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Top blanc de blancs Champagnes

Following our selection of the top Chardonnays under £20, the drinks business has drawn on the highest performing medallists in the Global Chardonnay Masters 2013 to bring you the top picks above £20.

The still wines in this price bracket will appear in their own list tomorrow, but such was the quality recognised by judges at this level within the sparkling category that we have highlighted the gold and master award winners separately here.

While a growing number of countries today produce excellent sparkling styles, Champagne has cultivated a highly successful niche with its Chardonnay, or blanc de blancs, expression.

More resilient than the highly strung Pinot Noir, Chardonnay can produce high quality more consistently in the marginal climate of Champagne. The variety also excels at transmitting the region’s famous chalky soils into the glass, producing crisp, mineral, styles that are often capable of long ageing.

Divided only by price bracket and, for ease of judging, whether the style was oaked or unoaked, the blind tasting format of the drinks business Global Chardonnay Masters allowed wines to be assessed without prejudice about their country of origin.

Wines were scored out of 100, with those gaining over 95 points being awarded the top title of Master. Those earning over 90 points were given a Gold, those over 85 points a Silver and those over 80 points a Bronze.

The wines were judged by Masters of Wine and Master Sommeliers over two days on 23 and 24 September 2013 at private members club Broadway House in London.

The judges were: Sarah Abbott MW, wine educator & consultant; Jo Ahearne MW, winemaking consultant; Richard Bampfield MW, consultant; Anthony Barne MW, head of wine, Bonhams UK; Beverley Blanning MW, author & journalist; Alex Hunt MW, purchasing director, Berkmann Wine Cellars; Keith Isaac MW, general manager, Castelnau Wine Agencies; Justin Knock MW, winemaking consultant; Rupert Millarthe drinks business; Sebastian Payne MW, buyer, The Wine Society; Hugo Rose MW, consultant; Gabriel Savagethe drinks businessRonan Sayburn MS, head of wine, Dorchester Collection UK; Patrick Schmittthe drinks business.

The full list of Master, Gold and Silver medal winners appeared in November 2013’s issue of the drinks business and we highlighted the top performing wines under £20 here.

Meanwhile read on to discover the broad selection of vintage and non-vintage blanc de blancs expressions from a wide range of Champagne houses which were rewarded in the 2013 competition.

Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Chardonnay 2005

After the giants of the Moët Hennessy stable, co-operative brand Nicolas Feuillatte is one of the largest players in the Champagne sector, coming in at number three in the drinks business 2013 league table of the biggest Champagne brands.

As its fellow titans demonstrate however, quantity is no barrier to quality, and with this grand cru blanc de blancs vintage offering Nicolas Feuillatte shows what it can achieve at the top end.

In contrast to the situation in Bordeaux, 2005 did not get the Champenois’ pulses racing in the same way as their much-lauded 2004 vintage. Nevertheless, a number of houses have recently released 2005 vintage expressions, with one other high profile example from that year making an appearance later in this list.

Champagne Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs NV

Tracing its roots back to 1584, Gosset makes a strong claim to the title of oldest wine producer in Champagne.

With this Grand Blanc de Blancs non-vintage expression, Gosset keeps to the practice common to most of its range and a number of other houses by avoiding malolactic fermentation, a decision associated with preserving a crisp freshness to the Champagne.

From its base in Aÿ, Gosset focuses its attention on grapes from the Marne Valley. With a relatively small production compared to the big names in Champagne, what this brand lacks in prolific exposure on the shelves of multiple retailers it makes up for with listings in some of the world’s top independent outlets and restaurants.

Cattier Brut Blanc de Blancs Signature

While its Armand de Brignac brand fuels some of the glitziest parties on the international circuit, Champagne Cattier is rather more quietly showing what it can achieve without the bling.

This Blancs de Blancs Signature marks the latest addition to its range and was launched with this distinctive white packaging towards the end of 2013 to celebrate the house’s 250th anniversary.

Located in Chigny les Roses, the Cattier house draws its production from 33 hectares of largely premier cru sites on the Montagne de Reims, including the Clos du Moulin, which saw its own rosé non-vintage expression launched at the end of last year.

Cattier Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru

Cattier was the only Champagne producer to scoop not just one but two gold medals in the Chardonnay masters, showing its proficiency with the blanc de blancs style.

With its eye catching clear bottle, this premier cru expression stands out from the crowd for its packaging, although it was very much the contents which impressed our judging panel in this blind tasting format.

While the grapes grown on the Montagne de Reims provide high quality raw material for Cattier’s extensive range, the house also boasts some of the deepest cellars in the region, 30 metres below ground.

With their combination of Renaissance, Romanesque and Gothic architecture these cellars provide the constant, low temperature that is so ideal for the maturation of wines prior to release.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut 2005

If Chardonnay lies at the heart of the Taittinger house style, then the variety reaches its highest expression in this prestige cuvée.

Produced from top crus in the Côte des Blancs, a small proportion of the blend is aged in new oak to extra generosity to the finished product before it spends 10 years maturing in the Taittinger cellars.

Despite following on the heels of the superlative-laden 2002 and 2004 vintages, this 2005 was met by no less enthusiasm when it launched towards the end of last year.

Boosted no doubt by a more general growing appetite for the value offered by Champagne compared to the spiralling prices of Bordeaux and Burgundy, the market appears to have latched onto Comtes as a particularly good bargain.

Its days as what one merchant described as “an insider’s tip” appear to be numbered, but as the sole sparkling wine in this competition to be awarded a Master, this offering from Taittinger remains an attractive buy for Champagne and Chardonnay lovers alike.

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