Before last month’s historic tasting of old vintages of Bollinger dating back to 1830, the year after the house was founded, on our tour of the cellars we saw the restoration work the winemaking team does by hand, using ancient methods.
In this short video we can hear Bollinger assistant winemaker Denis Bunner describing how the winemaking team, working in the cellars, are restoring Jeroboams of Bollinger ‘RD’ 2000. Disgorging the wines by hand (à la volée), tasting them all and then topping them up, before giving them their final cork, all of which is done by hand, using traditional skills.
Who buys champagne at the ‘full’ price in a UK supermarket? If a supermarket lists something you want, you just need to wait until they slash the price before making your purchase. And if it is one of the big brands, you won’t have to wait for long. As the retail war between grocers continues apace, the only issue is trying to assess what’s a ‘good discount’ for any given brand. Each week there’s usually something with a least a £10 reduction, see the Latest Champagne Offers page.
Sainsbury’s has again introduced its favoured ‘25% off six bottles’ mechanic so that its customers will have some great deals on champagne over the long Bank Holiday weekend. You can now buy GH Mumm and Taittinger brut styles at just £18.75 a bottle, while Moët is at £20.25. Better still Lanson Gold Label Vintage 2004, already on offer at £33, can now be purchased for £24.75 (if you buy at least six bottles of wine).
And Tesco has hit back with Andre Carpentier sold at the equivalent six bottle price of only £7.46 a bottle, under its ‘copycat’ 25% off deal. Tesco has both Heidsieck Monopole and Nicolas Feuillatte at £12.75 under the same deal, while Lanson Black Label drops to £16.50 and Lanson pink to £20.25. The Moët deals previously planned have been dropped. See Latest Champagne offers for the details.
Historically Champagne has not been seen as a wine appropriate for investment purposes, certainly not in the same way as say red Bordeaux. The three most commonly traded prestige cuvées have in the past been Dom Pérignon, Krug and Louis Roederer’s Cristal. Vintage Krug and Cristal, both produced in far smaller volumes than Dom Pérignon, tend to have the higher values, though which comes out on top depends on the particular vintage, it seems. Cristal is ahead in 1990 (by some way), 1995 and 1996, but behind Krug in 1985 and in the recent much vaunted 2002 release. Some would put Salon in the same category, and the price of the last but one Salon release, the 2002 vintage, was even higher than Krug’s 2002.
But in recent years other luxury cuvées have joined the party and in the Liv-ex index of the best performing prestige cuvées from the 2002 vintage (the most significant release in the past decade, though it might be challenged by 2008 in time), Bollinger Grande Année, Taittinger Comte de Champagne, Dom Ruinart, Philipponnat Clos des Goisses and Pol Roger Sir Winston Churchill Cuvée all feature. These five champagnes are listed here in ascending order of release price, but in terms of accruing value, one which has increased by 59% stands out and that is the Taittinger.
You might think this suggests that Comtes is severely undervalued, not something you can accuse Salon of on release (in over two years since it was first released the value of 2002 Salon has only risen 1% from £2,650 to £2,680 a case, according to Liv-ex Index, February 2016), the next best performer is Dom Pérignon 2002 up 34% since its launch. But whatever the reason, the chance to taste six of the past eight releases of Comte de Champagne a couple of weeks ago — 2000 & 2005 were the missing years — was not to be sniffed at.
The frost that did major damage to vineyards across Burgundy at the end of April also had a major impact on Champagne’s most southerly vineyard area, the Côte des Bars, located to the south-east of Troyes. The temperatures didn’t drop that low, only 2 or 3 degrees of frost at most, but crucially they hit a saturated vineyard where there was even a light covering of snow (see photograph).
“The early morning temperature low of -2.5degC wouldn’t normally have much impact but the frost froze the water inside the embryonic buds,” says Michel Drappier of the eponymous house whose vineyards are based in Urville. Speaking at the London Wine Fair a few days ago, Drappier said: “We didn’t realise the extent of the damage until the next day and now the leaves have turned brown, like tobacco. There will be no Cuvée Quattuor” – Drappier’s rare four way blend of white grapes: Arbane, Petit Meslier, Blanc Vrai (Pinot Blanc) and Chardonnay – “all the Arbane has been destroyed.
“Chardonnay has been worst hit, because the plants were most advanced.” The Grande Sendrée vineyard next door from which the house’s white and pink prestige cuvée comes, has also been badly affected. “100% of the buds were frozen. Some may have green inside left perhaps, we may even get a second bud burst which could bring a much reduced later crop.”
Drappier says he hasn’t seen these conditions coincide before in over 50 years. “It was the combination of snow and sleet falling on already wet ground with a south-west wind, plus temperatures falling to -2.5degC in the early morning just before dawn. Normally it would have to be several degrees colder to destroy the buds,” said Drappier. The prospects for the 2016 crop are now bleak.
Drappier is no stranger to climatic disaster however. In June 2012 a localized hailstorm hit a swathe of Côte des Bar vineyards destroying the crop in over 100 of Urville’s 189 hectares and reducing his 2012 harvest to virtually zero. He was however able to make limited quantities of his main Carte d’Or Brut style thanks to wine held in reserve from previous harvests.
Because of strong demand, the deal on Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006 at Majestic due to run until 9 May has ended prematurely. The best prices for this serious, vintage champagne are now £35 at Morrisons and £39 at ASDA.
Although it was not officially launched until May 2014, I first tasted Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage 2006 on 23 January in 2014 with winemaker Benoît Gouez. He described it as “a very attractive, ample vintage that’s more open than 2004”. The blend is made up of 42% Chardonnay, 39% Pinot Noir and 19% Pinot Meunier. The Meunier is to bring the freshness to the blend normally delivered by the Chardonnay which Gouez says in ’06 were “ripe and Burgundy like in style”.
Slashing the price of Lanson Brut and Rosé styles by at least £10 a bottle, if not more, has become a favourite pastime of the grocers this year. Sainsbury’s has just added four new deals to its offers before the holiday weekend and pitches Lanson against Jacquart, with the latter’s pink £1 less than the biggest off trade rosé brand in terms of volume sales — that’s Lanson. If you like a softer creamier style of rosé, I’d pick the Jacquart.
Tesco doesn’t seem bothered about competing on price, though it does have the soft, easy drinking Heidsieck Monopole Blue Top at just £15 and Jacquart Brut at the same price as Sainsbury’s (£20).
ASDA has Moët at £26, and while it has for the moment restored Pierre Darcy’s from £9 to £20 a bottle, it still has the more attractive Louvel Fontaine at just £10, while Piper Heidsieck at £22 is probably the best ‘price to value’ among the bigger brand names.
M&S has ended its good deals and resorted to small price cuts on four different styes of Oudinot, all rather dull wines and not remotely in the same class as the brilliant De Saint Gall champagnes from Union Champagne in Avize. If only M&S would bring those wines back.
As we have reported, Waitrose has started selling single bottles of champagne online, I’d pick out two other examples. I’d recommend two if you want something with a little more substance and complexity this long weekend: Nicolas Feuillatte’s Brut Chardonnay Vintage 2006 (£29.99) and Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2007 (£33.99). At around £20, Waitrose also has some stock left of Alexandre Bonnet’s well-made, fruity Pinot Noir based Rosé, from the Côte des Bars, (only online but not by the bottle).
Speaking of the Côte des Bars, I really liked the savoury, baked apple notes in the creamy textured the 70% Pinot Noir/30% Chardonnay bottle of Gremillet Brut NV I had a couple of months back and you can buy that from Virgin Wines for £18.66 a bottle with the help of a WinesDirect voucher, see the previous blog below.