Champagne, is one of those wines that can floor you with its profundity or frustrate you with its mediocrity….plenty of middle ground there no doubt, but it remains the weapon of choice should a reason to celebrate rear its head or indeed just when your mood needs to be lifted.
At the NV level things can be a bit naff….there are standouts sure. The likes of Louis Roederer, Pol Roger, Billecart-Salmon and Bollinger show consistently good non-vintage wines and that is where I’ll aim should the Big House thing ring my bells.
Grower Champagnes are a revelation, and I have no doubt that since the grower push, the larger houses have had to work a little harder for their money. Larmandier-Bernier & Egly-Ouriet where the first I tried, quite a few years back now when they had just started to be imported into the country and they were placed in a lineup, blind alongside some big house wines. They floored those present with their drive and fruit purity and made the big guys look aldehydic and clunky…..one nil to the peasants.
Nowadays we are spoiled for choice, with an influx of grower labels being imported into the country, keeping the big guys honest…..we do need more Sellosse though, me in particular….I need lots more…..no questions….I just do.
One thing that the big houses do….and do well is the Cuvée de Prestige. The 1921 Dom Pérignon from Moët et Chandon takes the gong for the very first Cuvée de Prestige when it was launched in 1936. It is rumored that Roederer Cristal was produced even earlier but was only sold to the Russian tsar and was not made commercially available until the 1950’s. Taittinger followed suit in 1952 with their Comtes de Champagne and Bollinger began to market their late-disgorged wines….the R.D. series in 1961.
I recently had the chance to look at a selection of über cuvées……so here we go:
1999 Salon Cuvée ‘S’ “Les Mesnil
A famous Blanc de Blancs first cab off the rank….no malo in the base wines here and I believe they ditched all there old demi-muid casks in the mid-1990’s…..which is a shame because if any wine can heft some oak on it’s shoulders it’s Salon.
Energetic, fine bead with a pale straw hue. Green apple aromas with hints of dried honey, white flowers, apple pastry, soft spice, honeysuckle, jasmine and orange blossom with fairly light autolysis characters and hints of lemon curd.
Energetic mousse in the mouth with plenty of power and structure. Again green apple, lemon and grapefruit with hints of yellow plum, brioche and poached pear…quite muscular with a great presence on the palate. Excellent equilibrium and length on the minerally finish and like most Salon releases….it will age for a long time. Lovely.
2000 Taittinger “Comtes de Champagne” Blanc de Blancs
I must say….I’m a bit of a sucker for this house. The 100% malo, biscuity, dulcet tones of Comtes woo me every time. About 5% is matured in new oak and like Salon, it really should have a rest in the cellar as the Comtes really start to hit their sweet spot with a bit of age.
Energetic bead with a pale straw hue with slight green flashes. Aromas of rich apple pastry and fresh, inviting biscuit aromas mesh with green apple, lemon zest and grapefruit. Fine and minerally with hints of white flowers, grilled almonds and hazelnuts, torrefaction, dried honey, mushroom broth, blossom higher tones and rich leesy nuance.
Quite soft, creamy and calm in the mouth with dreamy, biscuity goodness and well defined, vibrant citrus fruits. Apple turnover, lemon curd, white flowers and grilled nut flavours slip across the palate effortlessly to a finish that is lemony and displays a beautiful acid line, long finish, clarity and stunning equilibrium.
1998 Ruinart “Dom Ruinart” Blanc de Blancs
Another toasty number…..66% Cote de Blancs and 34% North of the Montagne de Reims.
The bead is a little lazier and a little coarser than the rest of the lineup….one of the advantages of having all the wines lined up in a row I guess. The aromas here are generous and full with pure apple and citrus with a flash of white peachy. Plenty of toasty pastry and biscuit hints along with mushroom and white flower notes.
Again on the palate a little coarser but it shows good purity of fruit. Quite generous and full but it dances on it’s toes with a surprising sense of lightness. Great concentration and drive….a complete wine with a lovely mineral-laden acid line.
1998 Krug “Clos du Mesnil”Blanc de Blancs
Boom!….from the stellar 1.87 ha Clos du Mesnil vineyard in the village of Mesnil-sur-Oger and arguably the finest single-vineyard Champagne in the known universe….until we discover that great Kimmeridgian planet possibly lying just beyond the Abell 1835 IR1916 galaxy.
The most prestigious name in the Champagne region for good reason….their MV is fantastic recent tweaks to the style aside….it rocks. Their vintage wines are like great music scores….. full of detail, beauty, drama and emotion…..orchestrated to perfection.
A fine energetic bead with a medium, pale straw hue the wine shows a powerful nose of apple pastry, brioche, citrus fruits, yellow plum, orange blossom, honey, frangipane, mushroom and minerals.
Amazing balance and tension on the rich, powerful palate….dense yellow fruits, citrus and apple mesh seamlessly with deep biscuit and pastry flavours, white flowers, minerals, grilled nuts, cream and mushroom. Great finesse and poise with a taut acid line, great drive and power. Profound stuff.
2002 Dom Perignon
I’ve had this wine three times recently…..two examples were absolutely fantastic, the other less so….such is the variability in our neck of the woods. Dom Perignon has probably the largest production of any of the prestige cuvees….in fact they produce a $#$#-load but Richard Geoffroy is a guru and it is consistantly a top Champagne.
I was reading an article recently by Tom Stevenson where he questioned why Moet & Chandon hadn’t spun off Dom Perignon to produce a range of prestige cuvees under that label….like a Blanc de Blancs or a single vineyard offering. In the past it was perhaps used to bolster Moets reputation but these days that is no longer needed….it’s a tantalizing thought….splitting off Dom…with it’s own winery and vineyards…apply for recoltant-manipulant status and cutting loose…..it would certainly shake things up in Champagne!
Pale staw/green flecked with a fine, energetic bead the 2002 Dom Perignon is quite perfumed straight off the bat with aromas of jasmine meshing with beautifully detailed stone and citrus fruits. There are hints of dried orange rind, grilled nuts, acacia, cream, mushroom, brioche and smooth soft spice.
In the mouth it’s like a white Burgundy with bubbles…..and those bubbles are fine, delicately tickling the palate as the wine enters the mouth. The initial entry onto the palate show great finesse and balance….everything poised just right, Flavours of ripe stone and citrus fruit with a splash of redcurrant are sheathed in rich autolytic tones….freshly baked pastry, brioche and a touch of rawer proving dough. For all it’s richess and concentration it shows a lovely sense of nimbleness across the palate. dancing along and leaving minerally footprints….hints of light spice, meal, grilled nuts and mushroom flitting along in its wake which shimmers with taut acidity. Cracking wine…..cracking vintage.
1999 Mumm Cuvee Rene Lalou
Mumm is one of Champagnes largest houses with an annual ouput of over eight million bottles. Founded by three German brothers in 1827 they hit the big-time during the Champagne heydays in the 1880’s…..particularly in the U.S. where a massive advertising campaign saw them selling 850,000 bottles a year. Being of German origin, they faced hardships during the Great War, before being restored to health by Rene Lalou before flipping between a few owners and finally arriving in the hands of Pernod Ricard.
The quality of the NV has copped a considerable, and justified amount of flak in the past for the poor quality of the wine produced between 1982 and 1991 but in fairness the quality has improved vastly with succeeding chef de cave and the house is again producing some excellent NV…..but we are here to talk about the recently reintroduced prestige cuvee, Rene Lalou….which I believe is always a 50/50 belend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Eight lieux-dits made it into this particular wine….it’s interesting to note that there was also a 1996 of this wine slated for release but it was declassified as it became too evolved…..likewise 2000 (declassified) so 2002 presently looks like the next in line.
Bright straw-yellow with a energetic bead and strong mousse. Aromas of lemon and green apple mesh with hints of cream, leesy nuance, brioche, acacia flower, toast, dried honey and butter. It displays rich autolysis characters that knit well with the fruit aromas.
Lively and energetic in the mouth but with quite a firm, underlying structure. Flavours of apple, yellow plum and citrus along with hints of fresh pastry, lemon curd, white peach, nuts, toast and leesy influence. A lovely, mineral-laden acid line, well-knit flavours across the palate and a long elegant finish that is toasty and quite lovely….an excellent wine but one that doesn’t seem to have the potential of the 1998.
2004 Louis Roederer Cristal
Louis Roederer created “Cristal” at the request of Tsar Alexander II in 1876, who was a thirsty cat and Russia remained Roederers biggest market until the revolution in 1917……it now seems to be one of the drinks of choice by some more thirsty cats who wear baggy pants, grab their crotches and pop caps in each others asses.
Roederers own vineyards supply around 80% of the requirements for this wine which in this particular year is 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay with a dosage of 10g/L. The base wine does not undergo MLF and in recent years a portion of barrel fermented wine has been included in the blend.
I haven’t had a Cristal for a little while…..I reckon the last one I tried was the 2000 vintage…..might have been a bad bottle but I found it a little broad and dull…I was pleasantly surprised with 2004 which looks fresh as a daisy and in fantastic nick.
Pale straw gold with a fine energetic bead. Very fresh smelling with a floral edge. Fruit aromas of yellow plum and redcurrant predominately with hints of lemon curd, white flowers, almond blossom, clotted cream, minerals and digestive biscuits.
Quite sapid in the mouth with great energy and a fine, driven line. The fine bubbles seem to lift the fruit flavours on the palate…..flavours of white peach, redcurrant, citrus and yellow plum. There are hints of grilled nuts, buttery brioche and pastry notes, frangipane, almond blossom and minerals flit across the mid-palate as the taut acid line drives towards the finish which is anthemic…..showing finesse and complexity with a ultra snappy toast/mineral exit. A beauty…..a baby and one to put away for a while.
Thus concludeth The Bubble Wrap part I….part II will feature the awesome 1999 Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill, 2004 Perrier-Jouet “Belle Epoque”, 1998 Veuve Clicquot “La Grand Dame”, 1998 Billecart-Salmon “Le Clos Saint-Hillaire”, 1998 Krug, the blinged-up Cattier “Armand de Brignac Brut Gold” NV and the stellar 2002 Bollinger “La Grand Annee”.