Rathfinny Wine Estate

Tasting in Epernay

Every year the French winemakers organise the Vinalies, which is a professional national tasting that assesses both French and foreign wines. The first rounds of the tasting have each region of France tasting its own products for a pre-selection. Once that selection is done, the final tasting will occur when all winemakers are gathered again, in April, when the pre-selected wines are tasted and rated to pick our favorites, give awards and finally publish a guide.

Last week, I was lucky enough to be invited to Epernay for a first-round two-session blind tasting of Champagne wines. There, we tasted Rosé the first day, and Vintage Champagne the day after. There are many different ways for rating wines and I thought the scale we used was interesting.

We were at tables of three tasters each, focusing on four attributes, rating wines out of 20, with the following categories:
– Appearance, rated out of 3, took into account limpidity (clear, transparent), quality of bubbles and foam.
– Nose, rated out of 6, took into account the intensity, the quality and purity of the aromas.
– Taste, rated out of 8, took into account the quality, intensity, length of the taste.
– Finally, we had to rate out of 3 the general harmony of the wine.

Overall, we tasted some excellent wines. We rejected one sample, as we agreed the wine presented off-flavors that we considered unacceptable. Since this can happen, there is always a second sample, so we can make sure that the problem is not an isolated incident affecting just one bottle.

The Rosé wines all tasted fresh and vibrant, and their color showed youth, i.e. bright and pink rather than turning orange/brown as older wines would. They were all showing a lot of fruit notes and with well balanced acidity. We noted that a few wines’ dosage (liqueur d’expédition added after disgorging: wine plus sugar) was a bit too high. Sugar can help some fruit flavors come forward, but if overdone, it can make the wine feel rather heavy in the mouth.

As for the Vintage wines, they were from 2007, 2009 and 2010, most tasted still young and fresh, which was expected since they were disgorged fairly recently. We could find the nutty, buttery, fresh bread quite common to Vintage Champagne wines and all were really vibrant, with some showing a lot of complexity. Even though for the most part all were very well made, it was quite easy to pick the best wines as their quality was undeniably higher.

In contrast, however, was the last wine: a Coteaux Champenois, which is a still Pinot Noir. The wine was from 2004, and I wonder why such wine would still be on the shelf in 2016. We could sense that the wine had been good several years ago, it had a good structure, intensity and acidity, but it had gone way past its prime and oxidation notes were overpowering. Disappointing – a producer should know better than that.

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