Champagne Masters 2017: the results in full
We bring you the all the medal-winning wines from this year’s Champagne Masters, including the biggest names in the business, and some relative newcomers to the category that are offering great fizz at competitive prices.
While the Champagne Masters are focused entirely on Champagne, one can’t help but consider the quality and style of sparkling wine from elsewhere when tasting this fine French fizz. And had we been conducting this tasting more than a decade ago, Champagne’s competition would have been fewer in number and weaker in threat.
But today that competition is many and strong, with, notably, new quality entrants from places such as coastal Chile, Central Otago, Franciacorta, Trento, and England. Good fizz from Spain, California and Australia was already on the international stage 10 years ago.
With that in mind, today Champagne must be not only good, but clearly the best to remain the benchmark, particularly as its prices creep upwards, most notably among the famous Brut non-vintage brands.
With the Champagne Masters including the main producers, and, significantly, the 10 best-selling grandes marques, this blind-tasting competition acts as a health check on the region. It identifies the base level of quality and the stylistic trends, as well as the strengths and the weaknesses.
Importantly, the people doing this are experts in their field (see above), and are attuned to the developments in the wider sparkling wine business.
Although the Champenois should resist any temptation to give way to complacency, the standard of fizz in this year’s competition was high. Indeed, it would be hard to think of another sparkling-wine region where the base level was as consistently impressive.
Those wines in Champagne’s non-vintage category may not be cheap, but almost all of this year’s entries gained a Silver medal or above, which is no easy task – not only are the judges exacting, but the entries are being judged relative to other Champagnes, and good ones at that.
As we have reported in the past, the major maisons have been improving their big-selling blends – and this has in part been achieved by the use of better-quality grapes and a higher proportion of first pressings, but more obviously from extending the time the Champagne spends in contact with its lees after the second fermentation in bottle, as well as increasing the quantity and age of reserve wines, which provide added depth and complexity to the Champagnes.
A touch more precision has also been observed in this sub-category, which stems from the decision across the board to lower the amount of sugar added to the wines at disgorgement. Other tweaks are also contributing to quality enhancements, though less uniform, and these range from the use of state-of-the-art winery equipment, the addition of large oak vats for fermentation and ageing, along with (particularly important for consistency) the installation of the so-called ‘jetting’ system during disgorgement, which reduces the risk of excessive oxygen ingress when the cork is applied.
Summarising his thoughts on the Brut NV part of the Champagne business, which accounts for as much as 90% of the volume production, wine writer, sparkling wine-specialist and Champagne Masters judge Michael Edwards said: “I genuinely think that this was one of the most rewarding Masters that I have attended in recent years. What really impressed me was the very high standard of the bread-and-butter non-vintage sector: in a challenging, fairly quiet market, the Champenois have played to their forte, focusing most effort into raising their game in Brut sans année.”
He added: “This has been applied across the community – in maisons such as Taittinger and Henriot, co-ops like Palmer and Chassenay d’Arce, and bijou houses like Lallier.”
Price and quality
While the quality across the board was high, some brands did stand taller than others, in particular the more expensive marques, proving that there is a strong relationship between price and quality in Champagne. Among these was perennial top performer Charles Heidsieck, which manages to deliver a brut NV with ripe fruit, a creamy texture, but also a smoky ‘reductive’ note, and plenty of freshness – a result of skilful blending from a vast palette of well-stored reserve wines.
Also, for those who are convinced that the lower the level of sugar in a Champagne, the better it must be, Charles Heidsieck has achieved its award-winning style with a more ‘traditional’ level of 11g/l for its brut NV – when the majority of brands are now at levels of around 9g/l. This relatively generous dosage adds to the richness of the Champagne, but no one could accuse Charles Heidsieck’s Brut NV of tasting sweet, or being unbalanced.
A mention in this category should also go to Taittinger, a house that is making wonderful non-vintage Champagnes both at the entry level and further up the price ladder with its Prelude Grand Cru. These are wines that benefit from a high proportion of first-rate Chardonnay, as well as the know-how of Loïc Dupont, who has worked at Taittinger for more than 30 years.
At slightly lower prices, it was also pleasing to see the big-volume producers on song, with Moët, Veuve Cliquot, Nicolas Feuillatte and Lanson all gaining Silvers, proving that high production levels need not be a barrier to quality in brut NV Champagne.
Beyond the brut NV Champagnes, this year’s Masters highlighted the positive impact of first-rate weather conditions as well as rigorous grape selection. The vintage and prestige cuvée categories attracted a raft of Master medals, which are awarded only to outstanding wines.
To deal with the impact of weather first, it was perhaps not surprising to see vintage and prestige cuvée Champagnes from the 2008 and 2002 harvests gaining Masters – both being brilliant vintages, and the two standout years of the noughties, thanks to wonderful climatic conditions throughout the growing season.
On the market
With the majority of the 2002s from the famous maisons released some time ago, and sold out, it was good to find some Master-winning examples still on the market – Piper with its Rare 2002, and Comtes de Dampierre with its top-of-the-range expression from this vintage. Piper also picked up a Master for its vintage 2008, as did Champagne Mumm – the latter offering a chance to sample this great year at a relatively affordable price.
As for grape selection, the high number of Gold medals awarded to vintage and vintage-dated prestige cuvée Champagnes across a range of years attests to the quality attainable when the best grapes are singled out for gentle pressing and extended ageing. With more than 33,000 hectares of vineyards in the Champagne region, it’s always possible to isolate sites where the bunches have the right balance of sugar, acid and flavour-giving compounds for making top-end fizz from a single year, and even in vintages where the weather is variable.
Indeed, one of the highest-scoring Champagnes from this year’s competition was from the controversial 2003 vintage – a year of climatic extremes and low yields. This sample, from Champagne Castelnau, was one of the many surprise discoveries from the competition, the sort of wines that our Masters blind-tasting format seeks to identify.
Other interesting finds included the brilliant Blanc de Blancs from Champagne Le Brun de Neuville, Palmer and Delamotte, as well as an outstanding example from Frerejean Frères – a relatively young house, and a name to watch.
Other producers that performed well this year across the categories include Nicolas Feuillatte, which offers great-value Champagne in the vintage category, as well as Henriot – a producer of wonderful pure Chardonnay Champagnes – and Deutz, which gained a Master for one of Champagne’s most underrated prestige cuvées, Amour de Deutz.
In short, the Champagne Masters 2017 showed that Champagne is still the benchmark for traditional-method sparkling, and that consumers of this great fizz will be rewarded by spending more.
Finally, while it confirmed the quality among maisons already renowned for quality, it also drew attention to less famous names from the region – allowing you to try something new safe in the knowledge that it won’t disappoint.
Over the following pages are all the medal-winners in 2017’s Champagne Masters.
|Champagne Montaubret||Montaubret Brut||Bronze|
|Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte||Brut Réserve||Silver|
|Champagne Lefebvre||Cuvée Réserve||Silver|
|Champagne Jacquart||Mosaïque Signature||Silver|
|Champagne Le Brun de Neuville||Grande Selection||Silver|
|Champagne Castelnau||Brut Réserve||Silver|
|Champagne Montaudon||Réserve Première||Silver|
|Baron de Villeboergue||Brut||Silver|
|Vranken Pommery||Pommery Brut Royal||Gold|
|Champagne Collet||Brut Art Déco||Silver|
|Champagne Palmer||Brut Réserve||Silver|
|Champagne Cattier||Cattier Brut Antique Premier Cru||Silver|
|Champagne Chassenay d’Arce||Cuvée Première Brut||Silver|
|Lanson International UK||Lanson Brut NV||Silver|
|Maison Perrier-Jouët||Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut||Silver|
|Moët & Chandon||Imperial Brut||Silver|
|Veuve Clicquot||Yellow Label Brut||Silver|
|Champagne Deutz||Brut Classique||Silver|
|Champagne Pannier||Brut Selection||Silver|
|Champagne Delamotte||Brut NV, Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger||Silver|
|G.H Mumm & Cie||Mumm Grand Cordon||Bronze|
|Champagne Jacquart||Extra Brut||Bronze|
|Champagne Joseph Perrier||Cuvée Royale NV Brut||Bronze|
|Charles Heidsieck||Brut Réserve||Master|
|Champagne Taittinger||Brut Reserve||Gold|
|Champagne Bollinger||Speciale Cuvée Brut NV||Silver|
|Champagne Louis Roederer||Brut Premier||Silver|
|Champagne Henriot||Brut Souverain||Silver|
|Champagne Vollereaux||Celebration Premier Cru||Silver|
|Champagne Cattier||Brut Absolu||Bronze|
|Champagne Taittinger||Prelude Grand Cru NV||Gold|
|Champagne Lallier||Ouvrage Grand Cru Elevé sous Liège||Silver|
|Champagne Collet||Esprit Couture||Silver|
|Maison Perrier-Jouët||Perrier-Jouët Blanc de Blancs||Bronze|
|Champagne Collet||Millésime 2006||Silver|
|Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte||2008||Silver|
|G.H Mumm & Cie||Mumm Le Millésime 2008||Gold|
|G.H Mumm & Cie||Mumm RSRV Blanc de Blancs 2012||Silver|
|Champagne J. de Telmont||Grand Vintage 2005||Silver|
|Champagne Palmer||Vintage 2009||Silver|
|Champagne Pannier||Vintage 2012||Bronze|
|G.H Mumm & Cie||Mumm RSRV Blanc de Noirs 2008||Bronze|
|Champagne Gosset||Grand Millesime 2006 Brut||Master|
|Maison Perrier-Jouët||Belle Epoque 2008||Gold|
|Champagne Delamotte||Blanc de Blancs 2007, Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger||Gold|
|Champagne Henriot||But Millésimé 2006||Gold|
|Vranken Pommery||Grand Cru Royal 2006||Gold|
|Champagne Pannier||Egérie de Pannier 2006||Gold|
|Champagne Deutz||William Deutz 2006||Gold|
|Champagne Chassenay d’Arce||Pinot Blanc 2008||Silver|
|Champagne Frerejean Frères||Cuvée des Hussards 2007||Silver|
|Charles Heidsieck||Brut Millesimé 2005||Silver|
|Champagne Drappier||Grande Sendrée 2008||Silver|
|Maison Perrier-Jouët||Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs 2004||Silver|
|Champagne Louis Roederer||Brut Nature 2009 Philippe Starck||Silver|
|Champagne Deutz||Champagne Amour de Deutz 2007||Master|
|Comtes de Dampierre||Cuvée Prestige 2002||Master|
|Champagne Jacquart||Cuvée Alpha 2010||Gold|
|Champagne Vollereaux||Cuvée Marguerite Vintage 2008||Gold|
|Champagne Cattier||Clos du Moulin Premier Cru||Gold|
|Champagne Jacquart||Cuvée Alpha Rosé 2010||Gold|
|Champagne Taittinger||Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006||Silver|
|Champagne Chassenay d’Arce||Cuvée Confidences||Silver|
|Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte||Palmes d’Or 2006||Silver|
|Vranken Pommery||Cuvée Louise 2004||Silver|
|Champagne Montaudon||Classe M||Silver|
Blanc de Blancs
|Champagne Le Brun de Neuville||Blanc de Blancs Brut||Silver|
|Champagne Le Brun de Neuville||Blanc de Blancs Extra-Brut||Bronze|
|Champagne Le Brun de Neuville||Lady de N Chardonnay||Gold|
|Champagne Jacquart||Blanc de Blancs 2009||Silver|
|Champagne Vollereaux||Blanc de Blancs Brut||Silver|
|Champagne Collet||Blanc de Blancs||Silver|
|Champagne J. de Telmont||Grand Blanc de Blancs 2009||Silver|
|Champagne Joseph Perrier||Cuvée Royale NV Blanc de Blancs||Bronze|
|Champagne Castelnau||Blanc de Blanc 2003||Master|
|Champagne Palmer||Blanc de Blancs||Gold|
|Champagne Delamotte||Blanc de Blancs NV, Le Mesnil-Sur-Oger||Gold|
|Champagne Cattier||Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru||Silver|
|Champagne Drappier||Blanc de Blancs||Bronze|
|Champagne Frerejean Frères||Blanc de Blancs||Master|
|Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte||Brut Blanc de Blanc 2008||Gold|
|Champagne Henriot||Blanc de Blancs||Gold|
|Champagne Gosset||Grand Blanc de Blancs Brut 2011||Silver|
Blanc de Noirs
|Champagne Montaudon||Blanc de Noirs||Silver|
|Champagne Palmer||Blanc de Noirs||Gold|
|Champagne Cattier||Brut Blanc de Noirs||Silver|
|Charles Legend||Brut Nature||Bronze|
|Charles Legend||Brut Premier||Bronze|
|G.H Mumm & Cie||Mumm Le Rosé||Silver|
|Champagne Jacquart||Rosé Mosaïque||Silver|
|Maison Perrier-Jouët||Blason Rosé||Silver|
|Champagne Cattier||Cattier Brut Rosé Premier Cru||Bronze|
|Champagne Chassenay d’Arce||Cuvée Brut Rosé||Bronze|
|Champagne Joseph Perrier||Cuvée Royale NV Rosé||Silver|
|G.H Mumm & Cie||Mumm RSRV Rosé Foujita||Silver|
|Vranken Pommery||Brut Rosé Royal||Silver|
|Champagne Deutz||Amour de Deutz Rosé 2007||Gold|
|Charles Heidsieck||Rosé Millésimé 2006||Gold|
|Charles Legend||Brut Rosé||Gold|
|Charles Heidsieck||Rosé Réserve||Silver|
|Champagne Deutz||Brut Rosé||Silver|
|Champagne Chassenay d’Arce||Cuvée Confidences Rosé 2009||Silver|
Antony Moss MW
“The wines were generally as expected; meeting the high expectations I have of this region. I didn’t find myself having to make any major revisions to what previously knew!
…. The tasting reinforced my view that there are dramatic improvements in quality as you spend more. As we worked through increasing price bands, there were clear steps up in quality, and the vintage wines showed especially well.
The big volume brands also, generally, showed well.
I also liked the Blanc de Blancs –were generally rounder and richer than some of my previous experiences, but still with tension and focus.”
Anthony Foster MW
“This was a fascinating tasting that exemplified the quality differences between basic non-vintage, prestige and vintage to a much greater extent than in previous years.
What struck me was at the lower end the wines were well defined and very much ‘Champagne’; while at the top end there was true elegance and quality. I loved the Piper Heidsieck 2008, Delamotte 2007 and the Amour de Deutz 2007 and I was surprised by the quality of the Pommery Brut Royal NV.”
Judges comments (continued)
“I genuinely think that this was one of the most rewarding Masters that I have attended in recent years. What really impressed me was…
Firstly, the very high standard of the bread-and-butter non vintage sector: in a challenging fairly quiet market, the Champenois have played to their forte, focusing most effort into raising their game in Brut sans année. This applied across the community – maisons like Taittinger, Henriot; coops like Palmer and Chassenay d’Arce; and bijou houses like Lallier.
Secondly, I was also mightily impressed by the quality of some very beautiful top/prestige cuvées, living up to their reputation – notably Piper Rare 2002, Comtes de Champagne rosé 2006 and the lovely Delamotte 2007, delighting us with its quiet, naturally dry beauty in a Cinderella vintage that gets better by the day.
Thirdly, while the roses were very honourable and well made, there were few that really sang to me. Comtes was the exception and it would have nice to have some real pink champions, such as Roederer straight vintage 2009; La Grande Dame and Billecart Elizabeth Billecart, both 2006
Fourthly, the shown Blanc de Noirs while not exceptional showed real advance in purity, precision and balance, reflecting the warmer recent vintages and riper gentler tannins that are often one boon of climate change.
Finally, the only sharp surprise was that a great house like Louis Roederer was showing little on the day – both in the usually peerless Brut Premier NV and the clenched Stark Brut Nature 2009. A reminder that tasting is a fleeting snapshot of a wine that will likely taste quite different the next time you taste it.”
Judges comments (continued)
Roberto Della Pietra
“My strong belief still is that the Champagne region is really vibrant and exciting with loads of young winemakers and small growers coming up. I completely adore Gosset and Deutz, and very happy that both showed greatly with their vintages (Master and Gold respectively).”
Jonathan Pedley MW
“There were fewer really poor wines than I was expecting. In the past one could have expected to be confronted with a lot of very tart wines with unripe green fruit and big dosages to try to mask the flaws. It could be that we were lucky or it could be that the general standard of winemaking has gone up, perhaps helped along by a touch of climate change. My main whinge would be that a fair number of wines, whilst being technically correct, were simple and estery with very little depth or complexity.
… I was flummoxed by the maturity of many of the wines. I count myself as a lover of aged Champagne. However, a lot of the mature wines had rather coarse, soggy, vegetal aromas. There were only a handful of wines that showed the refined, nutty, toasty character that to me marks out great mature Champagne.
The Rosé flight was all over the place in terms of style and quality. There were some simple confected wines, there were some attractive youthful fruit-led wines, there were some tired over mature wines and there were a couple of graceful complex gems. Quite how the consumer is meant to navigate the category lord only knows.
In terms of specific producers, Charles and Piper came through very strongly. I used to do some work with this house in the distant past and whilst Charles was always wonderfully rich and complex, Piper was the simpler everyday drink. Now it seems that some very good wines, across the range, are being badged as Piper.”
Clement Robert MS
“The biggest debate and issue with Champagne is the value for money you get and this year I thought that the overall quality was very high.
I really enjoy the top cuvées – there were some exceptional wines tasted but I was also impressed by the entry level Champagnes that were very good.
However, I was a little disappointed by the Blanc de Blancs flight: I thought that some of the wines lacked precision and complexity despite being expensive.
I was happily surprised by the quality of the NV especially from the bigger brands, which is nice to see. Also, these brands are all clearly reducing the amount sugar in their dosage and, as a result, the wines are more elegant and precise.”
About the competition
The Champagne Masters is a competition created and run by the drinks business and is an extension of its successful Masters series for grape varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as regions such as Rioja and Chianti. The competition is exclusively for Champagne and the entries were judged by a selection of highly experienced tasters using Schott Zwiesel Cru Classic glasses supplied by Wine Sorted.
The top Champagnes were awarded Gold, Silver or Bronze medals according to their result, and those Champagnes that stood out as being outstanding received the ultimate accolade – the title of Champagne Master. The Champagnes were tasted over the course of a single day on 17 August at Les 110 de Taillevent in London.