Two rare treats for all ‘ditchsters: a line-up of Vintage Champages dating all the way back to 1985, and presented by our own Badger, Ben Stephenson. Under his expert tutelage, this was a fanastic occasion to enjoy a selection of outstanding wines while teasing out the differences between each wine, depending on the year, the grapes, the vineyards, and the producer.
Not one to settle for the expected, Ben began the night with a sparkling English wine. English wine has received lots of praise and awards in recent years and at its best has stood direct comparison with Champagne. It was therefore interesting to see just how the Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard 2009 (£80) would stand up to the Champagnes that followed. 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, this is a beautifully textured wine with a strong structure and red fruits from the dominant Pinot grape. It’s still a very young wine, though, and hasn’t quite developed the complex flavours of the Champagnes that followed.
With the Nyetimber still in one glass, we moved on to Lallier 2005 (£47.50). The difference was apparent, not least in its age – much yeastier, with bread, dough, and brioche. Dominated likewise by Pinot Noir, this is a big, rich wine full of flavour. It reminded me a little of a farm cider: a funky yeastiness, high acidity, with a sharp apple finish, and still developing toffee apple and sweet spice characteristics. The least expensive wine of the night, it represents incredibly good value for money.
The next two Champagnes we again tasted side by side. Charles Heidsieck has won lots of awards for its consistently stunning wines, and is considered one of the top Champagne names. The Charles Heidsieck 2000 (£80), Ben’s and my own favourite of the night, is quite earthy, floral, and nutty, an elegant yet complex combination of quite different flavours. The Alfred Gratien 2000 (£60), this time dominated by Chardonnay, is quite different: more apples and fruit, with vanilla and butter coming from fermentation in barriques. This use of new oak, as well as ageing the wines under cork rather than crown caps, make Gratien’s wines traditional and quite distinctive.
We finished with a trio of blanc de blancs, meaning they were all 100% Chardonnay. Delamotte is a producer to look out for, because they get first refusal of the grapes grown in the vineyard for Salon, one of the most exclusive Champagnes out there which only gets produced in truly exceptional vintages. However, I did find the Delamotte 2002 (£50) a bit lightweight, even though it had spent eight years on its lees. This may be my taste, though, for I do like the body and structure that comes from Pinot Noir.
The guests’ favourite wine of the night was the Billecart-Salmon 1999 (£95). One of the oldest Champagne Houses and still family-owned, Billecart-Salmon’s wines are renowned for their longevity, so it was great to be able to taste a wine coming into its fifteenth year. The wine has complex yeasty flavours, yet is still fresh and lively, combining the best of a young and mature Champagne.
The final wine was extraordinary, though there was disagreement about for better or worse. Le Mesnil 1985 (N/A; this was our very last bottle) is getting on for thirty years old and, on tasting, is probably at the end of its lifespan. Challenging and mature oxidised aromas, which I could only describe as mushrooms on acid. That old funkiness is quite enticing and involved, though, and I imagine the wine would still really work well with rich foods high in acidity.
Another great Masterclass at the ‘ditch that ended with one of the oldest wines I’ve ever tasted. I don’t ask for much more in life.
to buy any of these wines, just visit us at the shop or give us a call on 0161 832 8222
if you’re interested in future hangingditch masterclasses, visit our events page
to read Matthew’s own blog, visit Matthew’s World of Wine and Drink