John Saker's top 10 champagnes

Sales of Champagne are up across the world, including in New Zealand.

Sales of Champagne are up across the world, including in New Zealand.

The unfolding story of the Champagne region isn't all fizz and fun times. As any Champenois will tell you, there have been dark days aplenty. Consider these randomly selected episodes: the riots following the 19th century phylloxera scourge; the harvesting of grapes under shellfire during the Great War; the Germans arriving uninvited in 1940 and looting two million bottles in the first few weeks of the invasion alone; the collapse of important markets at different times (that includes the death of Winston Churchill, who was a market all on his own).

Right now though, times ain't too bad. Shipments of bubbles grown on the rolling chalk hills east of Paris have taken off over recent years and are almost back to those record, pre-GFC levels. New Zealand is part of this trend. Champagne sales for 2015 in this country grew by 17 per cent over the previous year.

*Kiwis stock up on Champagne for Christmas holidays
*Drinks: John Saker's top five European rosés to try this summer
*Tasting wine is hard work – really

Collet Millesime 2004 is at the top of champagne list for the year.

Collet Millesime 2004 is at the top of champagne list for the year.

One reason behind the upswing is lower prices. It has been impossible not to notice the recent southward drift of the asking prices of most of the big champagne brands, particularly in supermarkets. That's good for you and me, though I'm sure selling in volume at lower prices isn't a formula the boardrooms of Epernay regard as ideal.

I'm also hearing there's new interest and discernment among Kiwis in regard to champagne. "They (consumers) are more aware of smaller houses, and of how a champagne tastes rather than how it looks on a dining table," one experienced industry insider told me.

As I always do at this time of year, I recently convened a tasting panel to look at the current crop of champagnes available in New Zealand. Myself, Maciej Zimny (Noble Rot) and JP Henderson (Salty Pidgin) tasted 34 wines, a mix of non-vintage, rosés and vintage expressions.

Our top 10 is a line-up as varied in style as it is in price. It is headed by a pair of wines with real pedigree. Top champagne the Collet Millesime 2004 has lots happening… waves of yellow flower and nougat-like, bready richness. It's muscular, yet  retains that lightness of touch that sets champagne apart.

Winston would have approved of our second placegetter; the popular, classically understated Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV was his personal favourite. Vibrant, juicy, linear, with lip-smacking salinity, it is a great food style. 

May your Christmas be merry.

1.  Collet Millesime 2004, $123

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2.  Pol Roger Brut Reserve NV, $70

3.  Paul Bara Brut Reserve, $64

4.  Dom Perignon 2006, $219

5.  Moet et Chandon Rosé Imperial, $115

6.  Lanson Noble Cuvee Blanc de Blancs 2000, $150

7.  Taittinger Brut Reserve, $100

8.  Moet et Chandon Grand Vintage 2006, $115

9.  H. Lanvin et Fils Brut NV, $45

10. Bollinger Special Cuvee, $116

 - Stuff


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