The Champagne Masters 2022: Results Announced
Now in its 11th year, The Champagne Masters has a long track-record of identifying not only the best in the category, but also the strengths and weakness of Champagne. In terms of unearthing the stars of Champagne in 2022, the judges picked out over 40 exceptional bottles. Drinks Business believes that it might have been the biggest competition that they have ever hosted.
This year The Champagne Masters took place on March 10 at London’s Coravin Wine & Bubbles Bar, with judges: Susan Hulme MW, Siobhan Turner MW, Patricia Stefanowicz MW, David Round MW, Jonathan Pedley MW, and Patrick Schmitt MW.
Brut NV was the largest sub-category by volume and the standard of Brut NV being made today is excellent (according to the judges); a product of better viticulture, pressing, cleaner juices, more reserve wines, longer times spent ageing on/off the lees, improved bottling procedures, along with lower dosages. Today’s Brut NV tends to mix depth and complexity with precision. At their best, these are layered wines, with honeyed notes, along with fresh fruit, and nutty, bready interest, along with dry and bright edge, ensuring that they serve that aperitif moment – for which they are crafted – brilliantly!
A benchmark in the competitive Brut NV sector is Piper-Heidsieck, especially its drier ‘Essential’, with a 5g/l dosage, although Lanson (both for its ‘Le Black and Le Green’ labels) is proving hard to beat, with its nutty and citric style. Also, Moët & Chandon garnered a Gold for its Brut Impérial, and, as the best-selling Champagne in the world, this fizz proves that it’s possible to be big and fine with sparkling wine. Indeed, scale may be preferable, giving one access to a wide range of wines for blending – a key for not just complexity and balance, but stylistic consistency as well.
Commenting on this sector of the market, Champagne Masters judge, Jonathan Pedley MW described it as a “mixed bag with a handful of delicious wines mixed in with plenty of basic stuff.” Continuing he said, “The latter were often young, raw and lacking complexity. The better wines had maturity and complexity – doubtless derived from the judicious use of reserve wines and extended lees ageing.”
Agreeing, fellow judges Patricia Stefanowicz MW observed that “Champagne will never be inexpensive and finding a number of exciting wines at the lower end of the £30-50 bracket with appealing fruit and fresh croissant or brioche accents, was a delight. Above £50 the Brut NV wines are excellent, and so they should be.”
The first Masters was awarded in this category – an accolade reserved for those wines that are exceptional – with producers Joseph Perrier, Piper-Heidsieck and Henriot the sources of “wow-factor” fizz, to use Stefanowicz’s description for the best samples. Taking in harvests from 2014 back to 2006, it was notable how good the 2012s are, while the 2014s were showing their quality potential too. Recording the presence of “gems”; “A cluster of wines showed evidence of having been vinified from top quality fruit and then aged to add complexity and harmony,” Pedley said that this part of the Champagne offer is where the quality-to-price ratio seems to be highest. By way of explanation for this, he said, “With many houses focusing on Prestige Cuvées and other trendy things like Blanc de Blancs, standard Vintage seems to have become a quiet bye water where the consumer can pick up some excellent wines for sensible prices.”
Up next with the top-end expressions, Prestige Cuvée Champagne, there was more outstanding wines from the 2012 harvest, but also the first rate 2008, and, for a younger fizz, the relatively underrated 2013 vintage. Master-level quality was tasted from Deutz, Perrier-Jouët and Rare, as well as the multi-vintage flagship from Laurent-Perrier, called Grand Siecle, now carrying an edition number so one can find out the base wines and gauge the age of the fizz. Other delicious wines – if not quite Masters – hailed from some grower-cooperative producers, with Nicolas Feuillatte, Palmer and Castelnau picking up Golds, the latter for an exciting late-release from 2000 in magnum. Underrated names for greatness in this upmarket sphere included GH Mumm – it’s Lalou 2006 is delicious – and Pommery, whose Cuvée Louise is certainly a connoisseur’s prestige cuvée. Speaking generally about this category, Pedley recorded “glorious honeyed aromas and great length on the palate,” and “angina inducing prices to match.”
Blanc de Blancs
Testament to the increasing demand for Blanc de Blancs, this was one of the biggest sectors of this year’s Champagne Masters, and home to some fantastic wines, notably those from Henriot and Telmont, but also Mumm and Perrier-Jouët, Deutz and Delamotte, along with Piper-Heidsieck and Ayala, and Besserat de Bellefon with its grand cru bottling. Clearly impressed, Stefanowicz described the Champagnes as “pristine”, with “racy acidity”. Pedley recorded a more variable standard, and while excited by “butter cream” notes in one sample, said that some others seemed “simple”, with “an absence of leesy complexity and maturity.”
Such wines were, however, better than the blanc de noirs, which was “a small but slightly disappointing flight, marked by a couple of wines that were rather vegetal,” said Pedley, with the judges agreeing that Champagne does undoubtedly benefit from the addition of Chardonnay to the blend.
Finishing with rosé, it was agreed upon by the tasters that, with a few exceptions – such as the excellent samples from Laurent-Perrier, Perrier-Jouët, Pommery, Joseph Perrier and Besserat de Bellefon – to quote Pedley, “this was the biggest disappointment of the day”. Commenting that “Clearly making good Rosé Champagne is not as easy as a lot of people think,” he then recorded two types of poorer-scoring pink fizz: “At one end of the scale there were wines that were raw and simple, at the other end wines that were tired and lacking freshness.”
Stefanowicz felt similarly, commenting, “Whilst the range of colours was visual enchantment, many of the wines simply do not deliver on the nose and palate. And, of course, they are mostly expensive. That said, there were a few hidden gems. But, particularly at more than £30, I’d have expected much more definition and refinement than some of the wines delivered.”
Concluding on this category in the context of the overall competition, Pedley stated, “It is a bold thing to say, but if we steered consumers away from Rosé Champagne and towards standard Vintage we would be doing them a huge favour.”
List of the winners can be found here:
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Source: Drinks Business [UK]