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Blog: Zuma's Kelvin McCabe visits Champagne

Published:  15 February, 2012

Kelvin McCabe, head sommelier at top restaurant Zuma, visited Champagne last month as part of the Harpers Wine & Spirit buyers' trip - here's his blog.

Kelvin McCabe, head sommelier at top restaurant Zuma, visited Champagne last month as part of the Harpers Wine & Spirit buyers' trip - here's his blog.

It was a super cold January when we arrived in Champagne with temperatures dropping below zero. Our first visit took us to Charles Ellner where I enjoyed an Extra Brut - green apples, unripe pineapple and cinnamon on the nose, with a linear direct palate with subtle mushrooms and biscuit.

Bollinger next. I have always held this house in high regard, and after visiting I have a complete affinity. We were given a tour of the cellar and house. This really highlighted how much effort is made to keep consistency and quality, from hand-riddling throughout, sourcing of high quality barrels with the in-house cooper and a 360 degree camera that ensures virtually no faulty bottles leave the house. Then we were treated to an excellent meal in Madame Bollinger's dining room where I had the pleasure to taste the Grande Année Rosé 2004, dark cherries and wild raspberries complementing its savoury Character. Slightly grippy like a red, but maintaining the soft texture of good Champagnes. A must-try!

A morning in the company of Vitalie Taittinger followed. The Prélude I always enjoyed and it was no different this morning. A precise mineral style with soft white peach and butter biscuit. A first taste and pleasurable find was Les Folies de la Marquetterie. This wine is made from the selection of grapes directly around the chateau, that the founder of the house fell in love with and procured. In essence it's a grower's Champagne from a Grand Marque. Slightly more Pinot Noir than the normal Taittinger cépage gives a more structured wine. It is full and fresh with peach kernels, white peach and grapefruit zest, a clean seam of minerality and lovely yeasty, nutty textured back palate.

In the afternoon its was still very crisp but the sun was beautifully bright. After a great lunch with Anne-Laure Domenichini from Laurent-Perrier, she treated us to a tour by Nicolas Rainon from Oenovasion. A great four wheel drive a round the vineyards of Ambonnay. I highly recommend this excursion if in Champagne. Nothing like a Champagne tasting after a long drive. For me the best wines from this house are the Ultra Brut, the original and arguably the best zero dosage Champagne, and the Grande Siècle. A marvellously well-balanced and rich style.

Just time for one more house on this day and it was Gosset. I am sure most people are familiar with their rosé but the recent tweaking of the Excellence is brilliant. An intense but delicate style, fragrant honeysuckle, lime and brioche. A great Champagne to consider at this price point. The Celebris 98 Extra Brut finished the tasting and what a way to end... Aromas of figs, honey, orange marmalade and browned butter. It had a rich delicate mousse, steely minerality and notes of dried mango and nectarine stone, with a long, long finish.

The following morning we visited Pol Roger. It has been a while since I tasted this house and I am kicking myself. I feel I have been missing out. The Brut Réserve is an elegant fruity style I could enjoy everyday. Fragrant chamomile, green apples, grapefruit and mandarin on nose and through the palate. A lot of investment and care has been going on within the house in recent years to give more expression of fruit and lowering the dosage. A job well done. If you get a chance to taste the 2000 vintage go for it! Peach, butter, biscuit, red apples unripe pineapple, vanilla and floral notes in abundance. It is almost impossible not to mention the Winston Churchill cuvée. I really enjoyed the 1999 taste but felt it still had years to go. I will be looking very eagerly for older vintages to list in Zuma.

To finish the trip we visited de Castelnau, a high quality co-operative that does not quite have the recognition it deserves in the UK. Then one final lunch before the journey home. Wild hare with a chocolate sauce and white truffle mash. Brilliant!