Home > Fair, Good, ModGood, Tasting Notes and Wine Reviews > A Big Surprise in Tasting Big-House Champagne

A Big Surprise in Tasting Big-House Champagne


The only fitting way to end a week which commenced with Champagne is to drink even more Champagne.  This weekend I found myself at David White’s house faced with three glasses and ten foil-wrapped bottles.  David had organized the tasting for his increasingly popular wine blog Terroirist.  For his take on the tasting please take a look at his post A Blind Champagne Tasting (Go Costco!).  The theme was big-house Brut Champagne which cost under $50 per bottle.  All of these bottles are, in general, widely available.

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Present were David (Terroirist), Scott and Lily Claffee, Alex, Isaac (Reading, Writing & Wine), Robby, and myself.  There was brief coordination to avoid duplicate bottles so in the end we gathered eight known bottles and two ringers.  The Champagnes were tasted blind in flights of three or two.  After tasting each bottle we revisited them for a second time, and finalized our scores.  David had asked us to score the bottles so we could arrive at a group ranking.  The reveal, as one could hope for in a blind tasting, was great fun.  The ringers turned out to be the grower Champagne Chartogne-Taillet and generic Kirkland.  There was surprise at the under performing bottle of Pol Roger.  But more importantly, a generally strong view of the Kirkland purchased at Costco!  There was excitement about how the ranking would shake out for the Bollinger, Roederer, and Moet Chandon had also done well.  Scott tallied the scores and announced to our sneaking suspicions that the Kirkland, Brut was the group favorite!!!

This may not be a surprise for the label reveals the Kirkland bottle is produced by Janisson et Fils.  What is surprising is that this bottle only costs $20.  The others in the top three ranking averaged $45 per bottle.  So while the label is very unattractive you may purchase two bottles for the price of one of the others.  Non-vintage Champagne is a blend of multiple vintages in an effort to produce a consistent house-style.  It usually features a majority base year with several other reserve vintages.  As it is ever-changing, I would recommend stocking up on it now.  The other bottles in the top three ranking were tightly clustered.  Of these I would simply recommend you pick your personal style.  I must also suggest the Pol Roger and Charles Heidsieck should be revisited.

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The group ranking with average scores:

  1. Kirkland, Brut (90.3 Points)
  2. Moet Chandon, Imperial (89.1 Points)
  3. Bollinger, Special Cuvee, Champagne and Louis Roederer, Brut Premier (89 Points)
  4. Chartogne-Tailler, Sainte-Anne (88.3 Points)
  5. Veuve Clicquot, Brut (87.6 Points)
  6. Taittinger, Brut a La Francaise (86.6 Points)
  7. Delamotte, Brut (86.3 Points)
  8. Charles Heidsieck, Monopole Blue Top Brut (84.3 Points)
  9. Pol Roger, Extra Cuvee de Reserve (82.7 Points)

With the reveal over we fortified ourselves with a selection of cheeses, Steve Matthiasson jams, and 11 pretzels.  The conversations that afternoon ranged from finding 2001 Silver Oak and other gems at a rental house (yes, they were promptly opened) to difficult gophers in a vineyard site (no solution yet).  There was also a story about a little known Maryland store that sells more lottery tickets and 40 ouncers than its dusty stock of Premier Cru Bordeaux and Blue-Chip Napa (Champagnes all oxidized but reds OK).  It was a fun end to a week of Champagne. Below you will find my tasting notes in the order I tasted them.

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1.  Bollinger, Special Cuvee, Champagne
Imported by Terlato Wines.  This wine is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Meunier.  Alcohol 13%.  This was ever so paler than the Pol Roger.  The light nose steps out a bit with sweet biscuit and apple aromas.  In the mouth there were firm bubbles, which popped and dissipated, sweet spices, and some ripeness.  The wine was a little more vibrant from all of the acidity.  (89 Points)

2. Pol Roger, Extra Cuvee de Reserve, Champagne
Imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons.  This is a blend of 33% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir, and 33% Pinot Meunier.  Alcohol 12.5%.  The color was a rich, light yellow.  The light nose bore darker, robust flavors at first then with air, nuts.  In the mouth there were finer bubbles than the Bollinger, which popped away quietly.  There were nondescript flavors of white and yellow fruit.  The flavors were short and nutty.  (82 Points)

3. Louis Roederer, Brut Premier, Champagne
Imported by Maison Marques & Domaines.  This wine is a blend of 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, and 20% Pinot Meunier.  Alcohol 12%.  The color was light like the Bollinger.  The very light nose had a little stink which became a little stinkier with air.  It was enjoyable though.  In the mouth there were fine, firm bubbles which persisted throughout.  The acidity mixed with white fruit.  As it warmed and breathed a delicate, floral flavor came out.  This was easier to drink that the first two.  (88 Points)

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4. Charles Heidsieck, Monopole Blue Top Brut, Champagne
Imported by Vranken Pommery.  This wine is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay, and 10% Pinot Meunier.  Alcohol 12%.  The light nose had some skunk stink.  The mouth followed the nose with the flavors plummeting fast.  There was some ripe fruit at first, which became soft.  It was soft in acidity and rough in the finish.  (80 Points)

5. Delamotte, Brut, Champagne
Imported by Vineyard Brands.  This wine is a blend of 50% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, and 205 Pinot Meunier.  Alcohol 12%.  There was a light, tight nose.  The wine was aggressive in the mouth with fine, powerful bubbles.  Not much to the flavors which stabs on top of the tongue.  The finish was bitter with some simple, cola like flavors.  (85 Points)

6. Taittinger, Brut a La Francaise, Champagne
Imported by Kobrand Wine & Spirits.  This wine is a blend of 40% Chardonnay with the rest Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.  Alcohol 12%.  The nose was light and robust at first, developing yeast aromas.  In the mouth there were fine, spaced out bubbles which filled the mouth with mousse.  It was balanced with some spice coming out as it breathed.  The flavors faded fast.  (86 Points)

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7. Kirkland, Brut, Champagne
Imported by DC Flynt MW.  This is a blend of 60% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, and 10% Pinot Meunier.  Alcohol 12%.  The nose was light with subtly ripe fruit and vintage perfume.  In the mouth there was richer fruit, fine, strong bubble then a yeast note.  The gently ripe fruit continued in the middle on a blanket of soft bubbles.  All around pleasing.  (90 Points)

8. Chartogne-Tailler, Sainte-Anne, Champagne
Imported by Michael Skurnik.  This wine is a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir.  Alcohol 12%.  The nose was interesting.  In the mouth there was a lot of acidity and aggressive bubbles at first.  They eventually dissipate to reveal a touch of apple and yeast with more acidity.  (88 Points)

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9. Veuve Clicquot, Brut, Champagne
Imported by Moet Hennessey.  This wine is a blend of 50-55% Pinot Noir, 28-33% Chardonnay, and 15-20% Pinot Meunier.  Alcohol 12%.  The nose had a slight hint of Pilsner yeast.  In the mouth there was ripe, yellow fruit which was more robust in nature.  This was a solid, pleasing drinker with a long aftertaste and almost chewy finish.  (89 Points)

10. Moet Chandon, Imperial, Champagne
Imported by Moet Hennessey. This wine is a blend of 30-40% Pinot Noir, 30-40% Pinot Meunier, and 20-30% Chardonnay.  Alcohol 12%.  The nose was light, more interesting, and showed complexity.  There was a hint of ripe, yellow fruit.  In the mouth the ripe yellow fruit starts off at the front of the tongue then the bubbles come out.  It was balanced with acidity in check and a little sweet spice.  (90 Points)

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