Words and Photography by Su-Lin Ong
A Friday at Soho’s Groucho Club usually means champagne – and plenty of it. The place is a-buzz with the sense of deals done and fresh creative plotting, as yet another bottle is ordered before the night is up. It was here where Vitalie Taittinger hosted her party, lavishly serving nine styles of Taittinger.
We Brits adore luxury fizz. Sales of prestige cuvée champagnes over £72 in the shops have soared by 14 percent (thanks CGA Strategy Brand Index, Nielsen). These are wines which sit right up there with grand cru Burgundy or first and second growth Bordeaux, yet often challenge them favourably on price. And we're spending more on better champagne we drink out and about. Is that you?
This is the night to prove it. The blushiest Prestige Rosé NV welcomes us, poured from magnums. Fruit crumbly, subtle blackcurrant and raspberry flavours give the much needed first glass. This classic Chardonnay, Pinot Noir/Meunier blend has the addition of 15 percent still red wine.
But it is mainly for a trio of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs which we gather: the 2000, 2002 and an early taste of the new 2004. These are limited production, luxury wines from the top grand crus in the Côte des Blancs. Respect!
This kind of vertical tasting is rare fun. And when bottles are poured fast and flowing, it is easy to go all out to quaff. You just know someone will spark off a tease about delicate, floral all-chardonnay champagnes being ones for the girls. But if you believe that, then you miss the main point of these wines. Give a moment of thought, and you can appreciate the ageing potential of these wines. The older vintages have developed more dramatic patisserie-like notes.
Vitalie Taittinger, who is the daughter of Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, is the artistic director of the House. She is an elegant and naturally easy host. You feel you can ask here anything, and she spurs my curiosity when she tells me that it’s the 1999 which is the one to hunt down now. Ten years or so is the optimum time to wait, to let a Blanc de Blancs really reveal its finesse, she says.
Of the three on the night, it is the Blanc de Blancs 2002 for which I return to for a refill. Showing brilliantly, this very expressive wine has intensity and lightness, with ripe citrus notes leading to a hint of toasty finish.
Alongside this trio are other styles from the range. Random tasting is much of the charm of the party – as compared to a seated tutored tasting. For me, analysis interrupts more hedonistic enjoyment, especially on a Soho kind of Friday. Still, it seems respectful to figure a tasting order of the three non-vintages: the flawless Brut Réserve, the rarer Prélude Grands Crus, and the single vineyard Folies de la Marquetterie (named after the Taittinger château nestled in the vineyards), then ending with the Brut 2005. Somehow I always skip the richer dessert styles; in this case the Nocturne Sec NV.
Feed me generously, and I brazenly want more. In this art adorned setting – with The Groucho known as a den of creatives - a treat that seems missing from the night’s line-up is a bottle or two from the Taittinger Collection of some dozen flamboyant art bottles; I covet the Matta 1998. No clues though about the next commissioned artist. It also crosses my mind, the only better place to enjoy such a full range tasting might be in the Taittinger crayères in Reims – chalk pits from the 4thC AD 17 metres underground. Perhaps a touch too chilly.
Eats are very much needed on this kind of evening. If this was in Paris or Reims, we might have overdosed on canapés of white truffle and rillettes; too demanding for my simple tastes when wines are the showpiece. This is club land in London, so the offerings are golden brown, fried and robust; not too competitive in flavour but there is plenty of texture going on. Our champagne supper is completed by arancini, fish & chips, breaded crabmeat balls, steaming bowls of creamy chanterelle risotto, plump raspberry tartlets - eat one, or eat four - and flaky mini apple strudels.
And not forgetting sausages. No party is ever complete without these baby, burn-your-mouth beauties. Whoosh, gone.
Finally, the question that has to be thrown in. Did James Bond drink Taittinger or Bollinger? He is an agent of fickle taste, it seems. I get a stab at answers from guests. Whilst Bollinger has been one of the most enduring film partnerships, the James Bond in Ian Fleming’s novels preferred Taittinger, and in Casino Royale it was a 1943 Taittinger that was suggested as probably the finest champagne in the world. Go on? But a glass of Taittinger Blanc de Blancs in From Russia with Love was spiked with poison. Lucky, ours are not.
The party is still going strong way past the intended hour. Nobody ever wants to leave The Groucho early.
Su-Lin Ong attended on behalf of The London Foodie as a guest of Vitalie Taittinger, The Groucho Club and R&R.
Snap up vintages of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs from Majestic, Harrods, Hedonism, Waitrose, Bordeaux Index. RRP £147.
Top wine writer Jamie Goode details an enviable vertical tasting of seven of these, 1990 to 2002. http://www.wineanorak.com/champagne/taittinger_comtes_de_champagne.htm