Maud Plener has once again put her head above the parapet and enjoyed the plaudits and praise of several oenological experts. Pierre Casamayor, author of ‘How to taste wine’, made the following comments about Plener Rose –
‘Robe pétale de rose. Un nez de fraise, pomelo, avec des notes florales, de fruits exotiques. Bouche fruitée, sur la fraise, avec du tonus, un bon équilibre et une finale très fruitée, vive et enlevée. Pour un saumon grillé béarnaise. ‘
Which means roughly
Colour - rose petal. The nose is of strawberry and pomelo, with floral notes and exotic fruits. On the palate it is well balanced strawberry fruit. The finish is fruity, lively and sustained. Good with a grilled salmon béarnaise.
The Decanter World Wine Awards 2017 awarded her Champagne Brut Grand Cru a Seal of Approval and it won 85 points.
The Aube - An area within Champagne
To the majority the term ‘AOC Champagne’ means the Montagne de Rheims, Epernay, l’Avenue de Champagne’, the river Marne, the Cote des Blancs with its string of quiet ‘Villages Fleuries’. Consequently it comes as a surprise to learn that there is an area called the Cotes des Bar some 100 km to the south of Rheims which is just as much as a part of the champagne region as its renowned northern colleagues.
Currently Moore Champagne has three suppliers all from the traditional champagne region: one in Bouzy, one in Le Mesnil sur-Oger and one in Oger. Following a major tasting event in London in the winter I decided to include The Aube within the itinerary for a visit to our suppliers with a view to finding a hidden gem. Traditionally if Les Grandes Maisons and Les Grandes Marques looked down their nezs at the growing band of small growers in main stream Champagne then L’Aube was simply beyond the Pale. One Negociant was recorded as saying ‘Oh do they make champagne down there?’ Indeed for many years the Cote des Bar simply grew and sold grapes almost as a commodity for use by the Negociants. The proposed exclusion of the Cote des Bar from the champagne appellation in 1910 was one of the flash points for riots and civil disorder in 1911. Even when the Echelle des Crus (the ladder of quality was established in 1927, by which villages were denominated as Grand Cru, Premier Cru or just plain Cru, none of the villages in the Aube region were included as Premier or Grand Cru.
In recent years artisanal entrepreneurial vignerons in the Cote des Bars have kicked against the traces and are making outstanding champagnes under their own names. On the basis of a positive review in the Times my wife and stayed at a small hotel in Essoyes. This is a sleepy village which would have remained well off the tourist path were it not for the fact that Renoir lived, loved and languished there. Now the refurbishment of his house is complete and the village square is dominated by a very attractive museum, it is on its way to becoming a Mecca for Renoir groupies. A brand new tasting room has opened opposite the museum it will not be long before more open once the Renoiristas arrive.
It is an utterly charming area. At 100 km south of Rheims it is warmer. The countryside consists of small rounded hills with rivers and streams at the bottom. The soil is rich and less calcareous than its northern counterpart and the vineyards are on the southern facing slopes leaving the bottom of the valley to arable cultivation. It is worth noting that this area is less than 80 km from Chablis. During a pair of days in this area we enjoyed several delightful champagnes. Viticulturally the Pinot Noir grape is predominant with occasional flurries of Chardonnay and the same can be said to describe the elaboration of the wines. Regrettably having hoisted our colours as an importer of Grand Cru Grower champagnes however attractive it might be to champion the cause of the Vignerons of the Cote des Bar and despite the evident attraction of their wines, it would be contradictory to introduce one as a supplier. Nevertheless if you are contemplating a trip it really is a delight to explore the area and its wines away from the hoopla of the main more traditional well-trod paths.
The spate of hot weather in the UK which peaked with the summer solstice might have marked the high point of the summer in meteorological terms but for those involved in the management of vineyards and the production of champagne there is still a long way to go and it all started an equally long time ago.
Back in April having made the big blending decisions about which proportions of previous year's vin clair to use, the whole team at Plener was involved in the bottling and stowing of last year’s harvest. This of course is the precursor to that vital and miraculous stage of secondary in-bottle fermentation. The French for putting away is entreillage which is one of those words that does not have an exact translation mainly because it is an activity that until the recent past never took place in England. As can be seen in the picture on the left the bottles are carefully positioned so as to fill up the entire space available in the cellar. Once positioned they will remain there for at least three years. Everything at Jean Plener Fils is done by hand – pruning, training, picking, pressing, bottling, entreillaging and debouching.
By May the vines in Maude Plener’s parcel of land known as “La Pierre Aigue”, were efflorescing. At that time there was a touch of frost but the damage was slight. Towards the end of June the flowers had developed into nascent grapes. Throughout this period the work is relentless. Controlling the canopy, eliminating side shoots and ensuring that the vine directs its sugary output into the restricted number of bunches of grapes. It is a continual struggle against the insistent wish of the plant to simply grow like crazy.
Eventually about this time of year an event called ‘veraison’ (the onset of ripening) takes place. Basically the fruit stops growing in size and its colour starts to change. At this point the level of acidity starts to diminish and hexose sugars start to accumulate. Whether it is strawberries or blackcurrants anybody who has tried to eat unripe fruit knows that it is tart (from the tartaric acid) and you need to wait till the sugars arrive.
Veraison is a good indication of when the harvest (vendange) will take place. In Maude Plener’s estimation it could be early in September. It should be noted that the official harvest dates are not decided by individual grower but by the Comite Champagne (CIVC) who using the results of regular samples from 420 different plots decide the optimum moment for the correct balance of grape ripeness, potential alcohol levels and natural acidity
The harvest in the Champagne Region began on 15 September this year. It was a challenging year. In late April, frosts hit almost a quarter of the Champagne appellation
area and the buds were completely destroyed across 14% of the vineyards.Throughout the spring rain, hail showers and storms were of biblical proportions and in some areas rainfall was to two to three times higher than the average recorded for the past 20 years. There then
followed a period of intense heat and some of the south facing areas suffered scalding of the fruit. All of this means fruit yields will be markedly lower. Shortfalls in volume will be made up by using vin clair from previous years. Perversely the wines could be more powerful and age better.
In Bouzy, in the third week of September the Plener family started with their crop of Bouzy Rouge vines and then moved on to their parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Jean Francois is pleased with the Chardonnay grapes and is seen here (above) accompanying them on the way to the pressoir. His daughter Maud is in the centre of the picture to the left. She runs the team of 30 pickers whose services have been used for the last thirty years.
At the invitation of G & T weekends, William and Lydia spent a day or two checking out the Loire Valley before heading off to Poitiers to run a champagne tasting in a chateau. It might seem to be a case of taking coals to Newcastle doing this sort of thing in France but the offer to showcase our grower champagnes to the clients of gandtweekends was simply too good an entrée to miss. G&T Weekends always ensure that the Saturday night is fast, frantic and full, so the chance to reinvigorate the guests’ spirits on a calm Sunday afternoon with several glasses of intriguing champagne was a brilliant plan. The setting was outstandingly impressive and simply spectacular. A fairy tale chateau basking in the early Spring sunshine. The interior rooms were grand and gracious.
The guests embraced the gallic spirit of the afternoon by dressing up in classic French costumes. Marie Antoinnette, Porthous, Athos and Aramis along with the barmaid from ‘Allo Allo’ were all there.
We are well versed at explaining why and how grower champagnes are in fact as good as, if not better and are almost certainly cheaper than the mainstream big names from the industry. We captured the audience with a precis of the fundamentals of champagne production that are behind the unique taste of our products. There is a balance to be struck with any audience. You need to be able to explain how grower champagnes are unique to a patch of land without without being nerdy. You need to be able to describe the David and Goliath scenario of Grower vs Les Grandes Maisons without sounding like a proselytising anti-globalisation activist. The great advantage is that although you may have a room of people new to the idea of grower champagne to start with by the time they are are on their third or fourth glass they are won over the the distinctive and interesting flavours and aromas on offer.
All went well and there at least twenty or so converts to the cause of championing small family enterprises with a history of making outstanding products from their own land. We hope to work with G & T weekends again in the future.
There are many views on Rosé, not all of them positive. While the opinions of wine snobs can be valid, it’s important that you experiment and don’t get confounded by supposed established rules. Quite often they’re not based on much.
In this vein I always tell people to experiment and find what they like and not to feel embarrassed about it. Rosé Champagne is a classic example of this.
Most waiters and restaurants will tell you that customers drinking Rosé Champagne will probably only have a single glass as it’s considered ‘a fun aperitif’ – something to sip and enjoy before the serious business gets started.
But I suggest you ditch that approach – there’s no real reason why you can’t have Rosé Champagne with the whole meal – or as your main drink for the evening – and there are a number of valid reasons for doing so.
All Champagne types (including Rosé) are a great accompaniment to duck and game as it cuts through and emolliates the oiliness of the meat. Likewise Rosé is a great accompaniment to Lobster (if you’re really pushing the boat out) but also other types of seafood work very well.
Rosé Champagne, with its fresh fruity flavours, is the perfect candidate to be matched with desserts. As evidence of this there are, for me, few more delightful dining experiences than a raspberry pannacotta with mascarpone (with fresh raspberries of course) alongside a flute of Rosé Champagne. It’s enough to transport you from the depths of gloomy February to a summer zenith of sunshine and laughter.
Finally, you can even match Rosé with cheese, soft goat’s cheese to be precise. It works wonders and I heartily recommend you try it.
One thing to point out – don’t over chill your Rosé. I can’t stress this enough. It is best served at 10 to 12 C. If you serve it ice cold you won’t be able to enjoy the full range of available flavours and tastes.
So don’t be cowed by the snobs – don’t let them rain on your parade – have a try and see how it goes. Rosé champagne can and should be considered more than ‘a one glass drink’ – it certainly deserves more.
If you get any funny looks or comments feel free to point them in my direction…
Happy Rosé drinking everyone.
Once the harvest has been safely gathered in, the presses have stopped pressing and the vats are full of fermented still wine (no bubbles yet and known as Vin Clair), what goes on in Champagne? One major task is to decide the composition of the coming year’s Champagne – next years ‘cuvée’.
We took a trip over to Champagne a few weeks back and paid a visit to the three grower champagne families that we represent. Maud Plener, owner of Jean Plener et Fils in Bouzy, explained
how even with just three champagnes; Brut, Réserve, and Rosé, she has a complicated task ahead of her.
With two varietals (Chardonnay and Pinot Noir) and having vins clairs for 2013, 2014, and 2015, Maud has to decide what proportions of which vins clairs are to be used in their future champagne
blends. Some of the many factors to be borne in mind include taste, colour, experience, demand and storage space.
Jean Plener’s operation is towards the small end of the scale in reality. A Chef de Cave at a major champagne house may have as many as 80 different sources of vins clairs. Spread over say
three years means that they will have 240 options before even deciding what proportions to use. A demanding and complex job and they certainly earn their money.
One question on our minds when visiting our producers was their opinion on the 2015 harvest. There was a prolonged period in the middle of the growing season without rain. Some even called
it a drought. The opinion amongst our producers surprisingly differed. While all agreed that it had been a good year, some went a lot further in their praise of this year’s
In Bouzy in the Montagne de Reims area Champagne, Maude Plener noted that the lack of water at times meant that the vines were stressed, manifesting itself in uneven ripening. Her experience in Bouzy was that within the same plot there were areas where the fruit was ready whilst some was not. Overall in her view it was good despite the rain during the harvest itself and that the declaration of a vintage is unlikely
On the other hand, over in Le Mesnil sur Oger on the Côte deb Blancs, Patrice Pertois (owner of Bernard Pertois Champagne) declared that 2015 had been a superb harvest, surpassing all their hopes
and joining other notable years such as 1947, 1959, and 1976. He notes that their Chardonnay musts are well balanced in terms of acidity and sugar and after fermentation the vins clairs are well
structured. His amazement is even greater since they received only 60mm of rain in four months.
Our recent trip was a whistle stop tour through Champagne giving us a great insight into how the year has gone in Champagne. As we start to look forward to the Christmas and New Year festivities maybe its time to give a bit of thought to what Champagne we plan on enjoying with friends and family? It’s a difficult choice here at Moore Champagne because all three families’ champagnes are great but I know what I will be choosing – Jean Plener’s fantastic Rosé and Bernard Pertois’ brilliant Réserve. Both available on our website at a great price.
The Champagne region has a habit of keeping some of its best kept secrets to only a lucky few fortunate enough to be ‘in the know’. Travelling around, every now and then you come across
a small Champagne producer up to something really special. Based in the aptly named village of Bouzy, Jean Plener et Fils is one such Champagne producer, a producer who we were amazed
that so few other people had either heard about or enjoyed.
The Grand Cru village of Bouzy sits at the foot of the South facing slopes of the Montagne de Reims region of Champagne. Elevated above the river Marne and just a ten minute drive from Epernay, Bouzy is famed for its Pinot Noir grapes. It's South facing slopes, chalky soil and sunny disposition providing ideal conditions
Jean-François has a few years before retiring so is busy passing on all his skills and know-how to his daughter. Together their philosophy s very simple: making sure that every
bottle they produce is the best bottle it can be. A straight forward philosophy that means there is no place for compromise: in their own words “no premium blend, no basic blend : but a
Plener blend, the best of our art”.
Jean Plener’s Cuvée Brut ages for at least 3 years on the lees in their cellar while the Cuvée Réservée stays with them for a minimum of 4 years. Their blend is the same: 70% Grand Cru Pinot Noir and 30% Grand Cru Chardonnay. Delicate and smooth aromas of peach and apricot are typical of Jean Plener’s Champagne, with additional aging adding a bouquet of brioche and almond. Their Rosé is a little different. Comprising 85% of their standard Chardonnay-Pinot Noir blend together with 15% of their own Bouzy Rouge Pinot Noir wine, its an exciting mix of strawberry, grapefruit almond and nuts.
Maud is keen to get more people tasting and enjoying her family’s Champagne – she doesn’t want it to be such a well kept secret. We agree wholeheartedly! Moore Champagne is now bringing Jean Plener’s Champagnes over to the UK for more
people to enjoy. We especially like the Rosé - having enjoyed a fair few bottles ourselves so far this summer! We liked it so much that we even had it at a family wedding earlier in
June. Along with the great taste, what is also great news is the price as Jean Plener Champagnes start at only £26 a bottle. Great value for fantastic family produced
Grand Cru grower Champagne.
Not being a sommelier, nor a master of wine, nor a gourmand, nor a bon viveur but reckoning to be a pretty good listener and recounter of tales I was delighted
to have the opportunity to squirrel away a little gem from a lady vigneron(ette?) about the source of bubbles in Champagne glasses.
Carbon Dioxide gas evolves during the secondary fermentation process and is dissolved and then held within the liquid as long as it remains pressurised. Once the cork is released the gas comes out of the solution in the form of small bubbles. Why does it not all happen at once, like a balloon going pop, with one giant bubble escaping out of the liquid?
By all accounts nature needs a catalyst to make things happen. Imperfections on the side of the glass or microscopic pieces of fibre from tea towels play the part of catalysts and are the places where the bubbles form and then rise upward. The bubbles increase in size as they rise as the pressure lowers and as more gas evaporates into the bubble.
The effect of cleaning your Champagne glasses in a dishwasher is to cover the inside of the glass with a homogenous film of rinse aid which is perfectly smooth with no imperfections. Next time you pour a glass of your favourite cheer – no bubbles. By all accounts those restaurants, bars and hotels in the know, ensure that all glasses are given a buff up using a specialist glass cloth - thus ensuring a residue of fibre for the bubble sources. There are even some establishments who will take a sharp implement and gently scratch the inside of a dishwasher cleaned glass to endeavour to create one favoured spot for bubble formation and thus impress with a stream of bubbles rising from just one location.
Next time you see it you can you can either tell everyone and be a boring old got or you can just relax and enjoy it.
Suppose you are a small family firm – but you don’t run a convenience store – you make Champagne for a living. You do this because your parents did it and because your grandparents did it and because your great-grand parents did it. Your family has owned a substantial area of vines in the most famous winegrowing area in the world for generations. Originally your forebears were simply grape farmers who sold their produce to the famous Champagne houses. They probably took part in the famous champagne riots in 1910 and 11 when grape producers after several years of poor harvests learnt that the major purchasers were not only colluding to force down grape prices but also endeavouring to bring in grapes from outside the region. The village of Ay was set ablaze, houses pillaged and the Governor declared a state of civil war to which the government responded by despatching troops to restore order.
Once the upheaval of the Great War was over, which it should be remembered included the occupation and destruction of large sections of the Champagne area, an increasing number of growers concluded that rather than be at the mercy of an avaricious buying cartel, a second more profitable string to their bow would be the production of their own Champagne. Getting the resources together to acquire the equipment and facilities was not easy. Pressoirs, vinification vats, racking and cellars are not cheap. Some resorted to the use of cooperatively owned plant, some simply shared with a neighbour, some scrimped and saved and borrowed to realise their own dream.
A century later in an era of plentiful cheap easy money when the wine industry worldwide has seen startling advances in technical capability, it is intriguing to come across a practise which remains both simple but laborious. A true labour of love. Remuage (Eng. Riddling).
During Champagne production, with secondary fermentation is complete, the Champagne is aged in the bottle over a period of at least 15 months in a dark cool cellar. The bottles are stored horizontally and a crown cap fitted. The wine (its not really Champagne yet) interacts with the dead yeast cells (lees) in a process known as autolysis to provide the characteristic briochey, nutty flavour. The spent yeast collects in a slug in the middle of the bottle and needs to be coaxed down to the neck so that it can be removed (‘disgorged’ being the technical phrase) without stirring up a cloud. The bottles are removed from the horizontal rack (the ‘tirage’ and placed in the charismatic angled board with holes in it – a ‘pupitre’. The bottles are then turned by hand at regular intervals and inclined slightly more to the vertical. After about two months the bottle is vertically upright and the yeast neatly captured behind the crown cap already for the disgorgement. This process was automated back in the late 60s by the introduction of a device called a gyro pallet. There are moves now to include within the yeast microscopic grains which will attract the yeast and allow the yeast to be removed by a magnet.
However the task of Remuage is still done by hand by the small volume Grower-producers of Champagne. Albeit, if you make 10,000 bottles a year and you have at any one time 30,000 bottles in your cellar the task of remuaging a year’s worth in time for it to be disgorged at a planned moment in time is still not insignificant. A member of the family, the family remueur, has to go down to the cellar twice a week and twiddle all the bottles scheduled for disgorgement. How do they know how much to twiddle and in what direction to twiddle?
There is a cunning plan. On the top floor of the cellar there is a chalk board on which every rotational movement is recorded. Next to the board is the master plan which shows how much to twiddle and in which direction. So by looking at the picture opposite we can see that starting at the centre of what looks like a complicated diagram, the first move was an eighth anti-clockwise, followed by 3/8 clockwise, 5/8 anti-clockwise, 7/8 clockwise, 10/8 anti-clockwise. Simple and effective.
Laurent Vauversin is steadily gaining recognition for his outstanding wines. His unstinting efforts and estimable product has been marked by the 2015 'Decanter World Wine Awards'
For those whose French has not progressed beyond GCSE we offer a translation of the article shown below which appeared in 'Terre de Vins'.
2014 was an exceptional year for 24 year-old Laurent Vauversin, a grower producer in Oger. First of all the award of the accreditation ‘bio’. ‘My father was very open to this course of action particularly since he hasn’t used herbicides since 2000. But he never wanted to take this step alone,’ Laurent explains. ‘ With two of us it is better and we benefit from mutual discussion.’
The three hectares of vines (of which the oldest date from 1952) are worked under a bio regime using their own recipes. Do not bother looking for another, Vauversin is the unique ‘bio’
certified vineyard in Oger – a Grand Cru village wedged in between the stars of le Mesnil and Avise. ‘It will be good for us in Oger because we are making best use of our village’s
understanding of quality, after all we supply some of the Grandes Maisons.’ the young vigneron suggests. ‘Notably Veuve Clicqout and Dom Perignon….’
Achieving the status ‘bio’ is one thing, but this year has also seen the construction of a building for processing the harvest and the purchase of a new press. ‘ A major investment for
our small undertaking but we will be able to operate completely autonomously..’ 50% of Laurent’s customers are visitors to the premises where he has 5 cuvees on offer.
The Brut Original is soft and fine. The Millesime 2006 Gastronomy – an Extra Brut cuvee from old vines. The Reserve Orpair aged in old oak barrels – is dense and subtle. Laurent explains that he has not used malolactic fermentation on his flagship cuvees since 2012. 'It ensures the most attractive acidity and safeguards the delicate features of our champagnes with a touch of brioche and a long citrusy finish.’ Lovers of coloured bubbles, displaying the fruity characteristics of raspberry and cherry will also appreciate his ‘Rose du Soir’, whose blend includes 12% Grand Cru Pinot Noir from Bouzy. Laurent also touches on his privileged relationship with his father. ’ He gives me fantastic support.’ Furthermore Laurent recounts with pride and utter lack of pretension that the Vauversin family has been ‘tied up with the vine’ since 1640.