11 Aug Taste Champagne 2017: Celebrating Champagne Diversity in Australia
In 2015, Australia experienced a quantum leap of unexpected proportions when it recorded the largest number of champagne shipments received in our nation’s history at 8.11 million bottles. A 24% increase on the previous year, it not only confirmed our position as the seventh largest market in the world, we became the fastest growing one. Then in 2016, we registered our first drop in shipments since 2009 when the global financial crisis hit, bringing an end to six years of consecutive growth and recording a 8.9% decline in volume to 7.39 million bottles.
After a bullish 2015 when some major Houses seemed ubiquitously marketed, engaged in a never-ending price war, a dip in demand wasn’t so much a reflection of our diminishing appetite for champagne as it was of our market normalising. Double-digit growth at these levels could never be sustained long-term in a market still dominated by a relatively small number of Houses.
On closer inspection, the figures reveal Australia on the cusp of a new era of maturity. Consumers are seeking a greater variety of champagne styles across a range of categories and producers. Rosé, prestige and grower champagnes recorded increases in the total number of bottles shipped in 2016, whereas vintage champagnes decreased. Whilst fluctuations across market categories occur year-in-year-out, an underlying trend toward diversification has emerged. The market for growers and cooperatives has generally improved over the past 10 years, as has rosé which experienced its third year of consecutive growth in 2016 and prestige champagnes have also shown some growth trends in the past few years.
Cold, hard figures aside, there is no better indication of this than our collective interest in this year’s Taste Champagne, Australia’s largest champagne trade and public tasting event.
The brain child of International Wine Communicator of the Year, Tyson Stelzer, Taste Champagne is now in its fourth year of production, attracting a record crowd of more than 2,000 tasters of 214 cuvées from 74 producers across 10 events in five states. This year, Canberra and Perth were added to the repertoire of state events, with Canberra being the first to sell out. Sydney also sold out quickly, as did Brisbane and Perth. Trade has never been so supportive of opportunities to reach target audiences in Champagne’s most distant market. The event series now attracts support from 49 Houses, 18 growers, and 7 cooperatives – quite a showing considering Australia has representation from only 100 Houses, 112 growers and 14 cooperatives.
According to Stelzer, Taste Champagne comes at a crucial and rapidly changing time for champagne in Australia. “The time has come for Australia to embrace the grand diversity of champagne and trade up from non-vintage cuvées to discover vintage, rosé, prestige, growers and cooperatives,” he says. “The signs that this is beginning to happen are already starting to appear.”
At Taste Champagne’s trade kick-off in Sydney, the mood was electric. The value was not only in the tasting itself, it was also in the opportunity to see something new, on trend and emerging.
A number of new cuvées reflected trending styles. For the first time, Pommery’s prestige Cuvée Louise was available as a Brut Nature in the 2004 vintage and Piper-Heidsieck’s new Essentiel Extra Brut is a lower dosaged, longer-aged take on its standard NV. Both are particularly good. Other on-trend notables included Lanson Extra Age Brut NV and Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut NV.
Organic and biodynamic producers also featured. Canard-Duchêne presented its excellent (and re-branded) organic cuvée, Parcelle 181, whilst an earthy, minerally imbued showing from Emmanuel Brochet Brut NV shone a light on some exceptional small parcel terroir from northern Montagne de Reims. Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte Anne NV and Laherte Frères’ Les 7 NV and Ultradition Brut NV all showed impressive layers of complexity, minerality and elegance. And new entrant to the Australian market, Leclerc Briant, proved why they are one of Champagne’s leaders in biodynamics. Wet clay and saline minerality infused wild flower and fruit notes to create precise and expressive cuvées. A point of interest was their Millésime 2007, offering a umami tsunami of beef stock and mushrooms.
Rosés were another segment keenly sought after, often reflecting our increasing preference for dry styles. Most rosés emulated a classically French salmon hue with a nose of some fruit and savoury combo. Among the best, and most interesting, was Louis Roederer Vintage Rosé 2011, Charles Heidsieck Rosé Millésime 2006, Pol Roger Rosé Vintage 2008 and Leclerc Briant Brut Rosé NV. Surpassing all, and my pick from the event, was Henri Abele’s Sourire de Reims 2006. A stunning example of Les Riceys pinot noir from Champagne’s deep south, produced using the uncommon saignée method with great effect. A nose of rosewater, violets and turkish delight comes together with a palate of great intensity, density and length. Truly superb.
In the blanc de blancs category, look no further than Alfred Gratien’s Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2007 for its sheer thrill and finesse and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2006 for its richness, brightness and lingering finish.
Vintages were dominated by the years 2006, 2008 and 2009, with 2006 opening-up in a full display of bountiful fruit and the beginnings of maturity. The best of this year was reflected in chardonnay dominated cuvées on account of the acidity, creaminess and fruit profile. Meanwhile the stellar 2008 vintage, in almost every case, was exceptionally fine, focused and clear. A year of slow ripening and heightened acidity has infused each of its wines with potential beyond our comprehension. For evidence, cast your eye to G.H. Mumm’s recently launched Millésime 2008. Watch for these sleeping giants.
With 2006 heading toward the end of its journey, and 2008 still in its infancy, 2009 is the vintage of the moment. Heralding from a warm and generous year, champagnes from 2009 are more approachable than their 2008 elder siblings. They are also extremely elegant. Louis Roederer’s Brut Vintage and Brut Nature 2009 as well as Taittinger Brut Millésime 2009 are prime and fine examples.
Other areas of interest included a vintage take on Alfred Gratien’s Cuvée Paradis which is normally available as an NV. According to the House, 2008 was too good a vintage to pass up an opportunity such as this. And Laurent-Perrier also presented a new champagne – its recently launched La Cuvée which replaces its flagship L-P Brut NV.
In the omnipresence of the non-vintage offering at Taste Champagne, there was considerable diversity. So much so, it’s difficult to consider them all as belonging to the same category. It made me realise that, whilst Australia is dominated by more non-vintage champagne than any other type, it’s not necessarily a bad thing…so long as consumers are exploring the width and depth of this category.
In the aftermath of Australia’s largest champagne tasting event, what’s clear is the increasing appetite to experience something new. Beyond champagne’s famous and classic profile of toasty, yeasty, fruity roundness, there are many interpretations to be explored. It’s all part of the seemingly infinite spectrum of offerings – and possibilities – by the world’s greatest wine.
Bravo Tyson Stelzer and team for your hard work in bringing this showcase of champagne diversity to Australia’s trade and the public.