Is Dom Pérignon the best?

In Event Reports, IWFS London Blog by ashepherdiwfs

On 30th January at the Army and Navy Club, we tasted 10 Champagnes and English sparkling wines of different ages and styles. People scored each wine out of 20, so average scores could be worked out later. Approximate current prices are given for the younger wines but are not available (NA) for the older ones. 17 out of 18 who booked managed to come in spite of the train strike. It was pleasure to see several new and younger faces, with Beverley St. John Aubin doing a very good job of introductions.

Louis Pommery Brut England (NV), Hampshire, 12.5%. 100 acres were planted by this Champagne house in 2017 on chalk soil near Alresford. Pale. Fair mousse. Pleasant bouquet and good taste, but simple. Sweetish. My score 14, average, 13.9, range 9 to 18. £31. 

Ashling Park Estate Cuvée Brut (NV), Sussex, 12.0%. The Gardner family planted 13ha in 2009. The wine is made by Dermot Sugrue and spends at least 6 years on the lees. Pale yellow-gold. Vigorous mousse. Bigger and more complex bouquet and a more developed flavour than the Pommery. Cooked apple? Delicious and very satisfying. My score 18, average 14.1, range 8 to 18. £34-50. 

Nyetimber Blanc de Blancs Première Cuvée Chardonnay 2000, Sussex, 12.0%. Stuart and Sandy Moss, from Chicago, were thought mad when they planted Champagne grapes on greensand soil in 1988 near Pulborough. Shamefully, these pioneers of modern English sparkling wine are not mentioned on the website. It is now a huge producer with vines in Sussex, Kent and Hampshire.  Gold but not dark. Low mouse (typical of older sparkling wines). Pleasant aroma with some caramel. Delicious flavour. Really good development. Well worth keeping so long. My score 18, average 14.2, range 10 to 18. NA.

Dom Pérignon 2000 Brut, Hautvillers, 12.5%. The Benedictine monk Dom Pérignon was cellarer at the Abbey of Hautvillers. Although often wrongly credited with inventing the Champagne method, he did use thicker glass, corks tied down with oiled hemp rope, and getting white wine from black grapes. The wine spends at least seven years on the lees. It is roughly equal parts of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. It is part of the LVMH luxury goods group. Straw gold. Very small bubbles but no big mousse. Less bouquet and less developed flavour than the Nyetimber. Good flavour and length. Disappointing for its reputation and price. My score 17, average 16.8, range 13 to 20. About £300. 

Exton Park Blanc de Blancs 2014, Hampshire, 11.5%. Photos were shown of the sloping vineyard on deep chalk soil. The wine is from 20-year-old vines, with six years on the lees, and was disgorged in 2021. Unusually, Exton also produces wines aged under the sea! Pale straw. Lots of very small bubbles. Fragrant bouquet and a lovely flavour. Fresh and refreshing. Some complexity. Delicious. My score 17, average 15, range 11 to 18. £65. 

All Angels Classic Cuvée 2015, Berkshire, 12.0%. Owned by the Darley family, the vineyard is near Newbury, at Enbourne. Chardonnay 58%, P. Noir 19%, P. Meunier, 13%, Pinot Gris, 10%. This was a difficult year, with the harvest in late October, early November. Best mousse so far, with a big white head and fast bubbles. Very good bouquet. Fresh, fizzing in the mouth. Good acidity. Delicious all round. Lovely. My score 18, average 14.9, range 8 to 18. £40. 

Camel Valley Pinot Noir Brut 2010, Cornwall, 12.0%. This is family run by Bob and Anne Lindo, with son Sam now the winemaker. Their wines have beaten Bollinger and Roederer in international competitions. Light gold. Low mousse. Moderate bouquet. Excellent flavour, very complex and developed. Very long. Has character, elegance and depth, but was let down a bit by the bouquet, so I did not give it 20. My score 18, average 16.2, range 10 to 20. NA. 

Furleigh Estate Classic Cuvée Brut 2009, Dorset, 12.0%. This is near the Jurassic Coast and run by the founders, Ian Edwards and Rebecca Hansford. There is some oak-ageing in old Cognac barrels. Chardonnay 40%, P. N. 30%, P.M. 30%. It was a perfect year. Light gold. Very small bubbles but not much mousse. Not a lot of bouquet. A good complex flavour. Slight oak. Very long. Possibly better younger. My score 17, average 16.4, range 13 to 19. NA. 

Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial 1983, 12.5%. Now owned by LVMH, huge, producing about 28 million bottles a year from 2,900 acres, and they buy in grapes. Light gold. Low mousse, small bubbles. Fair bouquet. Very big, complex, enjoyable flavour. Still fairly fresh on the palate. Well developed. Keeping well. My score 17, average 16.8, range 13 to 20. NA. 

All Angels Sparkling Rosé 2018, Berkshire, 12.0%. This is very unusual, made from 61% Rondo (very prolific) and 39% Pinot Gris. That year there was no frost, with a big harvest on 23rd September. At least three and a half years on the lees. Beautiful. Lovely mid-pink colour. Attractive fruity bouquet. Lovely flavour. Good length. Fully ready. My score 17, average 15.6, range 10 to 18. £40.

On a show of hands for the best wine, the Dom Pérignon and 1983 Moët received four votes, Camel Valley and Furleigh Estate received three, All Angels Rosé received two, and Exton Park and All Angels Classic Cuvée received one. 18 votes from 17 people? Apart from the Nyetimber, it is clear that the older wines were preferred. Of the wines available now, the two All Angels offer the best value.

On the average scores, it is interesting that the cheapish Champagne house English wine came last, while the Dom Pérignon and old Moët came top. The Furleigh was the best English sparkler, while the Camel Valley did get one score of 20. The huge range of scores on all wines shows how much individual tastes differ.

Dr Bernard Lamb, organiser, presenter and source