The name Rothschild is omnipresent in the wine industry. Attached to wines from Chile, South Africa, Argentina and, most importantly, France, it is one of the largest and best-known wine dynasties in the world…decent ground then for the foundations of a brand new Champagne house.
Helpful too is that this venture is operated by all three of the major wine-producing families: those behind Château Mouton-Rothschild, Château Lafite-Rothschild and Château-Clarke. The expertise from all firms’ winemakers is utilised to ensure the Barons de Rothschild Champagnes live up to the prestigious name.
The winery is operated in a comfortable townhouse in charming Reims – the wine is actually produced elsewhere: an industrial estate close to Épernay. Alongside the vintage wine exists a Non-vintage series consisting of a Rosé, a Blanc de Blancs and a ‘basic’ Brut.
Made entirely from Chardonnay, the grapes that make up this Blanc de blancs are grown on some of the finest sites in the Champagne. Aged for seven years on the yeast the wine receives a very minimal Barrique-aged dosage, which is the key to the dryness and complexity of the wine.
Satin white with a lively but fine and controlled mousse.
Initially citrus-driven on the nose with pink grapefruit juice and Clementine peel, a touch of white peach joins in later as well. French oak makes a brief appearance and so too does freshly-toasted white bread.
The wine starts on the tongue in much the same way as at does on the nose: grapefruit juice although nothing bitter. The Clementine peel in the nose turns into lemon peel on the palate and the white peach arrives with honey melon and sugary apricots. The finish is quick and clean but hints at brioche, a touch of wood and wet rock along the way.
I like the way the different flavours fit together – in such a wine where quite a lot is going on, it is rare for the notes to align with one another. The fruit is excellently worked into the finish and the whole thing feels very delicate despite carrying a unique sense of power – the trademark of the Barons de Rothschild brand. This is undoubtedly the star of the series and, aside from the entry-level Brut, the only one I’d buy. Priced at 250€ plus, it’s hardly cheap but it’s going places: you might not have heard of it yet but it’s certainly worth looking out for in the future.
The Reims producer Taittinger is one of the last privately-owned institutions of such size in the Champagne region. Known the world over for its Brut Prestige, the winery also produces a wide range of special editions: the most important of which is its flagship vintage wine; Comtes de Champagne.
Produced only in years where the quality of the harvest is deemed good enough to produce a top-end vintage wine, Comtes de Champagne has taken on a niche ‘insiders’ tip’ role and the wines are highly regarded for the attention to detail and the reliance on discretion and complexity rather than power and overwhelming fullness.
The wine is made of 100% Chardonnay and 5% of the wines that make the final cuvee are aged in new oak. After the second fermentation, the wine spends nearly ten years in the cellars at Taittinger’s Saint-Nicaise site: a former abbey dating back to the middle ages.
Pale, straw yellow with a fine, controlled mousse.
A fair amount of toasted white bread on the nose than tenders towards freshly-baked baguette. There is also a unique scent of pink grapefruit peel which is joined by a creamy note attached to a distant sense of wood.
On the attack is mainly pink grapefruit juice to start but it is joined by Clementine and a splash of apple. It is never dominant and slips onto a buttery body with plenty of pastry-like texture. The finish does quickly offer up some wood but this slips off into a floral, citrus peel finish.
An incredibly complex wine that displays this complexity expertly: not all at once in a package you can’t comprehend but slowly and logically. Amazingly it still manages to stay discreet: no loud, sharp notes and yet it retains your attention the whole time through the attention to detail and the creamy, buttery body. Despite this softness and the composed character, the wine is very refreshing: it isn’t necessarily defined by its acidity but the acidity is important in determining a unique freshness.
Priced at around 130€ a bottle, it certainly isn’t cheap but it finds itself in a playing field with names much better known: Dom Perignon, Krug NV, La Grande Dame, Dom Ruinart to name but a few. Comtes de Champagne offers the most complex drinking however and deserves its title as the insider tip when it comes to the big house luxury bottles.
One of the most prestigious producers of rosé wine in the world, Domaines Ott’s Clos Mireille estate is situated right on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the Côte d’Azur. This unique location gives the wines a completely different feel than the often sweet, fruity rosé wines from this part of the world – thanks to the cool winds and sea spray, the wines can sometimes feel rather cool – more cold climate minerals than Southern fruit. The clay soils of the Clos Mireille estate are essential in the final composure of the wine – slate-like compounds are key to the wine’s structure. This wine is a cuvee of Grenache, Cinsault, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Pale pink with orange touches – the same colour as the new iPhone.
The first things to come through are citrus peels: grapefruit, lemon and Clementine but lemon juice is allowed to emerge – only in the most discreet way however. Wild Raspberry, a hint of strawberry and even cranberry is in there but blink and you’ll miss it. The Mineral compounds: white pepper and salt pick up where the berries stop – the wine reminds immediately of wet rocky outcrops.
The citrus takes the main stage again here: lemon peel, then juice, then pink grapefruit although only the sweeter notes with the bitterness hidden behind a splash of wild strawberry and raspberry. The full fruit notes are never really fully exposed but move on to sage, mint and some floral pulses and then white pepper and then the wine is almost completely finished – discretion and fine tuning seldom seen in rosé.
Rosé is commonly labelled as wine for people who don’t usually drink wine and yet, when you drink wines like this, you realise just how good it can be and why some rosé deserves to appear in fine wine journals. This is some of the most expertly created rosé I’ve ever tried – the attention to detail in displaying the terroir is phenomenal and the cliché notes of overpowering red berries are not missed – this really portrays how good rosé can be.
The choice of James Bond in the earlier films and most probably the world’s most famous luxury and vintage Champagne, Dom Pérignon requires no introduction. Still....I’ll give it one anyway.
Whereas Pierre Pérignon is commonly named as the inventor of Champagne and the Méthode Champagnoise, he almost certainly wasn’t. I prefer the more modern term applied to the Benedictine monk: “the spiritual father of Champagne”. His Dom Péringon was a breakthrough product with quality, rather than production, in the foreground. Whilst DP might not be the finest Champagne Cuvée on the market anymore, it certainly belongs in the upper echelons.
Today’s Dom Pérignon is only produced in decent years – unlike a handful of other top producers’ entry-level wines, DP is always a vintage wine meaning that, if the grapes aren’t good enough in a certain year, they go into the wines labelled as “Moet & Chandon”, either vintage ones or not. Again, unlike several of the other luxury Champagne producers’ wines, Dom Perignon’s entry-level cuvée is made using grapes grown all over the region rather than only those from a declared individual site.
The 2003 wine is the second newest vintage on the market (after the 2004) and, whilst it will keep for decades, it offers lovely drinking right now.
Satin golf with a very fine mousse.
The nose was very reserved: more so than is typical for Champagne. There was a remarkable sense of fresh white peach and toasted white bread. Lemon peel was noticeable but only as a far-away aroma and not taking a foreground role in the slightest
The attack was of the finest lemon zest and delicate touch of stone fruit: the dusty peel of white peach and the sweeter notes of apricot were in there but they didn’t appear in the body. There was little juice but only the finest fruit-flesh. This made for very light drinking: hardly any harshness and yet the intensity of the flavour was in no way compromised. The finish carried on from the peach skin into a smoky, lightly wooded affair reminding one of the finish Burgundian, oak-aged Chardonnay. The yeast was very toast-like and I guess that a decent amount was used: it too is as reserved as the body and yet so unimaginably full of flavour.
Removing value-for-money from the equation for a second, this is a fabulous wine – utterly awesome in fact. It is about as perfect as I can imagine Champagne to be and so incredibly different to the non-vintage, branded wines I’ve tried before – it has more appeal, more taste, more class and a different depth than basic wines are able to offer. However, you can buy up to four bottles of Moët’s basic Brut for the same price and whilst that product is hardly a Champagne highlight, it’s better than 25% as good – far from (I think I awarded the non-vintage Moët 80 points a few years ago). Still, this is a must-try for anyone into wine and Champagne lovers….I’m hooked at least.
Château Montrose is a second Grand Cru Classé producer in the commune of St. Estèphe on the Bordelaise peninsula of Médoc. Its wines are known the world over and sought-after on nearly every domestic market ensuring prices stay high, availability low and limits the availability of ripe, ready-to-drink wines in the typical retail environment.
A personal comment about Montrose: the wines are often quite a lot “bigger” than those of neighbouring producers and those in Pauillac, Margaux and St. Julien meaning they take rather a long time to come into the drinking window. Whereas some of the top claret from the late nineties is already in fantastic drinking condition, Montrose wines are take a touch longer to reach maturity. But, when they do, wonderful things happen.
This 1994 Grand Vin de Montrose is a typical Médoc blend: 68% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot and 3% Cabernet Franc.
Deep ruby red with a purple hue.
There’s rather a lot to take in at once on this wine. Firstly there’s Cassis and a whole bunch of red and black berries: blackcurrant takes a prominent role but there are some sweeter elements in there as well: raspberry for example. The fruit is remarkably sweet altogether in fact and reminds of compote, were it not for a large sense of woody, high-quality tobacco hanging around in the background. This hints at vanilla but contains darker notes: espresso, leather and walnut wood.
The attack is as big as is expected but not overpowering. The berries slowly ease into focus rather than hitting you all-of-a-sudden. The first on the scene is blackcurrant but Cassis comes pretty quickly after that. Raspberry doesn’t really appear in the taste but redcurrant does and so too do red plums – the body feels like eating a spoonful of expensive French jam. The finish though takes away all that sweetness with rather hefty but not-unpleasant tannins: they, in themselves have a fair amount of character to show: a touch of vanilla but a lovely smokey, freshly-roasted espresso feel and a unique sense of bitter chocolate.
A ripe, extremely well-made claret offering perfect drinking right now. Give it an hour in the decanter though because, as with all Montrose wines, it takes a while before the harshness of power opens up to let you in. If you have any of this lying around: drink it in the next five-ten years. If you’ve seen it for sale somewhere and you can trust the dealer and their cellar, buy it!
Second wines from famous Bordeaux estates are always a sensible investment if you wish to get in touch with the world-famous terroir without spending a fortune. Often first wines are unaffordable and, particularly in good vintages, stretch into the many hundreds of euros per bottle. 2005 was a great year in Bordeaux, particularly in the Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated production regions on the West bank of the Gironde.
Château Montrose is one of St. Estèphe’s finest producers and most famous names. The first wine in 2005 costs almost 100€ whereas the second wine costs around 30€. The Château itself is one of the second Cru producers of Médoc and Graves – this courtesy of course doesn’t extend to second wines: these are, more often than not, completely unclassified. The best fruit is used in the first wine whereas the second wines are often made with grapes deemed not quite good enough for the top product.
To open a 2005 first wine now would’ve been pointless. Particularly Château Montrose is known for its power and a 2005 first wine would’ve been closed and rather wasted right now. I thought the second wine might be a bit more approachable which it was, still far from its peak though…
Ruby red with a bright pink hue.
There was lots going on the nose but it was partially masked by a huge wooden element in there. Cassis, forrest fruits and some red plums were available but they only popped-up briefly. The wood was very dominating: it brought lots of dark aromas to the wine.
The attack was nice and tart but the fruit was never able to develop. Blackcurrants, plums and blueberries were there but as soon as they were hinted at, the wood kicked in bringing espresso, dark chocolate, tobacco, vanilla and leather. The tannins weren’t as harsh as expected but still very prominent.
A mistake to open this wine now: whilst it does offer excellent potential, I’m guessing it’ll reach its drinkability stage in five or six years. The notes are there to make this a fine wine, it just needs time.
I often find the Cru Bourgeois are overlooked when it comes to Bordeaux. Lead astray by the ridiculous classification act of 1855 (which has remained pretty much unchanged since its introduction), consumers commonly label the Cru Bourgeois wines as forgettable – not real Bordeaux. Thankfully, this often has an effect on their prices: wines are usually considerably cheaper than their classified neighbours and, in good vintages, it is a great idea to stock up on Cru Bourgeois.
2004 was a bad year for Bordeaux: probably one of the worst vintages in the last 20 years: top-end wines seldom show real character and a glance at the prices alone (compared to the 2000 and 2005 vintages) show just how much the Châteaux of the right bank would like to forget the vintage. Nevertheless, a handful of vintners still managed to pull-off good wines – particularly the wineries of Haut-Médoc AOC and Médoc AOC were able to create wines that weren’t hugely noticeably different from previous vintages. In some cases, the 2004 wines were better than those of 2003 and 2002 (both average Bordeaux vintages).
One such winery is Château d’Aurilhac of Haut-Médoc. This 2004 is a Cabernet-dominated affair with a splash of Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the final wine. Unlike many other Haut-Médoc wines, it feels warm and youthful, most probably thanks to the limestone-pebbled soils of the Château’s estate.
Ruby red with a pink hue – amazingly still showing its youth after eleven years.
Lots of black berries but also a fair amount of Cassis. Blackberry, black cherry and a handful of red berries are immediately noticeable. A toasty oak and vanilla sense is in there as well and so too is freshly-ground espresso.
The attack is a bright red and black fruit note with lots of blackcurrant and a decent serving of Cassis. Amazingly, a certain amount of acidity is still there and the long fruit body is thick with cherries and hints at plum. The finish is woody, smoky and brings with it dark chocolate, tobacco and espresso (not to mention a hint of vanilla).
This wine tastes about five years younger than it is. You’d never be able to tell that it was from a poorer vintage and it is quite a good example as to how good some Haut-Médoc can be: especially after a few years in the cellar. Serve with lamb roast or grilled game.
I’ve never been a fan of those huge-name Champagne producers: whilst occasionally a wine they produce does hit the spot, I often find their Cuvees too generic, too similar and, let’s face it, a large part of the often £30-40 asking price is just pretty packaging. There are loads of other producers to choose from: those without a large-scale brand offensive often invest more of their capital into winemaking rather than wine-marketing.
One smaller-scale produce is Veuve Fourny & Fils in the commune of Vertus. Nine Cuvees emerge from the company’s cellar: amoung them every style of Champagne you can imagine. The one that intrigued me most was their Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature – a wine where no sugar is added to the dosage – the yeasty mix added for the wines second fermentation in the bottle. This means the yeast only has the residual sugar of the basis wine to work with in the bottle – final wines therefore have less than 3g of sugar per litre – this process is commonly known as “Brut Zero”.
On top of that, this Champagne is sourced from Premier Cru vineyards and is the product of only three consecutive vintages (some of the larger houses use up to seven to ensure a similar product every production cycle). Being a Blanc de Blanc, Chardonnay is the only grape varietal used and 25% of the basis wines are aged in oak for up to seven months before the second fermentation – the final product is aged for at least two and a half years before release.
White gold with quite a lively Mousse.
Green apples and pears but also apricot, pineapple, vanilla and white bread.
The attack is one of fresh green apples but also stone fruit: apricot and peach. The body is smooth and the finish clean-cut – it brings with it a hint of wood, vanilla and freshly-baked white bread. As predicted, it is dry but this doesn’t feel bitter as Brut Natur so often can.
The wine is compact, fruity and rather delicate. All of the notes are in the right place and the dry, woody finish is a highlight. Priced at around £35, this offers some of the best value-for-money drinking there is to buy – miles better than most of the stuff you’ll find in the supermarket for the same amount.
Rosé is often seen as a wine for people who don't normally drink wine. This, of course, is rubbish - there are some wonderful wines that aren't either red or white and rosé wines often encapsulate notes and aromas that the other colours rarely display.
Whereas many vintners and winemakers are turning their attentions to the creation of high-quality rosé, one region has been doing this for decades: Provence.
Using the varietals common in red wine for the region, the winemakers of the Provence are probably the best rosé-makers in the world. One such maker of classic, elegant rosé is the Miraval estate. Operated by the Perrin family and co-owned by Hollywood pair Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the Miraval estate produces a rosé carrying the Côtes de Provence AOC and two white wines.
Whilst the Perrin family are known for their pioneering of the organic viticulture scene in Sud de France and Miraval being officially certified as organic, due to the wine being made of both own-grown and purchased grapes, the wine itself cannot carry an organic seal.
A pale, fleshy pink. Almost peachy, could pass as a white Blanc de noir.
Fresh grass, ripening strawberries and a hint of raspberry make up most of the very delicate nose. There are also petals and other floral notes to pick out: particularly rose petals.
The attack is mild and contains notes of both wild and domesticated strawberries. There is a faint sense of red cherry but this is almost immediately extinguished by discreet minerality: ever-so-slightly metallic and almost saline - there is a feel of wet granite but it is all so discreet, the wine feels in balance at all times.
A very elegant, clean and modern Provence rosé - the balance is very harmonious and the wine feels very composed - perhaps a little too composed with too little acidity or fruit content to call it exciting.
Unfortunately, thanks to the Hollywood connection, the wine is brutally overpriced - 17€ is a lot of money for a wine of this calibre and, whilst there is nothing wrong with it, half the price (or less) would be a far more fitting price. If I were to consider value-for-money for the end score, this wine would have trouble reaching the 80 points margin, but...
Les Folies de la Marquetterie is a terroir Champagne from world-famous brand Taittinger. The grapes used (45% Chardonnay and 55% Pinot Noir) are sourced only from the Folies vineyard, a slope that overlooks the Château de la Marquetterie – the origin of the Taittinger Champagne brand.
Only the must from the first pressing is used to create the wine, which is produced in small batches and some of the base wines are aged in large oak casks before the second fermentation.
Taittinger is one of the largest and best-known Champagne brands from Reims, as one of only a handful of brands still privately owned, its wines are available worldwide and, alongside its standard Brut Reserve line and its renowned Comtes de Champagne vintage series, the house has a selection of limited-edition specialities: les Folies de la Marquetterie is one of these.
Deep golden yellow with a fine, consistent and delicate mousse.
A delicate undertone of fresh fruit defines the wine at all times: whilst there is a certain amount of citrus: particularly sweet lemon and pink grapefruit, the deciding characteristics are of stone fruits: mostly white peach and sweet, juicy apricots. A fresh sense of green apple was also to detect as well as a sense of toasty sweet pastry and a faint sense of Cognac.
After a fairly long, sweet-sour attack in which both the peach and lemon played a role came a big yellow-fruit body which brought with it brioche, fresh toast and a faint sense of wood. Whilst the body was pleasant and relatively large, it was composed and clean and a slight mineral touch consisting of iron and slate finishing off the wine cleanly without a long finish.
A very appealing sparkling wine – whilst it possessed all of the notes typically attributed to Champagne, it was all very compact and tidy. The body was large and yet delicate – not a note out of place and strong enough not to disappoint. It felt a little more exclusive than its price tag would suggest and I was pretty sure that the Chardonnay came through a lot better than the Pinot Noir despite it being of a smaller quantity.
Serve with white fish starters, Raclette or simply as an aperitif to a light meal.
-Sud de France
-Pinot Blanc (Weißburgunder)
-Pinot Gris (Grauburgunder)
-Pinot Meunier (Schwarzriesling)
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
-Medium / off-dry
-Brut Zero/ Brut Nature
-Medium / off-dry