A Big Champagne Showdown: Cristal & Dom Pérignon taken on by Le Prestance

John Szabo, MS

John Szabo, MS

It’s not the sort of invitation I usually accept: “come taste my wine against the recognized category leaders”. But today I did exactly just that. The invitation came from John Carlo Meli of Natural Vines importing agency to taste the ultra-luxury champagne brand he represents called Le Prestance, by Maison Vendôme, against the latest releases of Môet et Chandon’s Dom Pérignon and Roederer’s Crystal in a blind tasting challenge (actually the blind part was my idea). This type of guerilla marketing has been around since the big Paris tasting of 1976 pitting top Bordeaux and Burgundy against the upstarts from California, and probably much longer than that. My issue is that is a rather pointless exercise, at least for the taster. For the marketers, however, it’s golden, since you can’t really loose: coming in second place to the best is still pretty good, and if you win, well, you win.

On top of it all, I am naturally repelled by super-expensive, designer wines created to dispossess the wealthy and bask in the glow of famous stars and fashionistas of all stripes (Le Prestance is the official champagne of the Cannes film festival, to give you an idea), so admittedly, I expected the worst. I knew that as the wines were revealed and my reviews examined, there’d be that awkward moment when I’d have to admit that Dom Pérignon and Crystal were much better wines then this parvenue champagne at $350/bottle, and suggest that he return to the world of real wine and stop chasing ephemeral dreams.

Well, there’s nothing like a little dose of blind tasting to crush your cherished pre-conceived notions. Le Prestance was more than good. It was extraordinary, clearly the best wine on the table, in a line up of obviously very good wines. I did my best not to try and guess which was which during the tasting, but I certainly wasn’t pegging wine #2, my clear favorite, as Le Prestance, which is what it turned out to be.

While the 2002 Dom Pérignon was still strong, it was a relative disappointment. I was pleased that my review, and score, posted in May on WineAlign was identical – at least I’m consistent. See both December’s note followed by my earlier review for context. The 2004 Crystal was nothing short of excellent (both original WIneAlign and December’s review below again), but Le Prestance had an extra gear, and extra dimension – a pleasant surprise.

I still dislike the designer hype around the wine, and it can hardly be considered a ‘good value’ (the entire notion of value leaves the arena long before you hit $100 in my view) but it’s a lovely surprise to find out that there’s a whole lot of substance on the inside – gives me a little more faith in the glamour world.

(96) Maison Vendôme NV Champagne  Le Prestance Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs

Maison Vendôme selects the lots and packages this exclusive Blanc de Blancs champagne, produced by Lancelot-Royer. This particular bottling is based on the 2007 vintage (these notes added after the wine was revealed). The nose is quite explosively aromatic, evolved and complex, with a fine range of toasty-yeasty-biscuit, fresh brioche and panettone aromas mixed with hazelnut, toasted almond, green apple and candied lemon-lime-orange. On the palate the wine is superbly intense, rich and dense, powerful, with expansive, mouth-filling flavour and terrific length. Top notch – a complete wine. Tasted December 2011. Available through private order; contact John Carlo Meli [email protected]

(93) Möet et Chandon 2002 Champagne Dom Pérignon

Original note:

The 2002 Dom Pérignon, a fine champagne vintage, shows a relatively mature flavour profile, with wet hay, toasted almond and grilled peach-type aromas and flavours. Flavour intensity and depth on the palate are impressive enough, though this vintage seems to lack brightness and the streak of acidity needed to lift this in to the top category, not to mention length and degree of complexity. Certainly very good in any case, but for this price, one expects near perfection. Tasted May 2011. (93)

December 2011:

Moderate intensity aromatics, with considerable yeast autolysis, verging on reductuve character; this is a champagne that requires some aeration. Subtle biscuity notes, caramelized citrus-orange, and ginger mingle together, with some hazelnut and white chocolate emerging on the palate. The palate is crisp and dry, with modest flavour intensity, though the finish lingers on impressively. Deceptive power and length-this really hangs on, though lacks some vitality and freshness in the final analysis. Tasted December 2011 (93)

(95) Roederer 2004 Champagne Cristal

Original note:

Roederer’s luxury cuvée, from the top vineyard sites owned by the company, is generally a half and half blend of pinot noir and chardonnay. The 2004 is a wine of outstanding complexity and class, a little more forward and powerful than the typically finessed and elegant Cristal profile, though impeccably balanced. Almond, brioche, meyer lemon, cherry blossom and honeyed orchard fruit weave around a tightly wound core of bright acidity. This is clean, pure, precise and riveting. Tasted May 2011. (95)

December 2011:

A little more subtle and reserved aromatically than the other wines on the table today, with a fine streak of oyster shell/wet stone minerality and delicate floral and biscuit notes. The palate picks up the intensity considerably, revealing a wine that is currently tightly wound, with excellent tension and superb length and intensity. This clearly needs a few more years in the cellar to develop its full potential-even as it sits in the glass it begins to open, and the flavour expands in retro-olfaction. Tasted December 2011. (95)