Moët launches prestige cuvée MC111

Benoit Gouez of Moet at 2006 launch in 2014
Benoît Gouez

Released at a price premium well above ‘sister’ brand Dom Pérignon and produced in significantly smaller quantities, Moët & Chandon has launched its own ‘prestige cuvée’ named MC111. This wine has been a long time in the planning and harks back to Moët’s L’Esprit du Siècle – a blend of 11 top vintages of the 20th Century (1900, 1914, 1921, Continue reading “Moët launches prestige cuvée MC111”

Harvest starts in Champagne

Back in mid-July when the CIVC (Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne) set the yield level for the 2015 harvest in Champagne it was predicting a harvest start of around 10 September after heat waves and near drought conditions in June and July slowed vine growth. But after beneficial rain in the second half of August allowed the berries to grow further, warm sunny weather since has accelerated maturation and picking began in some villages in the Sézannais and Côte des Bar regions as early as 29 August.

P Brun outside LogisSpeaking to Cyril Brun, the new head winemaker at Charles Cyril Brun of CHHeidsieck in London on Wednesday this week he told me they had the first delivery of juice into the winery – Chardonnay from the village of Montgueux to the west of Troyes — on the previous day (1 September), though he expects picking to start in earnest next week. Philippe Brun of Roger Brun confirms that picking will start in some of the best exposed plots in Aÿ, like his La Pelle vineyard, tomorrow (5 September).

Cyril Brun is hopeful of a high quality crop if the good weather holds as expected over the next fortnight. The grapes are in a very healthy condition with very few disease problems thanks partly to the lack of rain over the summer. Speaking from Florence where he is running a tasting Laurent d’Harcourt MD of Pol Roger said that the quality of the Chardonnay was particularly high, but he would have to see the juice in the presses next week to get a better idea if we are talking about vintage quality.

Lallier launches exciting new style ‘non-vintage’

If you are looking for a great advertisement for the use of ‘reserve wine’ in the make-up of Lallier R012 Pic B with glassnon-vintage champagne, this is it. A new cuvée created by Lallier owner/winemaker Francis Tribaut, it is mostly based (81%) on the very high quality 2012 harvest and (this particular sample) was disgorged in February 2015, so it had around 24 months’ lees ageing plus about five months on the cork when I tried it, not particularly long for top-notch un-vintaged champagne — or champagne sans année as the French more elegantly describe it. But top-notch champagne it certainly is with a refreshing tang plus an unusual richness and depth for a relatively youthful wine.

Tribaut has, it appears, borrowed and put his own spin on an idea from the Chiquet brothers at Jacquesson whose NV champagne each year (currently Cuvée 738 based on 2010) is a different blend that seeks to reflect the particular harvest and show it in the best light possible. The key here in the Lallier wine is however, I suspect, the quality and age of the reserves wines that are used in the blend. They come from the 2002, 2004 and 2008 harvests which some would name as the three best of that decade – though ‘06 and more recently ‘09 are also making waves. The high quality of the base year 2012 is almost universally agreed. And 85% of the blend comes from grand cru sites like Aÿ (where Lallier is based) and Ambonnay (Pinot Noir), Cramant and Oger (Chardonnay).

Producers more typically use reserve wines from the two or three years prior to the harvest base year in their non-vintage blends– so that would be the un-exciting 2011, 2010 harvests and the ripe high quality ’09. But picking very specific, more venerable reserve wines all from good to great years, makes a difference. Or it certainly appears so here. I’m a big fan of the Jacquesson 700 series NV wines but they are quite a bit more expensive than this Lallier newcomer – currently Cuvée 738 is £43.95 at bbr.com . Lallier makes very good champagne across the whole range but doesn’t yet have the cachet of Jacquesson so the value is very decent too.

Normally priced at £28.95 a bottle, champagneguru readers have the exclusive chance to buy a six bottle case of this wine at an attractive discount until the end of September, thanks to a deal we’ve put together with on line retailer Slurp. For details of the deal turn to the Latest Retail Offers page.

Day in the life of a (sparkling) wine writer

To people outside the business I’ll admit to being a ‘wine writer’, even sometimes a champagne specialist. But this admission tends to result in predictable comments from those that regard such a ‘profession’ as one continuous (alcohol fuelled) jolly. It isn’t of course, as I am pains to point out, but just occasionally there are days when I have to admit it may appear so to the uninformed. One particular days stands out last month.

Invited to take a look at the relatively new sparkling wine operation at Exton Park in the heart of the Hampshire countryside, I was keen to go. I’m trying to visit as many English sparkling wine producers as possible over the next few months in an effort to get a better understanding of this rapidly developing sector. And while I’ve been to some of the longer established wineries before – Chapel Down, Ridgeview and Denbies come to mind – there’s a string of enterprising, ambitious newcomers that have opened their doors in the past five years or so and visiting them is the best way of finding out what they are all about.

But I hesitated because I had a feeling there might be a clash of dates. Wasn’t the Berry Brothers ‘artisan’ champagne producers tasting at Vintners Hall in the same week? And what about meeting that new Gaillac producer. Typically they all turned out to be the same day, the most interesting wine trade events have a nasty habit of clashing, but on paper it looked possible to do all three.

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Exton Park is a relatively new vineyard set on rolling, chalky hills planted over the past decade in three tranches over an area of 55 acres (about 10.5 hectares) with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier (The Champagne authorities are now encouraging producers there to shorten the latter to just Meunier, according to Michel Drappier, who I have just returned from visiting [more about this trip soon]. Apparently they want to distinguish it more easily from Pinots Noir, Blanc and Gris [called Fromenteau in Champagne] though these latter varieties between them only account for about 50 hectares in total and nearly all of that is Pinot Blanc). But I digress, back to the lovely sun-bathed Hampshire countryside.

Exton Park fruit used to be sold to the nearby Coates and Seely operation where the winemaker was the French-born Corinne Seely. But she has moved on and is now only involved at Exton Park where she helped owner Malcolm Isaac, who made his money in the watercress business, design a winery on site, following his decision to make his own sparkling wine rather than sell the grapes to other producers.

Was it a good decision? On the basis of this visit, tasting and lunch, it certainly was. The whole set-up looks very professional and the wines, even though the oldest plantings are only 12 years old, are already impressive. Interestingly, while many English wine producers are essentially making purely single vintage sparklers, Seely wants to blend different harvests for the standard Brut Réserve NV, always using at least a third reserve wine, as she feels the weather in southern England is just not reliable enough to produce a consistently good, all vintage product.

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This nicely balanced, refreshing fizz is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and, when we move on to try the Exton Park Blanc de Noir it turns out Seely is a bit of Pinot Noir fan and it’s this variety, grown on the south facing chalky slopes, she’s most excited about here. The wine, backs up her judgement, and impresses other interested visitors too including Gerard Basset and Joe Wadsack. It’s got decent Pinot aromas, grip and depth, plus a rounded mellowness. They don’t chaptalise (add sugar to the fermenting wine to raise the alcohol level) here so this is all the more impressive at a relatively light 11.5deg abv. This is definitely an English winery to watch.

Travelling back to London on the train in the warm afternoon sunshine I wasn’t too sure how well I’d cope with tasting 50-odd artisan champagnes at Vintners Hall, but it proved to be a spectacularly good and uplifting tasting, which I will write about separately very soon. As I emerged at around 6pm, palate for fizz now somewhat jaded, all I had to do was get to 28/50 Marylebone in the rush hour.

Despite the difficulty I had finding the restaurant in the maze of streets north of Oxford Street, I’m very glad I did. It would have been worth it just to try the exciting different wines of Clos Rocailleux with English owner and winemaker Jack Reckitt, trained at Plumpton College like some of the vineyard team at Exton Park. The Clos Rocailleux winery is based in Gaillac – which I hope to see for myself next month – and relative beginner Jack Reckitt had bought along the first three vintages of his white (2012 – two different parcels, 2013 and 2014 tank sample) made from Mauzac for us to try. Aromatic, slightly medicinal with honeyed notes, these were a perfect antidote to a palate somewhat dulled by tasting numerous different fizzes, as was the nicely balanced rosé, made by a short maceration.

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We also tasted two different reds I hope to enjoy drinking again next month. The 2012 Gaillac Rouge a 70% Syah and 30% Braucol blend and the 2012 Réserve Rouge, again made from a majority of Syrah, plus some Braucol and splash of Duras. Apart from the Syrah these are not really red varieties I know much about, but that’s one of the beauties of this part of south-west France. I love the Clos Rocailleux labels too.

What most impressed me about the wines, white rosé and red, is they came alive with the super fresh and simple menu at 28/50. The white, a far more attractive match to asparagus than Sauvignon Blanc, the reds having the concentration and tannin to partner simple steak, plus the refreshing acidity to make you want to keep drinking them. If there are more wines like this to find in Gaillac it’s going to be a good trip there next month.

Clos Rocailleux 2012 Mauzac Vieilles Vignes, £16.99; Mauzac Blanc Sec 2013, £12.99; 2012 Gaillac Rouge £12.99; 2012 Réserve Rouge £16.99 all from www.redsquirrelwine.com    

Magnums and Own Label the best buys at Waitrose

With Waitrose 25% off all six bottle purchases of wines and champagne running for a further four days, it’s a good time to take a quick look at the champagnes they showed at last month’s tasting to pick out the best deals. As I have mentioned in the latest retail offers page, these are mainly on the wines that don’t usually get discounted by this much and are regularly well priced, namely the Own Label champagnes.

2015-05-07 Roed & Bolly magsOf these the stand out wine on tasting last month was the 2015-05-07 13.32.11Waitrose Blanc de Blancs Brut NV which is supplied by Maison Burtin — part of the BCC group, the largest in Champagne after LVMH, that also owns Lanson and Philipponnat among other brands. This was showing very attractively with some peppery, spicy notes and a distinctive biscuity textural complexity in the mid-palate which many big name brands would be happy to boast of. Buy six bottles and the price comes down from an affordable £24.99 to a bargain £18.74.

The other wine I’d stock up is the Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs 2007 vintage, down from £33.99 a bottle to £25.49. I thought it was the non-vintage blend of this wine, still very good indeed which I tasted last week at a brilliant Berry Bros & Rudd ‘Artisans Champagne’ tasting (of which more shortly). But in fact Waitrose no longer sell the non-vintage cuvée this is an all Grand Cru vintage cuvée and an even better buy. One reader has already pointed this out to me, buying some last week when sadly the discount was a little smaller, but hopefully he will still be happy with the quality in the bottle. (I’m opening a bottle of the Le Mesnil 2004 in a minute to remind myself how delicious this wine gets with more age).

I also notice that on the groceries website (waitrose.com) Heidsieck Heritage which is made by P&C Heidsieck and was very decent the last time I tasted it (it wasn’t shown at the May tasting), is just £17.99 so this would come down under the 25% off deal to just £12.49 which makes it a pretty good buy for a party.

In praise of magnums

Waitrose champagne buyer Ken McKay told me that under their recent full review of sparkling wine and champagne they have delisted some champagnes in order to increase the range of sparkling wines, but at the same time, because magnums have been selling well, they have increased the range of larger formats they are offering from the start of June and they had five different champagnes in magnum at the tasting. They were Lanson Black Label (£67.99), Laurent-Perrier (£77.99), Pol Roger £77.99), Louis Roederer Brut Premier (£84.99) and Bollinger Special Cuvée (£89.99).

These all showed well, except for the Pol Roger which was curious subdued – in my experience magnums of champagne nearly always taste better than bottles of the same wine, sometime significantly so. Speaking to James Simpson MD of Pol Roger at the London Wine Fair this may be explained by the relatively recent disgorgement of this wine and I note that is doesn’t appear on the Waitrose list yet, so perhaps they have decided to hold it back a couple of months, by which time it should have recovered from the shock of disgorgement.

Helpfully Lanson actually put the date of disgorgement on the magnum — in this case June 2014 – so you can make a judgement about when to drink it. Given the already fresh, crisp Lanson style, I’d keep it until Christmas, by when it will have mellowed further. Of the other three, Laurent-Perrier, a good all round aperitif style that’s light and refreshing, will be on offer from 24 June, so I’d wait until then if you want to buy some. The Bollinger Special Cuvée, which usually really shines in magnum, is not quite mature enough but already good. The star of the quintet is the Louis Roederer Brut Premier, very good in bottle the last few times I have tasted it this year, in magnum it is even better, deliciously lively, spicy, complex, with a long long finish. This too will be at a great price from 24 June if you can bear to wait that long to try it. Sadly magnums are not included in the present 25% off deal.

There are two ways you can shop this offer at Waitrose online by going to www.waitrosecellar.com to buy by the six bottle case or through the grocery channel at www.waitrose.com  There are 61 champagne options in waitrosecellar.com and 41 through the grocery channel, but more magnums on the former site.

UK champagne shipments up by 6.1% in 2014

Britain continues to lead the way in champagne consumption with imports rising by 6.1% to 32,675,232 bottles in 2014, that’s more the next two markets, the USA and Germany, can muster together. Value was up slightly more by 6.7% to just over 477m€ giving an average price per bottle of 14.6€. The British consume more than seven times the combined volume of champagne imported by the much vaunted BRIC countries with consumption flat in China and Russia, up 10.2% in Brazil and down 16.2% in India. Britain takes 22.4% of all champagne exports.

The five leading export brands account for 38.45% of the market in Britain or 12,562,721 bottles. Compare that with the USA where the top five brands between them take a massive 70.25% of the whole market. Some 31,470, 047 bottles or 96.3% are non-vintage styles, with only 1,205,185 bottles of vintage champagne imported into Britain in 2014.

Extra lees ageing produces exciting wines

My tweets about Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve and how not many other non-vintage champagnes can boast eight years bottle age seems to have aroused quite a lot of comment and interest. The current cuvée of this wine was put in the Charles Heidsieck cellars in 2008, the back label tells anyone who cares to read it, revealing the wine itself is based on 2007 harvest in Champagne. Is also tells us when the wine was disgorged, in this case 2014. There is a plan, I am told, to move towards pinning down the disgorgement date a little more, as Charles used to do when this wine was known as ‘Mis en Cave’, which would be helpful, especially when the disgorgement is relatively recent. For drinking now there is quite a difference between something disgorged in December or January 2014.

A few days later I found myself having lunch in Koffmanns enjoying a bottle of Philipponnat Brut Réserve where the back label informs the drinker of the exact composition of the wine by grape variety; the year of the harvest base; the % of reserve wine in the blend, the dosage (8gm/l) and the month and year of disgorgement – as you ask this was May 2013, so the wine had benefitted, and I use the word advisedly, from around 20 months ageing on the cork after disgorgement. Why can’t all serious champagne producers do that?

Devaux champagnes, which those trying the current Charles Heidsieck range could also have tasted at the recent Liberty Wines event, are trying another approach and giving an age statement on their new labels. Thus the Cuvée D, their premium non-vintage style where the relatively large amount of reserve wine used is partly aged in old oak barrels, has a band around the bottle neck saying ‘5 years’. That’s the minimum amount of time this wine — on impressive form with some character and complexity that only time will bring – ages on its lees. This brand is produced by the go-ahead Côte des Bar, Union Auboise co-operative (so clearly such a strategy has support from within the négoce and the co-ops, not just grower producers).

Another recent weekend tasting treat was the satisfyingly rich and savoury Benoît Marguez 2006 Blanc de Blancs from Ambonnay. Again this helpfully had both the month and year the wine was  cellared (July 2007) and the disgorgement date, spring 2012.

The Champenois are, we are told, trying to introduce some simple reforms to the appellation to increase the minimum amount of time a wine must be kept before it is sold both before (when ageing on its lees) and after disgorgement. These proposed changes are being discussed as part of the 2030 review and while it now looks like there will be some delay before any such meaningful changes are going to be introduced, there is still hope that they will be. This may not be in the interests of the producers geared up to provide European markets with cheap champagne — these are no doubt the producers objecting to the proposed changes — much of which is not worthy of the name, but it certainly is in the long term interests of the region as a whole.

Happily there are already a number of enterprising producers showing the way ahead and it is to be hoped that their numbers will be swelled by the many who adopt such good production practices but don’t necessarily shout about it, further isolating those that cut corners.