Yesterday afternoon I scuttled out of the office early to attend a vertical tasting of Lanson Champagne hosted by Tom Stevenson. The invite said it was to be held in the 'Masonic Temple' at the Andaz Hotel, Liverpool Street. I was intrigued.
Taking the lift to the first floor, I was directed through a series of carpeted corridors that lead to the temple, which was sealed off by a pair of huge varnished wooden doors etched with the words: 'For God And His Service'. The room was round, with a white marble floor and red and white marble columns evenly spaced along the walls. It was decked out like a strange courtroom - think Alice in Wonderland meets the Da Vinci Code, with rows of stern brown chairs at either side, each with their own emblem, from eagles and quills to coats of arms.
On the ceiling, the signs of the zodiac circled a golden sun and at the far end, framed by the organ, stood a throne, its head decorated with a third eye hovering in a cloud emitting Bernini-esque beams of light. Standing next to the throne was an ashen-faced Tom Stevenson, remote control in hand. I was expecting a funny handshake, but thought better of attempting a greeting and quietly took my place next to Simon Berry.
We were handed a glass of Lanson rosé to help us get through the introduction, which, by Stevenson's own admission, was drier than a Brut Nature. The main thrust of his argument was that non-malolactic fermentation in Champagne is a trend on the rise, and we will soon see brands beyond Krug, Bollinger and Lanson experimenting with the technique.
The fun began when we got to taste the 10 Champagnes, dating from 1996 back to 1976. It was interesting to compare the same vintages with different disgorgement dates. We tried two 1995s disgorged ten years apart (in 1999 and 2009 respectively), two 1985s disgorged in 1989 and 2006, and two 1976s disgorged in 1999 and 2008. I found myself preferring the wines that had been disgorged earlier, as they seemed to show more complexity and maturity than the recently disgorged examples, though opinion around the room was divided.
After the tasting we got to enjoy some sensational food from the Andaz kitchen. Highlights included the goats cheese crumble with crushed walnuts (so good I had three), wild mushroom gnocci and apple cinnamon parfait with treacle sauce. At 7.30 I dashed to my second event of the evening at the HOST (Honduras Street) gallery in Old Street - a tasting to celebrate the launch of redwhiteorpink.com, a wine website headed by Laura Lindsay, former sales manager of Edward Parker Wines.
Champagne Lanson 1996 (magnum) disgorged 2008
Clear, pale, lemon with ebullient bubbles. The nose was fascinatingly complex - with dairy notes of butter and cream lending it a Chablisian character. The Chardonnay screams out. Rounded and full in the mouth with citrus notes, good acidity and long length. Tom Stevenson once described it as 'like gargling with razor blades' (in a good way).
Champagne Lanson 1988 (magnum) disgorged 2008
Clear, medium, gold, with a sharp citrus lemon nose and touches of honey. Crisp, fresh and silky on the palate with elegant Pinot Noir fruits, it had a good mousse, impressive length and hints of licorice and vanilla on the finish.
Champagne Lanson 1985 (bottle) disgorged 1989
My kind of Champagne - it had a nose of hot buttered toast and a rich, full mouthfeel. It showed more complexity, body and depth than the recently disgorged 1985, with crisp acidity and a mushroomy finish.
Champagne Lanson 1979 (magnum) disgorged 2007
Clear, medium, gold with an attractive, varnish-like nose. Light and fruity on the palate, it showed fresh lemons and apples coupled with appealing and intriguing truffle aromas. Although lighter than a lot of the Champagnes on show, it was elegant and surprisingly persistent.
Champagne Lanson 1976 (magnum) disgorged 1999
The fairest of them all, or at least the most golden. Deliciously complex with a nose of hot buttered crumpets and digestive biscuits. Round, rich, intense and full-bodied, the palate had a lovely mousse held up by a backbone of acidity and an attractive sherry-like nuttiness. I found the slightly oxidized aromas and long, toasty finish hugely appealing - my wine of the night.