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.

 

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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

New World Wines with an Old World Sensibility

By Martyn Zemavicius and Margaret Elderfield

With the great Paul Draper announcing his retirement as CEO of Ridge this summer, it’s fitting to share our notes from a recent blind tasting, hosted in the home of a most hospitable couple who are friends of Clos & Cru.

All we knew before the tasting was that the wines came from a single producer, and that all but one featured a particular variety.  The quality of the wines across the board was immediately clear, and the preponderance of Cabernet Sauvignon was also easy to spot.  But as we sipped, cogitated and tried to narrow down the origin, there were splits of opinion around the table. Some of us (Margaret & Rosti from the Clos & Cru team included) were convinced they had to be European in origin and opted for Italy, because the moderate alcohol and fresh acidity were so in balance with the fruit.  Others (including Martyn) were sure that the odd wine out was a Zinfandel, and that the wines had to have come from California.

In the end, Martyn was vindicated when the labels were revealed.  But the exercise illustrates how Ridge has stayed loyal to a traditional European sensibility, striving for fresh and balanced wines regardless of fashion, even when so many winemakers in California were turning out plush fruit bombs.

Our favourite wine of the night?  The 2010 Monte Bello.  Although it was very young, there’s amazing potential there.  Big thanks again, J & M!!

Ridge, Wine, California, Monte BelloTasting Notes

Wine 1 – 2009 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
77% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot
Nose: Ripe but cool black fruits, bit of cinnamon spice
Palate: Spicy, black and red fruits, well oaked. Ripe red currant acidity, medium alcohol. Savoury finish. 89 pts ME

Wine 2 – 2010 Ridge Geyserville
64% Zinfandel, 20% Carignane, 12% Petite Sirah, 2% Alicante Bouschet, 2% Mataro (Mourvedre)
Nose: So jammy, cranberry, blueberry. Smells ripasso in style.
Palate: So ripe, jammy, high acidity, forest berries, long. Great for what it is. USA?
89 pts MZ

Wine 3 – 2010 Ridge Estate Cabernet Sauvignon
80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot, 2% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc
Nose: Dark forest berries, earthy, oak spice. Very focused
Palate: Earthy, dark fruit, focus, spice, oak. Long. Tannin a bit dusty but in nice way.
90 pts MZ

Wine 4 – 2010 Ridge Monte Bello
74% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot, 4% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Nose: Juniper, blackberry, blueberry, liquorice
Palate: Black fruit, black cherry, leafy, earthy. Very closed, but potential is there. 91 pts MZ

Wine 5 – 2000 Ridge Monte Bello
75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 23% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc
Nose: Very ripe fruit, dark berries, sweet spice, alcohol almost sticking out, rosemary, thyme, violets.
Palate: Firm tannin, fruit little muted, red fruit. 90 pts MZ

Wine 6 – 1999 Ridge Monte Bello
73% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc, 1% Petit Verdot
Nose: Dark fruit, gherkin, leather, wood.
Palate: Round, dark chocolate, dark cherry, mint, fresh acidity, long finish. Lovely.
90 pts MZ

About Paul Draper

P Draper

Paul Draper of Ridge Vineyards

For readers who may not drink much Californian wine, Draper has been making wine at Ridge since 1969, always with a philosophy of minimal intervention in the cellar and maximum disclosure on the label. He is a former Decanter Man of the Year (2000), and also won the prestigious Winemaker’s Winemaker award (2013), as voted by winemaker members of the Institute of Masters of Wine. His 1971 Ridge Monte Bello caught the attention of the world at the famous Judgement of Paris tasting in 1976.

 

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.