Champagne and Sparkling Wine Blind Tasting

It’s January and people are on all sorts of silly diets, cutting back on alcohol or even quitting entirely. Vogue recently re-published an article from a 1963 edition with a bold header stating; The Champagne Diet. I don’t know about you, but this sounds right up my street.

Photography by Irving Penn, Vogue, October 1963

“Classic light strengthener of convalescents, respected digestif of victims of mal de mer,” so far, so good. “What we’re all for, is a calorie-cutting regime that offers a little joie de diet as well,” it’s frankly quite genius isn’t it. So on Monday 8th January, I hop and skipped along to my second wine tasting at The Old Bridge in Huntingdon. You may have read my previous blog post on the Washington State Wine Tasting I attended some time ago – in which case – you’ll know the score.

The wine tastings are led by the restaurant’s owner John Hoskins MW, and after chatting with a few experienced wine tasters on return visits I do believe that he is the reason they keep going back. John has a lovely approach to the evening, the service is impeccable which makes things seem somewhat formal, but John’s relaxed and friendly demeanor keeps things from feeling anywhere near stuffy.

This time, my sister and I were sat alongside an experienced wine tasting couple, Fern and Peter, who were absolutely lovely. I should also mention that it was Harriet’s idea to go to this tasting as she is a champagne fanatic and if you see her out, chances are she will have a Bellini in hand.

As blind tastings go, we weren’t kept entirely in the dark as we were given an educational description of each champagne or sparkling wine we would be tasting along with their full names, groupings and all sorts of facts such as how much residual sugar content various bottles contained. You’d think that after this masterful schooling, we’d all get full marks but it’s safe to say that a combination of the strangely competitive environment and plenty of self-doubt makes it harder than it sounds. Having an expert to the right also did me no justice as he left his decisions right up until the last minute whereas I’m more of a first instincts gambler.

Here are the champagne and sparkling wines we had to try:

Prosecco, Ca’di Alte, Veneto Italy 11.5%

  • 15g of sugar per litre

Pétillant Nature, ‘Ali Boit Boit et les 40 Buveurs’. Burgundy 8%

  • Natural fizz – wine is bottled early before fermentation ends so that the natural grape sugars and yeasts are locked in. Produced by well-known Agnés Paquet with 100% Aligoté grapes. Needs drinking young, there is a fresh charm to it and it has a very low alcohol content. Has apparently got very trendy in East London.

Billecart-Salmon, Demi Sec. Champagne 12%

  • Semi-dry champagne. Lovely pink label, I don’t think John was a fan though, it’s quite chic for champagne. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, quite sweet.

La Vida al Camp, Brut. Penedes, Spain 11.5%

  • Cava grapes, lightly sparkling.

Crémant D’Alsace, Joseph Cattin. Alsace, France 12%

  • A blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay, aged for one year ‘on the lees.’

Bellavista, Alma Gran Cuvée. Franciacorta, Italy 12.5%

  • Franciacorta produce sparkling wine up to the quality of Champagne, 80% Chardonnay and 19% Pinot Noir, 2.5 years on second fermentation. Floral and light.

2007 Arras, ‘Grand Vintage’. Tasmania, Australia 12.5%

  • Intimidating bottle, 22% Pinot Noir and the rest is mostly Chardonnay. A massive 8 years second fermentation, very biscuity and dry.

Taittinger Prélude, Grand Crus. Champagne 12%

  • 5 years on lees, 50% Chardonnay, 50% Pinot Noir.

Charles Heidsieck, Brut Réserve. Champagne 12% 

  • Impact rich wine. 5-6 years on the less with high sugar levels, powerful wine. Top quality and has some awards to its name.

I’d just like to remind you that winning isn’t about being ‘the best’, it’s about the way you live while you are doing it. I certainly didn’t win, but I like to think I guessed the obvious wines, or at least the ones that John hinted were too obvious to miss. Most importantly I had a fantastic evening, met some lovely people and somehow managed to swerve a hangover the next day.

After the tasting we were treated to a delicious turkey and mushroom pie with roast root vegetables and a Christmas pudding cheesecake with a shot of PX. The PX tastes just like prune juice and would be perfect for a hip flask.

We also had some chilled Lambrusco which I can’t say I’m a huge fan of but lots of people enjoyed it. To see future events and wine tastings at The Old Bridge, click here.

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