John Saker talks the state of Cham­pagne with Dr Tony Jor­dan

Cuisine - - CONTENTS -

THERE HAVE BEEN hard times aplenty in the Cham­pagne re­gion’s rich his­tory. Mar­kets have col­lapsed and wars have been fought among its vines. In 1940, two mil­lion bot­tles were looted dur­ing the first few weeks of the Ger­man oc­cu­pa­tion alone. There are down­sides to be­ing an ob­ject of the world’s de­sire.

The present day, how­ever, is not such a bad time. World con­sump­tion is al­most back to the record-break­ing pre-GFC lev­els. Qual­ity con­tin­ues to be care­fully main­tained, and the mar­ket­ing ma­chine that is the envy of every other wine re­gion in the world never seems to make a false step.

Aus­tralian Dr Tony Jor­dan is some­one with a good knowl­edge of Cham­pagne. He worked for Moët Hen­nessy for 21 years, dur­ing which time he es­tab­lished Do­maine Chan­don in the Yarra Val­ley and con­sulted to Chan­don winer­ies world­wide. He now de­scribes him­self as “some­what re­tired”. He still con­sults and judges around the world. He is a fix­ture on the panel at the Cham­pagne and Sparkling Wine World Cham­pi­onships held an­nu­ally in Lon­don. This year he lent Cui­sine his ex­per­tise, join­ing the judg­ing panel at our bub­bles tast­ing. We asked Tony to share some in­sights on Cham­pagne today. On the rise and pop­u­lar­ity of the small, grower Cham­pagnes: There have al­ways been a lot of smaller grow­ers in Cham­pagne but now they’re at­tract­ing greater at­ten­tion. Some of it is hype from som­me­liers and writ­ers and the like, and their end­less search for some­thing dif­fer­ent. They sug­gest grower Cham­pagnes are more au­then­tic. I just scratch my head at the idea you can only be au­then­tic if you’re small. It doesn’t stand scrutiny, when you look at the qual­ity pro­duced by many of the big­ger brands in

Cham­pagne. Both groups – big and small – are ca­pa­ble of pro­duc­ing sen­sa­tional wines and so-so wines. As long as your vine­yards are qual­ity vine­yards and you’re in a po­si­tion to cap­ture that qual­ity, you’ll pro­duce good wine what­ever your size. Cham­pagne is a re­gion that is blessed in hav­ing large ar­eas of great-qual­ity grapes. On the strength of the Cham­pagne

brand: More than any other wine re­gion in the world, the name of the re­gion it­self is the brand. The av­er­age con­sumer knows the name Cham­pagne. They be­lieve that if it has that name, it’s good and that he or she should have some. It’s an ex­traor­di­nar­ily pow­er­ful brand that has been built up over a long pe­riod. The big Cham­pagne houses have done a ser­vice for ev­ery­body. The en­tire re­gion shares in the wealth of that brand, but the name wouldn’t be where it is today with­out the devel­op­ment of the qual­ity im­age by Veuve Clic­quot, Bollinger, Tait­tinger, Pol Roger, Mumm, Moët & Chan­don and many oth­ers. On the chal­lenge posed by other sparkling wines around the world: There are cer­tainly some su­perb sparkling wines be­ing made from the tra­di­tional Cham­pagne va­ri­eties – chardon­nay, pinot noir and pinot me­u­nier – in coun­tries in­clud­ing New Zealand, Aus­tralia, Ar­gentina, Cal­i­for­nia (which is like a sep­a­rate coun­try), Italy, Eng­land, South Africa. Con­sumers should look out for them. Also, there is the non-tra­di­tional va­ri­ety sparkling wine, pros­ecco, which is hot at the mo­ment.

Do they worry Cham­pagne? I don’t think so. Th­ese styles in­tro­duce peo­ple to bub­bles, but the rep­u­ta­tion of Cham­pagne still man­ages to over­shadow all else in the cat­e­gory. It’s in­ter­est­ing that if you buy a Mar­garet River or Hawke’s Bay caber­net, your ex­pec­ta­tion (and hope) is for a wine that re­flects its own ter­roir. You don’t ex­pect it to taste ex­actly like a Bordeaux. With tra­di­tional-va­ri­ety sparkling wine, that logic seems to es­cape many con­sumers. Peo­ple will say, “Well, it doesn’t taste ex­actly like Cham­pagne so it can’t be as good”, or, “It’s dif­fer­ent so it’s not as good as Cham­pagne”. That’s an un­fair ba­sis of com­par­i­son but, again, it shows how pow­er­ful the brand “Cham­pagne” is. On new style de­vel­op­ments: We’re in­creas­ingly see­ing greater use of oak; in some styles the oak in­flu­ence is quite overt. Wine­mak­ers are com­ing at this in dif­fer­ent ways – some carry out fer­men­ta­tions in new oak, oth­ers ma­ture base wines in new or old oak. It’s good to see wine­mak­ers are not averse to evolv­ing styles. Per­son­ally, I like Cham­pagne and other tra­di­tional-va­ri­ety sparkling wines not to show too much oak, but done well it brings greater char­ac­ter and com­plex­ity to the wines. On the dif­fer­ences be­tween non­vin­tage and vin­tage Cham­pagne: It’s a Cham­pagne story that’s not well un­der­stood. Peo­ple think of NV and Vin­tage cham­pagnes as be­ing dif­fer­ent qual­ity tiers, but ac­tu­ally they’re dif­fer­ent styles. NV (about 95 per cent of Cham­pagne’s pro­duc­tion) are blended from the cur­rent har­vest with re­serve wines (wines from pre­vi­ous har­vests that have been aged to de­velop char­ac­ter and com­plex­ity) so that they usu­ally need rel­a­tively short yeast age (18-plus months) be­fore they are ready for dis­gorg­ing and re­lease.

Vin­tage wines are blended from base wines of one year, which are cho­sen so the blend will ben­e­fit (tex­ture, com­plex­ity, aro­mat­ics devel­op­ment) from long (three years’ to seven years’) yeast age be­fore dis­gorg­ing.

In the Cui­sine tast­ing, we saw great NV and vin­tage ex­am­ples and I sup­pose you can say the very best were vin­tage blends.

Dr Tony Jor­dan, be­low, worked for Moët Hen­nessy for 21 years.

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