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Sparkling Wine & Champagne: £20+

Problems with high acidity in this Champagne-dominated section, but also some truly excellent wines at surprisingly good prices


Here, at last, was the sparkling wine section that was (almost) all about Champagne. But amazingly the hit rate of entries to medals was worse here than in the sub-£14 category, certainly between the £20 and £30 price points. Go figure.

Although this was largely a showcase for all things Champenois, there was, as you might expect with a mix of cheap to expensive and NV to vintage, plenty of variety from complex through simple and fresh to ‘battery acid’.

‘If there was a problem with this flight, it was high acidity,’ said Vinopolis’s Tom Forrest, and the tasters were quick to throw out anything that they felt had strayed into ‘over-green’ territory. Some tasters were cruelly quick to dismiss these wines as ‘probably English’. With the benefit of hindsight, we can now tell them that they were, in fact, all French…

Talking of ‘thin and green’, not many zero dosage Champagnes were sent in, and none made it to medal stage, which is interesting given that the Champenois have spent much of the past five years telling us all what a ‘restaurant-friendly style’ it is…

What the tasters liked instead was wines like the Deutz, which managed to mix complexity and fantastic balance at a highly competitive price. ‘It was the intensity for me,’ said Borough Wines’ Gergely Barsi Szabó. I enjoyed the length and the nose. Everything was in its perfect place. It really had a personality.’

As the flights moved up the price levels, cost became rather less of an issue, and particularly once the price got over £30 (ie around £100 on a list), the tasters judged entirely on quality.

‘At £34, would I list that?’ asked The Vineyard Group’s James Hocking of the Taittinger 2005. ‘Yes, I would. Could I sell it? Yes, I could. It has balance and texture; full bodied, crisp and elegant.’ Taitt, it must be said, is something of a regular on the SWA Gold List, vintage after vintage, so congratulations to them – and if you want to send a case through to Imbibe for the staff party, you know where we live…

In fact, at the upper end of the Champagne submissions, the feedback was a good deal more positive than at the £20-£30 mark. ‘At these prices, we have a right to expect complexity,’ said consultant Peter McCombie MW. ‘It shouldn’t be simple like at the lower price points. You’re paying a premium price for a premium product.’

These wines, of course, are a harder sell than four or five years ago, which perhaps explains (a) why the number of submissions of £40+ fizz in SWA hasn’t gone up much for a couple of years, and (b) why the most expensive wine to pick up Gold in this year’s competition was the Mumm de Cramant at just £43, while the likes of the £65 Cuvée William Deutz stayed at a (very good) Silver.

‘It has this very delicate detail,’ said Barsi Szabó of the Cramant. ‘Very exciting and well made. If you want an expensive bubbly then you’re looking for something like this. You don’t really care what’s written on the bottle, it’s what’s in your glass. We all felt good about it.’

‘Champagne sales depend on the time of year and on the brand. We’re in the City, so for us, they’re all about image.’ Chris Weaver, The Folly