Look at that silly smile. That is me scanning the room for my next glass of bubbly at Grand Champagne 2018 – one of the best wine events in the whole of Europe. One would not guess Helsinki to be the venue for such an event. Maybe Paris or London sounds more natural. But it is the hard work of Master of Wine Essi Avellan and winelovers Taru and Christian From, that bring the cream of Champagne to Helsinki every spring for this three day celebration of wine. For the past two years, I have had the privilege to attend the Grand Champagne press event, listening to visiting winemakers speak about their profession and taste through the years new releases of cuvees and vintages. Here is my report of what is new and hot, and what I recommend to buy into the cellar.
First a word about this years visiting winemakers and personalities. I found three of the special guests especially interesting: Philippe Jamess, head sommelier of Les Crayeres (if you have been to Champagne, you know what that is), Hubert de Billy, owner of Pol Roger and Gilles Descotes, cellar master of Bollinger. It was especially interesting when Hubert de Billy was telling the story of how they had found the 120-year old bottles from the collapsed cellars of Pol Roger – What a treasure hunt. Philippe Jamess in turn was talking about his passion for champagne glasses, and the events symbol, the Lehmann Grand Champagne is his design. Last, but not least, Gilles Descotes was talking about the coming of technical corks, and that Bollinger will soon release the first champagnes matured using them (the technical corks are used during maturation, but after decorgement a natural cork is put in).
The interviews are always my favorite park of the event. Seeing some of the cellar masters of champagne live is a rock star experience for me. Except, many of the champagne personalities are more humble than rock stars (surprisingly, even though most of them are French). Many of them are very happy and eager to chat when manning their own booths during the press tasting, and even after. A little tip: the winemakers love it when you complement their entry level cuvee. Its easy to compliment the premium ones, but nice words about the standard cuvee are always well appreciated (off course you have to mean it too).
Starting from the classics, I off course enjoyed everything that was offered at the Bollinger booth. Their newly launched Grande Annee 2007, Bollinger Rose Vintage 2006, and Bollinger R.D. 2004 were all on display and tasted great. The R.D. need some time though, but the Grande Annee was more drink ready. Bollinger Special Cuvee is also one of my all time favorite entry level champagnes, which makes me respect the house even more. I have some great memories from our visit to the estate two years back, you can read about them here. Another classic that I really enjoyed this year was Taittinger. I am perhaps getting an expensive taste, but their Comtes de Champagne 2006, both their brut blanc de blancs and rose, were really excellent.
Another stand I tend to hang out at is Carelia wines, and importer for Pierre Gimonnet, Villmart & Cie, Jean Vesselle and a few others. Gimonnet is one of the best value for money champagnes I know. They have amazing cuvees, my favorite being the Fleuron 2008. OMG that one is so good! And you can find it for approximately 40€ (through some web-shops). We just bought a case. Leclerc Briant had an interesting bottle on display, Abyss Millessime 2012, a bottle that has been matured in the bottom of the sea. It was not available at the press, event – we had to be satisfied with ogling the bottle. The maturation in water seems initially like a party trick, but I am intrigued about the effect of pressure. The cuvee is also a brut zero, very dry – just the way I like it! I am sure I will get another chance to taste it.
To something a bit new and exciting, Deutz have launched a new premium cuvee: Hommage à William Deutz Parcelles d’Aÿ to show off the quality of the Deutz home terroir. We chatted with Fabrice Rosset, the CEO of Deutz, and the creator of the cuvee; a 100% Pinot Noir from two estate vineyards adjacent to the house itself in Aÿ: Côte Glacière and Meurtet. He wanted to create a tribute to the founder of the house, William Deutz, who decided to set up his business in Ay, heartland of Pinot Noir. With climate change, the Pinot Noir plots have become even more fruitful. Another new acquaintance was producer Laurent Lequart, a maker of organic champagnes from Marne Valley. I am always interested in organic wine making methods, but what was even more interesting about this house was that they were using Pinot Meunier as the main grape. So many nice pur Meunier cuvees. I browsed at the prices in the Finnish monopoly, Alko – from 37€ to about 60€ a bottle. A bit on the high side compared to my all time favorite pur Meunier from Christophe Mignon. However, I might buy a few of these, for the sake of variety.
The event its self was well organized, as always. The Old Student House in Helsinki is a beautiful venue, however, I can imagine it got crowded after all the paying customers were let in. We disappeared before that. This year we did not take part in any master classes. Not because we didn’t want to, but because we knew it was a bad idea after tasting over 50 champagnes at the press event. Even if I spit 99% of the wines, my amateur tongue gets numb. The only thing I can drink after such a day is cheap lager. But for you who are considering to visit next year, the master classes are a fantastic opportunity to do some truly unique tastings, led by top winemakers. And even though the event is far from being cheap, it is still the best event in town, the country and perhaps Europe to come and taste different champagnes, especially the rare ones. For all friends of Champagne, this event is worth traveling to!
To the organizers: I salute you! I hope I am honored with an invite again next year.