Champagne Off-Line
Alba Restaurant, Whitecross St, London
11th March 2005


NV Cuvée Petraea XCVII – MM, Raymond Boulard
Creamy vanilla.  Very pleasant wine.  I feel it’s much creamier than the XCIX, but it’s not as distinctive either, and given the choice, I’d prefer the XCIX.  Very Good Indeed.

NV Gosset Cuvée Excellence, served from a methusaleh (that’s six litres or the equivalent of eight normal bottles)
This took some opening: up to four people were working on it, and even a monkey wrench was brought to bear.  Reportedly bottled for the millennium, so it has at least 5 years bottle age, though when you’re dealing with something the size of a methusaleh you’d expect that bottle age would need to be at least tripled to have the same effect as in a single bottle.  So, all the more surprising that this has quite an aged nose with a touch of reduction.  Creamy citrus flavours on the palate, but clearly showing some age.  Very Good.

1996 Charles Heidsieck Mis en cave (served blind)
A light, fresh citrussy nose.  Very fine and elegant.  Quite prickly with white pepper.  Fairly powerful with a sold backbone.  Very Good Indeed.  I guessed at a 95 or 96 Laurent-Perrier.

1996 Lanson Gold Label
A very curious, soapy nose.  Quite racy acidity.  Full on the palate, but a touch coarse.  Good.

1996 Dom Perignon
Pale lemon colour.  Crisp, lightly creamy nose.  Very elegant with lots of white pepper.  Lovely finish.  Very Good Indeed.

1983 Dom Perignon
Almost a coppery gold colour – incredibly different to the 96.  Is the difference really down to just the 13 years of extra age?  Remarkable toffee fudge nose.  Full and a touch caramelly with cocoa butter notes.  Although I've not had DP before tonight, I'd hazard that this wasn't a terribly good bottle.  At least I'd hope that was the case.  Good/Very Good.

1983 Alfred Gratien
Much paler than the 1983 Dom Perignon – a light straw.  Peach and limey citrus on the nose.  Very elegant.  Nice weight and depth.  Very Good Indeed.

Artichoke and potato in puff pasty, Robiola cheese sauce flavoured with truffle
A nice dish, though fairly rich.  The Robiola sauce was jolly good and the whole thing was powerfully enriched with truffle.

NV Gosset Cuvée Excellence (making its second appearance – there was a heck of a lot of it!)
Now showing a touch of iodine on the nose.  Rich and creamy.  Good drinking.

Risotto with wild mushrooms
Very well cooked risotto with the mushroom component well balanced.  Unfortunately the dish was marred by being rather over-salted.

1991 Clos des Goisses, Philipponat, disgorged 2003
A rich gold.  Quite a closed nose, though with time it starts to show some medicinal notes.  This is a very nice champagne indeed, and quite distinctive.  Explosive on the palate – very prickly and exploding with flavour too.  Becomes much more briochy and spicy on the palate with time.  Excellent.  My wine of the night.

Monkfish casserole with Savoy cabbage and crispy bacon
Not a terribly successful dish – rather muddy flavours and not the most wonderful bit of fish.  The savoy cabbage and bacon were the highlight.

1976 Diebolt Vallois, blanc de blancs
Mid gold.  Very powerful nose with blackberry leaf and some honey.  Magnificent on the palate: full, ripe fruit, yet still very elegant.  Excellent.

Saddle of rabbit with sauce saubis with mushrooms gratin
Another powerfully-flavoured dish and again quite heavy, with the rabbit gratinated with cheese.  Curiously my supposed saddle of rabbit had a leg bone in it.  Curiously ‘80s presentation with white sauce feathering of the brown sauce.  Ah, yes, that was a bit of a problem – the sauce was brown and nothing more than a heavy demi-glace.

NV André Clouet Cuvée 1911
Low dosage.  Young and a bit undistinguished on the nose.  Very tough to get to grips with.  OK.

NV Laurent-Perrier Rosé
This and the Taittinger following were a virtually identical mid salmon colour, the L-P slightly paler.  Lovely nose.  Attractive on the palate and very light.  In comparison with the Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, this is very simple and a bit coarse.  Good (though I think it would rate Very Good in less illustrious company)

1996 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé
A very delicate strawberry and white chocolate nose.  Very, very fine and elegant on the palate.  But if I’d been served this blindfold, I’d have been hard pressed to guess this was a rosé.  Very Good Indeed.

1990 Pol Roger

1990 Krug
A mid to deepening gold.  Rich and biscuity on the nose.  Superb balance.  Lovely acid freshness balanced by a rich fruity yeastiness.  A heavy champagne and quite a bruiser.  Just a tad too lacking in elegance.  Very Good/Very Good Indeed.

NV Krug
Very pale lemon straw.  Lovely yeasty nose.  Elegant and very young.  Very citrussy on the finish.  Very Good Indeed.

Round about this time a plate of some excellent Italian cheeses circulated.  Quite probably the highlight of the meal.

1988 Bollinger Grande Année
A deepish colour.  Creamy, washing powder nose.  Rich and very full, and you can almost taste the lees on this.  Very much representative of the power of Bollinger’s style, which is never quite to my taste.  Very Good Indeed.

1964 Royal Champagne Brut, Charles Heidsieck
Dark gold, turning coppery.  Nutty and almondy on the nose.  Immediately on pouring there are some bubbles and a delicate mousse, but it disappears within seconds.  What’s left is very dry and just a little too oxidised on the palate: a very curious wine.  If I were served this blind, I’d probably guess at a very old crémant de Jura (if fizzy) or something else from the Jura/Arbois.  Not really a wine to mark, though if served entirely blind, I’d probably say Good/Very Good.

NV Ayala, Chateau d’Ay Champagne Extra Quality Extra Dry
No alcohol content was shown on the label, which gives an early indication of the likely age of this.  A rather unappealing mid tan brown.  Dead on the nose; and overall the impression is of darkness, death and graveyards.  Truly nasty.

Dessert: Bünet
Bünet is a Piedmontese relation of crème caramel but incorporating chocolate and amaretti macaroons, and this is the first time I’ve seen it, let alone tasted it in about 20 years – since I came across it in one of Marcella Hazan’s books and thought it sounded interesting.  This was a very deep yellow and not the lightest of crème caramel type concoctions.  Yet after all that champagne it was very welcome.

NV The Wine Society’s Private Cuvée Champagne Rich, Alfred Gratien
A very pale straw.  Quite a floral nose, tending to muscattiness.  More demi-sec than rich in my book, and I’m sure this was not as sweet as the last time I had a bottle of this, three or four years ago, and not as good all round, full stop.  Good.


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Last updated: 15 December 2005