Valentines Day Pity

Palate shame and pain in a blind tasting

By Panos Kakaviatos for

14 February 2018

Today is a day of love. I could use some humble pie.

A dear friend gathered some people over to his place the other evening for his birthday party and – as he had done two years ago – he organized a blind tasting of four bubblies.

He wanted to see how well a mass market Champagne could fare against a more upscale product – and this time added two non Champagnes in the mix.

He divided the guests into groups of four or five people who would take notes on each of the four wines served, which had been popped and poured before us (but all wrapped in aluminum foil).

The first two wines were evaluated. We then broke for some food. Then the next two wines.

Some people know that I write this wine blog. They were concerned that the group I was in would have an unfair advantage.

They had no need to be 😍… 

For the second time in two years, I ended up picking the Vranken NV Brut (photo below) as the favorite, overall, in the blind tasting, ranking it the most expensive among the four, for that was the consideration outlined by our host, who had asked each group to rank each wine according to price, from 1 to 4. 1 being the most expensive, and 4 the least. But the Vranken – under the same ownership as Pommery – costs about €20 (if that) per bottle  …

In the blind tasting two years ago, the Vranken was matched against Veuve Clicquot NV, and I had also picked it over the more prestigious brand, but this year it was matched against none other than Bollinger NV!

Another participant (in a more enlightened group) made the comment about Vranken: “I really did not like it; it was trying too hard to be like a Champagne.”

Now, I am not sure that is entirely fair, seeing that many others really liked Vranken. I was not alone. Another group also ranked it number 1 in terms of expected price and in terms of taste. It has some rich pleasure to convey to be sure. A member in my group, who later said that she “sensed” that the Bollinger was finer, ended up preferring the more crowd-pleasing aspect of Vranken.

“I guess I just like cheap Champagne,” she quipped.

The other two bubblies in the tasting included Nyetimber Classic Cuvée (England) and the Domaine Muré Crémant (Alsace).

Interestingly, the former was nearly as expensive as the Bollinger, while the latter the least expensive at just over €10. I have always been a fan of Domaine Mure’s Cuvée Prestige as counting among the best Alsatian bubblies at a fair price, while the regular cuvee is OK.

The fine bubbles of the NyeTimber proved impressive, as were its toasty aromatics, although the wine imparted a somewhat medicinal aspect in its baked apple profile that gave it away as perhaps not being “typical” Champagne. But it showed depth and breadth, no doubt a reflection of development after more than three years on the lees.

For most participants the Muré seemed the least expensive, at it lacked the contours of the other bottles, and most ranked it correctly as “4” in terms of expected price. At least a few people considered it better than Vranken in quality – and one participant ranked it as his favorite of all the four bubblies in terms of his own taste, if not in terms of expected price. “It just goes to show how a good Alsatian Crémant can outdo a cheaper Champagne,” one said.

The group I was in went back and forth between ranking the Nyetimber Classic Cuvée or the Bollinger second place in terms of price (after we collectively erred in considering Vranken the most expensive). I cast the supposedly informed vote of putting Nyetimber ahead of Bollinger in terms of expected price. 😳

The Bollinger, we had noted, displayed fine bubbles and finesse, but the Nyetimber conveyed greater richness on the mid palate, and so we ended up thinking that it was going to be the more expensive wine. But looking back at the notes, we did find “finer bubbles” with the Bollinger – and that should have been a giveaway.

Our group ended up picking the wines as follows in terms of expected price: 

Wine number 2 (Vranken) we chose as Rank 1 for highest price

Wine number 4 (Nytimber) we chose as Rank 2

Wine number 3 (Bollinger) we chose as Rank 3

Wine number 1 (Domaine Mure) we chose as Rank 4

The correct answer in terms of pricing was rather – ahem – different:

Bollinger Rank 1

Nyetimber Rank 2

Vranken Rank 3

Domaine Mure Rank 4

In short, blind tasting can be humbling. I tip my hat to the group that got the rankings spot on. And I should just eat my hat.

Happy Valentines Day everyone! ❤

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2 Comments on “Valentines Day Pity

  1. Yes! We got it right!! Thank you to our hosts for their great initiative – organising the Champion of Champagne Taste Tests! Over and beyond the bubbly, we enjoyed the company of new and old friends! Thank you!

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