By Martyn Zemavicius
Today’s post includes notes from a special tasting we organised in early March that featured two of the ‘Doms’ of Champagne – Dom Ruinart and Dom Perignon.
The idea for this tasting came after our old friend from Moet Hennessy, Jack Dundas, had invited me to a very interesting tasting with the current Ruinart chef de cave, Frederic Panaiotis. Thanks for the inspiration, Jack and Frederic!
Ruinart has been commercially producing sparkling champagne since Nicolas Ruinart founded the house in 1729, making it the oldest champagne-producing house in the region. (While Gosset, founded in 1584, is the oldest existing wine producer in Champagne, it was not making sparkling wines then.)
Wines from those very early days were sold exclusively in cask, and it wasn’t until 1728 that wine was legally permitted to be shipped in bottle, thus allowing for the sale of bottle-fermented champagnes.
Following financial difficulties, the house of Ruinart was sold to the Moet & Chandon group in the 1960s. Frederic Panaiotis is the current chef de cave.
Ruinart is known for its crayeres – the deep cellars near Reims tunnelled from chalk dating back to Gallo-Roman times – which it has owned since 1782. Other houses such as Taittinger, Pommery, Charles Heidsieck and Henriot own crayeres in the area as well. But it is widely acknowledged that Ruinart’s are of exceptional beauty.
The Ruinart house style is influenced by chardonnay from outside of the Cote des Blancs, giving the wines a distinctive breadth and body on the palate. The areas of the northern Montagne de Reims around Sillery and Verzenay, as well as the Massif de St-Thierry north of Reims, have been important sources of grapes over the years.
NV ‘R’ de Ruinart
48% Pinot Noir, 47% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier.
Pinot Meunier was recently introduced to the blend. Frederic intends to increase the percentage, but has no plans to go over 15%. The fairly young reserve wines, usually from the last three vintages, and the high proportion of Chardonnay make Ruinart a storable non-vintage.
Delightfully toasty bread note and a hint of citrus aromas.
NV Ruinart Blanc de Blancs
2001 was the first release. It now accounts for 20% of total production and is becoming the main face of Ruinart.
Roundness comes from grapes grown in Sezanne and north of Reims. Blended from 20 villages, about 40% from the Cote des Blancs. Only Premier Cru grapes are used.
A lot of floral and exotic notes. This is our favourite NV, and currently like all other NVs it is based on the great 2012 vintage
NV Ruinart Rose
Chardonnay 45%, Pinot Noir 55%.
The blend includes about 20% of red wine produced with a short maceration, about five days, for fruitiness and freshness.
Wine had a lot of structure, maybe from strong vintage like 2012. With plenty of red crunchy berries.
Dom Ruinart – the house’s prestige cuvee – is the jewel of the house. The first vintage was the 1959, released commercially in 1967. It was named for Nicolas’ uncle, Dom Thierry Ruinart. A Benedictine monk who lived from 1657-1709, Dom Ruinart was a native of Champagne who impressed upon young Nicolas his conviction that “vin de mousse” (wine with bubbles) had a promising future.
It is made from 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay, typically about a third of which is from the Montagne de Reims, and around two-thirds from the Cote des Blancs.
2004 Dom Ruinart
For two years in a row, this has been our top wine at the annual Champagne Bureau tasting in London.
Incredible structure with floral notes and ripe citrus fruit.
1996 Dom Ruinart
This is the second time we have tried this wine in the past month, and the second time it was corked. Bad luck!
But even through the cork taint we could taste toasted nuts and dried fruit with the smoky 1996 minerality.
Dom Ruinart Rose
First released in 1966. It is based on the same blend as the blanc de blancs, with the addition of about 15 percent of pinot noir that is vinified as a still red wine, with ten days’ maceration to extract more color and tannin.
1998 Dom Ruinart Rose
85% Chardonnay. 15% Pinot Noir.
Only 5 g/L dosage.
What a pretty wine! Lovely floral notes mixed with bags of red fruit. Beautifully balanced and very long. Just entering its drinking window.
1959 Ruinart Rose
80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay.
Made by the Ruinart family before the house was sold to LVMH in 1963. Not only was 1959 the first vintage of Dom Ruinart blanc, and it was also the legendary first vintage of Dom Perignon Rose.
We have been very lucky with this bottle. The cork broke when we tried to take it out. But that’s often a good omen for such old bottles, as it signals the bottle was sealed well.
Colour still had dark red hinge. On the nose it still had some red fruit. Wine was very powerful and with long finish.
Dom Perignon was launched by Moet & Chandon as a prestige cuvee in 1936, with the 1921 vintage the first to be released commercially.
Moet had previously made a private release of 300 bottles of the 1926 for one of its English clients, Simon Brothers & Co, to mark their centenary celebrations in 1935. Due to the publicity and demand that this one-off cuvee generated, Moet offered the 1921 vintage the following year under a newly created brand, named after Dom Perignon, the legendary cellar master of the abbey in Hautvillers.
Follow-up releases of the 1928, 1929 and 1934 were also Moet vintage wines, transferred into the special Dom Perignon bottles. 1943 was the first Dom Perignon to be fermented inside its own bottle.
Today Dom Perignon is a unique brand within the LVMH portfolio, kept separate from Moet & Chandon.
Richard Geoffroy, the current chef de cave, has been with the house since 1990. He is among the finest winemakers in Champagne.
In general, Dom Perignon is always made from 8 Grand Crus and one Premier Cru, Hautvillers, where Dom Perignon lived and where his remains are buried.
Moet & Chandon are the largest landowners in Champagne, and that gives the house access to a vast array of vineyards. So even in weaker vintages Dom Perignon can make very good wines.
A typical blend will include slightly more chardonnay than pinot noir, although the exact blend depends on the character of the vintage, and it’s even possible that certain vintages will contain a majority of pinot noir.
2003 Dom Perignon
40% Pinot Noir, 60% Chardonnay.
This wine is all about elegance and power at the same time. Possessing ripe but very well balanced fruit, with minerality and freshness. A masterpiece, considering how hot the 2003 vintage was.
1995 Dom Perignon
48% Pinot Noir, 52% Chardonnay.
This vintage was the opposite of 2003, as classic as it could get. Silky smooth with delicate sweet spice notes, roasted nuts, dry apricots. Stunning.
One of the attendees had commented at the start of the tasting that it would be a fight between the two Doms to see which is better. But what transpired wasn’t a fight at all – more of a delicious experiment proving that Dom Ruinart and Dom Perignon are two of the best prestige cuvees. Those who are patient will be rewarded as they age beautifully.
For those of us who cannot afford to drink at the prestige level every day, the NV Ruinart Blanc de Blancs offers superb value, particularly now as it is currently based on the excellent 2012 vintage.