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.
I too was impressed with the 2013 Riesling Brut from Reichsrat von Buhl (read my review here). After years of producing just another Winzersekt the 2013 Riesling Brut was the first large-scale proof that, after years of being otherwise mediocre, Riesling also works well in sparkling wine. With the bone-dry signature of new winemaker Mathieu Kauffmann, the Von Buhl series (in particular the still Rieslings) has come back out of the shadows and, alongside Dr. Bürklin-Wolf and Von Winning, is back at the forefront of Pfälzer Wein.
The 2013 Rosé Brut was released a few months after the Riesling Brut to much anticipation. Now sold-out, orders were limited to six bottles per customer – my handler was only able to sell me four bottles before he ran out as well, unable to replenish stocks.
The wine is made entirely of Pinot Noir (or Spätburgunder in German). Aged for no less that 15 months on the yeast, the grapes are sourced from prime vineyards in the Pfalz region.
An elegant salmon pink with rose-gold gleam and a fine mousse.
Very fruity and yet incredibly discreet – nothing perfumed, nothing too bright and yet remarkably fresh: raspberry, strawberry and a hint of grapefruit with a toasty (although reserved) note.
The attack is both refreshing and yet not sharp: the sweeter side of grapefruit, raspberry and the strawberry in the nose are the first to appear and make up the body with the tarty appeal of rhubarb – no bitterness. The finesh is nice and toasty but in no way compromises either the freshness of the wine or the discreet appeal of the sweet red fruit. A touch of vanilla is perhaps there but plays a very background role.
A very well-made sparkling rosé and one of the best value-for-money bottles available in the pink bubbly sector altogether. Miles better than nearly all of the Champagne wines that retail for twice the 25€ price tag, the appeal is that it is so fresh. Whilst you might associate German Pinot Noir with earthy, Cassis-driven wines; this is clean, modern and very elegant.
If you can get hold of a bottle, you will not regret it. If you already have some in the cellar, it drinks beautifully now and will do for a long time yet.
During a three week holiday to Cornwall this summer, I stopped off in Nanstallon to pick up a few bottles of what is considered to be Cornwall’s best bubbly: Camel Valley. Apart from a backdrop of rain and grey skies on that very July day, the vineyard was a pretty sight – still not one that I am used to in England.
Unlike the flagship products of many other big-name UK wineries, Camel Valley’s Brut isn’t a Champagne wannabe but rather a unique and very English approach to winemaking. The varietals that make up the wine are therefore not Chardonnay, Meunier and Pinot Noir but Seyval Blanc, Reichensteiner and Huxelrebe.
Pale gold with a fine mousse.
Fresh orchard fruits, lots of grapefruit as well – an underlying spice with white pepper and fresh herbs – yeasty notes are rather covered up reminding of lemon cake rather than bread.
Quite sharp on the attack with green apple and grapefruit juice (only the sweet elements mind you). This moves on to a lovely lemon syrup that leads the way into a body of green fruit: green apple, ripe pears and gooseberry - the finish isn’t particularly big and powerful but it does allow the fruit to stay on the tongue long after swallowing. Fresh parsley and white pepper finish off the wine discreetly and expertly.
A good English bubbly – I like the English feel to it with the massive fruit in the body and on the nose and enjoy the way the wine’s finish doesn’t kill that off. The structure isn’t necessarily defined but I suppose that does make it easier to drink and less forgettable. Alongside Chapel Down, this is one of the best-priced English sparklers on the market – the Cornwall Brut might not be the most delicate of the English bubblies but it certainly is a true patriot when it comes to defining what the ‘English Style’ could possibly be – a true bulldog in a market sector where nearly everyone else is trying to be a poodle.
Whereas the majority of English wineries release their wines to retailers directly, a handful have a small production run that they chose to allocate the limited edition bottles themselves. One such winery is Sussex’s Hoffmann and Rathbone. The small estate is home to three wines, all of which were first made using the 2010 harvest of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier – the three varietals also grown in Champagne.
Aged for 44 months, this 100% Chardonnay is a sign of good things to come from this up-and-coming winery in a very exciting part of the country and possibly the ideal location to grow sparkling wine in England at all: Sussex. I was lucky enough to get hold of the first release 2010 wine through a small retailer in Germany, for information on purchasing this wine, please contact the winery directly here.
Pale straw yellow in the glass with a very fine perlage.
The wine reminds of high-quality lemon juice on the nose, there is also a Perry note to the wine with hints at both ripening pears and green apples. A toasty brioche note is in there as well and it is complimented by a faint sense of oak.
The wine is quite sharp on the attack with lemon juice, grapefruit and a hint of orange peel. This moves onto a body of orchard fruits: particularly green apples and it reminds of French cidre or English Perry on the body – thick in fruit although the finish is remarkably well pulled-off, hinting at oak but also making those typically yeasty sparkling wine notes very calm and collected.
Whilst the attack and body might seem sharp at first, it does make the wine very refreshing and suggests that it will keep for five years or so. The fruit consistency is very agreeable and, whilst it might not quite achieve elegance à la Ridgeview or Nyetimber, it does again prove that English sparkling wine is on the rise. This is a winery to watch out for - in my opinion this is going to be one of the big players once the production levels rise and it certainly deserves to be up there. I've heard good things about the 2011 vintage and am looking forward to trying something.
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.
Van Volxem is undoubtedly one of Germany’s finest and most famous wineries. It is, of course, famed for its single-vineyard Riesling wines in the wonderful Saar valley but alongside these products and a handful of estate, varietal wines, the company also produces a fantastic sparkling wine: 1900 Riesling Brut.
There was a time when sparkling Saar Riesling was just as sought-after as Champagne in Germany: unfortunately, these days are long gone and only a few producers still make sparkling Riesling of the highest standard. The motto of Van Volxem is that only prime grapes (from the coldest parts) are used in the making of this wine: fully ripe grapes from high-quality vineyards on the steep slopes of the Saar Valley. The wine spends a long time in the bottle before being released for sale and some of the base wines are also aged in oak before the second fermentation begins: what happens is that a fantastic ripe and not overly-sour sparkling Riesling emerges: far more delicate than a great deal of other wines produced in a similar way and far more drinkable thanks to the balanced taste.
Straw gold with a compact mousse.
The wine gives off a citrus and stone fruit aroma but also the feel of freshly-baked fruit loaf: there’s also a unique smoky feel too.
The attack is surprisingly youthful: fresh citrus in the way of lime and lemon but also pink grapefruit and sprinkling of stone fruit: particularly peach. The body is rather creamy and the finish both floral and mineral-laden: slate, smoke and a touch of wood for elegance. The finish is long and the fruity notes stay on the palate for a while after swallowing.
A Riesling Sekt with class is Van Volxem’s 1900: easy to drink, delicate and elegant with all of the notes of classic, high-quality bubbly but a unique Saar-like feel: if you know the still wines of Van Volxem, the feel of the base wines is to be expected although the minerals are not as pronounced – the final effect is a wonderful sparkler that offers much better value for money than the majority of Champagne’s available in this price bracket (25-30€).
English wine is hard to find in Germany so imagine my surprise when I saw Hattingley Valley for sale at my local supermarket. I’ll admit, I hadn’t tried anything from the producer before so it wasn’t long before a bottle of Classic Cuvee made its way into my shopping basket.
Hattingley Valley’s winery is situated in Lower Wield, right in the middle of Hampshire in Southern England. The 2010 vintage was the winery’s first and the grapes are grown in the producer’s own vineyard of over 24 hectares. The head winemaker is Emma Rice who has recently been awarded with the United Kingdom Vineyards Association ‘Winemaker of the year’ title – you might recognise her name from her days at Nyetimber – probably England’s most famous sparkling wine producer.
This wine is made of the classic Champagne varietals: Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir and 25% of the total blend was aged in old Burgundy barrels. 2011 was a particularly good vintage for English wine thanks to the warm late summer period meaning that the grapes achieved a high level of ripeness.
A lovely peach-toned colour with a bright, off-gold appearance. Fine and composed bubble structure.
A very fragrant fruit note is the first thing to notice about this wine, alongside the typical citrus and orchard fruit exists a sense of something red – raspberries perhaps but this is so faint it disappears as soon as the brioche notes appear with a unique feel of oak at the end of the nose.
Very fresh on the attack with notes of apples and pears, it soon made way to a zesty lemon and floral body which eventually goes on to a brioche taste and a light smoky feel on an oak-tinted finish (an interesting touch rather than overdoing it as is so often the case)
A very good but also very individual wine – a lot of English wines are Champagne copycats but this one, despite opting for the same varietals, takes a unique approach with those fresh apples and pears and the oak on the finish. I like that in a wine, particularly in English wine – I believe this to be the future rather than creating a style of wine that already exists.
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this product in the last few weeks, particularly in the German wine scene. We’ve seen a rather prominent journalist label it as one of the best Riesling sparklers ever to originate from Germany.
You see, whereas Germany is famed for its wonderful Riesling, sparkling wines made using this grape often feel clumsy and off-balance, German sparkling wine isn’t big and, up until recently, it didn’t seem like many people were doing anything about it. There are exceptions of course, the wines of Schloss Vaux, Kessler and, at a push, Geldermann are respected bottles and yet their international appeal has always been relatively low.
Recently a handful of wineries (renowned for their still wines) have been experimenting with sparkling wine: Van Voxlem (Saar, Mosel) for example with its fantastic ‘1900’, Markus Schneider (Ellerstadt, Pfalz) recently released his appealing ‘Bubbly’ and now Reichrat von Buhl with its simply named ‘Von Buhl Riesling Brut’.
What makes Von Buhl’s entry so interesting is that the persona of Mathieu Kauffmann is behind it: the man who made another sparkling wine house what it is today: Bollinger (Champagne).
I must admit, Von Buhl was one of the wineries that got me into wine – I used to drink cases of its simple Riesling back in the day and it was undoubtedly one of the wineries that opened my eyes to German wine and particularly Riesling. The Pfälzer winery is one of Germany’s best known and, despite having recently been overhauled, its labels are also the most recognisable.
Pale gold, faint sense of orange with a delicate and seemingly slow Mousse.
Very fresh to start, lots of apples, lemon peel, grapefruit and a handful of yellow fruit: yellow plums and perhaps a sprinkling of nectarine. The yeasty note together with the fruit reminded of baked confectionary rather than bread or brioche.
The Attack was very sharp and rather strong but also incredibly fresh: lemon-drizzle cake sprang to mind but perhaps the fruit could best be described with apple and yellow plums. A hint of gooseberry was to detect and the body took these notes, together with lots of acidity right to the end which seemed very dry and rewardingly toasty although not enough to compromise the freshness of the citrus-driven acidity.
A very unique effort and one that pays off – the acidity is harsh, long and yet provides the wines its uniqueness – the sour taste compromises nothing and, together with the fruit, actually is very pleasant and certainly refreshing – undoubtedly a wine well worth trying and one of the better sparkling wines I’ve ever tasted from Germany – there are Champagne influences: the acidity and dryness remind of well-made Champagne but, when you consider value for money (14€!), the 2013 Von Buhl Riesling Brut is an absolute bargain and makes its French cousins appear very expensive indeed!
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