2016 Top 100

Top Champagne

James Halliday by James Halliday

68 wines submitted and 12 wines selected. 

Tasting large numbers of wines, monastically spitting even the best out, is hard work. But when it comes to champagne, there are compensations, this year in abundance. At the big end of town there is the surprise of the 2008 Veuve Clicquot Vintage, a great wine from a great vintage selling for $99.99. Then there are the small family-owned and run houses (Gimmonet & Fourny two such seeking prices that won’t make you wince) and 2006 Dom Perignon, a wine of shimmering beauty that may trigger a credit card melt down, but hey, life is short.

NV Vve Fourny & Fils Blanc de Blancs Brut Vertus Premier Cru
94 points, $76.70
Created from three consecutive vintages plus 20% older reserve wine, all chardonnay. It spends over 30 months on tirage, the dosage 6g/l. Straw-gold, it has a flowery bouquet, then a powerful and generous palate, with a mix of Meyer lemon and biscuity notes on the very long and dry, yet vibrant, finish.

NV Pol Roger Brut Reserve
94 points, $85
A roughly equal blend of chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier, plus 25% reserve wines; has 150 blend components, with 48 months on tirage. This is right in the heart of Pol style, crystal clear and poised, flowing evenly yet with drive and depth to its chalky/minerally/citrussy journey through to the fresh finish and lingering aftertaste.

2008 Veuve Clicquot Vintage
96 points, $99.99
This is the clear bargain of all the champagnes tasted this year, reflecting the great vintage and the revolution of the vinification by chief winemaker Dominique Demarville. Brioche, nutty oak, and peach blossom all whisper in the spring breeze of the bouquet before the stone and citrus fruits of the vibrant palate rise to a crescendo on the finish.

NV Jacquesson Cuvee No 739 Extra Brut
94 points, $115
57% chardonnay, 21% pinot noir and 22% pinot meunier, its base year of 2011 contributing 69%, reserve wines 31% – all detailed on the back label. Given the very wet ’11 vintage, this has no business being as good as it is. Its almond, citrus and minerally notes have extreme length, as unexpected as it is welcome.

2009 Vve Fourny & Fils Monts de Vertus Premier Cru Extra Brut
96 points, $118.75
The motto is one family, one clos, one premier cru. This wine spent six years on tirage, with a very low dosage of 3g/l. It has a dramatic opening, with fresh, lifted brioche, lime and lemon floral notes, the first sip with intensity high up the scale. The balance and length are equally impressive, the lingering minerally finish exemplary.

2005 Charles Heidsieck Millesime Vintage Brut
95 points, $139.95
60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay. In classic Charles style, rich, plush and generous after nine years on lees. It is gloriously uninhibited, with a complex array of alluring ripe fruits and spices, its acidity and dosage playing hide and seek. It’s as fresh as a daisy now, and detractors of the ’05 vintage represented here should remember (or read about) the 1959 vintage.

NV Billecart-Salmon Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
95 points, $150
From the five grand crus of the Cote de Blancs, the lion’s share from Avize, the base wine from 2009 (75%), the 25% reserve wines a multi vintage blend kept in tank. Billecart makes finely detailed and elegant wine, and this is all of that. The bouquet is intense yet fine, with citrus blossom to the fore setting the scene for the purity of the tightly wound palate, its length and finesse built around a core of minerally acidity.

2006 Pol Roger Rose Brut
96 points, $150
It’s strange that Billecart, famed by Australian winemakers for its rose, should swap places with Pol Roger, famed for its blanc de blancs. The depth of its colour is unusual, but the fragrance and perfume of the spicy fraises du bois of the bouquet not only reassures, but sets the scene for the very complex palate which builds layer upon layer of spices and red fruits, fresh acidity underpinning the long, zesty finish.

2008 Pierre Gimonnet Special Club Millesime de Collection Blanc de Blancs
97 points, $165
This is the best wine made each year from the 28ha estate, (12ha grand crus). The vines are 40-100 years old, and Didier Gimonnet is convinced the blend creates more than the sum of its parts. Tyson Stelzer says ‘This is the best value champagne I have tasted in the past five years.’ It has exhilarating drive, intensity and power to its citrus and mineral chalkiness, the length truly exceptional.

2006 Dom Perignon Vintage Brut
98 points, $260.99
Most vintages of Dom are new-born when first released, forcing you to go in search of the wine to be. No such effort is required here: the fresh, lifted florals, brioche and almonds burst from the glass from the first sniff. Despite its eloquence, the key words remain delicate, detailed and freshness, the vibrancy of the palate running as a clear stream from start to finish.

2002 Piper-Heidsieck Rare Millesime
97 points, $299.95
One of the greatest vintages of the past 25 years, producing wines of rare longevity and harmony. Ironically, it marked the early death of Daniel Thibault, who had transformed the quality of Piper-Heidsieck, This is 70% chardonnay and 30% pinot noir, its dosage of 11g/l justified by the high acidity of the vintage. It is spectacularly fresh, with white flower/citrus blossom aromas feeding into the perfectly balanced and harmonious palate.

2000 Duval-Leroy Femme de Champagne
97 points, $325
A wild vintage, with hail and alternating bursts of heat and cold, improbably produced some great, long-lived wines typified by this blend of 95% chardonnay and 5% pinot noir. Roasted almonds and high-toned florals set the path for a palate with nuances of buttered toast and honey before the citrussy acidity sweeps in on the expansive harmony of the finish and aftertaste.