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Champagne NV

With five golds and plenty of silvers, this was a strong performance for NV champers at every level, from eyebrow-raisingly cheap to eye-poppingly expensive.

 The hit rate of entries to medals for this style of wine in the past few years has not been so good – but then they were mixed in with other wine styles according to their price band. This year, given their own flight, non-vintage Champagnes did rather better. Which (cynics might suggest) could tell you something about the amount of leeway that sommeliers are prepared to give to the world’s most famous Champagne region… 

Either way, whereas in the past NV champers has often seen the vast majority of wines staying at Bronze, with a relatively small number of highlights, this year our tasters were, if the number of Silvers is anything to go by, more impressed with what they were seeing.

The sommeliers were not necessarily looking for any great complexity, but the word ‘balance’ came up a lot, defined by Hakkasan Hanway Place’s Gabor Foth as ‘elegance on one side, richness on the other’.

Drinkability was also mentioned. ‘It needs to be expressive and give instant gratification,’ said York & Albany’s Nigel Lister. Wines with teeth-jarring acidity (not, let’s face it, exactly unknown in north-east France) were swiftly weeded out.

‘There was a nice diversity of styles within the flight, but the wines that showed best were below £25,’ said Home House’s Jacques Savary de Beauregard. ‘This is what the customer wants to drink, something not too complicated, something fresh and pure and refreshing.’

Price, as you can imagine, was a key factor. ‘It’s difficult to justify a £60+VAT buy-price for non-vintage Champagne on a list,’ said one taster, and some of the more expensive entries were removed for this reason.

Some, but not all. The elegant Mumm de Cramant picked up its second consecutive place on the Gold List despite being over £60, while the Charles Heidsieck brut reserve, also received a Critics' Choice for the way it balanced quality and finesse with value.

At the lower end of the scale, Majestic’s impressively priced J de Telmont sparkler at £13.35 was a strong contender for a By The Glass award, until trumped by a prosecco – as much for stylistic reasons as anything.

‘It’s very evolved,’ said Hakkasan’s Christine Parkinson. ‘It’ll be good with food, but most people who want a glass as an aperitif will want something younger and fresher.’

‘It clearly had some bottle age,’ agreed James Hocking of The Vineyard Group. ‘But it will fly off the list every time.’

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Taittinger, with a Gold and two Silvers, one of which, Les Folies de la Marquetterie, was inches off making Gold as well.

‘NV Champagne has to tell you something; you have to remember it.’
Marco Carboni, Barbecoa

‘I think we all like to think people drink Champagne with food, but the truth is that they don’t!’
Louise Gordon, The Rib Room