Dinner invitation – the great estates of Bordeaux

If there are two things we love at Clos & Cru, they’re good Bordeaux paired with good food.

But, instead of just grabbing some first growths and charging a fortune, we’ve set out to bring you something a little different from Bordeaux. Something that represents a phrase rarely connected with today’s great claret – good value.

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With this dinner, we’ve teamed up with the wonderful people at 28° – 50° Maddox Street to take you on a guided tour of Bordeaux second wines. Produced by some of the best known Chateaux in the world, they benefit from the same expertise and pedigree as the grand vin, but at a fraction of the price.

We will be tasting wines from some of the best wine-making teams in Bordeaux, arguably the world, with offerings from Chateau Palmer (which in some vintages surpasses its first growth neighbour Chateau Margaux), Smith-Haut-Lafitte (creator of 100-point wines) and Chateau Pichon Lalande (neighbours of Chateau Latour).

We hope you can join us for the following:

The Wines
1995 Clos du Marquis (Chateau Leoville Las Cases)
2004 Alter Ego de Palmer (Chateau Palmer)
2013 Le Petit Haut Lafitte – Blanc (Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte)
2014 Le Petit Haut Lafitte – Rouge (Chateau Smith-Haut-Lafitte)
2011 Croix Canon (Chateau Canon)
2010 Fleur de Clinet (Chateau Clinet)
2012 Segla (Chateau Rauzan Segla)
2011 Reserve de la Comtesse (Chateau Pichon Lalande)
NV Champagne Paul Clouet Grand Cru Magnum
The total value of the wines above is over £300

The Menu
Four courses designed to complement the wines

Event Details
Thursday 28th September
6.30pm – Champagne Aperitif
7-10pm – Dinner
Venue: 28°- 50° Maddox Street
Address: 17-19 Maddox Street, Mayfair, London W1S 2QH

Prices are £145 for a single ticket, £135 each for multiple tickets. Your ticket includes welcome champagne, a four-course menu designed to complement the wines, and £15 off any order of wines on the night.

Space will be limited to a maximum of 18 clients so please do let us know if you would like to attend.  Seats are reserved upon payment.

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The only two Grand Marques based on the fabled 2008 vintage?

By Jack Chapman

Did you know that Charles Heidsieck NV and Krug NV are the only two Grand Marques currently on the market which are based on the fabled 2008 vintage?

Did you also know that we’re the only UK merchant in the ‘cercle Charles’, their ring of 15 preferred partners, so we have managed to secure a very limited parcel of 12 cases of both the Rose and white NV from this vintage?

Charles Heidsieck Rose

NV Charles Heidsieck Rose

These are truly astounding Champagnes, with the rose having scored 95 points from Decanter whilst being voted the best pink Champagne in a blind tasting of 99 competitors, (this included Veuve’s La Grande Dame 2006 Rose £191 btl) and the Brut NV constituting over 150 different base wines spanning 20 years dating back to 1988, laden with more gold medals than an Olympic cyclist.

Pretty good for their incredibly modest price tags.

Charles Heidsieck Brut

NV Charles Heidsieck Brut

Charles keeps on hand as much reserve wine as Veuve Clicquot in spite of being one sixteenth their size, as well as vinifying all of their vineyard plots separately to create some 350 base wines to blend into their Champagne. Couple this astounding variety with the maturity of these reserve wines and you can start to see why we absolutely adore them.

There is such a small quantity of these available that I have personally already purchased a case of each, which I will be drinking sparingly, with the right people, on special occasions.

brut-reserve     

          NV Charles Heidsieck Brut
          £140 per 6 bottles in bond
          (£31.33 per bottle duty & VAT paid)
          12 cases available
          94 points Richard Juhlin

rose-reserve

 

           NV Charles Heidsieck Rose
           £210 per 6 bottles in bond
           (£45.33 per bottle duty & VAT paid)
           12 cases available
           95 points Richard Juhlin

“After more than 30 years’ intensive experience and a great deal of mature reflection, I have ripped up my old list of Champagne’s greatest producers and started a fresh with Charles Heidsieck firmly at the top… the most consistent, highest quality non-vintage on the market today”
– Tom Stevenson 

Please let me know if you wish to know more about Charles Heidsieck or email us on sales@closcru.com

Charles Heidsieck Tasting with Brand Ambassador Willem Pincon

Is working for a company with one of the largest Champagne lists in the UK a glamorous job?

If last Friday was anything to go by, then yes! Breaking at 2 pm, we were whisked off to a meeting room wherein we were treated to a mini ‘Champagne Academy’ presented by our very own Margaret Elderfield. With our heads full of facts, pads full of notes and stomachs full of mystery fizz (a few of us were even tricked into enjoying prosecco!) we got onto the main event: A portfolio tasting with Charles Heidsieck’s charming brand ambassador Willem Pincon.

Charles Heidsieck Champagne

Charles Heidsieck

Willem strode confidently into our office, a wheelie case of ultra-cool Champagne was preceded with a stack of branded notepads. We knew that it was going to be a very informative afternoon.

Charles_Heidsieck

Image of Charles Heidsieck used in Champagne ads in the US during the 1850s.

Before even getting comfortable he had gone through nearly 100 years of Charles Heidsieck’s history. Despite our evident desperation to begin tasting, the history of Charles Heidsieck proved truly remarkable. The whole family is famous in the region, with a number of houses to their name, but it was Charles Heidsieck’s father, Charles-Henri Heidsieck, who famously rode into Moscow in 1811 astride a white stallion to celebrate (and sell his wine to) whichever side successfully won the battle.

Like his entrepreneurial father, Charles Camille Heidsieck quickly realised that the market in Europe was too saturated and competing with the big houses would be impossible. So, Charles struck out for the new world, bringing his champagne to the United States where he gained notoriety as “Champagne Charlie” and opened a thriving export market.

He was, however, not just headline news for his Champagne success. In 1861, on his way into the Southern states seeking remuneration from wayward merchants, he was captured by confederate General Butler, and charged with spying on their forces. Imprisoned for 7 months at Fort Jackson, Charles allegedly fought off crocodiles in his flooded prison cell with nothing but wit, guile and the odd spare brick! His incarceration caused a diplomatic rift between France and America, now known as the ‘Heidsieck incident’. It was only resolved 7 months later after several French diplomats and Napoleon III himself made contact with President Lincoln. After this stint, Charles returned to France, emaciated, demoralised and ultimately bankrupt.

NV Rose Reserve

NV Charles Heidsieck Rose Reserve

Fortunately, the story did not end there, and whilst we were immersed in the history of the house (and picturing how he managed to fight off a crocodile with a brick), we were given our first sip of Charles Heidsieck non-vintage Rose Reserve. As Willem described it, this Rose is incredibly complex, perhaps more so than anything we’ve ever tasted. The house secret here, which was to become evident across their range, was in blending. Whilst everyone else in Champagne may use an impressive 30 to 40 different base and reserve wines to create their non-vintage rose, the house of Charles is using on average an absolutely staggering 120 wines from 16 different villages, spanning 8 different vintages and lees-aged for 7 years. The knowledge of blending and patience of this winemaking bring out the wonderful complexity of a Champagne that, although mature and rich, manages to retain an almost impossibly delicate freshness. In the current (and very limited parcel) NV Rose Reserve, 80% of grapes come from the fabled 2008 vintage with 20% of mature reserve wine added. This wine is a true testament to the prodigious skill of their chef de caves and topped a Decanter blind tasting of 99 peers, beating other bottles four times as expensive.

                    NV Charles Heidsieck Rose Reserve
                    £210 per 6 bottles in bond (£45.33 per bottle duty & VAT paid)
                    95 points Richard Juhlin
                    https://goo.gl/hjwAhi

The second bottle Willem opened for us was the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve. This topped even the rose for wine-making pedigree, with 150 different wines spread across 20 vintages dating as far back as 1988. It goes to show, again, the patience of their winemaking and dedication to quality. At Charles Heidsieck, they never limit themselves to young reserve wine. Some 350 different plots are all vinified into individual wines, a herculean feat, which allows them to mature at their own pace depending on how the winemaker perceives the wine and its place in the blend. All of these base wines are kept for a minimum of 7 years, with some spanning 20, and the house retains as much volume of reserve wines as Veuve Clicquot, despite being one sixteenth of their size. I can only imagine how the accountants are reeling from all that tied up capital.  

The results, as you can imagine, are sublime. Ripe stone fruit, fresh apple, and mineral flavours dance effortlessly across the palate, followed by a rich fresh dough, finally brought to a close by a burst of vanilla as it slides down your throat.

                  NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve
                  £140 per 6 bottles in bond (£31.33 per bottle duty & VAT paid)
                 
94 points Richard Juhlin
                  https://goo.gl/hjwAhi

Without breaking stride, Willem opened another bottle of Rose, this time the 2006 vintage, whilst detailing the two techniques with which they are made in Champagne (If you are a regular reader, you may have already read about them in “Think Pink”).

We were also lucky enough to have the opportunity to taste Charles Heidsieck Vintages 2000 and 2005 side by side, a fascinating experience which drew many parallels between the harvests, with the 2005 appearing as an almost younger clone of its predecessor. Both offered what can only be described as overwhelmingly intense notes of almond, fresh bread, and ripe yellow apple, which lead onto a honey-like finish, no doubt as a result of the 9 years each spent ageing on their lees.

Charles Heidsieck I feel, more so than any other house, set out to age their wines to the ideal condition before they blend them. Willem did admit that any of the non-vintages would still benefit from a couple of years cellaring, but with the sheer amount of pleasure on offer right now, I admire anyone with the willpower to resist.

As a relative neophyte when it comes to fine wine, I started to get a bit overwhelmed at this point- for the rest of the afternoon all I can recall is reclining with a wonderful glass of golden liquid, and listening to Willem’s dulcet French tones recant the story of a Champagne house so captivating it made it to the silver screen… A TV movie he was quick to dub, in his rich French accent, as ‘crap’!

                  2006 Charles Heidsieck Rose Millesime  
                  £365 per 6 bottles in bond (£76.33 per bottle duty & VAT paid)
                  94 points Wine Spectator
                  https://goo.gl/hjwAhi

                  2005 Charles Heidsieck Brut
                  £285 per 6 bottles in bond (£60.33 per bottle duty & VAT paid)
                  94 points Wine Spectator
                  https://goo.gl/hjwAhi

 

Group Pic

Charles Heidsieck’s charming brand ambassador Willem Pincon and team Clos & Cru

Four days at Vinexpo Bordeaux 2017

 

By Margaret Elderfield

In June, a team from Clos & Cru went to Vinexpo, the massive trade show for the wine and spirits industry, which is held in Bordeaux and Hong Kong in alternating years.

VIinexpo

Vinexpo-2017

My colleague Martyn was the seasoned veteran, having been a few times before, but I was the newbie and wasn’t sure exactly what to expect.

I should have known it would be busy when an Irish friend advised me, “be sure to bring your flat shoes!” Thank goodness she’d warned me, as we seemed to walk around 5km each day through the vast exhibition halls to visit the stands we’d identified in our ‘hit list’ before the show. The stands ranged in size from a small desk and counter, to vast office-like spaces with private meeting and staff rooms, wine bars, and displays of art on the walls.

With 2300 exhibitors and 48,000 overseas visitors, there were a few crowds to negotiate. On day two, when Martyn and I missed our shuttle bus from the hotel, we had to squeeze ourselves like sardines onto a jam-packed A tram at Porte de Bourgogne station. Not an advisable way to travel during a 37 C+ heat wave.

 

 

But the French are nothing if not civilised. Even with throngs of people and a full diary of meetings, the Coravins and tasting glasses were never too far away.  I can still taste the 2010 Chateau Rauzan-Segla, fragrant and resplendent in its velvety youth. But my personal tasting highlight was the 1999 Chateau Haut Brion – so ‘correct’ and yet so utterly transcendent, replete with cool dense fruit and a kiss of fine-grained tobacco.

What comes after a civilised day of meetings and tastings?  A celebration feast, naturellement.  Two particular evenings will linger in the memory.

Chateau Bellevue

Chateau Bellevue – The Original 17th Century Wine Cellar

Chateau Bellevue St Emilion

View from the terrace at Chateau Bellevue

The first was an intimate Sunday dinner at Chateau Bellevue, the St Emilion grand cru classe chateau known for its 100% Merlot wines. The views from the terrace were stunning, and it was fascinating to see the original 17th century wine cellar. The raucous cheering ‘competition’ that broke out spontaneously between our table and the Chinese guests after the second magnum of grand vin was proof of the jolly time had by all.

The other memorable night was the 16th “Tour de France des Appellations” dinner, at the Domaine de Chevalier in Pessac-Leognan.  This was a banquet royale with a guestlist in the hundreds, co-hosted by several high-profile producers (including Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Maison Olivier Leflaive, Chateau Beaucastel, Domaine Faiveley and Champagne Pol Roger, to name a few).  The aperitif was served in the garden at sunset, with lashings of oysters and caviar, and the cheese table was so enormous it seemed to take up half the cuverie.

Typically at wine dinners you get one or two wines with each course.  Here were upwards of 30 wines on offer, served buffet style. I tasted a 2006 Winston Churchill from Pol Roger in magnum, a 2006 ‘Clos des Corton’ from Faiveley in mathusalem, and a 1977 Domaine de Chevalier Rouge in jeroboam.  Strictly to avoid offending our hosts, mind you.

Bring on Vinexpo 2019!

 

 

Thanks again to our hosts – Axel, Stanislas & Ines of Chateau Bellevue, and Olivier & Jolene from Zind-Humbrecht at the ‘Tour des Appellations’ dinner.  Delicious wines, good memories, great hospitality.

 

Dinner with Jean-Emmanuel Bonnaire

Join us for dinner on July 11th with Jean-Emmanuel Bonnaire (pictured), the owner of two excellent grower champagne houses – Bonnaire and Paul Clouet.

Bonnaire Jean Emmanuel ChampagneAs a special treat for our clients, Jean-Emmanuel will bring a few mature bottles from the family’s personal collection dating from 1982 and 1996. Both were excellent vintages in Champagne.

Bonnaire is based in the Grand Cru village of Cramant, renowned as one of the top terroirs for Chardonnay. And Paul Clouet is located in Bouzy, another Grand Cru village and home to outstanding Pinot Noir.

We’re not the only fans of these houses.  Probably the most notable devotee is champagne expert Richard Juhlin, who introduced us personally to Bonnaire. He has scored some of their champagnes at 98/100 points – as high as legends like 1961 Krug, 1934 Pol Roger and 1959 Cristal.

My private cellar is full of bottles from Bonnaire.” Richard Juhlin

In all, Jean-Emmanuel will be presenting 7 champagnes for you to taste.

The Wines

NV Bonnaire Rose (90 points, Antonio Galloni)
NV Paul Clouet Grand Cru (92 points, Allen Meadows)
NV Bonnaire Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (92 points, Allen Meadows)
2008 Paul Clouet Grand Cru (not yet rated)
2008 Bonnaire Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (90-94 points, Richard Juhlin)
1982 Bonnaire Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (95 points, Richard Juhlin)
1996 Paul Clouet Grand Cru (93 points, Richard Juhlin)

Event Details

Tuesday 11th July
6.30pm – Aperitif
7-9.30pm – Dinner
The Devonshire Club
4-5 Devonshire Square, London EC2M 4YD

Prices are £130 for a single ticket, £120 each for multiple tickets. Your ticket includes seven champagnes, a three-course dinner designed to complement the wines, and £20 off any purchase of wines on the night.

Order your tickets by email to sales@closcru.com, or message us via the website.

Join Us for Dinner With One of Italy’s Top Winemakers

 

isole_e_olena_palo_de__marchi“Wow. Paolo de Marchi is such an amazing mix of education, experience and passion.” – Jancis Robinson

Paolo de Marchi seems to bring a little magic to every grape and vine he touches.

At his family-owned Isole e Olena estate, Paolo has been leading the quality movement in Tuscany since the mid-1970s. He pressed for a change in the rules to allow Chianti Classico to be made with 100% red grapes. And he spared no expense investing in the best French barrels for his world famous Cepparello.

Nowadays, in addition to Sangiovese, Paolo works wonders with international varietals like Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. In the words of Antonio Galloni:

“I’m not a big fan of international varieties grown in Italy. But when you make wine like that, you’ll turn anyone into a believer.”

Paolo also has a venture with his son Luca in the north of Piemonte, where his family has roots. Called Proprieta Sperino, they make elegant, savoury reds from Nebbiolo that offer amazing value for money.

The Event
We’re delighted that Paolo will be joining us personally at an intimate dinner featuring a top drawer selection of his wines, some scoring 96+/100 points.

2015 Chardonnay Collezione Privata, Isole e Olena (93+ points, Monica Larner)
2014 Chianti Classico, Isole e Olena (90 points, Monica Larner)
2010 Lessona, Proprieta Sperino (94+ points, Antonio Galloni)
2013 Cepparello, Isole e Olena (96 points, Antonio Galloni)
2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Collezione Privata, Isole e Olena (96+ points, Antonio Galloni)
2006 Vin Santo del Chianti Classico, Isole e Olena (96 points, Monica Larner)

Please join us on Tuesday 6 June at the Devonshire Club, Devonshire Square, EC2M 4YD. 6.30pm champagne aperitif, followed by dinner at 7pm.

Tickets are £130 for a single place, and £120 each for multiple places. To order, email sales@closcru.com.

Price includes a welcome glass of champagne, dinner and a minimum of 6 wines. Places are strictly limited, so please book early to avoid disappointment.

 

Dinner with Olivier Humbrecht

By Margaret Elderfield

A great night had by all on floor 35 of the Shard last month, when Olivier Humbrecht (of top biodynamic estate Domaine Zind-Humbrecht) joined Clos & Cru and our guests for a dinner that featured 9 of his best wines from recent vintages going back to 2008.

Olivier Humbrecht winemaker

Olivier Humbrecht (L) with Martyn from the Clos & Cru team

Tasting them side by side, I was struck by the incredible concentration and expressiveness of these lively, complex whites.  Tip top wine of the night was the 2013 Riesling Clos Windsbuhl (95 pts, robertparker.com) which had outstanding mineral precision, purity of fruit and a lovely savoury twist on the finish.

We also got a glimpse of some newly released 2015s.  Here the 2015 Riesling Clos St Urbain Rangen de Thann Grand Cru (96 pts, robertparker.com) was the star, with citrus and tropical fruits, smokey hints and toasted-stone mineral notes. To me, it was a perfect wine to show the difference between the German and Alsace styles of riesling. The great rieslings of the Mosel have a fine and delicate lightness. From the French side of the border, with his 2015 Riesling Rangen, Olivier delivers a more weighty Alsace style, but still with that quintessential riesling liveliness.

The biggest surprise of the night?  I’m not usually a fan of Muscat, which so often appears in simple, sweet vin doux naturels that can lack balance.  But the 2013 Muscat Goldert Grand Cru was a revelation, and I can see why Jancis Robinson counts it as one of her favourite Muscat wines in the world. Fermented to dryness, it had a heady aroma of grapes, orchard fruits and herbs, plus a mouthwatering hit of saline minerality. Served in a Burgundy glass, this wine bowled everyone over.  Olivier says they serve this wine in the region with white asparagus and hollandaise.  But in our meal it paired deliciously with Asian-influenced pork.

Thanks again, Olivier!

 

 

 

 

 

What’s the Fuss About Biodynamics?

By Margaret Elderfield

I’m frequently asked how often I can tell whether a wine is made from organically grown grapes or not. The answer is more or less never. But the same is not true of wines from biodynamically grown vineyards. I do find that the latter often have an extra dimension of vitality.” – Jancis Robinson (jancisrobinson.com)

With Olivier Humbrecht joining us for a winemaker dinner later this month, it’s a great moment to focus on biodynamics, the movement Olivier embraced in the mid 1990s.

What is it?

Biodynamics is a farming philosophy that dates back to the early 1920s. 

It was introduced by an Austrian chap called Rudolph Steiner, who set out a grand vision for boosting the health of crops and livestock in a series of lectures. Steiner advocated a natural, holistic approach to farming. He saw the farm as a living, self-sustaining organism. By using natural preparations instead of chemicals, working in harmony with the cycles of the moon and the planets, and maintaining the right diversity of plants and animals, soil health would be enriched and revitalised. In turn, the crops depending on that soil would thrive, and so would the animals eating those crops.

His philosophy also incorporated mystical and spiritual elements. In Steiner’s vision,  biodynamics could harness the cosmic energy of the universe into self-sustaining farms that were teeming with vital life essences.

Zind-Humbrecht, Biodynamics, Alsace, Wine

Horse-drawn ploughing at biodynamic estate Zind-Humbrecht

Biodynamics and Fine Wine

So how did Steiner’s teachings make their way into the fine wine world?  

Fast forward to the 1980s. Only a handful of winemakers had started to use biodynamics (led by Francois Bouchet and Nicolas Joly in the Loire).

A microbiologist working for the French government named Claude Bourguignon grabbed the headlines.  He complained that the soil of the great domains in Burgundy – after years of spraying the vineyards with herbicides – now had less microbial life “than sand in the Sahara desert”.  He freely admitted to winemakers that he didn’t understand exactly how biodynamics worked, but he’d seen that biodynamic vineyards had soils rich in microbial life, and vines with deeper, stronger root systems.

His ideas resonated with some of the top producers in Burgundy, including the great Anne-Claude Leflaive. In an effort to improve wine quality, she began experimenting with organic and biodynamic methods at Domaine Leflaive, and giving blind tastings to professionals in the industry.  When taster after taster preferred the biodynamic wine, she had all the evidence she needed to set about converting the entire domain to biodynamic methods.

Anne Claude Leflaive, Burgundy, Winemaker

Anne-Claude Leflaive

Over time, the methodology spread, and momentum has been building since the 1990s.   Many top flight winemakers throughout the world have converted to biodynamic. And nowadays there are two well-known institutes (Demeter and Biodyvin) who inspect and certify biodynamic wine estates.

So Does it Really Work?

Most of the scientific community is skeptical – they see biodynamics as more of a “religion” than a scientifically proven way to improve crops.

But it’s impossible to ignore the incredible quality of wines from domains like Chateau Pontet-Canet in Bordeaux, Domaines Leflaive and Leroy in Burgundy, Jacques Selosse in Champagne and Zind-Humbrecht in Alsace. 

Is it mystical forces at work?  Or is it because these winegrowers have to work harder to keep the vines healthy without resorting to chemical sprays?  Either way, it’s worth getting to know these wines.

Think Pink

Well done to all who managed to stick to your dry January resolutions. Only one of our team at Clos & Cru attempted it this year, and she very nearly made it. (Charlie, your willpower is awe inspiring for having ‘slipped’ on merely one occasion!)

As February rolls around (and Valentine’s Day nears), our own thoughts are rolling around to rose champagne, as they do every year at this time. Honestly, what’s not to like? Flavours range from the merest hint of elegant raspberry to pastry and sweet spice. Not to mention the gorgeous range of colours – pale salmon to deepest rose.

But how do winemakers achieve that pink colour?

There are 2 main ways.

Assemblage

A.k.a. Blending. By far the most widely used method in Champagne. The winemaker produces a ‘blanc’ champagne in the normal way. Then, before the second fermentation in bottle, they blend in a portion of still red wine (anywhere from 5% to 20%) until they achieve the right colour and flavour profile.

The trick here is getting a still red wine of high quality. And in enough quantity. The Champagne is a northerly region, and the red grape varietals – Pinot Noir and Meunier – don’t always ripen to perfection. They’re also more prone to rot in humid weather than Chardonnay, the region’s white grape.

Pinot Grapes Champagne Roederer

Healthy Pinot grapes   © Louis Roederer

Charles Heidsieck’s non-vintage Rose Reserve – winner of a Gold medal at the Sommelier Wine Awards for 2016 – is a great place to start for anyone wanting to try an assemblage rose champagne.

Saignee

A.k.a. Bleeding. In this method, the winemaker allows the skins from the red grapes to macerate with the juice for a short period before pressing. Just long enough to “bleed” some pink colour into the juice from the skins, but not so long as to make a red wine. Once the saignee is complete, the winemaker makes the champagne as normal.

The challenge is having the knowledge and experience to judge exactly how long to bleed the colour before the wine is even made. Contact with skins doesn’t just bring colour, it brings other aromas, flavours and textures. Too little contact, and the house style might not be achieved. A fraction too long, and vegetal or bitter notes could creep into the finished champagne.

Cristal Rose, the prestige vintage cuvee from Louis Roederer, is made with this method, and is a favourite of top champagne critic Richard Juhlin. The 1979 vintage still features on his list of all-time favourite champagnes ever tasted – at 99 pts out of 100.

The “Seven Samurai” from Selosse

By Martyn Zemavicius

Having received an invitation from my dear friend Andrius to attend a blind champagne tasting called “the Seven Samurai”, I immediately told him I’d be there. Not just because every degustation Andrius organises is magnificent. Mainly because of the fun theme for the tasting.

His grand idea? To serve seven different champagnes from the house of Jacques Selosse, each representing a character from Akira Kurosawa’s legendary sword-fighting movie, The Seven Samurai. Moreover, each champagne would be opened by sabrage.

For those who have never seen the film, it tells the story of a poor village that gets raided every year by a band of 40 ruthless bandits, who steal the villagers’ crops and kidnap their women.  The villagers decide the only way they can save themselves is to scrape together what little money they have to hire samurai. They manage to find seven samurai who will fight for their paltry reward.  These brave samurai must defy the odds to defend the village and fight an epic battle against the bandits.

The wines were served in flights of two, with some chapter titles to give us clues.  So as we listened to the dramatic soundtrack from the film, we got stuck into our first flight.

Chapter One – The Walled Field Ends Below the Hill

  • NV Jacques Selosse Mareuil sur Ay ‘Sous le Mont’
    First release of this cuvee, which is 100% Pinot Noir (from a solera begun in 2005). Disgorged 2012.

Heihachi Hayashida (林田平八) was the character chosen to represent wine 1. Recruited by Gorōbei, he is an amiable fighter, if less skilled than the others. His charm and wit maintain his comrades’ good cheer in the face of adversity.

As this samurai was less skilled, he symbolised the fact that the ‘Sous le Mont’ is made from Premier Cru fruit, whereas the other wines were Grand Cru. (The name ‘Sous le Mont’ can be translated into English as ‘below the hill’.)

  • NV Jacques Selosse Ambonnay ‘Le Bout du Clos’
    The first release of this cuvee (from solera beginning 2004).
    80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2011.

Kikuchiyo (菊千代) is a humorous character who claims to be a samurai, but has falsified his ancestry. Mercurial and temperamental, he identifies with the villagers and their plight. He reveals to the group that he is not a samurai, but a peasant. When the fight begins, he proves his worth.

Just as Kikuchiyo was different from the others (not being a real samurai), this champagne is different. It is a blend of grape varieties, whereas the others are single variety. Not many people know that Le Bout du Clos is not a blanc de noirs. Anselme Selosse adds 20 percent Chardonnay to the blend, because this lieu-dit is very small and some Chardonnay was historically grown there. (‘Le Bout du Clos’ translates as ‘the edge of the walled field’.)

Chapter Two – The Essence

  • Jacques Selosse Substance (base 2008)
    100% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2015.

Katsushirō Okamoto (四郎) is a young untested warrior. The son of a wealthy landowning samurai, he left home to become a wandering samurai against his family’s wishes. After witnessing Kambei rescue a child who was taken hostage, Katsushirō vows to be Kambei’s disciple.

  • Jacques Selosse Substance (base 2005)
    100% Chardonnay. Disgorged 2012.

Gorōbei Katayama (片山五郎兵) is a skilled archer recruited by Kambei. He acts as the second-in-command, and helps craft the master plan for the village’s defense.

These characters represent Substance because they are both men of character at, with Katsushiro (the younger of the two) represented by the younger wine, and Gorobei the older.

Chapter Three – Origins

  • Jacques Selosse Extra Brut
    100% Chardonnay, an assemblage of 1992, 1991 and 1990 from Avize, Cramant and Mesnil. Disgorged 1999.

Shichirōji (七郎次) is an old friend of Kambei and his former lieutenant. Kambei meets Shichirōji by chance in the town and he resumes this role.

  • Jacques Selosse Origine
    100% Chardonnay (from solera 1986-92).
    Disgorged in 1999.

Kambei Shimada (田勘兵) is a ronin (a masterless samurai) and the leader of the group. The first to be recruited by the villagers, he is a wise but war-weary soldier.

These two characters both symbolise origins.  Shichiroji and Kambei have a relationship that begins years ago.  The Selosse Extra Brut is made from an assemblage going back in time, and the Origine is the predecessor wine to the Substance.

Chapter Four – Skill

  • Selosse 1998
    100% Chardonnay. One of the two finest vintages Selosse has produced.

Kyūzō () He initially declines an offer by Kambei to join the group, but he changes his mind. A serious, stone-faced samurai, of whom Katsushirō is in awe.

Because of his supreme skill as a swordsman, his character was chosen to represent the 1998 Selosse, which is one of the two best vintages Selosse ever produced. (The other is the 1986, the vintage that earned Anselme Selosse the title of Winemaker of the Year in France.)

Chapter Five – Blue Blood

Just as we thought the tasting had finished, our other dear friend Andrej brought a decanter with red wine. And from the first smell it was very clear that this ‘blue blooded’ wine was imperial in quality. The nose alone was worthy of 100 points straight away. And it was poured from magnum, as befits an emperor of a wine.

  • 1959 Chateau Pavie, Saint Emilion (from magnum)

The story of the Seven Samurai takes place in 1586. At that time, the Emperor of Japan was Emperor Ōgimachi (町天皇).  He reigned from 1557 to 1586. His personal name was Michihito (方仁).

Bordeaux Chateau Pavie 1959

The Emperor

Arigato Gozaimasu

This was a truly unique tasting of great creativity, with much thought and time taken to organise it.  

These wines confirmed to me yet again that Anselme Selosse is a genius. His champagnes are magnificent and as full of character as the samurais immortalised on film.

The 1959 Pavie was and is one of the top red Bordeaux from an outstanding vintage. In magnums especially, wines of this quality and structure can age gracefully for decades and could take pride of place on any imperial table.

I am bowing my head very low and saying arigato gozaimasu to Andrius and Andrej for my introduction to The Seven Samurai and The Emperor of Japan.

 

Champagne, Jacques Selosse, Grand Cru

The sabred bottles