Nine outstanding Champagnes over £50
Looking to spend big on fizz? Here are nine outstanding Champagnes to prove that money can in fact buy you happiness…
Following on from my selection of ‘nine outstanding Champagnes under £50’ earlier this year, I have now compiled a shortlist of the greatest top-end samples from this year’s Champagne Masters.
Before revealing my choices, it is important to note that all of these stem from this highly comprehensive tasting, which is done ‘blind’, ensuring that the judges have no knowledge of the identity of each wine beyond its price band and basic style.
Thanks to the quality of the judges and the sampling process, we believe that the Champagne Masters provides an unrivalled chance to draw attention to hidden gems, as well as confirm the excellence of the renowned.
And, over the following pages, I have picked out my top Champagnes should money be no object, although all these great examples still offer value relative to the world of luxury fizz or other fine wines.
Indeed, great Champagne is an affordable indulgence, and these upmarket examples, which are all from the ‘prestige cuvée’ class of fizz, deliver the qualities of a fine wine without being outrageously expensive, even if they are far from cheap.
Not only are do they have the trademark freshness of Champagne, but like a great wine, they have layers of flavours that leave you savouring every sip.
Also, these Champagnes have already been cellared, so they come with the complex array of characters that stem from extended maturation, and they are ready to drink.
Nevertheless, they have the potential to age further, and all these cuvées could gain even greater complexity should one decide to store them for another few years in cool conditions.
But for now, here are my favourites from 2018’s tasting.
For a full report on this year’s Champagne Masters, including all the medal-winning wines, click here.
9 Champagne Pommery, Cuvée Louise, 2004
I have always thought that Pommery’s Cuvée Louise is one of Champagne’s most underrated top-end blends, and so I was pleased to find out that one of the best samples from this year’s Masters tasting turned out to be this prestige cuvée from Pommery.
Having loved the previous release from the much-heralded 2002 harvest, it was good to see that the follow-on 2004 vintage was equally high quality, if slightly less rich in fruit character.
Essentially, if you like bright, fresh, citrusy Champagne with a toasty, nutty edge, and a very dry finish, then this is the top-end fizz for you.
Approximate retail price: £145
8 Champagne Duval-Leroy, Femme de Champagne, Grand Cru 1996
If you thought that fizz from the famous 1996 vintage was now only available through the secondary market, then you will be amazed to see that this peak expression from Champagne Duval-Leroy hails from this historic harvest, making the Femme de Champagne’s current release over 20 years old.
As a result, this prestige cuvée provides a rare chance to pick up a taste of the 1996 vintage without resorting to the aftermarket, or paying a huge sum for a late-release fizz direct from a Champagne house. (While I love Dom Pérignon’s Oenotheque 1996, it retails for more than £360).
The decision to age this top blend from Duval-Leroy for such an extended period is connected to the unusually high acidity in the wines from the 1996 vintage, which ensures this wine has plenty of freshness.
However, having been disgorged almost 10 years ago, it also shows some appealing flavours from maturation, such as dried apricot and honey, giving this delicious Champagne a generosity not always seen in the fruits of this harvest.
Approximate retail price: £270
7 Champagne Henriot Cuvée Hemera 2005
This recently-launched prestige cuvée, named after the Greek goddess of daytime, Hemera, comes from the little-known house of Henriot – a maison that’s much-loved by Champagne experts for its typically smoky, toasty, tight style of fizz.
And Hemera follows in this stylistic line, despite hailing from the ripe 2005 harvest.
Indeed, the Champagne, which delivers a delicious combination of slightly honeyed flavours with a bright lemon finish, replaces Henriot’s Cuvée des Enchanteleurs, which was a touch more opulent in character.
Hemera, on the other hand, was conceived to represent the pinnacle of the house, but remain more in keeping with the Henriot style.
Whatever the thinking behind its launch, it is a delicious alternative to the better-known brands of prestige cuvée Champagne.
Approximate retail price: £138
6 Champagne Laurent-Perrier Grand Siécle
Hailing from a house that’s most famous for its rosés, Laurent-Perrier’s prestige cuvée gets somewhat overlooked when great Champagne is discussed.
But it would be a shame to forget this noble Champagne, which delivers a deliciously layered and fine fizz experience, with flavours of lemon, dried fruit and grilled nuts, along with a creamy texture and a bright finish.
Unlike the other prestige cuvées in this selection, and most on the market today, Grand Siécle is not a Champagne from a single harvest, but a blend of top vintages, carefully combined to create something complex and harmonious.
Approximate retail price: £135
5 Champagne Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis 2009
A surprise find from this year’s tasting was Cuvée Paradis from Alfred Gratien – the brand’s top-end expression that’s made in such small quantities, it’s rarely seen.
Although it comes from the warm 2009 harvest, which delivered rather exotic fruit flavours, this prestige cuvée is more marked by the characteristic cellar techniques of Alfred Gratien, which include fermentations in oak barrels and blocking the malo-lactic – a process practiced by almost all other Champagne producers that sees the sharp tasting malic acid converted to more creamy lactic acid.
Consequently, this memorable Champagne has enticing characters of vanilla and spice, along with plenty of crisp apple fruit, as well as the more usual bready and biscuity characters that come with mature fizz.
Approximate retail price: £135
4 Champagne de Saint Gall Orpale 2004
The least expensive fizz in this line-up, the Orpale fizz from Champage de Saint Gall celebrates the expression of extremely fine Chardonnay grapes from the Côte des Blancs village of Avize, where this producer is headquartered.
The Saint Gall name is in fact the brand from Union Champagne, a grower-cooperative with a strong reputation for crafting fine, fresh, good-value fizz.
And this top expression from the producer confirms such repute, and comes complete with a lovely combination of flavours from pineapple and lemon to toast and honey – a real find for lovers of blanc de blancs Champagnes.
Approximate retail price: £60
3 Champagne Deutz Amour de Deutz Rosé 2008
Proving that pink fizz can be serious is this stunning prestige cuvée rosé from Champagne Deutz.
Called Amour de Deutz, this Pinot Noir dominant Champagne has a touch of red berry fruit, but also plenty of lemon zestiness, along with biscuity richness, making it a pretty but also layered and versatile pink fizz.
A great Champagne from the critically-acclaimed 2008 harvest, and a name that deserves more recognition in the world of luxury fizz.
Approximate retail price: £150
2 Champagne Pannier Egérie de Pannier 2006
It was something of a revelation at the end of this year’s Champagne Masters to find out that one of the highest-scoring samples of the day’s tasting was from a cooperative-grower called Champagne Pannier.
Not only that, but a fizz costing less than half the price of other similarly-rated Champagnes, despite the fact the Egérie de Pannier represents the very top expression from this producer.
Gaining 97 points out of a possible 100, the prestige cuvée from Pannier delivers a delicious combination of complementary flavours, from lemon and honey, to toast and grilled nuts, along with an uplifting, lasting and very fresh, dry finish.
Costing £75, the Egérie de Pannier may not be cheap, but does offer something of a value option relative to other special blends in this top-end Champagne category.
Approximate retail price: £75
1 Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Rare 1998 and 2002
Our ultimate fizz comes under the brand Rare, which is the prestige cuvée from the house of Piper-Heidsieck.
Of the many fine options available to the high-spending Champagne lover, this is a name that consistently delivers greatness, and hence, our best fizz of 2018 comprises not one, but two expressions, in different formats.
For the most exceptional experience on the market today, opt for the Rare 1998, which comes only in magnums. If you can afford this bigger bottle size (£375), then, in my view, there is no better Champagne on the shelves of retailers right now.
As I’ve commented on this website before, a magnum of Rare 1998 offers an intriguing sensation of a Champagne that’s evolving, but still zesty and youthful; a fizz that’s broad and creamy, as well as tight and cleansing. And while it has the golden appearance of a developed Champagne, it doesn’t exhibit oxidative bruised apple characters that often plague fizz of such an age.
However, if you only want a bottle, then you won’t be disappointed by the current offer in this standard format from the Piper prestige cuvée. With Rare 2002 being the present release, you can buy a taste of this stunning vintage with all the delicious hallmarks of this house – and by that, I mean roasted coffee aromas and flavours of ripe yellow fruit, cream and toast complemented by a lemon-zest lift.
Of course, if you really want the ultimate Champagne experience, then buy both, and indulge in a very Rare comparison.
Approximate retail price, Rare 2002: £165
Approximate retail price, Rare 1998, magnum: £375
About the Champagne Masters
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 23 August in the Mayfair Suite at The Langham Hotel in London.
Clement Robert MS
Jonathan Pedley MW
Patrick Schmitt MW
Roberto della Pietra
Simon Field MW
Click here for a full report from this year’s Champagne Masters, including all the medal-winning wines; an extensive analysis of the stylistic trends, and highlights from the competition.
About the tasting process
All the entries are tasted blind, ensuring that the judges have no knowledge of the identity of each wine beyond its price band and basic style.
Once a score for each wine from every judge has been revealed, and the reasons for the result given, the chair of each judging group will compile an average score, and award medals accordingly.
Each wine is scored on the 100-point scale, with pre-set scoring bands corresponding to the medals awarded, which range from Bronze to Gold, and Master – the ultimate accolade, awarded only to outstanding samples. The judges are told to consider the resulting medal when assigning their score.
The bands are as follows: 85-88 – Bronze; 89-92 – Silver; 93-96 – Gold; 97-100 – Master.
Although the judges are tough, they are accurate and consistent, and the open judging process allows for debate and the revision of initial assessments.
Within the style and price category, the judges are looking for appropriate flavours – be they attributable to the vineyard or the winemaking processes. They are also in search of complexity, intensity and persistence at levels expected of the style and price band. In particular, the judges will reward wines highly if they have both balance and personality.
Thanks to the quality of the judges and the sampling process, the Global Masters provides an unrivalled chance to draw attention to hidden gems, as well as confirm the excellence of the renowned.
For further information please contact any of the team at the drinks business on +44(0)207 803 2420 or email Sophie Raichura at firstname.lastname@example.org