The Comite de Champagne is the trade organisation established by statute to manage the common interests of growers (‘vignerons’) and Champagne Houses (négociants/producteurs’).
This year it the Comite has decided to limit the harvest to 8,000 kgs per hectare.
When discussing this with Maude Plener a week ago I was horrified to learn that this would mean that she would be leaving about 2,000 kgs per hectare to rot into the ground. Surely I said you can sell the excess, outside of Champagne. You could make grape juice with it. You could make still white wine with it.
No she was adamant that the rules of the CIVC had to be obeyed and she would select the best of the crop and throw the rest away.
The reason for the apparently appalling decision is due to the fact that 20 million fewer bottles of champagne have been consumed this year. With no weddings, parties nor receptions due to Coronavirus, demand for champagne has nosedived. Furthermore the government's ever promising desire for England to stand alone once again and call it Brexit has curtailed UK sales. A 20% import tariff in the US on the 'cheese eating surrender monkeys' has seen demand fall there also. This year the limit has nothing to do with the abundance or shortfall of the crop and a lot to do with a surfeit of champagne, how much can be stored away in the cellars and preventative measure to prevent its image being tarnished by some dumping of excess stock.
Champagne is not a new industry. It is not an industry that relies upon fast turn round, carefully computed stock holding, or just in time deliveries. The world really has become a sadder place if there are to be no more parties, receptions or events needing to be marked by the consumption of the worlds favourite drink.
It has survived two world wars, phyloxera, the rise of prosecco and the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918.
This will probably hopefully turn out to be another minor bump in the road.
There’s no such thing as a free lunch!
It is not often that there is anything for free or doesn’t come with some sort of sting, bite, lure or call to action. So I have decided to keep ones customers’ minds focussed on our products by sending out some thoughts, snatches of conversation and gleanings from the press on the subject of champagne.
There has been considerable discussion about the consequences of climate change on the Champagne region or the opportunity that now presents itself for owners of sheltered grass uplands in southern England. In Champagne we will have:
· Hotter days
· Higher temperatures
· Warmer nights
· Earlier harvest means less time for sugars to develop?
· Less acidic
· Scorching of the fruit
The CIVC statement is that global warming is a fact and that the temperature in the Champagne Region has risen by 1.1 C. The historic cool wet climate of north eastern France is essential for the production of crisp and elegant flavours of Champagne. Because the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier grapes do not ripen quickly and the resultant thin green still wine needs to be bolstered by the methode champenoise to compensate for unripe grape harvests. Now however the vignerons are concerned that their vines are maturing too early producing grapes with acid levels that are too low.
The low acidic levels mean that the wine has less of a crisp’ thirst quenching nature and will age less well. Dosage, the adding of sugar solution, prior to bottling for the second time is becoming less necessary and ‘Nature’ or zero dosage is not just a marketing ploy. In general the world of champagne is becoming sweeter, rounder and less pointy. Blending will delay or hide it for a while but eventually the truth will out. Extreme weather patterns like frost, hail, storms, fire and drought will damage a crop and cause major disruption but incrementally the overall picture is slowly shifting.
A word or two were exchanged with Ms Blin about this and that. Firstly why there are no Grand Cru vineyards in the Aube whereas there are 17 of them 100km to the north. The answer is because the people who make the rules are from the North. They don’t want any more competition.
Are there any winemakers of note in the Aube. Amongst a welter of names the ones that seem to have the largest following are Michel Loriot, and Francoise Bedel. These are the sort of vineyards that we would have on our list if only the Aube had Grand Cru representation.
Novel Grapes that may be used in the production of champagne.
Is an under used white grape that grows well in Alsace and a variety of other locations. It is grown in the Aube to make a champagne that is 100% Pinot blanc
They are the same grape, but the wines have traditionally been made in different styles. In northern Italy the tradition was always to pick the grapes early before they developed too much of their pinkish grey colour - creating a light crisp unoaked wine with green apple and pear flavours. In Alsace where Pinot Gris is also grown, it’s left to fully ripen in the long and dry autumns to produce a richer full bodied white wine with stone fruit and spice notes.
Arbane has a long history of cultivation in the southern Champagne wine region, particularly around the commune of Bar-sur-Aube
Petit Meslier is a rare white wine grape that is a minor component of some Champagne blends. It is valued for its ability to retain acidity even in hot vintages. Petit Meslier is the result of a cross between Gouais blanc and Savagnin.
Just a few notes to keep the wheels turning.
Putting the word ‘Methodology in a title might be considered a little off-putting. There is a type of person who relishes an organised structure to tasks, life, possibly even love. There are others that thrive on spontaneity, happenstance and serendipity. They will almost certainly be neither interested nor even aware of the fact that an organised approach to champagne tasting may enhance their pleasure.
If these few words act as a nudge to thinking about, ‘For what we are about to receive,’ then my efforts will have been worthwhile.
Where do we begin?
Are we tasting or are we drinking? Is this pleasurable work or just pleasure? Do I need to have a cold analytical approach with an output and a clear cut conclusion and comments at the end? What are the vested interests? Whose wine is it? Who has paid for it? If it’s not me why are they giving it to me? Am I concerned about upsetting them? Who am I with? Do they need a running commentary with smart-alec asides?
With the wine list? The price? The name? The year? The region? The style?
And that’s before we have put anything in our mouth except perhaps a swig of water to neutralise the palate.
We have the nose and the look of the wine.
Gently swirl it around the glass and hold it up to the light. Not that you are looking for anything in particular, simply possible deficiencies. Is the supply of bubbles exhausted? Is there an iridescent sheen about it or is it simply dull?
There can be almost as much pleasure in the nose of a wine as the feel and the warmth of it on the tongue. Savour it and delight in it. It is for your pleasure, no one else’s. Are you assailed by thoughts of freshness, brightness. Is it complex or is it simple and clean?
This is a complex task made simpler by breaking it down into its constituent parts
Attack, Evolution (Primary, Secondary, Tertiary) and Finish
· Alcohol – does it feel strong on the tongue?
· Acidity – Does it quench your thirst?
· Tannin – Are there strings of molecules waiting to be tied up?
· Residual sugar – Is there any sharp residual sweetness?
· Conclusion is
o intensity and complexity,
o soft or firm,
o light or heavy,
o crisp or creamy,
o sweet or dry.
Evolution of the wine
· Primary Taste profile of the wine
The primary flavours come from the grapes themselves or from the environment in which they are grown. These
primary flavours are particularly apparent in young sparkling wines. Look for citrus flavours especially lemon, but also grapefruit and mandarin. Frequently there is a little apple. Some
excellent sparkling wines also show peach apricot or prune flavours.
In sparkling Rosé you may find strawberries and raspberries.
Secondary flavours come from the fermentation process itself and in sparkling wines these are principally from the secondary fermentation in the bottle. These autolytic flavours spring from contact with the bottle lees and include brioche or freshly baked cake. The earlier fruit flavours evolve so that you perceive cooked fruit even tarte tatin. The mouth feel also evolves to be buttery or creamy. Its age has made it a much more complex wine.
These appear in mature sparkling wines and are the result of ageing and sometimes involve a little oxidisation. Sometimes you can get caramel, coffee, mushrooms, nuts (especially hazlenuts, walnuts and pecans).
How long does the flavour impression last? Is it a genuinely attractive impression?
There it is. If you use this as a yardstick then when faced with a room full of 20 Grower each with three or four cuvees to try you won't come unstuck. It worked for me until I got to the Vegan champagne which was absolutely unapproachable and just an excuse to hang a vegan hat on.
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.
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.