Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sticking to what you know....

... and like, sometimes isn't a bad thing.

I've been a fan of Taittinger NV for 20+ years, I was first introduced to it in my college days, when I was given a bottle as a gift for working extra long hours at a now defunct arts centre near Winchester called Sutton Manor.

Taittinger was the house Champagne served to the masses at the evening classical concerts where I was lucky enough to see such artists as Andre Segovia & Yo-Yo Ma, but at the time I didn't really appreciate who they were. Krug NV was the sole choice of the estate owner and his personal guests, a certain Mr Alex Herbage who later served at the US Governments pleasure for fraud.

Don't know where Alex Herbage is now, but he employed his brother Mr Peter Herbage to run the catering on site. "Mr Peter" as he was known (so as not to confuse with brother Alex Herbage) was an absolute gent, he was a past Master of the Worshipful Company of Cooks and was hugely generous with his knowledge to all the staff he employed, he also appreciated the long hours some of us worked to get things done, hence the gift to a few of us who finished clearing up at 3am one night.

After consuming several hundred bottles of Champagne over the years, a large proportion of which have been Taittinger, I can now identify Taittinger NV in a blind tasting, with my eyes shut and hands tied behind my back just by the smell of stuff, to me it's like nectar.

I have for years been wondering about the Cuvee Prestige of the Champagne House - Comtes de Champagne, but never had the impulse to put my money into some investigation and actually buy a bottle or two at £100 each to do a tasting... until now.

Clearly I can read a label & should have known what I was in for. Blanc de blancs means made entirely from white grapes, which in this case it is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes. Taittinger NV is made from 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and 30% Pinot Meunier, so a completely different wine is to be expected, but my blinkers were clearly on & I had over looked this.

My favourite wine merchant BBR reviews Comtes de Champagne as follows... "Its top Champagne is Comtes De Champagne - first produced in 1952, it is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes from 6 Grand Cru sites in the Côte de Blancs. This is finely aromatic, rich, creamy Blanc de Blancs at its best, though patience is required as the wine should not be approached for at least ten years."

Other reviews were equally impressive.... "This wonderful vintage champagne from the very good 1995 vintage scores 95/100 Parker points and the hugely impressive 1995 Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs displays ripe apple and pear scents. Broad, rich, deep, and medium to full-bodied, this dense (yet admirable balanced), powerful wine is packed with concentrated layers of white fruits, flowers, and toast. Notes of tangy green apples appear in its awesomely long finish to reinvigorate the palate. Drink now - 2012."

Great I thought, splash out on a bottle or two & give it a whirl at a special occasion or fine meal. I can only say now that having tasted it, I'm disappointed. My over riding view is that it was sharp on the palate, not particularly rich and in my mind very much over rated. I should have known, I have bought other vintage Champagne in the past & been equally disappointed.

From now on, I think I'll stick to the NV.

PS... Sutton Manor Arts Centre as it was known was previously the private home to the late Lord Rank of the film & business fame. I have fond memories of the place and a few wonderful stories.... one of which includes an alledged interlude between the butler, a certain (now departed) flambuoyant male jazz artist and a £1200 bottle of Armagnac. Needless to say, the butler got sacked and the keys to the private cellar under the house were kept well away from the staff afterwards. Sutton Manor is now a residential care home & some of the grounds now form the base for Naomi House.


diana said...

Hi i was searching google for alex herbage and came across your comments on my uncle alex and my father "Mr Peter" who indeed did have a fine appreciation for wine food and anyone who worked hard. Peter died 7 years ago and Alex 3 after spending 10 years in American jail. Dad woudl have been glad to hear that he had helped you on your way to an appreciation of the finer things in life and so we can raise a glass in his honor next time we imbibe!!

Diana Mansell (nee Herbage)

Ricey said...


I will certainly raise a toast to Mr Peter next time I crack open a bottle of Taittinger.

I still have a copy of the book he wrote & signed & gave to me on the history of the Worshipful Company of Cooks.

Lovely man, good memories.


Anonymous said...

Bonjour Madame Mansell,
J'ai travaillé pour votre oncle dans les années 80. Je l'ai perdu de vue après son arrestation. J'ai toujours essayé de le retrouver car, malgré tout c'était un homme que j'ai beaucoup apprécié. Je suis triste d'apprendre qu'il est mort.
Savez-vous où il est enterré? Avez-vous des nouvelles de Ria, son épouse? Merci de me répondre et excusez-moi d'écrire en français.
Bien cordialement.