IT WAS THE Los Angeles Times' 15th Annual Wine Tasting, and for 1988 the subject was Champagne. Seventeen professional palates assembled for an all-day tasting of sparkling wines. Champagne, whether the pride of France, or any other bubbly produced by the highly refined methode champenoise , abounds in subtlety, which becomes a criteria of excellence. This sophisticated wine is the most challenging wine for fair evaluation.
Too much (but not surprising) emphasis is placed on the fine bead of bubbles. Without effervescence, the signature of the wine is flat. But one should not forget that its body is the structure that makes a bubbly wine outstanding.
Even among experts accustomed to the evaluation of wine on a rigid point system, subjectivity is inevitable. This brings into focus the role of style. With every sparkling wine, the style is distinct.
Value is important in an examination of the results. A world-renowned label lends prestige to a celebration. For pure drinking pleasure, however, there are titles here to challenge the more famous--and expensive--names.
Results of the Tasting The 1988 Los Angeles Times tasting panel consisted of Robert Lawrence Balzer, Richard Arrowood of Chateau St. Jean, William Bond MD, Jack Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards Co., Guy Devaux of Domaine Mumm Inc., Madeleine de Jean Dickinson of Veuve Clicquot, Dawnine Dyer of Domaine Chandon, Gary Heck of F. Korbel & Bros., Ben Lane of Wine Futures Exchange Inc., Jean Leon of La Scala Restaurant, actor Burgess Meredith, Lew Mitchell of Lew Mitchell's Orient Express, Leonce Picot of Casa Vecchia restaurant, John Scharffenberger of Scharffenberger Cellars, Forrest Tancer of Iron Horse Vineyards, wine merchant Steve Wallace, and Eric Wente of
Wente Bros. The tasting was produced by Gricel Fernandez-Sanabria and James Willett.
The panel's ratings follow:
NON-VINTAGE BRUT (.5% to 1.5% sugar)
16 Entries Price, Rating
This is essentially a "dry" category, with no indication of any other composition of the cuvee , or blend. It is usually a wine made from Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and / or Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, in the style of the producer's wine makers.
LAURENT PERRIER BRUT-- Price: $29.95, Rating: 16.1
Imported by Laurent Perrier, New York, N.Y. Wine of exquisite balance, fine bead and delicate toastiness in taste. CHANDON NAPA VALLEY BRUT-- Price: $14.39, Rating: 16.0
Produced and bottled by Domaine Chandon, Yountville, Calif. Silky wine with lively effervescence; low profile in the bouquet style. MUMM CUVEE NAPA BRUT-- Price: $15.50, Rating: 16.0
Produced and bottled by Domaine Mumm, Calistoga, Calif. Fresh, clean, crisp wine of fine bead in a creamy mousse. SCHARFFENBERGER BRUT-- Price: $13.75, Rating: 16.0
Produced and bottled by Scharffenberger Cellars, Ukiah, Calif. Vividly exciting wine of crisp, dry, appetizing taste. Great value. VEUVE CLICQUOT PONSARDIN-YELLOW LABEL-- Price: $23.95, Rating: 16.0
Imported by Clicquot Inc., New York, N.Y. Gentle nectar of obvious breed and finesse. Great name. Fine wine. PHILIPPONNAT BRUT--Price: $29.88, Rating: 15.5
Imported by Cuvaison Winery, Calistoga, Calif. From this small, prestigious Marne Valley house, a wine of fine breed and style. TAITTINGER CHAMPAGNE BRUT "LA FRANCAISE"--Price: $24.95, Rating: 15.3
Imported by Kobrand Corp., New York, N.Y. Prestige wine with intriguing bouquet, graceful style, dry finish. MUMM'S CORDON ROUGE BRUT Price: $38.52, Rating: 15.3
Imported by Julius Wile Sons & Co., New York, N.Y. Good wine from the famous house; perky taste, singular bouquet. CHARBAUT & FILS CHAMPAGNE BRUT--Price: $23.85, Rating: 15.2
Imported by Wine Markets International Inc., Syosset, N.Y. Altogether charming wine, almost feminine in softness. Fine bead. VINTAGE BRUT (.5% to 1.5% sugar)
15 Entries Price, Rating
As with the above category, these are essentially dry wines, each house with its own style in taste-finish. Vintage years for France are celebrated and highly valued, though non-vintage Champagnes are prized for excellent blending.
GLORIA FERRER 1984 ROYAL CUVEE SONOMA COUNTY--Price: $16.26, Rating: 16.7
Produced and bottled by Freixenet Sonoma Caves, Windsor, Calif. Panelists unanimously voted this Pinot Noir/Chardonnay cuvee an outstanding wine. Tastes of subtle fruit, fine mousse. An excellent value. VEUVE CLICQUOT PONSARDIN BRUT GOLD LABEL 1982--Price: $41, Rating: 16.6
Imported by Clicquot Inc., New York, N.Y. Regal wine of traditional splendor, i.e., "Babette's Feast" Champagne. TAITTINGER 1982 CHAMPAGNE BRUT--Price: $32.95, Rating: 16.5
Imported by Kobrand Corp., New York, N.Y. The bouquet alerts the connoisseur to this wine's breed, crisp finesse. IRON HORSE 1984 SONOMA COUNTY-GREEN VALLEY--Price: $16.50, Rating: 16.4