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Saturday, October 09, 2010

2010 Vin de Champagne Awards at Becasse, Sydney

Champagne. Who doesn't love a glass of bubbles?

I recently had the pleasure of attending the 2010 Vin de Champagne awards, a search for the best Champagne palates in Australia. The black tie event commenced with canapes at Le Grande Cafe followed by a six-course dinner at Becasse matched with thirteen incredible Champagnes.

Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2002

The Vin de Champagne awards take place biennually, and have been running for thirty years. Entry to the Award is open to anyone, and candidates across three categories -- Student, Amateur and Professional -- must complete a series of essay questions on Champagne viticulture, terroir and history. State finalists are flown to Sydney to compete in a blind Champagne taste-testing.

The taste-testing is not about correctly identifying the three wines, but to listen to how entrants taste, what they discern, and finding out the logic of their reasoning process. No other wine award like this exists in Australia or any major Champagne market in the world.

Huon Hooke, Awards host as well as author, wine-writer and former Professional winner

I found myself seated next to Professor Tim Sullivan, the Queensland finalist in the Amateur section. An opthamologist by day, Tim became increasingly interested in champagne. Today, he says, he drinks nothing but champagne, appreciating its complexity and subtlety of aromas and flavours.

He was particularly nervous throughout the evening, drained from the taste testing exam held earlier in the day and keen to find out the results. To the delight of our table, he was named the winner in the Amateur category, a prestigious prize that includes a two-week educational tour of the Champagne district in France, and is often a stepping stone to a career in the Champagne industry.

Professor Tim Sullivan, Amateur category winner

I was so intrigued by both the Vin de Champagne Awards and what it takes to win one, that I felt compelled to have a chat with Tim to find out more...

Interview with Professor Tim Sullivan, 2010 Vin de Champagne Award - Amateur category winner

1. What first drew you to champagne? Was there a turning point?

I had an early interest in wine raiding Dad’s cellar which led to trying the different Australian regions and varieties. For many years I had seen champagne as an aperitif or a celebratory wine for toasts until I attended one of Bernadete O’Shea’s champagne courses. The course is held over two nights, learning about non-vintages and house styles the first night, and then vintages the next night.

One of the take-home messages was how food friendly champagne is and how versatile it is throughout the meal. For me that was a real turning point.

Marinated blue fin tuna
with salad of octopus, abalone and scallop, and mandarin and soy emulsion
served with Charles Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2000 and Henriot Brut Millesime 1998

2. Why do you enjoy champagne?

Each glass is different and can contain a whole range of accents on the nose and flavours on the
palate. There is no doubt it lifts the mood of any event where it is being served. Champagne is also relatively low alcohol, so you can have a glass and feel fine the next morning.

Caramelised pork belly with confit prawn, cauliflower puree and aged pork jowl
served with Charles Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2000 and Henriot Brut Millesime 1998

3. How do you study for the Vin de Champagne Award? How much champagne were you drinking in the lead-up!

The exam has a written component which requires a fairly thorough knowledge of the vintage cycle from pruning to bud burst to harvest, as well as the wine making that follows. There are many great books by authors passionate about champagne, people like Patrick Forbes, Tom Stephenson, Serena Sutcliffe, and Richard Juhlin which serve as a background resource. The two books by Don and Petie Kladstrup “Wine and War” and “Champagne” are easy reading about the history of the region.

For the Viva Voce and tasting section the training was definitely more fun. A group of fellow
champagne enthusiasts would meet regularly with a number of champagnes to taste blind. One
night we would examine Vintages, another Non-vintages to assess house style and another looking at Rosés and so on.

How much champagne was I drinking? Well enough to become familiar with most of the house styles and vintages on the current market.

Silken Glenloth chicken and slow cooked lobster with chicken and crab jus
served with Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2002, Bollinger La Grande Annee 2000 and
G.H. Mumm Cuvee R Lalou 1998

Greg Plowes, 2010 Vin de Champagne Award professional category winner
- Greg is the sommelier at Tetsuyas

4. What’s your best tip for either buying or appreciating champagne?

We are lucky at the moment that nearly all the non vintage champagnes are drinking very well. The current base years of 2005-2006 are good years with beautiful chardonnay giving fresh citrus and floral notes and gentle pinot that is a little shy at the moment. Also there are some great deals on champagnes available at most wine shops.

As for appreciating champagne, first look at the colour. I think it is then worthwhile spending a couple of minutes trying to appreciate the nose of the wine after is has been poured. Look for floral notes, citrus and other fruit, nuts, honey, yeast and bread -- all found in good champagne.

On the palate pinot noir is mainly felt in the front of the mouth, pinot meunier at the sides and chardonnay at the back. Try to see if there are any of the red and dark pinot fruits present which may not have been so obvious on the nose. Also look for the chardonnay flavours mentioned above.

But don’t over-analyse it! Drink it and enjoy it with friends, as part of a meal or simply as an aperitif.

Lemon balm and vanilla nougat parfait
with berry sorbet, Champagne jellies and confit lemon
Served with Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes d'Or 1998 and Moet et Chandon Grand Vintage Rose 2003

5. What are you looking forward to in your upcoming Champagne tour?

This is a great opportunity and I expect we will be shown some of the historic vineyards and sites in Champagne as well as visit various growers and some of the major houses. I am sure there will be a requirement to sample some of the Champagne, which will be a pleasure.

Champagne macarons

6. What next? What do you hope for in the future?

I have been in the Vin de Champagne twice and as a result have learned a lot about the wine, but I expect this is only the beginning and that there are many small growers and other houses with which I am not familiar. I'm really looking forward to discovering these hidden gems of champagne while still enjoying the great wines that our more familiar names produce.

There is very little about champagne on the web and there may be opportunities to set up a blog, or to establish some form of champagne correspondence online, which would be fun.

Thanks for your time, Tim, and congratulations on your win!

Elizabeth Drysdale, Director of the Champagne Bureau
with the 2010 Vin de Champagne Award winners:
Professor Tim Sullivan (Amateur category winner), Yuri Berns (Student category winner) and Greg Plowes (Professional category winner)

Justin North's food was fantastic as always, particularly the confit prawn which was incredibly intense and sweet. Dessert was also a hit, especially its elegant plating, dotted with thin slices of strawberry and constructed on the right third of the plate.

Thirteen different Champagnes flowed freely all evening, and I marvelled at their softness on the palate, yet wide array of characters and finishes. My favourites were the Charles Heidsieck Brut Vintage 2000, the Louis Roederer Cristal Brut 2002 and the G.H. Mumm Cuvee R Lalou 1998.

And just as Tim said, no hangover the next morning!

Grab Your Fork attended the 2010 Vin de Champagne Awards as a guest of Drysdale Communications.

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Becasse on Urbanspoon

Bécasse (CLOSED)
204 Clarence Street, Sydney
(between Market and Druitt)
Tel: +61 (02) 9283 3440

Lunch: Monday to Friday lunch 12.00pm – 2.30pm
Dinner: Monday to Saturday 6.00pm – 10.30pm

Related Grab Your Fork posts:

12 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 10/09/2010 02:06:00 am


  • At 10/09/2010 5:31 am, Blogger Unknown said…

    They fed blue-fin tuna to how many people, exactly?! Ouch, sustainability...

    On a brighter note, however, that dessert looks absolutely phenomenal.

  • At 10/09/2010 10:49 am, Anonymous fishead said…

    Hey - ranched Southern Bluefin Tuna IS SUSTAINABLE - global generalisations don't apply to regional supply issues

  • At 10/09/2010 12:00 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    Thirteen different champagnes? I would've been asleep under the table by glass four ;) Hopefully I would've woken up in time for the champagne macarons, though...

  • At 10/09/2010 5:35 pm, Anonymous thang @ noodlies said…

    cristal.. that's all that needs to be said, yum! so envious, helen

  • At 10/09/2010 9:20 pm, Anonymous Louise said…

    There's a job called Director of the Champagne Bureau? OMG, I've finally worked out what I want to be when I grow up. I'd love to go to this dinner sometime. Sounds absolutely fantastic. And oh to have the time and money and liver function to enter the competition as an amateur.

  • At 10/09/2010 10:30 pm, Anonymous Mrs Pig Flyin' said…

    You were right that I would love this dinner, who wouldn't? Everything looks amazing and I am so jealous! It is such a liberal and tasteful idea to serve different champagnes for each course, something for every taste bud. The food in various shades of white, gold, and pink are so pretty and match the colours of the champagnes beautifully.

    I can go on and on and on but think I am thirsty now :P

  • At 10/10/2010 2:00 pm, Anonymous Patrice said…


  • At 10/11/2010 1:45 am, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    Oh noes did we miss out on drunken GYF :P? I must go Becasse sometime!

  • At 10/11/2010 10:20 am, Blogger Rita (mademoiselle délicieuse) said…

    Thirteen champagnes and no hangover the next morning? I should drink champagne more often!

  • At 10/11/2010 1:59 pm, Anonymous FR said…

    Oh how I would just love to attend an event like that one. I bet the drinks were so good. Thanks for sharing.

  • At 10/11/2010 2:02 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Thanks for your comments everyone!

    Hi Megan - As per fishead's comments below (John Susman), I understand that the blue fin was sustainable. It is important to consider this though, and glad there's a high level of awareness of the issue.

    Hi Fishead - Thanks for stepping in to clarify!

    Hi Hannah - Admittedly they were small glasses :)

    Hi Mrs Pig Flyin' - It was a stunning evening. Definitely spoilt!

    Hi Mademoiselle Delicieuse - Sounds like a plan!

  • At 10/11/2010 2:54 pm, Anonymous Forager @ The Gourmet Forager said…

    What a luxury! Looks like both food and drinks were of a high calibre that night - but all that champagne! I think my palette would struggle to really distinguish flavours by glass 5!


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