My WSET tasting looks at styles of Champagne

Earlier this week I ran a Champagne masterclass tasting at the Wine & Spirit Education Trust and promised the participants, many of them WSET diploma students, to publish some of the detailed information about the wines, plus up-to-date statistics on the grape varieties planted in different areas of the appellation.

The idea of the tasting was to explore some of the varied styles of non-vintage champagne, taking wines from eight different sources, a mix of large houses, co-operatives and small-scale artisan producers, spread across the appellation.

The first pair of wines were from two of the large négociants who dominate the Champagne business, Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial & Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Brut. Picked partly as while they are both three-way varietal blends, they represent opposite ends of the non-vintage spectrum in terms of flavour profile. The Moët is more than two thirds black fruit (Meunier and Pinot Noir), while the relaunched Laurent-Perrier Brut named La Cuvée is a blend that’s even more Chardonnay dominant than its predecessor (for more details about Laurent-Perrier’s changes to its Brut NV see this link: http://wp.me/p4t654-1D1 ).

The Moët is also a great introduction to Champagne in that, as head winemaker Benoît Gouez emphasises at his tastings, it’s a blend that closely resembles the proportion of the three main grape varieties actually planted across the appellation.

The total area of vineyard planted in Champagne — these are 2016 figures — is 34,328 hectares and out of this, 33,805 hectares are in active production. The largest proportion is planted with Pinot Noir (13,142ha out of 34,328 or 38.3% of the vineyard surface), Meunier comes next with 10,689 hectares (31.1%) and Chardonnay third with 10,385ha (30.3%). Other varieties like Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc or Blanc Vrai as it sometimes called and Pinot Gris (often known as Fromenteau in

The eight champagnes

Champagne) make up the remaining 112 hectares or just 0.33% of the planted vineyard.

The second pair of wines in the tasting were both Blanc de Noirs styles, one from a small family business based in the Côte des Bars region, the second made by one of Champagne’s top co-operatives, which draws most of its fruit from its 200 grower members based in the Montagne de Reims region.

It’s a myth that most of the Pinot Noir produced in Champagne is grown in vineyards in the Montagne de Reims, more than double the number of hectares of this variety is to be found in Champagne’s most southerly region, the Côte des Bars. Here there are 6,692ha of Pinot Noir and it accounts for 82.48% of all plantings, whereas there are only 3,227ha of Pinot Noir in the Montagne de Reims which is 38.2% of that area (the rest is pretty evenly split between Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier).

The first of these two wines is pure Pinot Noir – Blanc de Noirs can be made from a blend of Pinot Noir and Meunier or 100% of either variety — and comes from the small family business of Gremillet which is based in the village of Balnot-sur-Laignes that’s very close to Les Riceys, famous for its Pinot. Les Riceys’ other two claims to fame are that it is the single largest cru in the entire Champagne appellation with 842 hectares under vine in 2016 (Vertus is the next largest with 543 hectares) and it is the only town in France where three different AOC wines can be produced; Champagne, Rosé des Riceys and Côteaux Champenois (white or red).

Les Riceys is located towards the very south-west corner of Champagne, which is physically closer to Chablis than to Reims or Epernay — it’s under 60kms from Les Riceys almost directly west to the town of Chablis itself and from Les Riceys north to Epernay is over 160kms. The Kimmeridgian clay soils found here have more in common with Chablis too than with the chalky soils of vineyards immediately north and south of Epernay.

In contrast Palmer’s Blanc de Noirs is a 50/50 Noir/Meunier blend with longer lees ageing of around four years – it’s based on the 2011 harvest – and is drawn from Palmer’s historical terroirs including the grand crus of Mailly and Verzenay for Pinot Noir with Meunier from vineyards like Rilly-la-Montagne and Ludes, but also Les Riceys and some villages of the Vallée de la Marne.
Details of the other four wines in the tasting will follow shortly. In the meantime here is a list of the eight wines and stockists.

Retail stockists:
Moët & Chandon Brut Impérial: widely available, £35 a bottle or buy three save 25% at Waitrose until 13 June.
Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée Brut NV: £41.99 a bottle, £27.99 Mix Six price Majestic
Gremillet Blanc de Noirs Brut NV: £32.88 a bottle www.christopherpiperwines.co.uk
Palmer Blanc de Noirs Brut NV:  £237.75 per six bottle case (6 x 75cl, equiv to £39.63 a bottle), www.thefinewinecompany.co.uk Ruinart Blancs de Blancs Brut NV: widely available, www.bbr.com £57 a bottle
Berry Bros. & Rudd Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru by Le Mesnil: www.bbr.com £33.99 a bottle,
Philipponnat Royal Réserve Rosée Brut NV, £44.99 down to £39.99 www.simplywinesdirect.uk ; half bottles £29.99 Selfridges.
Drappier Brut Rosé de Saignée NV: https://www.winedirect.co.uk/champagne-drappier-rose-brut-nv £37.95 a bottle.

Whose champagne is Majestic enough?

Which champagne should you be opening to toast The Queen’s 91st birthday? It seems only certain, particular fizzes get past the palace gates. In order to supply HM The Queen, you have to be a Royal Warrant Holder and currently there are nine houses that have that privilege. But there may be different corks popping at Highgrove and Clarence House, as out of the nine, only one — Laurent-Perrier — is officially ‘by appointment to HRH The Prince of Wales’.

What they are drinking over at Kensington Palace is Continue reading “Whose champagne is Majestic enough?”

Stock up on vintage 2008 while deals last

Tesco’s deal offering 25% off on all its wines and champagnes – on purchases of six bottles or more – comes to an end this coming Monday (31 October) but is only running in tandem with one other discount on Taittinger Brut Réserve (down to £20.25 if you buy at least six bottles). As November nears the discounts are likely to sharpen on the main brands sold through all the grocers, but now may be the time to stock up on a few bottles of vintage Champagne.

There are2016-04-12 12.23.18 some very fine vintage champagnes around, with 2008 an impressive wine in the Continue reading “Stock up on vintage 2008 while deals last”

Sunshine & heat also hit crop in Champagne as picking starts

Grapes on the north side of rows haven't suffered
Grapes on the north side of rows haven’t suffered

Last month we reported that the harvest in Champagne was likely to be well down on the maximum yield set of 9,700 kilos per hectare, with some regions like the Côte des Bar, particularly badly hit. As picking begins in half a dozen crus today (12 September) – two villages one in the Aube and one in the Marne départements actually started picking black grapes on Saturday (10 September) — it seems that the average expected level of yield is no more than 7,000kgs/ha. And there are major differences between different areas of the appellation. In parts of the Aube/Haute-Marne, devastated by frosts, average yields are unlikely to be higher 4,000 kg/ha, whereas in some crus of the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs yields could reach as high as 10,000 kg/ha. Continue reading “Sunshine & heat also hit crop in Champagne as picking starts”

Prices remain low despite weakness of pound

At the time of writing the lowest price for champagne in UK supermarkets continues to be at around the £10 a bottle level with ‘exclusive labels’ at Lidl, Aldi and ASDA to the fore. Sainsbury’s and Tesco tend to favour a six bottle discount of 25% running at the same time as other offers and the former grocer has started just such a deal today (16 August) while the latter is expected to follow suit in the run-up to the Bank Holiday weekend.

It’s no surprise to hear that the vast majority of champagne in the UK take home trade is sold at a discount. In the total champagne category Continue reading “Prices remain low despite weakness of pound”

Moët Grand Vintage 2006

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.

Moet GV 2006 - high res picAlthough 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”.

When first tasted over two years ago, it was already showing attractively, Continue reading “Moët Grand Vintage 2006”

Five reasons to drink champagne (as if you need encouraging)

Found this report in the Daily Telegraph online which claims to have discovered five ‘health-benefits’ from drinking champagne. While readers of this blog will need no encouragement to open a bottle of fizz (and we all know champagne is good for the soul), I feel it deserves closer examination.

Apparently drinking champagne will ‘improve your memory’, or at least Continue reading “Five reasons to drink champagne (as if you need encouraging)”