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

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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

Tasting with Dominique Demarville

By Margaret Elderfield

Ask any chef. The right seasoning is essential to creating a great dish.  And according to Dominique Demarville, the cellar master at Veuve Clicquot, winemakers need their own ‘seasoning’ to assemble great wines.

Dominique was in London last week for the launch of Veuve Clicquot’s 2008 Vintage. In between sharing the latest news from Champagne and presenting the wines, he explained his rationale for reintroducing oak into the vintage wine.

Veuve Clicquot, Champagne, Dominique Demarville

Dominique Demarville

For some time, he had been wanting to expand the range of vins clairs going into the vintage – to have more types of “seasoning” to use “like a chef”. When he is making the non-vintage, he can select from a broad array of reserve wines dating back years. Adding small doses of these complex, characterful wines can bring amazing complexity to the final blend. But to produce the vintage, he is limited to the raw materials from that year alone.

Reintroduction of oak

So starting in 2007, they purchased a range of oak foudres, large casks of 55-75hl in size, with capacity for temperature control. The oak is sourced from French forests in the Vosges, Alliers, Fontainebleau and the centre of France.

Being able to chose from tank-fermented and cask-fermented wines has given Dominique a wider palette of flavours and textures to choose from, with greater complexity in the final wine.

Dominique stressed that the use of oak is minimal (only around 5% of the 2008 vintage wine saw any oak, rising to around 12% for 2012), and he will only consider oak fermentation for the grapes “with the biggest shoulders”, i.e. fruit that can take well to oak without being dominated by it.  In practice, this includes the very ripest grapes, typically harvested early in the vintage and often from the older vines.

To illustrate his point, he poured us several vins clairs from 2015 – Chardonnay from Cramant, Meunier from Villedommange and Pinot Noir from Bouzy. For each village, we tasted tank- and cask-fermented wines side by side. In each case, the cask-fermented wines had subtle but recognisable touches from the oak – slightly more roundness and breadth in the middle palate, and a bit more aromatic complexity. Dominique also likes the greater fruit length from cask fermentation.

Veuve Clicquot, Champagne, vintage

He has no plans to introduce oak for the Grande Dame at the moment. According to Dominique, La Grande Dame is all about the pursuit of freshness and silkiness. He selects grapes with a very different fruit profile than the Vintage.  With the Vintage, he is aiming to achieve power and complexity, as well as freshness and silkiness.

Veuve Clicquot 2008 Vintage wines

The 2008 Vintage overall has given wines of crisp acidity with great delicacy of structure. Dominique believes it will be a superb vintage for ageing potential.

Weather-wise, the early season in 2008 was cool and rainy in the spring.  From flowering onwards there were good weather conditions, with hot days reaching 24-25C, and cool nights of less than 10C.  The harvest at Veuve Clicquot took place from 14th September to 10th October – a very long harvest due to the very favourable weather conditions, so they could pick at the best moment.  In bad years they will be forced to pick fairly early to avoid botrytis, but this was not the case in 2008.  On average, the grapes came in at 9.8 degrees of potential alcohol, 8.6 total acidity, with pH of 2.96.

Vintage Rose is a very important and growing category for Veuve Clicquot, accounting for 30% of all vintage sales (compared with 8-9% for non-vintage).  Dominique even has two full-time winemakers making only red wines. They share a winemaking facility dedicated to reds in the Cote des Bar with Moet.

Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2008 – from bottle
61% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay, 5% Meunier.
Nose: Fresh, with some development. Nutty, biscuity, white peach.
Palate: Lovely texture and mouthfeel. Apple, fruity, yeasty, creamy dairy. Saline minerality. A honeyed quality to the fruit. Complexity and intensity. Drinking well now, sufficiently open. 95 pts.

Veuve Clicquot Vintage 2008 – from magnum
Nose: Very closed in comparison. Apple, lemon, some yeasty notes, but less overt than bottle sample.
Palate: Fruity, some citrus fresh lemon and ripe grapefruit, some more tropical fruit notes, with hint of spice.  Seems too young, not open yet. 93 pts.

Veuve Clicquot Vintage Rose 2008 vintage – from bottle
61% Pinot Noir, 34% Chardonnay, 5% Meunier. Contains 14% still red wine from Bouzy.
Medium salmon pink in colour.
Nose is fruity and autolytic, apple and light red fruits, some apricot. Nutty and bready also, opening to dairy.
Palate: Dominant portion of pinot noir immediately evident. Steely base note, cherries, lemon, apricot. Crisp, mineral with some creaminess. Balanced. Gentle bitterness on the back palate, typical of Bouzy reds.  One to have with food ideally. 93 pts.

Next Vintages and a Superb Cave Privee

Dominique confirmed that 2012 and 2015 will be the next Veuve Clicquot vintages.  He said that although they typically have enough quality grapes to produce more vintage wines, there are no plans to raise the current average of around 3 vintages per decade. This is because they want sufficient quantity of reserve wines to maintain the style of the non-vintage.

To finish, we were treated to a glass of Veuve Clicquot 1989 Cave Privee from jeroboam, disgorged in January 2014. This delicious wine is drinking perfectly now.  It was made by former cellar master Pierre Peters, who confided to Dominique that it was a personal favourite.

1989 Veuve Clicquot Cave Privee – from jeroboam
Disgorged January 2014.
Medium gold.
Mature honeyed nose, with smoky and coffee notes, bruised apple.
Palate beautifully complex and powerful. Honeyed and silky.  Apple peel with tangerine acidity. Finely textured with excellent length of fruit. Lovely bitter twist on the finish. Mature. Autolytic character strong but well integrated. 98 pts.

Veuve Clicquot 1989 Cave Privee with canapes

Thanks to Dominique for sharing so much of his time and his winemaking wisdom. And to all the team at Veuve Clicquot for the delicious Cave Privee and canapes!

The Art of Assemblage at Charles Heidsieck

By Martyn Zemavicius

Regular readers will know how much we at Clos & Cru love Maison Charles Heidsieck (see My Top 3 Estate Visits).

So I was excited to attend their recent masterclass in London focusing on the art of blending, known by the French term assemblage.  Held in a lovely light-filled room at the English National Opera, the class was presented by Stephen Leroux, executive director of Charles Heidsieck. Stephen comes from a long line of champenois, going back generations. (His great-grandfather – a champagne negociant in Aube – was an organiser in the Champagne Riots in the early 20th century.)

The Vins Clairs

The creation of champagne begins with the raw material known as vins clairs. These are still wines from the latest vintage made from single varieties and parcels. They can be very high in acid, as they contain no dosage and have not yet undergone their second fermentation and maturation in bottle. Stephen joked that cellar masters consider their vins clairs like children. They want to watch them grow and develop, and are always reluctant to part with them.

The mature vins clairs are called ‘reserve wines’. Adding them judiciously to a blend, the winemaker can add nuance and complexity, just as a chef uses herbs and spices to season a dish.  Some of the reserve wines available for blending would have been made by a previous cellar master from years ago, and there may be very little left.  To use up the last of a particularly rare reserve wine can be a bit of an emotional separation for the chef de cave.

Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve

Samples of Vins Clairs

We began the class by tasting single-cru vins clairs from the 2015 vintage.  The Chardonnay from Oger was very mineral, yet also fruit-driven.  The Meunier from Verneuil had a beautiful floral, rose petal quality, with notes of apricot.  

Then we tasted three different vins clairs from Pinot Noir.  The first sample, from Ambonnay, had an opulent raspberry earthy nose and an elegant grapefruity palate that could easily have been mistaken for Chardonnay. The second sample, from Ay, was powerfully fragrant, with a luscious red fruit juice character and some discernible tannin.  The final sample of Pinot Noir came from Verzy. Beneath its aromas of earthy dark fruit, it had a steely minerality.

Next we tasted a mature reserve wine, a 1996 Chardonnay from Cramant.  This was stunning for its length and its aromatic freshness, almost muscat-like but with grapefruit notes. It illustrated the complexity that can come with ageing a great vin clair in tank for a decade.

That was followed by our first blend of the day – the final blend vin clair of the Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve.  The blend consisted of roughly equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, with 60% from the 2015 vintage, and 40% reserve wines from 1996-2009.  The nose was stunning, with plum and floral aromatics.  And the complex flavours on the palate included grapefruit, plummy cherries, and an earthy minerality.

The Finished Champagnes

We ended the class by tasting finished champagnes from across the range (full tasting notes & scores below), including a vinotheque release of the 1985 Blanc des Millenaires that can only be described as heavenly.  

One bit of news we can share for fans of Maison Charles.  Stephen confirmed that the house is preparing to relaunch its vinotheque range of champagnes.  The relaunch is scheduled for late this year or early next year, with new packaging and branding. Coinciding with the launch will be a big auction of vinotheque champagne at Christie’s – an event that collectors will certainly want to look out for.

Charles Heidsieck Rose Reserve NV (2008 base)
Roughly equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier from the base year, with 20% reserve wines and 5% still red wine, of which 95% comes from Les Riceys. Disgorged in 2015.
On the nose elegant raspberry, floral violets and chocolate notes.
Palate is elegant, so delicious, powerful but with finesse at the same time. Long finish, amazing. 93 pts

Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve NV (2008 base)
Roughly equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier from the base year, with 40% reserve wines. Disgorged 2014.
Nose: lemon tart, almonds, brioche, earthy chanterelle mushrooms.
Palate is amazingly complex, lemon tart, brioche, rich texture, long finish. 93+ pts

Champagne Charles Heidsieck Brut Rose Millenaires

Charles Heidsieck Millesime 2005
60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay.  11 village crus were used to make the final blend for 2005 (including Mailly and Ambonnay for Pinot Noir; and Oger, Avize, Vertus and Cramant for Chardonnay).
Nose: Salty caramel, bruised apple, freshly cut field mushrooms and lemon tart.
Palate has a pleasant and creamy texture, ripe sicilian lemons. Something a touch artificial, but in a nice way. 90 pts

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995
100% Chardonnay from 4 Grand Cru villages (Avize, Oger, Mesnil-sur-Oger and Cramant) and 1 Premier Cru (Vertus).  Disgorged 2014
Complex nose with honey, mineral notes, gunpowder, apricots, orange blossom, jasmine, apple, pear. Mind-blowing nose!
Palate is pure, elegant, fruity, honey, nutty with almonds. So long. 95+ pts

Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1985 (Vinotheque)
Disgorged in late 1998 or early 1999 for the millennium. The 1985 vintage had a terrible winter, with temperatures of -15C for a month. 20% of the vines were killed, leading to a very small harvest.
Nose: Incredible depth of aromas, with honey, nuts, brioche, forest mushrooms, rye bread with sunflower seeds.
Creamy texture on the palate, and very complex: walnuts, sultanas, dry apples and amazingly long. Champagne sent from heaven! 98 pts

Charles Heidsieck Champagne Stephen Leroux

Martyn with Stephen Leroux

Our Thanks

Thanks again to Stephen and his team for liberating those samples of vin clair from the cellar! A most informative tasting. Only a generous soul could have shared that heavenly Blanc des Millenaires 1985.

Tasting with the Sparkling Winemaker of the Year

By Martyn Zemavicius & Margaret Elderfield
Champagne Henriot Laurent Fresnet

Laurent Fresnet, Henriot chef de cave

Henriot has always been one of our favourite Champagne houses.  Their devotion to quality is paramount and it shines through in their wines, which have an elegant freshness, combined with depth of fruit and beautiful structure.  

Last Friday, we had the good fortune to taste across the Henriot range with their chef de cave, Laurent Fresnet.  Laurent was recently named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year for 2016 in the International Wine Challenge – the winemakers’ equivalent of winning an Oscar.

The wines were presented in different formats – including bottles, magnums and jeroboams – always an enlightening comparative experience.

We began with the Brut Souverain NV, perhaps Henriot’s most well-known cuvee, which we tasted first in bottle then in jeroboam. The Souverain is comprised of around half Chardonnay and half Pinot Noir, with just a touch of Meunier (less than 5%) in the blend.  The reserve wines (around 20%) always include a proportion of the previous year’s base wine, but can also include Grand Cru wine that goes into their vintage Cuvee des Enchanteleurs. Depending on the base year, it can even include a portion of the perpetual blend used in their Cuve 38. Aged for a minimum of 3 years on the lees, with a dosage of around 8-9 gr/L.

The 75cl bottle of Souverain, with the base wine from the 2011 vintage, exhibited a lovely length of fruit with some floral aromas and a touch of creaminess in the middle palate. But the Souverain in jeroboam, based on the 2000 vintage and disgorged only in 2013, had amazing opulence and power.  

Champagne Henriot Souverain Enchanteleurs

Good wines come in large and small packages

Next came the Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV, which recently won a Platinum medal in the 2016 Decanter World Wine Awards.  The grapes for this wine come primarily from the Cote des Blancs, including the Grand Cru villages of Mesnil sur Oger, Avize and Chouilly. Aged for 3-5 years, with a dosage of around 7 gr/L.

The 75cl bottle of Blanc de Blancs came from the 2008 base year, and was disgorged in 2012.  It was a beautifully balanced champagne, with white peach, floral and honeyed apple notes.  In comparison, the BdB from jeroboam with the 2006 base was a more broad affair, and showed a mix of youthful and maturing characteristics, including notes of spice and toasted minerals.

Then we tasted two vintages of Henriot’s vintage champagne, the Cuvee des Enchanteleurs, for 1999 and 2000, both from magnum.  The Enchanteleurs contains only Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, exclusively from Grand Cru villages. Interestingly, the 2000 vintage was kept in tank for an extended period prior to bottling, to safeguard the fresher, youthful characteristics as long as possible prior to maturation in bottle.  The Enchanteleurs is matured for a minimum of 12 years before release.  It is not always released in magnum, but when it is they limit production to 1,000-2,000 magnums only.

The 2000 Enchanteleurs from magnum displayed lovely round characteristics, including baked apple and stone fruits, and a toasted nutty character. The 1999 – called “Eclipse” because the Champagne region experienced a total solar eclipse in August of that year – was amazingly well-balanced between opulence and freshness, with incredible length of fruit. Both wines had lovely autolytic flavours of baked patisserie.

We finished with the Cuve 38 from magnum. Readers of our blog will know the great story behind this wine (see our earlier post 38 – The magic number at Champagne Henriot).  In 1990, Joseph Henriot had the foresight to begin a solera-style perpetual cuvee.  He set aside one tank, the Cuve 38, to which he added some of his best Grand Cru blanc de blancs.  Every year since they have drawn off 15-20% of wine from this tank, and replenished it with the best blanc de blancs from that year.  The Cuve 38 is now an incredibly complex blend, with the best of each year’s Grand Cru Chardonnay harvest.  It is released only in magnum (1,000 magnums per year), and aged for at least 5 years before release.

Tasting the Cuve 38 shows what can be achieved with great care, and with time, in winemaking. This is a blanc de blancs of great structure and complexity, with beautifully floral top notes and a mouthwatering saline mineral character on the finish.  It is a champagne of serious quality that would hold its own with many foods, even a post-prandial cheeseboard.

Our thanks again to Laurent and his team for their generosity in setting up this superb and educational tasting!  

Tasting notes for our favourite wines of the tasting are reproduced in full below.

Henriot Brut Souverain NV – in 3L
Equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with less than 5% Meunier. Grapes from 25 crus, most of which are located in the Montagne de Reims and the Cotes des Blancs.  Base wine from the 2000 vintage. Kept on cork and disgorged in 2013.  Dosage 7-8 gr/L.
Complex nose, nutty and earthy. Opulent, rich, powerful and long on the palate. Wow!
92 pts

Henriot Blanc de Blancs NV – in bottle
100% Chardonnay, mainly from the Cote des Blancs. 2008 base vintage. Disgorged 2012.
Floral, white peach, honey and apple aromatics. So pleasant rich and balanced on the palate, with honeyed flavours. Super champagne. 91 pts

Henriot 1999 Cuvee des Enchanteleurs “Eclipse” – in magnum
50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir.  All fruit comes from 6 Grand Cru villages (Mailly Champagne, Verzy and Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims; and Mesnil sur Oger, Avize and Chouilly in the Cote des Blancs).  Only 1800 magnums produced. Disgorged in 2014. 6g/L dosage.
On the nose, rich and nutty, with herbal, baked apple and biscuity aromas.
Opulent, rich and nutty on the palate with balanced acidity. Very long finish, complex and stunning!  94 pts.

Henriot Cuve 38 – in magnum
Bottled in 2009.  Disgorged in 2014. Only 1000 magnums produced in 2009.  From a perpetual blend “solera” comprising vintages 1990-2007. 3.5 g/L dosage.
Incredible complexity on the nose.  Notes of iodine, orange blossom, lemon tart, brioche, croissant and Madagascar vanilla. Stunning palate, elegant and powerful at the same time, with finesse. Floral honey, salted caramel and nutty flavours. Long and complex. Still needs time. 95 pts

 

The Tasting Worth a Trip Around the World

By Martyn Zemavicius

1945 Mouton Rothschild, 1996 Montrachet Leflaive & More

Invitations to taste a wine as legendary as the 1945 Chateau Mouton Rothschild come perhaps once in a lifetime, if at all. So I was very lucky to be in the right place at the right time, to be invited to a vertical tasting of Mouton Rothschild that included the 1945.

To try this wine alone, a mad-about-fine-wine person like me would travel around the world. But when the host announced a couple of days before the tasting that — to make the tasting “more fun” — he would be including two of the greatest Le Montrachet producers, Leflaive and Lafon, side by side, it’s fair to say that I would have travelled to the moon.

Here are a few of the highlights from that amazing line-up.

1945 Mouton Montrachet Leflaive

NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve (2008 base), Magnum
The tasting started with my beloved Charles Heidsieck. In this case the NV Brut Reserve, but the first I have tasted from magnum with the long-awaited 2008 base. It’s certainly great now, but it will live for 20+ years. 95 pts.
One-third each of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, with approximately 40% reserve wines.

2009 Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc
Larrivet Haut-Brion is situated next to Haut Bailly. The domain has gone by a few names in the past couple of centuries.  It was originally named Chateau La Rivette, then Chateau Brion Larive (‘brion’ being the word for ‘gravel’ in the local dialect), then Haut-Brion Larive. After a 1949 lawsuit from Haut Brion, the property was forced to change its name. It produces delicious and well priced white wines, and the great 2009 vintage was no exception. 93 pts.
60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon. No malo.

2006 ‘Y’ Chateau d’Yquem
‘Y’, which is nowadays a dry white, comes from the incomparable sweet wine producer Chateau d’Yquem. It has been made off and on in small quantities ever since 1959. Only in the 1990s did it change to a crisp, dry style, and since 2004 it has been produced every year.  I rarely try this wine because of the relatively low production (less than 1,000 cases produced annually), but I like it very much because its flavour profile is so rare – like great Pessac with touch of Sauternes added to blend. 96 pts.
80% Sauvignon Blanc, 20% Semillon.

2002 Meursault-Perrieres Lafon
Many consider Dominique Lafon to be the best white wine producer in the world, and I can see why. He is based in Meursault, and his mastery of the appellation showed in the bottle. This wine was magical and my favorite white wine of the tasting to drink now, because both Montrachets need more time. 95 pts.
Biodynamic production.  Around 70-80% new oak.

Les Montrachets

2008 Montrachet Lafon
1996 Montrachet Leflaive
Next came the moment to taste the greatest white wine appellation in the world, as interpreted by two of its greatest producers.

Both Montrachets were out of this world, just still too young. I slightly preferred the Leflaive, which was made Anne-Claude Leflaive herself (before she tragically passed away in 2015). The Lafon (97 pts) had more subtle elegance, while being extremely complex and long. But the Leflaive (98 pts) was nigh on perfect in every way. I fell in love with this magical wine. 2008 Montrachet Lafon – Biodynamic production. 100% new oak.
1996 Montrachet Leflaive – Biodynamic production. 100% new oak for 12 months, then 6 months in used oak.

The 1945 Mouton Rothschild

Next came the moment to meditate, utter a prayer, and prepare one’s body and soul to experience a wine worthy of Bacchus himself.

Whether or not you agree that 1945 was the greatest vintage for Bordeaux in the 20th century (and there are still wine lovers who argue for the 1961), it was certainly one of the smallest and most concentrated crops ever produced. A severe frost in May meant very low yields. Drought and high heat later in the growing season brought ripeness and concentration, as well as an early harvest, starting on the 13th of September.  Baron Philippe was back from the war in time for this harvest, and to celebrate the allied victory the wine was labelled with ‘V’ for l’Annee de la Victoire.

The particular bottle of 1945 Mouton that we tasted was special. It was purchased from one of the oldest and most respected Bordeaux merchants, who asked Mouton Rothschild to recondition the bottle in the early 1990s. The bottle was opened, tasted, recorked and a new capsule added at the chateau. This is ultra rare.

As always with super-hyped wines, the expectation before tasting is sky-high. And quite often the reality can be disappointing, falling short of your magical expectations. But even with my sky-high expectations, the 1945 still blew me away.

It was without doubt one of the most incredible wines I have tasted. Full of life and energy that belied its age. For me, it seemed like it had just reached its peak. But my friend Rytis, who tastes so much great wine, said it would still improve.

Complex and layered, ever changing and with endless length. And yes, as you can see from my tasting note, it was certainly 100 points with a big fat plus!

1945 Mouton Rothschild
Brick red core with a clear red rim.
Power, power, power! Dried cherry & cranberry, cocoa, cedar, cassis. Mind-blowing nose, tobacco, mint, mutton stew, smoked bacon. So complex you could write endless notes. Oh my god, tears are coming.
Fruit bomb on the palate, with power and elegance at the same time. Flavours of mushroom, cedar, tobacco, cocoa, rose petals, red berries. Concentration and length, so elegant and powerful at the same time.  100+ pts.

The Mouton Vertical

The remaining six wines in the Mouton vertical consisted of the following vintages – 1990, 1985, 1983, 1981, 1980 and 1970.

Although the 1980 was possibly a bit over the hill, and the 1981 was just a touch austere on the palate, the others ranged in quality from excellent to outstanding.

The 1990 displayed perfect typicity of vintage, with an elegant nose of crushed berries and liquorice, as well as mature tones of chocolate with gentle smokiness. It still had plenty of youthful intensity, with the ripe tannins just starting to melt. It will keep well for at least another two decades. 95+ pts.
Cabernet Sauvignon 81%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Merlot 9%.

The 1985 was also particularly seductive, with its incredible length and balance of rich fruits, integrated acidity and spice notes. Those of you lucky enough to have this in magnum would be richly rewarded if you decided to open one soon. 95 pts.
Cabernet Sauvignon 75%, Merlot 12%, Cabernet Franc 10%, Petit Verdot 3%.

And the 1970 was outstanding. Amazingly intense, concentrated and still youthful for a 46-year-old wine, it had power and elegance in equal measure. Full of lovely cedar notes, crushed forest berries and spice, with a beautiful mineral backbone. It was absolutely delicious on the day, but equally it has a long life ahead. 97+ pts.
Exact percentages of blend not known.

Last but Not Least

1934 Chateau Lamothe, Sauternes
We finished the tasting with an 82-year-old Sauternes from Chateau Lamothe.  It was complex as only a mature Sauternes can be, with notes of beeswax, violets and herbs on the nose, with overripe apricots, dried citrus and spice on the palate.  But there was still plenty of youthful vibrancy, and it was a joy to taste. 95 pts.

A fitting end to an evening that I shall remember for the rest of my days.

I’d like to conclude by offering a huge thank you to the wonderful couple who hosted the tasting of these delicious treasures from their personal wine collection. Your generosity is unsurpassed!

 

Highlights from the CIVC’s UK Tasting 2016

The annual tasting of CIVC’s Champagne Bureau UK is a highlight in the calendar for us at Clos & Cru, and this year’s event did not disappoint.

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Over 60 producers attended, and with each of them bringing three champagnes to show there was an abundance of styles to taste, including vintage champagnes going as far back as 2002.

All in all, an informative and inspiring morning, traveling via our tastebuds through the various terroirs and vintages. The 2008s, in particular, are showing great quality and concentration.

Here is a brief recap of our own, highly personal, Top Ten from the day, in no particular order.  

Non-Vintage

NV Charles Heidsieck Brut Reserve
Rich, full, powerful, complex, long.

Jacquesson Cuvee 734 DT
Depth, concentration, complexity and minerality. Earthy. Shows maturity, but not too much.

Vintage

Ayala Blanc de Blancs 2008
Elegant floral peach on the nose.
On the palate, rhubarb crumble and elderflower. Very pleasant. Delicious.

 

AR Lenoble Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Chouilly 2008
Deep dark, complex nose, wow!
On the palate, powerful, complex, intense, serious. Great length of fruit and balance.

Philipponnat Blanc de Noirs 2008
Mineral, austere, long, so nutty.

Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2008
Pure, mineral, so elegant, fruit driven, floral.

Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame 2006
Salty, brioche, chutney, marmalade, lovely nose.
On the palate, fairly big, fruit-driven style, opulent, powerful.

Perrier-Jouet Belle Epoque Rose 2006
Nose so expressive with red berries, violets, absolutely stunning.
Palate elegant, fruit-driven, delicate sensations of cherry yoghurt.

Champagne Ruinart – Dom Ruinart 2004
Elegant but with so much happening on the nose, nutty floral.
Complex, rich on the palate, but stylish at the same time and very vinous.  

Paul Dethune Cuvee a l’Ancienne 2008
So complex on the nose, showing oak, rose, lychees. Some pepper, cayenne spice.
On the palate, amazing power and complexity, long.  Like Selosse, even more elegant.  

 

Well done to Francoise Peretti and all of her team at the Champagne Bureau UK for delivering a superbly organised and well attended tasting.  

Tasting the Creme de la Creme of Champagne from the 1996 vintage

By Rytis Jurkenas

Over the last few years I have had the privilege of tasting over 100 different champagne cuvees from 1996 the historic and unusual vintage with very high acidity and very high ripeness levels. As these wines have turned 20 years old, by kind invitation of Alper Alpaslan, we met in Dusseldorf in early February for an extensive tasting of the creme de la creme from the vintage.

My general impression is that most of the 1996s are very fresh and youthful, with profound acidity. There was also some typical smokiness, which for me is vintage-specific and sometimes gets very hard when it co-mingles with the scents of the great terroirs of the Cote des Blancs (Mesnil-sur-Oger or Oger).

Here are a few of my highlights from the tasting.  All my scores are given at the end, as well as some other champagnes from 1996 that are worthy of seeking out.

Outstanding – Above 95pts

It was Bollinger’s VVF (Vieilles Vignes Francaises), which took the top spot, and stood out as a wine in its own league. This was my winner of the tasting, with 98pts.  It is already quite evolved, but still possesses great ageing potential.

All of the wines from Krug particularly the the Clos du Mesnil (97pts) and the Clos d’Ambonnay (97pts) were simply superb. They will probably be even better and longer-lived than the 1990 vintage, which shows beautifully today.

The Cristal and Cristal Rose also hit 97pts, and they shared second place with the Clos du Mesnil and the Clos d’Ambonnay. As a reminder, Cristal and Cristal Rose are produced only from Grand Cru communes in Ay and the Cote des Blancs.

With a strong showing in sixth place was Jacques Selosse’s Millesime – a pure expression of Grand Cru Avize terroir – with 96+pts. The Selosse was freshly disgorged in November 2015 exclusively for this tasting, but I have had the privilege of tasting the ones disgorged in 2005 and 2011, and all of them showed the same greatness with excellent ageing potential. I would cellar them for at least another decade.

Excellent – 93-95pts

The second group was led by the very pure Belle Epoque, with 94+pts.  Following closely were the Clos des Goisses, the Comtes de Champagne and Comtes de Champagne Rose.  All these champagnes were showing elegance and youth. It struck me that it is far too early to drink them I would cellar them for another decade. (How fabulous to be able to say that about 20-year-old champagnes!)

Jacquesson’s Vauzelle Terme from magnum is the rarest bottle of champagne I have ever tasted.  Only 100 were produced in magnum and they were never commercially released. The Chiquet brothers were experimenting with the lieux dits concept back in 1996 (before fully adopting it in their winemaking in 2002).  The Vauzelle Terme was young and shy during blind tasting, and I gave it 93pts. But half of the magnum was left to accompany dinner, and it improved enough in the interim for me to raise my mark to 95pts, although it was still far too young.

Very Good – 90-93pts

The third group was led by a shy and undeveloped Grande Dame from Veuve Clicquot and the Saint Gall cooperative’s Cuvee Orpale, which we tasted during dinner. Both were 92+pts, but whereas the Orpale is at its peak and is absolutely ready to be enjoyed, the Grande Dame needs more time to develop fully. In the past few years, I have come across some already fully mature bottles of Grande Dame, so it could be that examples with different disgorgement dates behave differently.

Only a few really tired bottles were below the 90-pt mark, which illustrated not only the greatness of the vintage, but also the true mastery of winemaking in evidence at these houses.

All of my scores are listed below.

‘Creme de la Creme’ Champagnes of the 1996 Vintage

Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises (VVF)   –   98 pts
Krug Clos d’Ambonnay    –   97 pts
Krug Clos du Mesnil
Louis Roederer Cristal
Louis Roederer Cristal Rose
Jacques Selosse Millesime    –   96+ pts
Dom Perignon Rose   –   95+ pts
Krug Millesime    –   95 pts
Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque    –   94+ pts
Philipponnat Clos des Goisses    –   94 pts
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rose
Bollinger Grande Annee Magnum
Henriot Millesime Magnum
Legras R&L St. Vincent   –   93+ pts
Billecart-Salmon Nicolas Francois
Jacquesson Vauzelle Terme Magnum   –  93 pts
Laurent-Perrier Grand Siecle Millesime
Diebolt-Vallois Fleur de Passion
Vilmart Coeur de Cuvee
Salon
Veuve Clicquot Grande Dame   –  92 pts
Co-op Saint Gall Cuvee Orpale
Pol Roger Millesime   –  91 pts
Duval-Leroy Femme
Billecart-Salmon St Hilaire
Pol Roger Winston Churchill
Egly-Ouriet Millesime (oxidation)    –   85 pts
Dom Perignon (oxidation)
Pommery Cuvee Louise   –   all were corked
Dom Ruinart
Henriot Enchanteleurs Magnum
* A footnote on disgorgement – Only three of the champagnes were recently disgorged and brought for the tasting – namely, the Jacques Selosse vintage, Vilmart’s Coeur de Cuvee (both were disgorged at the end of 2015) and the St Vincent from Legras R&L (disgorged a few years ago).

Other Stars from the 1996 Vintage

The champagnes below are also excellent examples from the 1996 vintage, and worthy of seeking out (listed in alphabetic order):

Billecart-Salmon Grande Cuvee
Francoise Bedel Cuvee Robert Winer
Henri Giraud Fut de Chene
Jacques Beaufort Grand Cru Ambonnay
Jacquesson Avize
Jacquesson Millesime
Lanson Millesime Collection
Pol Roger Blanc de Chardonnay
Dom Ruinart Rose
Tarlant Cuvee Louise
Jean Vesselle Troisieme Millenaire Cuvee Prestige Millesime Bouzy Grand Cru

 

A journey across three centuries of top champagne: 1890 to 2004

Pekka Nuikki as editor of FINE magazines, founder of Tastingbook, wine investor and prodigious author needs little introduction to those with an interest in fine wines. Above and beyond his obvious abilities, Pekka has a real talent for bringing together ultra-rare wines in unique settings which makes for some truly memorable tastings.

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The lady ages gracefully – The largest La Grande Dame tasting ever?

Prestige cuvees are the pinnacle of a Champagne marque’s production – representing the essence of the house and the purest expression of their Chef de Cave’s vision. Only produced on outstanding vintages, grapes are selected from their finest plots with the oldest vines, elaborated with great care, and the cuvees are only released when they are considered to be showing well.

Despite the history and quality of their production, it was only relatively recently, in the early 1960’s, that Veuve Cliquot decided to produce their own prestige cuvee – La Grande Dame. The first bottles weren’t released until 1972 to commemorate the bicentennial of the founding of the house. Pinot Noir from their Grand Cru holdings is dominant in the blend, the wines are aged for seven years on lees, and perhaps due to the natural sweetness of the Pinot Noir fruit tend to show well in their youth. According to cellar master Dominique Demarville “The goal is not necessarily to express the style of Clicquot… but to achieve the most delicate and elegant expression of pinot noir that we can.”

So when I received an invitation from Marina Olsson at Tasting Group Gomseglet Wine & Champagne Connoisseurs to join a vertical of La Grande Dame from the first vintage in 1962 and including some top Veuve Cliquot vintages I accepted right away. I wasn’t the only one, people flew in from all over Europe for what would perhaps be a once in a lifetime opportunity to taste such a comprehensive selection.

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