We visited: Wine Advocate Masterclass – Champagne: Past, Present & Future

Robert Parker is a worldwide famous wine critic, considered the highest authority in wine scoring since the 80s. He had applied a 100 points scale but very few selected wines reached the maximum score. His influence is substantial, especially on the North American market, and it’s also an important factor for setting the best wines prices. The Wine Advocate is the publication he created back in 1978, mainly for scoring the Bordeaux wines (his preferred wines). In time, Wine Advocate evolved and more famous wine regions are now tasted and scored by a team of wine experts. After his partial retirement, the publication has been sold in 2012 to a hedge fund investor from Singapore and now, since November 2019, it was announced that Michelin Guide became the sole owner of The Wine Advocate.

On 11 and 12 March this year, took place in Zürich (Switzerland) at the marvellous Dolder Grand Hotel, the Wine Advocate 5th edition of Matter of Taste, a huge event where hundreds of best wineries from all over the world are presenting their best cuvées to the public. Tastings, masterclasses, discussions are organized throughout the main event and we participated in some of these. As champagne lovers, we couldn’t miss the masterclass “Champagne: Past, Present & Future” greatly presented by Wine Advocate’s Deputy Editor, William Kelley. Beside Champagne, he’s also the Wine Advocate reviewer for famous regions such as Burgundy, Bordeaux, Madeira and English Sparkling wines.

William Kelley presenting the masterclass

The masterclass was centred on the evolution of the Champagne region and how the new techniques are adopted, mainly by the small/medium growers, but are also on the spot for the big houses. “This masterclass […] explores the recent history of Champagne and how the grower movement has precipitated change, looking at three different generations of the movement and also charting how the region’s best houses are increasingly acting like small vignerons”. There were six cuvées proposed for the tasting:

  • Brut Collection 243 NV from Louis Roederer (RP92);
  • Brut BdN PN TX17 NV from Bollinger (RP92);
  • “Chemin de Chalons”, Extra-Brut BdB millésime 2018 from La Rogerie (RP94);
  • “Les Terres Fines”, Extra-Brut BdB Premier Cru NV from Dhondt-Grellet (RP95);
  • “Les Maillons”, Extra-Brut BdN millésime 2018 (d. 2022) from Ulysse Collin (RP97);
  • Brut Grand Cru millésime 2013 from Egly-Ouriet (RP100).
the tasting bottles

No need to express now how good each of them was, we will detail all of these cuvées separately in a future post, we prefer to reveal now the conclusions of this excellently driven masterclass.

The global warming is a reality that growers notice each year. Warmer years are difficult for Champagne and there are two obvious options to solve the issue: either have earlier harvests (mid-end of August) which results in flat (less complex) still wines that requires more reserve wines, either leave the harvests as usual (in September) and obtain ripen grapes with less acidity, which leads to wines that loose the power to be aged for decent time. The third alternative is to make more concentrated wines, but that means less production and more expensive bottles which now is difficult due to an already increased demand for champagne (trend that became reality after the pandemic). Most champagne vignerons are now juggling with the alternatives and use new techniques in order to provide high quality cuvées. Even the big houses are embracing new philosophies and revolutionary techniques resulting in higher quality champagne.

The public is also becoming more skilled and requires complex and full of character cuvées; this demand offers great opportunities for smaller, unknown growers. If 20 years ago the main Champagne areas were considered Montagne de Reims and Côte des Blancs, where all the Grand Cru villages are, now there are excellent cuvées and producers from Côte des Bar, Côte de Sézanne or Coteaux Sud d’Épernay (just to name a few). Biodynamic and sustainable are on the lips of the majority of the growers and exotic techniques are used to obtain outstanding cuvées. Understanding and taking advantage of the terroir’s influence, using the harmony of the nature, is fundamental to creating exquisite champagnes. We have to mention here the extraordinary Anselme Selosse and his great contribution to this trend of new growers. Those skills, influenced by his earlier Jerez (Spain) and Burgundy experiences, are the base for the trendiest names in Champagne today (Olivier Collin from Ulysse Collin, Raphaël Bérèche from Bérèche et Fils, Bertrand Gautherot from Vouette & Sorbée, Franck Pascal, Jérôme Prévost from La Closerie and so on).

We have noticed this trend of biodynamic, sustainable or natural agriculture is also embraced by medium/big houses like Louis Roederer, Gosset, Bollinger, Mumm etc.

a glass of champagne with William Kelley after the masterclass

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