A Crash-course in Champagne: IMW Champagne Tasting 2015

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A few weeks ago, I attended the Institute of Masters of Wine’s annual Champagne Tasting in San Francisco. Over 100 different Champagnes, from blanc de blancs to zero-dosage to vintage blends from the grande marques and grower producers were poured and tasted in a little over two hours. This was only the second large-scale tasting that I’ve attended. At the first, almost two years ago in Korea, I didn’t really know what I was doing (or really that much about wine) but it sparked my interest. For this tasting, I decided to come prepared–eating a large meal beforehand, highlighting the wines I wanted to taste in advance, and showing up early. I planned to try to take notes, but was very quickly overwhelmed by the sheer number of very tasty champagnes on offer. So instead of sharing my nearly intelligible notes, I wanted to share what I, as a champagne neophyte, learned from this two hour crash course in the wines of Champagne.

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One of the reasons this tasting was so incredibly educational was that the presence of so many styles, vintages, and producers allowed for side by side comparisons that would be impossible in regular life. The wines were arranged by style (zero-dosage, low dosage, blanc-de-blancs, brut (vintage and nv), blanc-de-noir, rose, and dolce) in a semi-circle, and the second time around the circle I was amazed how large a difference I found between the blanc-de-blancs and blanc-de-noirs; by the end I began to identify which of the bruts (all blends) had a larger percentage of pinot noir or chardonnay. It was also interesting to compare vintage versus non-vintage wines from the same producer, poured side by side. For example, one could try the Pol Roger White Foil Brut NV and the Pol Roger Reserve Brut 2004, or the Egly-Ouriet NV and 2005. This side-by-side comparison was a great way to get a sense of someone’s “house” style and the more complex flavors that came from the older vintage years. Finally, I was able to start to see the differences between producers, particularly in use of oak and malolactic fermentation.

In conclusion, this tasting introduced me to the diversity (and deliciousness) that Champagne has to offer. (It also increased by a factor of about 10 the number of vintage Champagnes I’ve tasted). I especially enjoyed the Pol Roger Reserve 2004 and Rose 2006, Piper-Heidsieck Brut 2006, Duval-Leroy “Femme de Champagne” 2000, both from Egly-Ouriet, Pierre Paillard Blanc de Noirs NV, Vilmart & Cie “Grand Cellier D’Or” 2010, and Tattinger Rose NV. Thank you IMW!

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