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Sutcliffe expresses concerns about future quality of Champagne

Published:  23 July, 2008

By Neil Beckett

Serena Sutcliffe MW, head of Sotheby's international wine department, and Richard Juhlin, author of a new book on the greatest Champagnes of the 20th century, have both expressed concern about future standards in Champagne. They were speaking at a reception at Sotheby's to launch "The Great Tasting". Sutcliffe said she "only hoped" that Champagne producers would have as much regard for "integrity and quality" in the future as their predecessors had in the past, highlighting the danger that Champagne might become "all too much of a luxury brand as distinct from a great wine". "Constant vigilance is necessary," she concluded, referring specifically to selection and yields. Juhlin agreed that higher concentration from lower yields is essential if the wines of the future are to have lives as long and happy as those of the past, stressing that it was the acidity and intensity of wines such as the 1959 Billecart-Salmon Cuve Nicolas Franois Billecart (the tasting's "winner") which had allowed them to age so gracefully. He said it remained to be seen whether wines from even the highly rated 1995 and 1996 vintages would have the same kind of longevity. He also condemned as "stupid" the trend towards shorter corks, saying some of the relevant wines already seemed "not so good". Expressing his hopes for the region, he doubted whether the continued rise of individual growers would be as marked or as rapid as it has been in the Cte d'Or. But Juhlin predicted that a higher number of exceptional wines would be produced by a larger number of small growers, as well as by the more established houses, and that the finest would be single grand cru or mono cru wines. Sutcliffe described the 100 Champagnes in Stockholm in 1999 as "one of the most dramatic extraordinary sensory experiences of my life".