Bottle vs Magnum Champagne Tasting with Essi Avellan MW

On Thursday 19th May The Finest Bubble team and 54 guests gathered at 67 Pall Mall to enjoy a wonderful tasting hosted by Essi Avellan MW. The line up of Champagne was amazing with six different houses including:  Bollinger, Gosset, Laurent-Perrier, Louis Roederer, Pol Roger and Taittinger.  Each of the brands had representatives from the UK on hand to answer any questions pertaining to their Champagne. However, I have to say Essi was so knowledgeable it was very hard to find any questions to ask, as her understanding of each Champagne house was unbelievably in depth.

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Guests arrived and were greeted with a glass of either Bollinger La Grande Année 2005 or Pol Roger 2006 from Magnum, kindly donated by the houses and a few well chosen canapés to help line the stomach; well just a little. Everyone was seated and in front of each person were 13 empty glasses and a spittoon (I’m not sure many people used the spittoons as the Champagne was too good to spit out!). All we needed now were the Champagnes.

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Nick Baker introduced us to Essi and himself and explained that all of the Champagne was to be tasted blind, so that no-one could have any preconceptions as to what they might or might not like in terms of the houses. It also meant that we could truly judge whether we preferred magnum or bottle and in one case whether we preferred, magnum bottle or jeroboam. This gave 67 Pall Mall a huge job, opening and pouring the Champagne quickly, no pre-pouring as you can with still wine as the bubbles would dissipate and the Champagne would warm up. Nick explained how the on-line voting worked and what we needed to do and we eagerly awaited the first two Champagnes;  after a few of the less technical amongst us had a little help to log on and register to give our votes.

Now it transpired that getting hold of 2002 vintage, described as the best vintage in about 100 years, is not easy, in fact it was near on impossible for some of the smaller houses. So the tasting included a Champagne from 2008 and another from 2006 with the rest from the stunning 2002. Essi explained what to look for with regards to different vintages and also the typical characteristics between bottle and magnum. Information on board, we were now let loose to identify the Champagne house, the vintage and the size of vessel.

Flight 1


The first two Champagnes came out and judging began in earnest. Both Champagne one and two were very youthful on the nose, with very subtle notes of green apple and brioche.  The palate too was very fresh, with delicate apple and floral structure, great fresh acidity and a long lingering finish. This led me to believe that it was from a more youthful vintage and my guess was the Louis Roederer Vintage 2008. Results were in and out of the 33 guests who voted, 18 believed that number one was the magnum and 15 thought it was bottle, and vice versa for wine two, so the larger majority voted for number one being the magnum. In terms of the brand, this was split across all Brands but a slightly larger number (8) chose Louis Roederer. Result – Louis Roederer 2008 Glass One – Magnum, Glass Two – Bottle

Flight 2

The next two wines were not dissimilar in colour to the last two and I would have thought that a 2002 would have a lot more colour so I guessed that this must be the 2006. The nose was a little more pronounced with less of the green apple and little more of the floral, lemon and mandarin notes, however it didn’t have the really toasty, brioche flavours that I would associate with the 2002 vintage, so with both colour, nose and palate pointing to Taittinger 2006, that is what I decided on. The first of the two wines was a little tighter on both the nose and the palate so I surmised that this was going to be the magnum and the other the bottle. Voting went a little differently with 10 votes for Gosset and 9 for Taittinger and the rest for the other brands.  This time more votes were cast for the first being the bottle and the next being the magnum. Result – Taittinger 2006 Glass Three – Magnum and Four – Bottle


Flight 3

We were in for a treat next as we were poured three glasses, one for the bottle, one magnum and one jeroboam. The colour on this wine was much more golden and the nose showed lovely honeyed, brioche and toffee apple with hints of nuts and toast.  This was definitely a 2002, it had all of those beautiful ripe flavours with amazing acidity. The first and third wines were more restrained than the middle, so I plumbed for the bottle being the second wine of the three. Choosing between the magnum and the jeroboam was a little more difficult and I have to admit to getting it wrong and thinking the magnum was first and the jeroboam last, when in fact it was the other way round. Voting for the brand was on this occasion pretty good as 22 decided that it was Pol Roger 2002, the split between the sizes was interesting as most people like me thought that the first glass was  the magnum the second the bottle and finally the jeroboam. Result – Pol Roger 2002 Glass Five – Jeroboam, Glass Six – Bottle and Glass seven – Magnum

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Flight 4

It was now becoming a process of elimination with only three brands left. A delightful somewhat lighter style of champagne but with a lovely bouquet of ripe fruits and crème brulee. On the palate some honey character with a nutty finish. This had to be Laurent -Perrier 2002. My guess here was also that the first glass was the magnum as it was a little less forward and the second was much more developed and therefore had to be the bottle, surely! The results were in and remarkably 17 people voted for LP but even more remarkably 2 voted for Pol Roger again even after being told the last flight was indeed Pol (we were on glasses 8 and 9 now so perhaps the memory was getting a little fuzzy). Result – Laurent Perrier 2002 Glass Eight – Magnum and Glass Nine – Bottle

Flight 5

With just two to go, Bollinger and Gosset a 50/50 chance of getting the producer nailed and one of the Champagne houses I know quite well, so fingers crossed I should manage this one. The glasses arrived and on the nose there was a faint hint of mushroom with a smattering of lemon and ripe fruits. On the palate the fresh acidity came through and enhanced those lemon and fruit flavours, I guessed this as Gosset as it hadn’t got the familiar nose or flavours of Bollinger. Now to figure out which was the bottle and which the magnum; again here I am going for the Magnum first and the bottle second.

But no hang on a moment…….Essi stands up and announces that it is indeed Gosset Celebris 2002, however she then states that the bottle is first and then the magnum.  A gasp around the room and a very confused, shocked look on many faces including that of Essi; she questioned the pourers and Nick quickly disappeared behind the scenes to check that they had given out the wines correctly. Lots of mumbling in the audience with those that had guessed bottle first feeling really confident and those like me who had plumped for the magnum convinced that it had to be wrong!  Nick reappeared and announced that in fact we were right and the on this occasion the glasses had been swapped! Phew, I really thought that my palate had failed me to the extreme as this one really did seem to be obvious with the bottle being so much more in your face than the magnum.

Now even thought we had only two to choose from and the majority voted for Gosset at 23, 9 voted for Bollinger and a surprising 2 for Taittinger! Result – Gosset Celebris 2002 Glass Ten – Magnum and Glass Eleven – Bottle

Final Flight

Last but not least the Bollinger La Grande Année 2002 was served. The lovely orange blossom and hazelnut nose was evident from the start and on the palate the acidity was perfectly matched by the toasty brioche notes. The first glass had to be the magnum as it was a little reticent compared with the next glass which was more forward and definitely forthcoming. Both of the glasses were drinking really well and it was a shame to have come to the end of what was an extraordinary tasting. Now you would think that everyone would have put Bollinger for this wine as it was the only one left, but no there were 2 votes for Taittinger and 1 for Laurent Perrier, he ho it had been a long albeit most enjoyable night maybe more so for those 3 people! (Like I said some of the spittoons didn’t move all night!) Result – Bollinger La Grande Année 2002 Glass Twelve – Magnum and Glass Thirteen – Bottle


So did we get to the bottom of whether the wine trade are right and magnum is indeed best, well I suppose we did albeit a little skewed by the Jeroboam.  The Jeroboam from Pol Roger got the highest points of the night with (17.7) and overall Magnums (17.4) got higher votes in total than Bottles (17.3).  The top wine of the night was Pol Roger 2002 in magnum 18.1, followed by Bollinger La Grande Année 2002 and Pol Roger 2002 in Jeroboam at 17.7.

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Oddly the two wines that were served first, Louis Roederer came out as the least favourite at 17.1 and 16.8. Our theory here is that perhaps the more the tasters have to drink the more generous they become and that the first wine often suffers. However it is also true that this is a young wine in comparison to the very developed 2002 vintage wines that followed.

The Finest Bubble would like to thank Essi for her wonderful hosting and amazing facts. We would also like to thank Mark Bingley MW from Louis Roederer, David Hesketh MW from Laurent-Perrier, Anthony Field-Johnson from Bollinger, George Prideaux from Pol Roger, Kevin McKee from Taittinger, Sophie Cruise from Gosset representing the Houses for their support and sound bites.  Thanks again to 67 Pall Mall and their staff for all their hard work and a BIG THANK YOU to all the guests who attended and made the event so special.

Photography by Matt Martin.

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