I was surprised and honoured recently when I received an invitation to attend the 2010 Vin De Champagne Awards. Held on the 27th of September, this prestigious, bi-annual, event aims to celebrate and encourage the enjoyment of Champagne in Australia. The winners of the three award categories, Amateur, Student and Professional, are expected to become Australian ambassadors for the much loved drink and promote the product via their passion and appreciation for it.
This red carpet event kicked off over a few pre-dinner glasses of bubbly in the office of Alliance Francaise in Sydney, which just happens to be conveniently located across the road from the acclaimed restaurant, Bécasse, which was the location for the awards presentation and official dinner. Canapés matched to three separate Champagnes came courtesy of Becassé owner and head Chef, Justin North, whose four course sit-down dinner was paired with no less than a further ten glasses of Champagne!
Now I have said many a times that I am not a huge Champagne drinker, in fact, I am on record as saying I think Champagne is for women and weddings. However, when I saw the list of Champagnes I would be lucky enough to sample at this event even I couldn't resist. Check out the night's wine list...
Ayala Rosé Nature
Bollinger La Grande Année 2000
Charles Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2000
G.H Mumm Cuvée R Lalou 1998
Henriot Blanc Cuvée Des Enchanteleurs 1996
Lanson Gold Label Brut 1998
Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2002
Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé 2003
Nicholas Feuillatte Palmes d'OR 1998
Pol Roger Brut Vintage 1999
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs
Taittinger Brut Millésimé 2004
Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2002
I must confess to the fact that upon reading that wine list I'd actually only had one of them previously, the 02 Cristal, and while I certainly had heard of many of those Champagne houses, names like Pol Roger, Ruinart, Ayala, Henriot and Nicholas Feuillatte were all pretty new to me. Shock horror some may say, but let's face it, I was never going to take out any awards that night and never will. I didn't even know who the lovely lady who introduced herself as Bernadette was, nor the bald guy in the Kung-Fu jacket called Peter. Turns out they are Bernadette O'Shea and Peter Bourne, two of the evenings judges! Both were really lovely, I must say, and Bernadette in particular was incredibly kind and is just the type of person I am happy to see being at the forefront of the Champagne world as a ambassador and educator.
Australians in general though do love their Champagne very much and in 2009 we imported 2,931,941 bottles of the stuff! That meant Australia ranked number 9 in the world for Champagne imports last year. I think the numbers will be up a little this year as, at the awards night alone, 90 guests consumed over 2,000 glasses of it! That means on average, each guest at the Champagne Awards had 22.2 glasses of Champagne. Now that's a crowd that gets behind an event and supports it 100%!
I was fortunate enough to be in the company of two out of the three award winners that night and would like to take the opportunity to congratulate all of them. The winner for the professionals category was Greg Plowes, in the amateur category, Tim Sullivan and, in the student category, Yuri Berns. Both Greg and Yuri were seated at my table and were great company. Yuri really couldn't have looked more nervous leading up to the announcement that he had won, meanwhile Greg had the confidence and foresight to have pre-arranged his time off work to accept the prize of a two week trip to Champagne. I am sure all three of them will enjoy their experience and no doubt much Champagne BS will be shared amongst them.
As for my personal favourites from the night they were the Taittinger Brut Millésimé 2004, Charles Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2000 and the Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2002. I would like to point out that there really weren't any dud drops in that line up that night and nor should there be at such an event. When I asked Greg and Yuri to list their favourites they, interestingly, had the same two choices in the Charles Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2000 and the G.H Mumm Cuvée R Lalou 1998. The Mumm was actually included in a three glass flight that included the Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2002 and the Bollinger La Grande Année 2000, which I preferred over the Mumm Lalou 1998. When I mentioned this to Greg and Yuri they backed up their choice with some truly classic Wine BS. To them the Louis Roderer and Bollinger were, and I quote, 'like a young lady waiting to find her way' , whereas the Mumm was more like 'a mature women'. So it appears I like my Champagne like I prefer my women, while Greg and Yuri like their Champagne to be more like their Mums!
From left to right - Tim Sullivan (Amateur category winner), Elizabeth Drysdale (Event organiser and Director of Drysdale Communications), Yuri Berns (Student category winner) and Greg Plowes (Professional category winner)
As the night came to a close it was clear that everyone had enjoyed themselves, but who wouldn't having had at least 22 glasses of Champagne! I would like to take this opportunity to thank Elizabeth Drysdale for the invitation and Justin North for the amazing food served on the night.
Congratulations once again to all the award winners and enjoy your trip to Champagne!