating, yet fine, finish and aftertaste. One of those Champagnes you can drink anywhere, any time.

Domaine Wine Shippers
T (03) 9878 7848

Bollinger La Grande Année 2002
97 points, $240
This is a blend of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay (Grand Années highest ever percentage of chardonnay). It also followed in the footsteps of the 2000 Grande Année with eight years on lees (previously it was six years). I tasted it in Champagne in July, and two months later in Australia, and it is a truly superb wine. Bright gold, it has all the legendary complexity and power of Bollinger, yet has great purity, precision, freshness and balance through to the finish of its very long lemon/citrus zest palate. A large amount has been put aside for the Bollinger RD programme.

Fine Wine Partners 
T (02) 8335 8016 (Fiona McDonald)

Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 1998
97 points, $250
First made in 1969 to honour Nicole-Barbe Clicquot Ponsardin, the 27-year-old widow (veuve) who had to take control of the House after the sudden death of her husband. It is a blend of two-thirds pinot noir, one-third chardonnay, almost entirely sourced from the 382 hectares of estate vineyards (dwarfed by the grapes supplied each year by 1200 growers). Full gold, it is still remarkably youthful, reflecting its long time on lees. There are plenty of brioche and dried fruit undertones, but it is its vibrantly fresh, lilting finish and glorious aftertaste that inspires.

Moet Hennessy
T (02) 8344 9903

Krug Grande Cuvée NV
97 points, $299
I freely concede that it’s impossible there could have been any change in winemaking that would have filtered through into the Krug Grande Cuvée after Krug was acquired by LVMH, but the wines seemed fresher (and better). I hasten to add the wine is as imperiously complex, rich and mouthfilling as ever, a blend of more than 100 parcels of pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier spanning eight to 10 vintages that spends six years on lees prior to disgorgement. It has a fascinating squeaky acidity that is a chord providing the ultimate harmony and balance of a truly superb wine.

Moet Hennessy
T (02) 8344 9903

Dom Pérignon Rose 1998
98 points, $780
However large the make of its big brother may be, that of the Rose is very small, partly due to the limited amount of pinot noir table wine of the right weight, character and quality. It is this addition which is the primary difference of the Rose from Dom Perignon proper. You certainly won’t find a Rose in a vintage not declared by Dom for its main wine, nor will you ever find a non-vintage Dom. This ’98 Rose if a wine that you can lose yourself in, as I do regularly with great red Burgundies: spices abound, woven through the warmth of the red fruits, and the mouthfeel is amazingly supple and silky, even with the core of acidity you know must be there. When only the very best will do.

Moet Hennessy
T (02) 8344 9903

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