2008 Champagne: tasting the prestige cuvées

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Photograph: Jason Lowe

The 2008 Champagne vintage is considered one of the region’s best ever. With most of the prestige cuvées now on the market, we asked Champagne Specialist Edwin Dublin to see whether the wines live up to the vintage’s reputation

The 2008 vintage in Champagne undoubtedly resulted in some of the greatest wines ever produced from this region and is already hailed as one of the greatest Champagne vintages ever. Vintage releases to date have not disappointed (our own UKC was brilliant and still youthful!) but now we can assess the prestige cuvées as (nearly) all have been released. Was the best saved till last? A group of us gathered at No.3 St James’s Street recently to cogitate and contemplate over six prestige cuvées from this vintage.

Some techy stuff first. Why is ’08 so special? Winter was bitterly cold, which is great for resting the vines after a harvest. Late spring and early summer were warm with good conditions for flowering and early bud development. Fears of rot were quickly overcome, but then it all went a bit gloomy for the rest of the summer, especially August, which was cool and grey. But then the sun came out and temperatures rose for beautiful ripening and harvest from mid-September. For recent times this meant a relatively long grape development, with excellent balance of sugars, flavours, aromatics and acidity. This combination meant that many producers, including some from this tasting, released their more forward and exuberant 2009s before the 2008s.

Broadly speaking the 2008 vintage character and style is one of soaring acidity and freshness beautifully balanced by generous fruit and a depth of concentration that, for now, can feel a little tight. Comparisons have been made to 1996 and 2002. I follow the critical pack in thinking, even at this early stage, that 2008 is greater than 1996 when considering the harmonious balance it exhibits. And despite some tightness, the ’08s are often more approachable at this stage than either 1996 or 2002 at a similar stage.

And so to the wines: below is a sketch of what I thought of them, in alphabetical order. The common point in all of these is that 2008 serves either to accentuate the prestige House style or else holds it (for now, at least) in a delicious state of tension. Longevity is a given here – the only question is how many decades and how you enjoy you drinking these: with youthful exuberance or with the greater complexities of maturity

The line-up of 2008 Champagne

What is a prestige cuvée?

There is no regulatory definition: they are basically the top wine (or, increasingly, wines, if one thinks of Dom Pérignon’s various iterations P2, P3 etc, or single-vineyard Krug) made by Champagne producers using their very best grapes.

2008 Champagne Bollinger, La Grande Année: A classic Bollinger, statuesque with oodles of black cherry fruit and a light dusting of oak spice. But before the power overwhelms you, the Chardonnay shimmies on through to counterbalance the weight, adding freshness and light. There is a concentrated core that remained unfurled even after time in the glass, which made this – for me – the most enigmatic of the line-up. It will be fascinating to see how this develops into the resplendent RD it will surely become. (NB Grande Année is, strictly speaking, not a prestige cuvée, but earns its place as it will go on to become – I presume – their prestige RD cuvée.)

2008 Champagne Dom Pérignon: No matter the vintage, Dom Pérignon is invariably ready to go from release. Once again that hedonistic charm is combined with a complexity and elegance that belies this. All is beautifully placed. Brioche, hazelnut, buttercream here, citrussy minerality there, a touch of dark forest fruit, all kept in place by that ’08 structure, so that it never quite goes over the top. So yes, you can have it now, but it will reward keeping for as many years as you care to wait. The P2 and P3 expressions that must surely follow will be fascinating.

2008 Champagne Pol Roger, Sir Winston Churchill: A complete wine. Impressive at first, it seems almost too much to approach, but then all becomes clear. It’s a bit like Winston himself, who would surely have approved of this. Wild strawberry and morello cherry scents firm up on the palate, woven through with a zesty almost limey touch. All contribute to Pol’s trademark combination of majesty and elegance in a glass, leading to the richest of mouth-filling finishes that never seems to end.

2008 Louis Roederer, Cristal: Waves of intoxicating Pinot fruit waft up – pure, concentrated, with a touch of violet that held my attention for ages before delving into the glass. The palate is both weighty and airy – Pinot Noir on wings. I am a huge fan of the “straight” 2008 Louis Roederer vintage and they make a fascinating comparison. The terroir differences between the vineyard sites for these two wines, and hence the style, is accentuated in this vintage. The more calcareous Cristal terroir (and perhaps the 40% of biodynamic grapes?) is evident here, giving a more mineral and scintillatingly sinuous encounter now, with the promise of so much more to come.

2008 Champagne Taittinger, Comtes de Champagne: Despite the nervy tension underneath, that wondrous Comtes richness is still to the fore. The Grand Cru provenance is clear – did I detect Mesnil in those agrumic notes? Oger in the yuzu? A breadth of fruit structure in the touch of oak used in the Chouilly fruit? Whatever, even in this most structured of vintages Comtes is a (slightly) guilty pleasure to drink now. A privilege too as it hasn’t been released yet, this being a preview bottle. (We expect it to be released in spring of next year.)

2008 Champagne Veuve Clicquot, La Grande Dame: This is particularly interesting because Veuve’s chef de cave felt that in ’08 this cuvée, always Pinot Noir-dominant, needed the most it’s ever had – 92%. Surely the highest of all the blended cuvées tasted today (we never know what goes into the Winston, of course). Despite this, however, the nose is more leesy than fruit and it’s on the palate where you first get that Pinot hit: a line of pure fruit that broadens with time, later supported by mineral agrumic notes from the Chardonnay, all on a balanced streak of acidity. Like Bollinger, this too is a little hesitant in giving too much away now. But the components are certainly there for a long future.

The 2008 vintage is the gift that keeps on giving. Watching these develop over the years, and with still more releases to come, I – for one – can’t wait.

If you’re interested in purchasing any of the wines detailed above, please contact our Fine Wine team on 0203 301 2883 or at finewine@bbr.com, or explore all 2008 Champagne on bbr.com

Category: Champagne and Sparkling Wine

Bonfire Night bangers

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Photograph: Joe Woodhouse
As we brace ourselves for fireworks, sparklers and bonfires, our Head Chef Stewart Turner provides his decadent take on “bangers and mash” for a Bonfire Night feast, while we suggest some suitably bold reds to drink alongside this indulgent dish

As the son of an army officer I grew up on a lot of army bases all over Europe, and one of my lasting memories is what a great party they put on for Bonfire Night. The bonfires would be spectacular affairs and the mess would produce great platters of food – sausage baps with fried onions and barbecue sauce being a particular favourite. Recently it seems that Bonfire Night has had an Halloween-style American makeover and it’s all toffee apples and s’mores.

This play on bangers and mash is a bit more sophisticated than the sausage baps from my childhood and, I think, cracking for a Bonfire Night party, being rich and warming for a pre or post bonfire supper, or even a decadent midweek supper. The dish incorporates a couple of my favourite ingredients – one underrated and the other highly prized. A well-made sausage can be a thing of beauty, and the mighty Vacherin Mont d’Or must be one of the greatest seasonal cheeses.

This is a recipe that I inherited when I took over as Head Chef at Berry Bros. & Rudd; we served these lovely spiced, devilled sausages as a canapé and they were always a real hit. It’s a recipe that we still use today.

Devilled sausages with Vacherin creamed potatoesServes 4
  • 8-12 good-quality Cumberland sausages
  • 50g honey
  • 2tbsp tomato ketchup
  • 2tbsp Worcestershire sauce
  • 2tbsp Dijon mustard
  • 1tsp hot chilli sauce
  • 2tbsp chopped chives
  • 750g potatoes, preferably king Edwards – peeled and cut into large, even-sized chunks
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 100ml cream
  • 100g butter – diced
  • 100g Vacherin Mont d’Or – rind removed and diced
  • 50ml whole milk

Rinse the potatoes well then put in a pan, cover with cold water and add a large pinch of salt. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer until the potatoes are tender, about 15 minutes. Don’t boil too rapidly or overcook as the potatoes with break up and absorb too much water.

While the potatoes are cooking, preheat the oven to 180°C. Grill the sausages until they are almost cooked (you can also roast them in the oven if you like). Drain the sausages well on kitchen paper, then tip them into a clean roasting tin. Mix the honey, ketchup, mustard, Worcestershire and chilli sauce, pour over the sausages and mix well so they are thoroughly coated. Place in the oven for about 10 minutes, turning a couple of times, until the glaze starts to caramelise, and the sausages are sticky. Finish with the chopped chives and keep warm.

Drain the potatoes, return them to the pan over a low heat and allow to dry out. Pass them through a potato ricer or sieve (just mashing with a masher will not produce a fine enough purée). Place the potato purée back in the pan, again over a low heat. In another pan, bring the cream and milk to the boil. Using a spatula, beat the cream and milk mix into the purée, then add the diced butter. Finish by mixing in the diced Vacherin. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve the creamed potatoes with the glazed sausages and some buttered kale.

What to drink: If it were just Vacherin on the table, we’d instantly suggest some Savagnin or Jura Chardonnay – butwith the sausages and their devilish coating in the mix, we need something bold and red. Head to the Northern Rhône for something with enough acidity to cut through the mash, and enough fruit to balance the sweet-savoury marinade – this St Joseph from Coursodon would do nicely. You could also head to the Languedoc-Roussillon: Gauby’s Vieilles Vignes cuvée – a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Syrah – will be savoury, hearty and fresh enough to work here; while Mas de Daumas Gassac’s Cabernet-led blend, with all its herbal, spicy notes would make a fine match.

Category: Food & Wine

Daftmill by the dram

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Francis Cuthbert, Daftmill, Fife. Photograph: Callum Rafferty

Desperate to try Daftmill but can’t get your hands on a bottle? You’re not alone – which is why the Fife distillery has set aside one cask which, from today, is available only in a handful of Scotland’s best whisky bars

Since its first release in 2018, Fife-based farm distillery Daftmill has made quite a name for itself. Brothers Francis and Ian Cuthbert are the sixth generation of their family to grow malting barley on their farm, but the first to start distilling. They make just 100 casks a year, distilled in the farm’s off-season, which are carefully aged for 10 years or more until they’re ready for release.

Given the size of their production, and each limited release, the Daftmill whiskies sell out astonishing quickly. But, just as with wine, there are plenty of people trading or flipping bottles, rather than opening them. After its single-cask releases earlier this year sold out in record time, the Cuthberts spotted them on auction sites at vastly inflated prices. “As much as we appreciate the high demand for our whisky, we’ve always distilled with the goal of it being opened and drunk by people that really enjoy a dram,” said Francis.

And so the brothers decided that they would release a single cask that could only be savoured by the dram, in selected bars, by people who really love whisky. “It’s a great way to ensure that every bottle we release will be opened and drunk over the next few months,” Francis explained. If you’re heading north of the border, it’s certainly worth making sure you build in a trip to one of the Independent Whisky Bars of Scotland for a taste – we suspect the cask won’t last long.

From today, you can find 2008 Daftmill, Cask No.68 in the Independent Whisky Bars of Scotland:

  • Dornoch Castle Hotel, Dornoch, Sutherland
  • Fiddler’s, Loch Ness, Drumnadrochit
  • The Highlander Inn, Craigelllachie
  • The Pot Still, Glasgow
  • The Bon Accord, Glasgow
Category: Spirits

Burgundy 2018: first impressions

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Our Buyer Adam Bruntlett amongst the vines above Vosne-Romanée
In January we’ll be offering Burgundy’s 2018s en primeur. Ahead of the offer, our Buyer Adam Bruntlett is in the Côte d’Or tasting the wines from barrel and talking to growers. Here he explains exactly how he spends his time, and how the vintage is looking
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Category: Burgundy Wine