ALTHOUGH RED wine has long been the driving force in Hong Kong’s booming wine industry, Champagne, with its hallmarks of glitz and glamour, celebration and prestige, has always had an important role to play, and its popularity has grown apace.
If the first-ever Champagne Masters Asia competition, hosted by the drinks business Hong Kong, is any indication, this trend shows no signs of slowing. The event, which took place at the Ginsberg & Chan fine wine shop, saw a panel of six expert judges blind-taste more than 20 Champagnes. The results showed that the wines on offer were impressive, with every entrant receiving a medal, including one Master – the highest accolade possible – four golds.
When it comes to judging a good wine – especially Champagne – there is always a lot to consider. This is where a judge’s personal preferences and, therefore, subjectivity can come into play. So we asked the judges what they consider the most universally important attributes to look for in quality Champagne – regardless of style, price, or brand recognition. “Fruitiness and brioche are definitely important, but the first thing I look for is the elegance of the bubbles,” said Ken Man, buyer and fine-wine specialist who chaired the judging panel. “If it appears too aggressive on the palate, and the bubbles are too big, it can feel like you’re drinking soda. With Champagne, you want very refined, creamy bubbles on the palate; an elegant mousse is what you’re looking for.”
For Floris De Winter, sales and trading manager at Ginsberg & Chan, a balance of good qualities or well-roundedness is what seperates a good or average Champagne from a great one. De Winter said. “For example, if you have a wine with great fruity flavours, but the bubbles are too aggressive, the pleasure is pretty much gone. The fact is there are a lot of Champagnes on the market that are fairly generic. But in the best, most well-balanced Champagnes, there is a lot of excitement.”
Man, who has paid close attention to Asian wine consumer trends for more than seven years, said an increasing number of buyers are moving towards lesser-known growers, rather than big brands. This is especially true “when it comes to private clients who enjoy going to wine shops and buy wines for themselves, they are steering more towards lesser-known names like Bruno Paillard, Cedric Bouchard, Ulysses Collin, Philipponnat and Georges Laval. Also, Jacques Selosse and his protegés Michel Fallon and Chartogne-Taillet, both upand-coming small growers.”
These small growers have developed something of a cult following, which has caused their sales to increase dramatically. Ironically, this is because they tend to focus less on marketing, and more on the small-scale production of quality Champagne – something which sophisticated buyers respect.
“This shift away from the mainstream brands such as Krug, Dom Pérignon or Cristal is following through not just in Hong Kong, but countries such as South Korea, Taiwan, and Japan too,” Man added. However, De Winter pointed out that around 50% of the Champagne sold in Hong Kong is still being sold by Moët & Chandon.
As another judge, Caroline Que, senior sales manager at Goedhuis Fine Wine Merchants, put it, “big brands still carry [influence]. There is always going to be a place for big brands, and vintage is still a very large category in itself. And for all of Moët and the other big brands’ new releases this year, they have sold out, in a majority of cases. The demand is super high, but this can still help drive demand for small growers in the long run.”
The results seemed to indicate that when it comes to Champagne, in many cases, price correlates with quality. The only Masters medal of the day was awarded to Deutz’s Armour de Deutz (HK$1,776), which was praised by all six judges. “It’s an outstanding Champagne, powerful on the pallet with a nice acidity, and a long finish,” Man said. Que, Wong and Pierre Segault each said that the wine had an excellent balance of fruitiness and brioche, which ultimately made it the most pleasing on the palate.
COMPLEX AND ENJOYABLE
Meanwhile, the Armour de Deutz Rosé (HK$1,879) was awarded a Gold medal. “I absolutely adored the nose; hints of raspberry, cream, strawberry and oak made it complex and enjoyable for the palate,” De Winter said. The Canard-Duchêne special-edition Cuvé2 V 2010 – available only in magnums – just missed out on a Masters award. “I thought it was really good – lovely elegant brioche notes, complex, lovely creamy mousse followed through with lovely citrus notes, and a nice long length as well,” said Man.
Finally, the Palmer Blanc de Blancs (HK$625) secured the final Gold of the day. “The nose was interesting, with hints of honeydew. There was a nice tension to it, fairly stable. Overall it was a very well made wine,” De Winter said. “It was nicely acidic, with a hint of lemon. It was very impressive and greatly balance, especially for the price,” added Terry Wong, retail manager and sommelier, who expects the Asian Champagne industry to truly take off in the coming months.
Full results can be viewed on the following page.