Taste Champagne, Tyson Stelzer’s annual champagne road show, harnessed an audience of more than 3,500 people who attended trade and public events in seven cities around the country in August this year. Since its inception five years ago, Taste Champagne has experienced strong growth in-line with Australia’s upward trend in champagne consumption by volume and value. The two, almost certainly, representing some kind of interdependent relationship in spurring on Australia’s ongoing love affair with champagne.

In 2018, 51 Houses were represented, 24 growers and four cooperatives – 79 producers in all – opening up a cache of champagne depth and breadth for people to explore under one roof. Both trade and public events were mostly sold out, as event-goers secured their access to diversity that cannot be found anywhere else in Australia.

This year featured strong representation from the Aube. At Sydney’s event, attendees got to explore one side of the Côte des Bar to the other with Alexandre Bonnet, Laurenti, Philippe Fourrier, Fluteau and the star of Montgueux, Jacques Lassaigne.

There were other surprises. Henri Giraud was in fine form – better than ever. Its normally heavy, oaked and oxidative style seemed irrepressibly fresh and lighter. Of those on show, the Blanc de Craie Vin de Champagne NV and Dame-Jean Grand Vin de Champagne Rosé NV were particularly good; bright, generous and delicious but still with a dash of oak so true to Giraud.

Pierre Gimonnet’s trademark piercingly sharp execution seemed less aggressive and more refined. Their 2008 Cuvée Fleuron Brut Blanc de Blancs drank with purity of white stone fruits and citrus, sea spray and acacia. And Special Club Grands Terroirs de Chardonnay 2012 had all kinds of mouth-filling and softening complexity yet with excellent lines of acidity.

Others provoked interest for different reasons. Vadin-Plateau’s unconventional meunier-led cuvées from Cumières were some pretty funky wines. Their aldehydic and fruity style has a defining cheesy-lees character, adding a mixture of complexity to the bouquet and flavour profile. Their Deux Mille Sept Millésime 2010 stood out above all for its freshness, weight of fruit and balance.

Lombard, from Epernay, also piqued interest for their pure and sharp style. Although they are simple wines – and don’t pretend to be anything more – they are very good, especially as aperitifs. Lombard’s Brut Nature Le Mesnil-sur-Oger NV is an instructive tasting in just how approachable a zero dosage can be when sourced from the steely, chalky terroir of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs.

Henri Abelé is another that intrigued. For a House led by the freshness of chardonnay, it is in fact their expressively vinous prestige range that attracts most attention.  Sourire de Reims Brut 2008 and Rosé 2006, on tight allocation, showed the extent of Henri Abelé’s complexity which – in the case of their rosé – can teeter on the edge of liqueur-style aromatics, bitter marmalade and even vegemite.

As always, there was excellent representation from the major Houses, which were in top form with their vintages of the season, prestige offerings and on-trade only treats. Some of the best included Deutz’s Armour de Deutz Millésime 2008 which was particularly ethereal with its pillowy and chalky texture and Ayala’s Blanc de Blancs 2010 for its harmony and finesse. Lanson’s Pere et Fils (based on 2012 and the same as Black Label Brut NV but with an extra year on lees) was fresh yet complex with honeyed notes and lovely roundness. And G.H. Mumm’s RSRV Cuvée Blanc de Noirs 2008 was outstanding for its savoury on top of fruit profile and distinct peatiness that sometimes characterises wine from Verzenay.

Across all producers, the precise 2008 vintage and rounder 2009 vintage was represented strongly. However, some of the highlights from the day came from the irrepressibly delicious 2012 vintage, with its oh-so approachable rich fruitiness and refreshing acidity.

What Taste Champagne does is incredibly good for Australia. Those in the trade inevitably go away with renewed enthusiasm and confidence to communicate different kinds of champagne to their customers. And those from the public are made aware – often for the first time – of the serious wines that exist behind the bubbles.

Next year, Taste Champagne will roll-out across Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Perth, holding over Canberra and Adelaide until 2020.

Save the date for Taste Champagne 2019

Hong Kong – 27 March 2019

Sydney – Four Seasons – 5 August 2019

Perth – Beaumonde on the Point – 12 August 2019

Brisbane – Sofitel – 19 August 2019

Melbourne – Plaza Ballroom – 26 August 2019

WORDS | Sara Underdown
PHOTOGRAPHY | Paul Field

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