Designed by Inigo Jones for James I and being the last building that Charles I walked through to his execution on the scaffold outside, Whitehall's Banqueting House is steeped in history. The surroundings of the Main Hall are truly majestic, with a Rubens painted ceiling looking down over proceedings below it is perhaps apt that in more recent years, this has been the home for The Champagne Bureau's Annual March Tasting.
With over 70 producers in attendance and each one showing a selection of three champagnes, it is thought to be the largest Champagne tasting in the world. It is certainly always much anticipated and well attended. This year I was helping 'our man in Champagne', Gilles Dumangin, present his wares to the great and the good of the UK Wine Trade; the wine journalists, the bloggers, fellow merchants, sommeliers and anyone else who could get their hands on a ticket. It is ironic that this is the event that all the Champenois look forward to travelling to as it is the only time that they get to try each other's wines on such a scale!
The current economic situation had done nothing to dampen people's enthusiasm and this is reflected in the fact that although imports have dropped in the U.K., we are still the largest importer of Champagne in the world. It is when people are more considered with their spending that it becomes even more important to make sure that what is available is of good quality and value.
Once again, out of the champagne that I had a chance to try, it was the Grower champagnes that stood out best. When up to 50% of the retail price of a 'Grand Marque' champagne can go towards marketing and promotion, it is little wonder that the actual product can often fail to live up to the price tag. This made it all the more refreshing that our Dumangin range was so well received on the day. Indeed, it was interesting to see how quickly our Grande Reserve NV was consumed by fellow merchants at the exhibitors' lunch in the vaults below. Every exhibitor had donated two bottles each for the lunch and by the time I made it downstairs for a bite, the Grande Reserve had long gone!
Gilles is proper récoltant manipulant (a wine-maker producing wine from their own vine holdings) based at Chigny-les-Roses on the Montagne de Reims - as was his great great grandfather Hippolyte Dumangin the first of his forebears to bottle his own wine. The three champagnes that we were showing were:- Brut Grand Réserve Premier Cru NV, a rich, full flavoured champagne with delightful toasted notes and elegant, smooth finish (£25.50 per bottle); Brut Premier Cru Millésime 2000, a corking vintage which is just coming into its own. Great structure with great balance of mineral, citrus and delicate fruit. Long refreshing finish that leaves you wanting more! (£30.75); Brut Rosé Premier Cru NV, mouth-filling berry flavours, well balanced with crisp, developed finish (£28.50).