Jacquart’s Blanc de Blancs style impresses

Jacquart chief winemaker Floriane Eznack (centre) conducts the tasting while Rosemary George MW and I look on (picture by Lucy Shaw of Drinks Business)

The cooperatives in Champagne are a very good source of relatively inexpensive fizz, their vintage lines and prestige styles in particular. At Jacquart, where they have dramatically trimmed down the range of champagne they offer to just five cuvées, the vintage Blanc de Blancs has become one focus for attention. So it was great to have the opportunity recently to taste the last four Blanc de Blancs releases in the company of Jacquart’s relatively new winemaker Floriane Eznack who took over in January 2011.

We started with the current 2005 vintage, a luscious butter-rich blend of Chardonnay from four fine crus (two premiers and two grands) Vertus, Villers-Marmery, Chouilly and Avize. Eznack describes the Jacquart style of this cuvée as ‘greedy’ they are looking for unctuous richness rather than linear minerality. Attractive now, this is a wine that will happily age further, although it may not have the ageing potential of the ‘04 vintage which preceded it.

While the ’04 blend is different — mostly from Oger and Chouilly with a splash of Vertus and Cuis this time – it has textural richness in common with the ‘05, plus some smoky, nutty characteristics with a hint of honey on the finish.

The 2002 vintage that followed — showing aromas of fresh butter and warm brioche for Eznack – has matured further and has more developed honey notes, luscious richness and an impressive palate texture which carries a long finish. Chouilly this time is the dominant component (66%) with 20% Vertus fruit and the remainder coming from Sezanne. The final 1999 vintage (Chouilly, Vertus, Trepail and Cuis) has developed into a big, opulent silky textured style you’d be pleased to find still in your cellar. Originally launched around 2003/4 it went through a rather closed phase, says Eznack, but it has opened up again impressively, as the tasting demonstrated.

Over lunch which like the tasting took place at the newly opened Japanese restaurant Chrysan (sadly it closed in March) we tasted the straight ’05, ’04 and ’02 vintages. Made in a roughly 55/45 Pinot Noir/ Chardonnay blend they all showed well, especially the ’02 in magnum, the format giving extra freshness to set against the wine’s substantial richness. The creamy textured, 1999 rosé vintage that followed was not however overshadowed. Ten years ago this would have barely set you back £20 in a retail outlet like Majestic and that would have been a good investment. I recently opened a 1998 Jacquart Rosé which I had cellared for five or six years that was similarly complex and quite delicious.

Jacquart Blanc de Blancs 2005 (the 2006 has also been released now), is available on-line only from Tesco and I have recommended it here several times (see retail offers page) especially when promoted at £30 a bottle.

Great vintage champagne predicted from 2012 harvest

After a disastrous growing season with frost, poor flowering, hail and disease all hitting yields, good, dry and warm weather in the run-up to picking has produced a small but potentially great harvest. “The quality is outstanding,” says Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon chef de cave at Louis Roederer. “It is a great vintage. Probably better than 1996 and close to 1990 on average. But in some special location it could well better than that, closer to a 1947? Full ripeness of Pinot Noir which is typical of a continental summer and a perfect final ripeness of Chardonnay and Meunier. Acidity is balanced and pH quite low for such a level of sugar.”

“All will be clearer in a few weeks when the still wines are tasted, but already, what we are seeing now is somewhere between 2002 and 1959, two of Champagne’s greatest vintages, if ever there were any,” says Charles Philipponnat of the eponymous house. “For us [it is], somewhere between 1959, 1990 and 2002. Yields were only 6 to 7000 kilos/hectare, but quality was very satisfactory, especially the Pinot Noir, whose exceptional sugar content — 11.5° to more than 12° — was higher than in 1976, 2000 or 2003, and was combined with an excellent acidity, that was even better than in 1996.”

“Everything is here, quality-wise, to craft some top vintage champagne. Considering just numbers, 2012 looks like a cross between 2002, 1990 and 1952 all excellent years,” says Frédéric Panaiotis, chef de cave at Ruinart. “All grapes came in super- healthy, we’ve recorded extremely high levels of glycerol and gluconic acid.”

“The overall quality of the grapes was very high,” says Hervé Deschamps, chef de cave at Perrier-Jouët. It was “a very good healthy harvest with no botrytis and a very good ripeness for all grapes varieties.” “Considering the health of the grapes, the level of maturity and the balance with acidity I am very confident in the vintage potential of this harvest,” says Benoît Gouez, chef de cave at Moët & Chandon.

“It looks like 1996, but less homogeneous,” says Michel Drappier of the eponymous house in the Côte des Bar. “It was a year of ‘extremes’, minus 20°c in February, a very warm and dry end of winter, the rainiest spring for years, the most devastating hail storm of the past 200 years, a heat wave in August with plus 38°c ‘cooking’ some berries and this resulted in the smallest crop for Drappier since 1957, with a yield of only 4,300Kg/ha.”

Yields were considerably down elsewhere as well. “With most of our old vineyards being traditionally ploughed, little usage of chemicals and some of our vineyards farmed organically and bio-dynamically, we have been very exposed to the bad weather conditions in 2012,” says Lécaillon, “especially in the early ripening grands crus.  Our final yield in our vineyard was 7,500 kg/ha. Well below the appellation.” At Philipponnat yields “were only 6 to 7,000 kgs/ha” while at Moët in the Appellation’s largest estate “The average yield is 8.5 tons/ha,” says Gouez. Of those we have spoken to so far since the harvest ended only Perrier-Jouet has reached the maximum yield set by the CIVC. “In our vineyards we have by average 11,000kg/ha and near 200kg/ha for the Réserve individuelle,” says Deschamps.

 

Pol Roger 2002 builds on success of royal wedding

Pol Roger President, Patrice Noyelle, was in ebullient mood when I met him earlier in the year and tasted the new Pol Roger 2002 vintage, which he sees as marking a new direction for Pol in terms style, with increased subtlety and finesse. He was buoyed up by the excellent year the company had in 2011, much of which he puts down to being the provider of Champagne to the royal wedding. It was at his insistence that the order was changed from bottles to magnums.

Patrice Noyelle

The 2002 vintage has a lower dosage than ever before at 8gms/l – they made a blend with just 6gms/l that was seriously considered as an option for release – and the wine is certainly a contrast to the rich, fairly forward style of the 2000 vintage that preceded it. Gentle, and beautifully balanced, as the best 2002s mostly seem to be, it takes time to evolve in the glass and clearly has a long future ahead of it for those “with the patience to wait”, as Noyelle puts it. The UK allocation was sold within a few days, according to UK MD Nick James who is hoping he may get more stock. Magnums are particularly sought after.

Moët to put disgorgement date on Grand Vintage

Moët and Chandon has confirmed that is will be putting the date of disgorgement on the back label its Grand Vintage 2004, both the white and rosé styles, due to be released in September this year. By the time the white wine is first launched it will have already had around 12 months post-disgorgement ageing on the cork as well as nearly seven on its lees, in keeping with the new policy of chef de cave Benoît Gouez to give these wines more time in the cellar post-disgorgement to build complexity.

The 2002 Grand Vintage was initially released in October 2010 and it was first disgorged in November 2009, so Gouez has actually slightly lengthened the post disgorgement ageing on the white style partly, “to help it recover from the oxidation trauma of the disgorgement process”. Moët Grand Vintage usually gets disgorged in three tranches spread over 18 months or so, depending on levels of demand, so by the time of the third release it has had nearly eight years on its lees. The 2004 rosé vintage style, where Gouez is trying to preserve freshness more, was disgorged in February 2012.

Stanislas Rocoffort de Vinniere

Speaking at a tasting of older Moët releases at the Champagne Summit on February 28, Stanislas Rocoffort de Vinnière, Moët & Chandon brand ambassador, said: “Wine connoisseurs like to know when champagne was disgorged, as well as things like the blend and dosage”. He wouldn’t be drawn on whether such information might also appear of Moët Brut Impérial NV in the future.  However, following Krug’s decision to give the disgorgement dates on all future release of its wines via its website (see News story below), this development has fuelled speculation that other brands within the LVMH camp, Ruinart and Veuve Clicquot, might follow suit.

It isn’t the first time Moët has put a disgorgement date on one of its wines, the second release in 2002 of its ‘trilogie des grands crus’, three single vineyard, single varietal wines made in the nineties (96 and 97 harvests) also bore such a date, but that range was scrapped after just two releases. Moët & Chandon Grand Vintage collection re-releases of older vintages have both a disgorgement date and details of the exact blend on the back label.

Taittinger Comtes de Champagne vertical tasting (1990-2002) at Vintners’ Hall

It is difficult to hone in straight on the right wavelength of a prestige cuvée like Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne, especially when you haven’t tasted it for a while. So introducing it at this ‘Master Class’ for a large gathering of MWs at Vintners’ Hall with two warm up bottles – Taittinger’s Brut Réserve NV and the appropriately named Prélude Grands Crus – made very good sense.

Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, President of Taittinger with Chef de Caves Loic Dupont

The currently available Brut Réserve is based on the 2007 harvest, so while many houses play lip service to ageing their non-vintage cuvées for at least three years before release, here was real evidence on one that does. A blend of 40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier, it typically has between 25 and 30% reserve wine in the blend from the two previous harvests (2006 and 2005 in this case) winemaker Loic Dupont, a rare visitor to these shores, tells us. As Pierre-Emmanuel who interjects throughout proceedings notes: “Loic has been with Taittinger for 26 years, but he never travels, we like to keep our cellar master in the cellar.”

“It is made up of 45 different crus,” says Loic, “including the grand crus of Avize and Verzenay, it is definitely not an afterthought in the range,” he affirms. Around half of it comes from Taittinger’s own 288 hectare estate of vineyards. Bright, fresh with hints of lemon citrus and some decent palate weight, this has a larger proportion of Chardonnay in it that most other international brands. Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, who is in a very buoyant mood, says: “The success of Taittinger in the UK was made even more difficult to achieve as it’s a market that likes Pinot Noir and Meunier dominated blends.”

We move on to Prélude, where the Chardonnay element jumps to 50% and now purely sourced from Grands Crus in the Côte des Blancs including Avize, Mesnil sur Oger and Cramant. This wine is entirely from the very decent 2004 harvest with no reserve wine and thus could in fact be vintaged.  It isn’t because as Damien Le Sueur, Taittinger’s deputy general manager, says: “It would be confusing for our customers. It also gives us the freedom to blend in difficult years [although it hasn’t been a ‘multi-harvest’ blend so far since the first 1996-based version was launched in 2000].”

A step up in terms of concentration of flavours, palate texture and length of finish, this neatly prepares us for the main event, tasting seven different vintages of Comtes de Champagne. We start with the as yet unreleased 2002, disgorged three months ago (September 2011). The 2002 harvest was particularly good for Chardonnay with the highest potential alcohol at picking — except for the 1990 (10.7%) we will end with — of 10.5%. Like the other seven Comtes it comes from just five Côte des Blancs grands crus sites: Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Oger and Mesnil-sur-Oger.

As Pierre-Emmanuel notes: “It is always just these five grand crus, aged for a minimum of seven years before release – we are still on the 2000 which is 11 years old – because Blanc de Blancs ages for a very long time. We only usually make between 150,000 and 300,000 bottles of Comtes, 1995 when it was 500,000, is only exception to that. Since the 1988 vintage – which sadly we didn’t taste and I can’t help thinking would have been far superior to the disappointing 1990 – a small proportion of the blend – just 5% — has been aged but not fermented in new French oak barriques. The idea is to add another strand of complexity not mask the purity of fruit which is the most important characteristic of the wine for Pierre-Emmanuel. He quotes his uncle Claude describing the style as ‘pure Chablis with two fermentations’ which is particularly true in its youth.

As we taste back through 2002 — a baby that’s still linear and closed, though impressively structured to age – the 2000 Luic succinctly describes as: “very straight and precise, stone fruit rather than citrus”, we don’t start to see much impression of maturity until the 1998. The 1999 really impresses with a hint of toastiness, what Pierre-Emmanuel describes as “the purity of a rapier” but still quite youthful. The 1998 has opened up that bit more and shows a silkier palate though the edge is still there. We don’t see the wine in all its glory however until the 1996 which has a gorgeous buttery richness with developed mocha notes and lush palate texture. Here the nose and palate are finally completely in harmony, a balance maintained by a wrap of fine acidity.

The more subtle and delicate 1995 finds the ’96 a hard act to follow but is barely less impressive. It just can’t match the explosive richness of the 1996. Comtes de Champagne as Pierre-Emmanuel says needs 15 years to show its true colours. It would be interesting to see how it evolves after still further ageing but the 1990 had partly oxidised. I think the ’88, a more classic vintage, would be a better bet and look forward to having the chance to try this theory out.

Moët releases 1911 vintage in 11 six bottle cases

Moët & Chandon has released 11 six bottle cases of the vintage champagne it produced from 1911 vintage. There’s just one case in the UK at Harrods and it could be yours for £65,000, that’s a mere £10,833.33 a bottle.  The first case, sold in Hong Kong in September fetched U$100,000 and another case is due to be auctioned for charity in New York at Christie’s sale of Fine & Rare Wines on November 19, 2011. I had the chance to taste this 100 year old vintage with Moët & Chandon Chef de Cave Benoît Gouez last week.

To get warmed up for the 1911 vintage we first taste the current release of Moët Grand Vintage 2002, followed by the 1992 and 1990 vintages. This selection is not random, as with the past few vintage launches from Moët (see below), they like to show a few wines from their extensive library selection that the winemaking team headed up by Gouez view as similar in style. The launches of 2003, 2002 and 2000 vintages have given me the opportunity to taste some fantastic old wines. This time round we are doing it the other way and trying to find some younger wines that might develop like the 1911 vintage has.

While the blend for Moët vintage has never been rigid, today Gouez has great flexibility in choosing the blend of varieties that he sees as offering the most interesting most and characterful expression of the vintage. The 2002 blend is 51% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Noir and 23% Pinot Meunier; the 1992 is 45% each of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with 10% Meunier while the 1990 is made up from 50% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Meunier which Gouez describes as the classic Moët recipe of the 50’s.

What they have in common is a certain richness and ripeness of fruit and while ’92 would not be seen by many as in the same class as the very highly rated ’02 and 1990 vintages it is at a very attractive stage in its development showing a toasty character with a distinctive pronounced mocha note and lovely palate richness.  But these three wines were very much the warm up to the main event, the 1911.

The blend for the 1911 is unknown, says Gouez but likely to be mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and there’s no Pinot Meunier in it, but perhaps, he suggests, it includes some Pinot Blanc. There’s little information about it in the archives merely that it was a very small harvest at a very good level, a year to remember. It was all fermented in small oak casks as was customary at that time. The 1,500 bottles of 1911 that were left in Moet’s cellars were in one pile, completely untouched and Gouez said when he sorted through them he found many that were broken or had little or no wine left in them. “To get 150 good bottles I had to use 1,000. Some were empty and most were oxidized while quite a few had a too powerful mushroom taste. There are 500 left undisgorged that I might get a further 50 from.”

The wine was given a dosage of 7gm/l and all the bottles disgorged in January 2011. On pouring the first thing to note is the colour, an attractive pale gold, not a brown sherry-like liquid you might expect after 100 years ageing. The nose is a mix of crystallized fruit with a distinctive panettone bread character. It is not very fizzy with about 1bar of pressure (as opposed to champagne usual 6) but you can see a distinct fine bead of very small bubbles and it certainly isn’t without life and energy. The palate is rich with a savoury umami note, there is a mild attractive mushroom taste and the richness just holds there hardly fading at all in a very long finish.

Wines tasted against the last three Grand Vintage releases at their launch

2002: 1992, 1982, 1975, 1964

2003: 1995, 1990, 1976, 1959

2000: 1988, 1982, 1962, 1952 Dry and Le Mesnil 1900, also tasted 1996, 1961 and 1921 on a separate occasion as we were in Epernay.

Veuve Clicquot Cave Privée tasting, February 2010

Originally published in Decanter.com, 11th Feb 2010

This year is the 200th anniversary of vintage Champagne and Madame Clicquot was the first person to produce ‘vintage’ Champagne, using a blend of grapes all from that year’s harvest, back in 1810, according to the Veuve Clicquot archives. To celebrate this landmark Veuve Clicquot new cellar master Dominique Demarville, he succeeded Jacques Peters on his retirement last March (2009), came to London last week to conduct a tutored tasting of the five older vintages – 1990, 1989, 1980, 1978 and 1975 — that Clicquot has just re-released under the name Cave Privée.

Clicquot has only recently sold out of the two previous older vintages it marketed under the ‘Rare’ banner – the white 1988 and the rosé ’85 (both very fine vintages) — but now it is both extending the range of older wines and releasing some of them in different formats, a mix of bottles, magnums and there are even Jeroboams of the 1990.

The rich, full-bodied Clicquot vintage style (white and especially rosé) is very much Pinot Noir based with grapes sourced from grands crus like Verzenay, Aÿ, and Ambonnay. In addition as Demarville confirms, Bouzy’s south-facing slopes, where Clicquot owns 30 hectares and buys in fruit from another 20, is particularly significant for the rosé.

Tasting notes on the nine wines

1990 in bottle, magnum and jeroboam, all disgorged in October 2008

Blend: 56% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 11% Pinot Meunier; dosage 4g/l in the bottle and magnum, 3g/l in the jeroboam

A light gold colour (very little difference between the three formats), possibly slightly paler than you might expect from such a ripe vintage famous because all three grape varieties came in the press houses in near perfect condition and while potential average alcohol levels at 11.1deg were the highest since 1962, there was also good balancing acidity at 8gms/l.

As you would expect, the bottle was considerably more developed than the magnum or jeroboam, rich, with ripe quince-like fruit, some toasty notes, a savoury, yeasty mid-palate, plus an exotic ginger spice element. The magnum was considerably fresher but seemed less complex (Demarville noted the magnum we had was a little disappointing if not actually faulty) and needed more time. The jeroboam was glorious, at once spicy and ripe of the nose, noticeably fresh for a 20-year-old wine with lovely palate intensity but well short of its peak in terms of complexity. Demarville suggested it could easily be cellared another ten to 15 years.

1980 in bottle, the original disgorgement in May 1986 and magnum, disgorged in October 2008

Blend: 53% Pinot Noir, 37% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier; dosage 9g/l in the bottle, 5g/l in the magnum

Rich gold in colour, the bottle of 1980 with a full 24 years of post-disgorgement ageing was the star of the show, reaching a glorious peak of complexity, slightly honeyed with very ripe fruity notes, a vanillan crème caramel mouth feel, a very long finish with some coffee/mocha notes but still enlivened buy a streak of fresh acidity.

In magnum, the late-disgorged 1980 vintage is amazingly young and fresh. More restrained and elegant there is nevertheless an underlying richness and intensity with notes of candied fruit and a hint of chocolate on the finish. As Demarville says, it needs more time and he thinks it will get better and better over the next five years.

1989 Rosé in bottle and magnum, both disgorged in October 2008

Blend: 67% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 12.8% Bouzy Rouge, dosage 4g/l in both formats

Pale copper in colour, the ’89 rosé in not quite so obviously Burgundian Pinot Noir in style as the previous ’85 release or the two older rosés (’78 and ’75) we also tasted which still have more colour and were made with a higher Bouzy Rouge component. A ripe year (the same potential alcohol as ’76 and only lower than 1990 and 2002 in the past three decades) with lower acidity (7.1g/l on average) ’89 was a vintage which many houses predicted wouldn’t last that long, but this rosé remains remarkably fresh. There are roasted coffee, mocha notes, strawberry fruit on the initial palate then a meaty, savoury mid-palate.

The magnum is even less evolved with notably more freshness and attack, more obvious red berry fruit notes and a touch of spiciness. As Demarville says it still has great further ageing potential, more than a further decade.

1978 Rosé in bottle disgorged in October 2008

Blend: 63% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay, 4% Pinot Meunier, 15% Bouzy Rouge, dosage 4g/l

Light red in colour, like a mature lighter Burgundy with some perfumed sweet cherry notes. Delicious, supple with developed mouth feel, forest floor aromas and a hint of leather, crying out for food, perhaps a chicken dish with truffles, or some feathered game.

1975 Rosé in magnum disgorged in October 2008

Blend: 64% Pinot Noir, 31% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier, 19% Bouzy Rouge, dosage 4g/l

Less perfumed than the ’78, it shows red berry fruits, a hint of toast and surprisingly crisp acidity with some chewy tannins in the mouth. Meaty and yeasty with a distinct savoury, almost saline finish. Very Burgundian, one taster suggested Côte de Beaune as against the Côte de Nuits style of the ’78. Demarville believes it has the potential to age for at least another ten years.

Ruinart celebrates 50 years of Dom Ruinart, 16 October 2009

Originally published on Decanter.com 23 October, 2009

Ruinart Champagne held a vertical tasting of its prestige cuvée Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs at restaurant Apicius in Paris last week to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Starting with the 1959, there have been 21 different vintages of this cuvée released although it proved impossible to source bottles of them all. They only have stocks of 10 vintages going back to 1981 plus the 1969 left in Ruinart’s own historic cellars in Reims — the plan was to taste these 11 plus the seven venerable vintages which Ruinart’s current Chef de Cave Frédéric Panaiotis managed to purchase from specialist retailers and collectors.

Sadly they couldn’t find any 1959, 1966 or 1976, three top class vintages in Champagne, the ’59 and ’76 being two of the warmest summers on record. Panaiotis did however source some 1961, 1964, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1978 and 1979. Unfortunately quite a few of these hadn’t been well cellared and the ‘69 from Ruinart’s own cellar demonstrated the importance of storage conditions and was the star among the older wines.  The 80s produced the highlights of the tasting.

The key thing to know about Dom Ruinart’s Blanc de Blancs style is that the fruit isn’t all sourced from the grands crus of the Côte des Blancs. It is all grands crus but there is an important element in the blend – 50% of the cuvée in the case of the 1990 though this is the highest proportion — from three Montagne de Reims grands crus Sillery, Verzenay and Puisieulx. This tends to give the wines more weight and a certain white Burgundian quality as they age.

Highlights of the tasting

1998: the current release (to be followed by 2002) almost colourless in the glass, it’s lemon-scented with floral notes and a hint of honey. Still very fresh, lively and youthful there is a biscuity note building but it needs more time.

1996: similarly pale to the ’98 this is still notably linear with a lovely purity of fruit and lively acidity but barely developed as yet

1993: more colour and the first in the line-up showing real signs of development and maturity with bready, yeasty notes and an attractive richness. It’s still a surprise as to why Ruinart made this in preference to the superior ‘95 vintage.

1990: for many of the tasters this was the star of the show though I thought it lacked richness in the mid-palate, a surprise given it was picked at 10.8deg. The magnum we had with lunch was superior, still very fresh with a long future ahead of it but showing more ripe buttery notes and a lovely overall balance.

1988: A glorious, light golden colour and the highest proportion of Montagne de Reims Chardonnay (44%) outside the 1990 this has developed into a lovely, lusciously rich, silky textured wine with a developed toastiness, pronounced mocha notes and a long complex finish. Mature white Burgundy with bubbles.

1986: One of the biggest surprises in the line-up, this has gone a rich golden colour and there is a honeyed sweetness on the palate redolent more of a Semillon based pudding wine. Panaiotis says he doesn’t know what to do with the 300 bottles he left in the cellar but liked the suggestion of matching it with foie gras.

1985: Richly coloured like the ’86 this has three-quarters Côte des Blancs fruit in the blend and it’s a class act. Ripe notes of quince, a hint of blackcurrant and while it’s ripe, even opulent there’s a refreshing streak of acidity keeping the whole wine in balance and harmony.

1982: this seems to have more in common with the ’88, its paler in colour, very toasty on the nose and there are secondary notes of coffee, chocolate and ceps. At or near its peak, it would be lovely with roast turbot.

1981: a tiny yield of just 4,360kgs/ha (compare that with over 14,000kgs/ha in 2008 & 2009) this harvest produced some great wines (like ’81 Krug) and this is surprising fresh initially, leading to a concentrated buttery rich mid-palate and a savoury finish. A delight and unlike any of the other wines tasted.

1969: very pale the lightest in colour since the ’81 (a good sign after several sherry-like oxidised wines) this was amazingly fresh still and a good advertisement for Champagne’s longevity. There was a rich toasty element but more noticeable was an attractive biscuity palate texture and a savoury almost saline finish. Classy

1961: Not a great example of this fine year but while slightly oxidised it didn’t completely hide an underlying lively fruity freshness. Would love to try a well cellared example, Moët 1961 is one of the finest champagnes I have ever tasted.

Jacquesson Lieux-dits Tasting

Jean-Hervé Chiquet and his brother Laurent have entirely changed how things are run at Champagne Jacquesson since they took over from their father over a decade ago. And with the release after nine years of ageing of three, single-vineyard, mono-cepage champagnes from the top-quality 2002 harvest, the quiet revolution at Jacquesson they set in train back then has neared completion. At last after years talking about vintage wines that they don’t make any more, the two brothers can discuss the four single-vineyard wines that have replaced all their vintage offering.

“It has taken since 1998,” says Jean-Hervé, “or another ten years before that, if you count the time arguing about what we wanted to do with our father.  The story won’t really be complete until we have re-released late disgorged versions of these three 2002 cuvées in another eight or nine years’ time,” he says, only half-jokingly. And while on the subject of late-disgorgement, he also announces new plans for a second release of their series 700 non-vintage wines. In late 2012 or early 2013 they will be re-releasing the non-vintage Cuvée 733 based on the 2005 harvest with four years extra ageing. “We plan to do this from now on [with the non-vintage Cuvée 700 series] and have held back 15,000 bottles plus 1,000 magnums for this purpose,” he says.

The trio of white 2002 Lieux-dits champagnes: Avize, Champ Caïn, a 1.3 hectare plot planted with Chardonnay in 1962; Dizy Corne Bautray, 1 hectare of Chardonnay planted in 1960 and the smallest – Aÿ, Vauzelle Terme — just 0.3hectares of Pinot Noir planted in 1980, join the saignée rosé Dizy Terres Rouges (1.35ha of Pinot Noir planted in 1993), the 2002, 2003 and 2004 vintages of which are already sold out while the 2007 is yet to be released.

The three 2002 single vineyard wines while certainly not fully mature – the fact that they are going to be re-released at the end of this decade gives you an idea of their potential longevity – have opened up considerably since I last tasted them at the winery in Dizy in January 2008 when they were still austere with piercing acidity.

The Chardonnay from Dizy is now very expressive, showing ripe stone fruit with a terrific palate texture, weight and concentration plus considerable length. Avize Chardonnay is perhaps more classic, fine textured, great grip and mouth feel, long, pure and mineral with steely acidity still there in the background. The Aÿ Pinot Noir is rounder, more ample with generous fruit and a silky palate texture set against a marked chalky minerality.

At the tasting in Jason Atherton’s Pollen Street Social, there was also the chance to assess side by side the last three Jacquesson non-vintage blends: Cuvée 733 based on the 2005 harvest, Cuvée 734 based on 2006 and Cuvée 735, which is made from the 2007 base and just released. This was given more relevance with the news from Jean-Hervé that significant stocks of each of these three wines have been put away for a second release after extra ageing. For anyone who has had the chance to taste these wines after additional time in bottle this clearly makes good sense, as Jean-Hervé says they are in many ways closer to vintage champagne in style than most non-vintage cuvées, partly because of the Jacquesson philosophy since the 2000 harvest of trying to make the best possible blend each year rather than look for conformity of style.

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How the Jacquesson range has evolved

Under the Chiquet brothers’ stewardship the entire Jacquesson range has evolved starting with the non-vintage wine, previously called Brut Perfection, which changed in one revolutionary step into Cuvée 728 from the 2000 harvest-based wine launched in early 2004. The single vineyard wines have evolved more slowly. They made a vintaged Blanc de Blancs from their three plots in Avize in 1990, 1993, 1996, 1997, while in 2000 they vinified all three plots separately, which was where the idea for the parcelaire approach came from. When they found Champ Caïn to be the best (the other two are La Fosse and Nemery ) they decided just to continue with that, using the remaining grand cru juice for the important 700 series non-vintage cuvée.

“Dizy all-Chardonnay was produced experimentally in 1995 – a great Chardonnay year,” says Jean-Hervé, “and next year (1996) which was good for Pinot Noir, we made a single bottling of Aÿ Pinot Noir.” Having been dissatisfied with the blended rosé they used to make, “we always liked the white wines better in our own tastings”, they decided to make a saignée only when they were happy with the quality and because they want to sell this while primary fruit is to the fore they release it earlier than the other three single vineyard wines.

Slightly confusingly there are still some volumes of dégorgement tardif versions of previous vintages of Grand Vin Signature (including 1988, ‘89 and ’90) and Avize Grand Cru (1989, ’90 and 2000) plus straight vintages 2000 and 2002, the latter only released in early 2011 (link to Imbibe May/June 2011 pdf) in the market, but these wines are no longer made. There are now five wines in the entire Jacquesson range, the 700-series non-vintage cuvée, itself first released based on the 2000 harvest, and when the quality is high enough, the quartet of single vineyard cuvées.

Jacquesson champagnes are available from UK agents Berry Brothers & Rudd and other specialist wine merchants.