1999 Champagne Class

A Massachusetts Community College, Assabet Technical College, offered a "Champagnes and Sparkling Wines" course recently that I accompanied some friends to. The course, taught by a knowledgeable wine distributor, went the gamut from Andre Brut to Dom Perignon. The sampling covered:
  • Andre Brut, $4
  • Freixenet Cordon Negro, $8
  • Domaine Chandon, $18
  • Moet et Chandon White Star, $28
  • Moet et Chandon Brut Rose NV, $50
  • GH Mumm Cordon Rouge Brut NV, $32
  • 1991 Pommery, $38
  • 1992 Dom Perignon, $125
  • Veuve Cliquot Demi Sec NV, $40
  • Martini and Rossi Asti Spumante, $10
A bit of history was given before the wine tasting began. Only sparkling wines from Champagne, France can truly be called Champagne. At this point, the region of Champagne has set boundaries and every available area of land within is used for vines. This means there cannot be any new Champagne houses as there is simply no more room to put them. Champagnes can use just Chardonnay, for 'blanc du blanc', or mix in Pinot Noir or Pinot Meniur, for 'blanc du noir'.

The instructor mentioned that there is indeed a growing shortage of fine Champagnes - between the end of 1999, the end of 2000, the Olympics, and the year-long celebration in Italy. While there will be plenty of Freixenet and other lower level sparkling wines, many people who want to "splurge for this one occasion" will find there is little left to splurge on.

We reviewed how Champagne itself was invented by Dom Perignon, and how the riddling rack, used for settling out the sediment, was invented by the widow Veuve Cliquot. Now, on to the tasting! The Andre Brut, as expected, was awful. The instructor had trouble opening it, between the plastic seal and the plastic cork! The Freixenet, a cava from Spain, was better. This had medium bubbles, and a gentle, nutty flavor. Cavas use different grapes than 'real' Champagnes. Third, the Californian blanc-de-noir, Domaine Chandon. This had a metallic flavor to it, and was very bubbly. None of these three were universally enjoyed.

Now, the first Champagne. Moet et Chandon is a typical 'first Champagne' for people. It had a soft aspect to it, with a gentle spicy flavor. The Moet et Chandon Brut Rose was a light amber color, which some enjoyed and some did not like at all. The flavor was very fluffy and herbal. Next, the Mumm was soft and flowery. Very enjoyable.

Finally, our favorite, the 1991 Pommery. This was very fresh and flowery tasting. We kept some to compare against the 1992 Dom, but while it was very bubbly and light, with some hint of nectarine and fruit, it was simply not ready yet. It should age for another 1-2 years. More were interested in seconds on the Pommery than on the Don, tho both did end up empty.

The Veuve Cliquot was a light, sweet sparkler. This was not the 'orange label' so famous at wine stores, but a white label. Finally, the Asti Spumante from Italy was sweet, orangy and very bubbly. The instructor told us to imagine this one with a bowl of strawberries, not with a serious meal.

A mystery wine was next served, with discreet bubbles, and an earthy, floral taste. This was a Mumm Rene Lalou 1985, in a pretty ribbed bottle. It sells for around $70 a bottle, and was rather good.

The instructor mentioned that some wines, like Bollinger RD, age the Champagne on the lees and actually list a second "disgorge year" in addition to the vintage year. This dual-aging system gives it a more complex flavor.

The Basics of Champagne
Methode Champenoise - How Champagne is Made

Champagne Pairings and Reviews


Champagne History and Information