Champagne market slows in 2016

Champagne shipments in 2016 were down 2.1% at 306,036,369 bottles, a little over 6.5m bottles below the level reached in 2015, according to the statistics released by the CIVC. This is just above the 304,994,000 bottles shipped in 2013, the poorest recent year, although immediately after the financial market meltdown only 293,331,000 bottles were shipped in 2009.

The French market declined further, Continue reading “Champagne market slows in 2016”

2016 Champagne harvest yield set to produce around 315m bottles

The yield for the 2016 harvest, currently expected to begin around mid-September, has been set at 9,700 kilos per hectare with a further 1,100kgs/ha to be taken from the reserve at the start of February next year. This level of yield will potentially produce around 283m bottles with a further 32m bottles coming from the reserve next February, if appropriate, making a total production of 315m bottles. This compares with worldwide champagne shipments of 312.5m in 2015 and the news that the MAT total for shipments in the 12 months to the end of June 2016 were up just over 2%.

The harvest is expected to start in mid-September
The harvest is expected to start in mid-September

However, after a very difficult growing season in Champagne so far this year with frosts, disease and uneven flowering all reducing the actual potential yield from the 2016 harvest, it seems likely Continue reading “2016 Champagne harvest yield set to produce around 315m bottles”

Krug launches 2002 vintage & changes Grand Cuvée label (slightly)

Bjoern Weissgerber, group executive chef at Zuma restaurants was kind enough to take this picture of Eric Lebel with me at the 2002 launch

Yesterday I had the chance to try the newly released Krug 2002 vintage, along with a group of top sommeliers and chefs, many of whom are Krug ambassadors. One of the last, if not the last, major house to put its ’02 offering on the market, the expectations were high. The wine isn’t a disappointment. Subtle, gentle, harmonious, it has that indefinable quality, that extra dimension, lift and intensity that only the top vintages in Champagne offer with a silky texture and long finish. To put the new wine in context after a mandatory glass of Grande Cuvée, the current release based Continue reading “Krug launches 2002 vintage & changes Grand Cuvée label (slightly)”

Taittinger to make fizz in Kent   

Taittinger has bought land in Kent with the plan to produce high quality English sparkling wine. In a deal signed on 18 November, Taittinger has purchased 69 hectares of farmland orchard at Stone Stile Farm, near Chilham, from the Gaskain family who are established Kent fruit farmers. It’s estimated that between 35 and 40 hectares of the farm,

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger and Stephen Skelton

located on a sheltered site just to the west of Canterbury, are on suitable, Continue reading “Taittinger to make fizz in Kent   “

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.

Champenois set yield for 2015 harvest

With the 2015 harvest in Champagne expected to start generally around 10 September, the CIVC (Comité interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne) set the maximum allowed yield at 10,500 kilos per hectare at its meeting in mid-July, with a further 500kgs/ha to be released from the ‘reserve’. This is the same level of yield as was set for the 2014 harvest and is in line with expectations that champagne shipments worldwide will be around 307m bottles in 2015, close to the level reached in 2014 when 307.12m bottles were shipped.

With the current level of vineyard in active production of just under 33,700 hectares a yield of 10,500kgs/ha would produce about 306.5m bottles and the additional 500kgs/ha could potentially add just under 15m further bottles.

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.

Veuve Clicquot sinks cellar below Baltic Sea in ageing experiment

In an experiment to see the pace at which today’s champagne ages under the Baltic, Veuve Clicquot has sunk a cellar of 300 bottles and 50 magnums of its wines to a depth of just over 40 metres off the coast of the privately owned island of Silverskär. The location chosen is close to where bottles were discovered in 2010 in a shipwreck on the seabed, including several identified as Veuve Clicquot dating from 1839 which had been preserved remarkably well below the deep, dark, cool Baltic waters.

In these short video clips, Veuve Clicquot head winemaker Dominique Demarville explains the idea behind sinking the cellar below the Baltic off the island of Silverskär; why this location was chosen and what the ageing experiment will involve over the next few years.

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger looks at current issues in Champagne

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger doesn’t come to the UK market very often but when he does it usually makes for interesting copy. The last time I saw him for any length of time was at the Vintners’ Hall fascinating vertical tasting of Comtes de Champagne held nearly two years ago in December 2011. He was on good form again last month and gave a very amusing speech to guests at the Café Royal reception.

ChampagneGuru with Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger at the Café Royal reception
ChampagneGuru with Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger at the Café Royal reception

Earlier in the day when we talked about the market one of the most interesting things he said was that for the first time in many years Taittinger was able to buy all the grapes it wanted from the 2013 harvest. Perhaps this is the first sign that grape prices might stop rising each year, a regular increase that has effectively forced the major players to raise their prices to retailers annually for more than a decade. Pierre-Emmanuel is not alone in wanting to keep champagne affordable.