9 MWs and 2 MSs sat alongside 25 amateur members of 67, to score sparkling wines blind – half of them English and half of them Champagne – in a parallel to the 1976 Judgement of Paris tasting that pitted California Cabernets and Chardonnays against French originals.
The format was 24 wines, split into 3 flights: Non-vintage, Vintage and Rosé. All we knew was the category and that, within each flight of 8 wines, 4 were Champagne and 4 English sparkling wines. We did not know which producers or wines were included.
We then just scored each wine out of 20 and those scores were automatically aggregated for an aggregate view – the entire audience overall, and then split into Pros and Amateurs.
Jancis Robinson MW introduced and compèred the proceedings. In her preamble, one aspect she particularly called-out was that she expected it to be a lot more difficult to identify the English wines in the line-ups, since quality had advanced far enough that acidity was just not a distinguishing enough marker.
In that latter point, she was right – acidity alone is no longer a consistently reliable marker. However, a combination of 3 factors did tend to reveal the English. I spotted correctly precisely 3 out of 4 wines in each flight. Likewise, fellow MWs Justin Howard-Sneyd and Beverley Blanning picked 4 from 4 in at least one flight each.
Those factors were still the classic, piercing acidity in some cases, a slight lack of quality in others, with the 3rd character being a marked orchard fruit aromatic profile – ripe, fresh yellow apple and pear – sometimes with a hedgerow leafy note.
The Judgement of London verdict? Overall, for me, Champagnes tended to dominate the finest wines as they generally did for the group scoring (though with a much more compressed range as a result of averaging across 36 people).
With a certain degree of deliberately stretching my own scoring perhaps adding +0.5 / 20 to it, Dom Pérignon 2009 stole the show at 19 / 20 (OK, probably 18.5 is a better reflection of the wine), with its bold, yet complex, leesy nose and brisk palate with effortless length. Krug Special Cuvée NV was pretty good too, topping the Non-vintage flight, with Dom Ruinart Rosé 2004 the pick of the relatively lower-quality rosé flight.
That is not to say that English wines somehow failed or were bad. Kudos in particular to Coates & Seely for La Perfide Blanc de Blancs 2009, whose finesse took it to being one of my top 3 wines. There were other very good showings, including Nyetimber’s 1086 2009, their new über-cuvée (which is priced as such…), with the equivalent Rosé not too bad.
And a couple of Champagnes underwhelmed: for me Comtes de Champagne 2006 was good but not great; for the group, Louis Roederer 2006 was also a little underwhelming and I probably expected a bit more too. Nevertheless, the Champagnes tended to lead the table overall with English tending to bring up the rear more often than not.
On reveal of the wines, with big guns like Jacques Selosse, Krug, Comtes, the pair of Doms and so on, a debate ensued about whether or not it was a fair, like-for-like comparison. After a lengthy discussion, I reminded the group that the original Judgement of Paris had put Napa’s nascent industry up against Bordeaux First growths like Château Latour, and the pinnacle of white Burgundy, Montrachet. The London line-up was therefore an appropriate test for English sparkling.
The tasting notes and scores below are in the order tasted, with my scores what I noted down on paper (hopefully these correspond with what I actually submitted!). We were also given the overall average scores for the group, which are noted alongside each wine, and the difference between me and the group. Our brief tasting notes were not part of the Judgement of London process.
Flight 1: Non-vintage
Cottonworth, Classic Cuvée NV (16 / 20; av. 15.8 / 20; +0.2)
A: Pale lemon with a lively bead
N: Flinty-smoky. Lean citrus. Nutty lees. Mineral style
P: Toasted bread. Some sweetness. Apple. Flint. Nut. Racy acidity. Fairly long. Fine mousse
Sugrue Pierre, Cuvée Dr Brendan O’Regan NV (16.5 / 20; av. 16.2 / 20; +0.3)
Champagne? No – English.
A: Pale gold with a lively bead and mousse
N: Oxidative. Stone fruit. Rich, ripe, nutty
P: Rich and bready. Some nutty oak and chew. Plenty of lees. Quite fine mousse
Taittinger, Prélude Grand Cru NV (16 / 20; av. 16.3 / 20; -0.3)
A: Pale-medium gold with a faint bead
N: Orchard fruit. Ripe, then chalky. Some herb lift. Lees emerge and some oyster shell. Tight and young
P: Quite frothy. Loose knit. Nutty-bready lees. Some old oak?
Exton Park, Brut Reserve NV (16 / 20; av. 16.3 / 20; -0.3)
A: Pale gold with a lively bead
N: Cream, chalky-flint. Chardonnay-dominant? Lean and minerally. Citrus-apple. Not such overt lees but some toast
P: Apple, butter touch and cream. Crisp acidity. Slightly loose mousse. Spicy-nutty lees. Chalky texture. Low dosage
Jacques Selosse, Initial NV (16 / 20; av. 16.5 / 20; -0.5)
A: Mid-deep gold, with a lively bead
N: Oxidative. Clear, nutty oak. Stone fruit with some bruised and cider character
P: Crisp and apply – no MLF? Toasty-nutty oak tones. Oxidative. Somewhat loose-knit
Hambledon, Première Cuvée NV (15 / 20; av. 16.3 / 20; -1.3)
A: Pale lemon-gold, with a faint bead and rim mousse
N: Confected fruit and MLF popcorn tones. Toasty lees. Bold and forward
P: High acidity. Loose knit mousse. Apple and confection. Creamy-buttery. Simple. A bit short
Egly-Ouriet, Grand Cru Brut NV (16.5 / 20; av. 16.3 / 20; +0.2)
A: Mid burnished gold
N: Chalk cream. Brioche. Nutty oak. Citrus and some stone fruit. Sophisticated
P: Crisp acidity. Rich but lean. Gentle dosage. Just a little loose in the mousse, but plenty of smoky, spicy depth. Long
Krug, Grande Cuvée NV (17.5 / 20; av. 16.8 / 20; +0.7)
A: Pale-medium gold, with a delicate bead
N: Rich, toasty lees. Some oak touches? Dense and complex. Multilayered and elegant
P: Fine mousse. Precise, toasty lees. Brisk. Great balance and length
Flight 2: Vintage
Coates & Seely, La Perfide Blanc de Blancs 2009 (18 / 20; av. 16.8 / 20; +1.2)
A: Pale lemon with a fine bead
N: Papery-chalky. Flint. Mineral. Lean. Subtle nutty-toasty lees builds in the glass
P: Tight, with lots of spicy-toasty lees. Precise and racy. Notable dosage, but very finely-poised. Young. Bready lees length
Moët et Chandon, Cuvée Dom Perignon 2009 (19 / 20; av. 17 / 20; +2.0)
A: Pale-medium gold, with a fine, persistent bead
N: Hugely toasty-nutty. Lots of lees. Reductive, spiced. Coffee. All lees complexity
P: Spicy, toasty and rich. Fine mousse. Long, long finish. Wow, what length. Lots of lees character
Louis Roederer, Vintage 2006 (16.5 / 20; av. 16.7 / 20; -0.2)
A: Pale-medium gold with little bead
N: Muted, with minerally chalk. Old cream and brioche. Orchard fruit. Some dustiness
P: Somewhat loose-knit mousse, but plenty of brioche and fresh dough yeast. Liquorice root finish
Gusbourne Estate, Blanc de Blancs 2011 (15 / 20; av. 16.4 / 20; -1.4)
English? Yes. Magnum.
A: Pale gold, with a light bead and some rim mousse
N: Lime and ripe lemon. Almost Riesling-esque. Floral. Hedgerow. Not particularly marked lees
P: Racy acidity. Lime-lemon. A bit simple, but easy drinking, with cream and lees touches
Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2006 (16 / 20; av. 17.1 / 20; -1.1)
A: Pale lemon, with a fairly-fine bead
N: Chalk and flint. Toasted bread lees. Reduction over some orchard fruit. Spice
P: Quite loose knit. Toasted bread lees. Crisp, complex but a little clumsy
Vilmart & Cie, Coeur de Cuvée Premier Cru 2005 (16.5 / 20; av. 17.2 / 20; -0.7)
A: Mid gold
N: Oxidative. Creamy spice and butter touches. Nutty wood – oak surely? Plenty of lees
P: Quite loose-knit. Crisp to high acidity. Oak spice. Creamy. Long
Nyetimber, 1086 2009 (17+ / 20; av. 16.9 / 20; +0.1)
A: Pale medium gold, with a lazy bead
N: Oxidative touch to cream, orchard fruit and brioche. Dried red cherry – Pinot Noir content? Broad
P: Crisp to high acidity. Medium to fine mousse. Apple and bruised apple. Brioche and cherry. Coffee-lees finish. Long
Fox & Fox, Essence Blanc de Blancs 2014 (16.5 / 20; av. 16.4 / 20; +0.1)
A: Pale lemon with a fine bead
N: Flint and spice. Tight. Toasty lees. Austere but sophisticated
P: Spicy. Flinty-smoky. Bruised apple. Quite loose. Oyster shell. Lots of toasty finish lees. Long
Flight 3: Rosé
AR Lenoble, Rosé NV (16.5 / 20; av. 16.1 / 20; +0.4)
A: Pale-medium onion, with a faint bead
N: Oxidative. Hint of Marmite to dried strawberry fruit. Old cherry vinosity. Some flint
P: Spice. Flint. Moderately-loose mousse. Sour tang. Nutty, with some toasty lees to finish
Wiston Estate, Rosé 2014 (14.5 / 20; av. 15.7 / 20; -1.2)
A: Pale-medium salmon-onion
N: Marked tinned fruit and dried fruit. Scented strawberry
P: Tinned. Loose mousse. Herbal. Flint
Nyetimber, 1086 Rosé 2010 (16.5 / 20; av. 16.6 / 20; -0.1)
A: Pale-medium salmon, with a faint bead
N: Old cream. Pear and strawberry. Vinous cherry. Brioche lees
P: Moderately fine. Some chew. Spice. Cherry. Coffee. Spiced lees. Medium-long to long
Ruinart, Dom Ruinart Rosé 2004 (17.5 / 20; av. 17.3 / 20; +0.2)
A: Medium salmon-onion
N: Dense and intense, toasty-coffee lees. Serious. Spiced. Complex. Creamy touch
P: Filling, complex, leesy-toasty. Medium-fine mousse. Long, leesy finish
Bollinger, Grande Année Rosé 2007 (17 / 20; av. 16.9 / 20; +0.1)
A: Medium onion
N: Oxidative. Mushroom and old cream. Dried strawberry and bruised stone fruit. Brioche. Oak?
P: Quite fine mousse. Dried cherry, coffee and lees toast. Long
Ridgeview, Rosé de Noirs 2014 (15.5 / 20; av. 16.6 / 20; -1.1)
A: Pale onion skin, with a lazy, persistent bead
N: Hedgerow and orchard fruit. Some flint. Moderate lees. Dusty
P: Moderate mousse. Orchard and cherry fruit. Some lees. Straightforward. Fairly long
Hush Heath, Balfour Rosé 2013 (15 / 20; av. 16.7 / 20; -1.7)
English? Yes. Magnum.
A: Very pale onion, with no bead
N: Oxidative pear, cherry and stone fruit. Raspberry. Simple
P: Racy acidity. Loose mousse. Orchard fruit. Nettle and raspberry. Flint. Simple
Billecart-Salmon, Brut Rosé NV (16 / 20; av. 16.8 / 20; -0.8)
A: Pale salmon
N: Reductive. Some coffee and lifted cherry fruit. Bright, fresh citrus. Fruit first, then some lees
P: Loose mousse. Crisp, almost racy acidity. Flint. Spice. Some complexity. Toasty lees length