Champagne tasting - a methodology

Putting the word ‘Methodology in a title might be considered a little off-putting. There is a type of person who relishes an organised structure to tasks, life, possibly even love. There are others that thrive on spontaneity, happenstance and serendipity. They will almost certainly be neither interested nor even aware of the fact that an organised approach to champagne tasting may enhance their pleasure.


If these few words act as a nudge to thinking about, ‘For what we are about to receive,’ then my efforts will have been worthwhile.


Where do we begin?


Are we tasting or are we drinking? Is this pleasurable work or just pleasure? Do I need to have a cold analytical approach with an output and a clear cut conclusion and comments at the end?  What are the vested interests? Whose wine is it? Who has paid for it?  If it’s not me why are they giving it to me? Am I concerned about upsetting them? Who am I with?  Do they need a running commentary with smart-alec asides?


With the wine list? The price? The name? The year? The region? The style?


And that’s before we have put anything in our mouth except perhaps a swig of water to neutralise the palate.


We have the nose and the look of the wine.


Gently swirl it around the glass and hold it up to the light. Not that you are looking for anything in particular, simply possible deficiencies. Is the supply of bubbles exhausted? Is there an iridescent sheen about it or is it simply dull?

There can be almost as much pleasure in the nose of a wine as the feel and the warmth of it on the tongue. Savour it and delight in it. It is for your pleasure, no one else’s. Are you assailed by thoughts of freshness, brightness.  Is it complex or is it simple and clean?




This is a complex task made simpler by breaking it down into its constituent parts

Attack, Evolution (Primary, Secondary, Tertiary) and Finish




·         Alcohol – does it feel strong on the tongue?

·         Acidity – Does it quench your thirst?

·         Tannin – Are there strings of molecules waiting to be tied up?

·         Residual sugar – Is there any sharp residual sweetness?

·         Conclusion is

o   intensity and complexity,

o   soft or firm,

o   light or heavy,

o   crisp or creamy,

o   sweet or dry.


Evolution of the wine


·         Primary Taste profile of the wine


The primary flavours come from the grapes themselves or from the environment in which they are grown. These primary flavours are particularly apparent in young sparkling wines. Look for citrus flavours especially lemon, but also grapefruit and mandarin. Frequently there is a little apple. Some excellent sparkling wines also show peach apricot or prune flavours.
In sparkling Rosé you may find strawberries and raspberries.


·         Secondary


Secondary flavours come from the fermentation process itself and in sparkling wines these are principally from the secondary fermentation in the bottle. These autolytic flavours spring from contact with the bottle lees and include brioche or freshly baked cake. The earlier fruit flavours evolve so that you perceive cooked fruit even tarte tatin. The mouth feel also evolves to be buttery or creamy. Its age has made it a much more complex wine.


·         Tertiary  


These appear in mature sparkling wines and are the result of ageing and sometimes involve a little oxidisation. Sometimes you can get caramel, coffee, mushrooms, nuts (especially hazlenuts, walnuts and pecans).




How long does the flavour impression last? Is it a genuinely attractive impression?


Closing words


There it is. If you use this as a yardstick then when faced with a room full of 20 Grower each with three or four cuvees to try you won't come unstuck. It worked for me until I got to the Vegan champagne which was absolutely unapproachable and just an excuse to hang a vegan hat on.