Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger was in London last week to present the fabulous new Comtes de Champagne release, the first since 2016. With new winemaker and chef de caves, Alexandre Ponnavoy at the helm, it looks like the beginning of a new chapter in the history of Taittinger.
The 2007 vintage is regarded by Taittinger as a very good vintage in Champagne with an especially warm winter resulting in early vegetative growth. The harvesting started with Chardonnay being picked in early September.
Greg Sherwood MW with UK Taittinger importer Patrick McGrath MW and Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger, President of the Grandes Marques.
The character of the vintage, according to Alexandre, “showed fine freshness, crystalline purity, ample complexity and an intricately bright acidity underpinned by a fine, pin point salinity” which is generally regarded as the key to the 2007’s great success.
The Four Principles of Comtes de Champagne:
Extremely small production, 10 years of bottle aging on the less before disgorgement, five top Grand Cru sites, making a wine that is “an affordable luxury”… appealing to real Champagne connoisseurs, not just millionaires or billionaires.
1 Unique terroir
2 A long vinification history allowing a wine personality to develop
3 Vinification with attention to detail
4 Good forests, using a small amount of oak foudre for ageing a portion of this wine to add a little “salt and pepper” to its character and complexity.
Tasting with new chef de caves Alexandre Ponnavoy.
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut 2007, 12 Abv.
A fantastic young Champagne with a colourful personality. Chalky aromatics bristle out the glass, interwoven with dusty limestone minerality, lemon and lime cordial and yellow grapefruit notes. Sublime balance, harmony and creamy textural elegance, this really is such a sympathetic wine with delicious mouth watering acidity and vibrancy. The wine oozes breeding and regal heritage but without any pretentious airs or graces, delivering palate depth, structure and a focused creamy mousse with delectable notes of lemon biscuits, buttered white toast, lemon bon bons, hazelnuts and a wonderful zesty white peach pastille complexity. A luminous bright citric core, refined palate breadth and a creamy sour dough and buttered brioche finish. So, so lovely. A worthy successor to the block buster 2005 and 2006. Drink now or cellar for 15+ years.
Founded in 1851 by the man who would become known as ‘Champagne Charlie’, this family-owned Champagne house is the smallest of the Grandes Marques. Their size and commitment to excellence, has been underpinned by a winemaking team that between them have been named ‘Sparkling Winemaker of the Year’ at the International Wine Challenge 15 times.
With commercially released stocks of the long running Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 1995 finally exhausted, the time had come for a new release to seduce the market with and what better vintage to offer than the stellar 2004. Anyone who tasted the 1995 can attest to its incredible quality and complexity… a wine that was able to convert the staunchest Champagne sceptic.
We will probably never again have something this old for the “current commercially available prestige Cuvee release” (at circa £165 per bottle) but we will no doubt see older archive releases and special recently disgorged oddments trickle onto the market over time. In the meantime, the 2004 is another iconic Champagne release that should find a place in any fine wine lover’s cellar.
The wines were tasted before and during a bespoke lunch with specially selected courses, at the fabulous 1 star Michelin restaurant Trinity near Clapham Common in London.
Charles Heidsieck Brut NV (Current Release in 2018)
Base wine 2010, 40% Reserve wine from 2005 to 1990 (10 year old average) and 60% from 2010.
Very precise, dusty creamy lemon brioche, real reserve wine depth and opulence, concentration and intensity. Plenty of sour dough, saline briney yellow citrus complexity. The mouse is very explosive without being course, expansive yet very creamy and the palate is loaded with delicious nutty almond skin exotism. You just can’t underestimate the influence of the 40 % reserve wines in the blend. It’s signature is super intensity and pin point balance combined with real generosity. This is a fine wine in every sense… and certainly a whole lot of wine for the money!
(Wine Safari Score: 93+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Charles Heidsieck Rose Brut Reserve NV
Base wine of 75% 2012 vintage and 20% reserve wine of 5 to 6 years age. Includes a blend of red wines made by 2-3 suppliers which are aged in tank.
The nose is fairly youthful and vinous, tense and taut with real chalky minerality and overt stony nuances. Still very fresh and tightly wound, delicate savoury red fruits slowly reveal themselves. Pithy cherry skins, cherry pips and cranberry skins. Not quite as saline and briney as the NV white, this Rose NV shows great energy, fine textural shape and a long subtle mineral pithy length. Give this another 1-2 years to open its shoulders and then drink over 5-8+ years.
(Wine Safari Score: 93/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Charles Heidsieck Rose Millesime 2005
8% Pinot Noir (50% Les Riceys and 50% Reims)
Dark copper salmon colour, the nose reveals delicious savoury notes of red berry coulis, cherry pith, strawberry pips, and wet chalk. The palate is explosive, dense, super creamy and expansive in the mouth. Plenty of meaty savoury red berry notes, strawberries and cream with a minerally iron-laden, briney finish. Such impressive concentration and profound depth! Wow. A real block buster Rose release indeed.
(Wine Safari Score: 95+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires 2004
100% Chardonnay Cuvee, 5 Crus selected from the Cotes de Blancs, 4 Grand Crus and 1 Premier Cru from Vertus, each representing 20% of the blend. 9 g/l dosage. Laid in the cellar in 2005 and aged for 11 years on its lees with disgorgement in November 2016.
Rich deep straw colour, with the most seductive nose of brioche, savoury marmite and leesy complexity, salted sour dough and burnt sugar and nutty ripe lemon biscuit notes. Very dense, weighty yet fresh, this wine shows massive concentration of lemon crumble, salted pretzel dow, and a real dusty, gravelly minerality on the long, power packed finish. So much pedigree in evidence here and expertly delivered. A profound Champagne. Drink now to 2028+.
Well, it’s that time of year when we gather to bid farewell to fine wine friend Keith Prothero before he decamps to the Cape for the summer / UK Winter. I volunteered to organise the lunch finale with Bruce Poole, co-owner of Chez Bruce, Keith’s favourite restaurant in London and below is a little snap shot of the epic wines consumed. All wines were tasted blind before they were revealed.
First up, a vibrant, tantalising Clos des Goisses 1996 Champagne from Philipponnat with a fine leesy biscuit lift and a pronounced, creamy citrus note. Beautiful definition, purity, and a salty briney undertone that melts away into dusty lemon, buttered toast and a crisp, vibrant finish with great structure. A good bottle drinking at its peak. (96/100 GS)
The first flight of five whites started with an impressive Niepoort Coche White Blend 2011, briming with creamy peachy yellow fruits, lovely struck match reduction, ample minerality, woodsmoke, cassis leaf, wet slate, and wonderfully fine depth. I loved the tension and profound, subtle, buttery depth. Truly one of Portugal’s finest still white wines. Malcolm Thwaites, who has just recently visited Dirk Niepoort during harvest, actually called the wine amazingly! (95+/100 GS)
Next up, Keith’s Sandhi Sanford & Benedict 2011 Chardonnay. Initially smokey and seductive, with intense saline notes, lemon and lime cordial richness, huge concentration, this was a complete ringer for an old world Burgundian grand vin. Only after it had sat in the glass for a while, did it finally start to reveal some exotic new world fruit notes. A monumental effort from California and the ultimate ringer capable of fooling even the most talented tasters. (96/100 GS)
The Sandhi was followed by one of the truly great white wines of Burgundy, a superb bottle of J-F Coche Dury Meursault 2013. Wow, tasted blind, this was intensely taught, pin point, and precise showing lime, stoney liquid minerals, crushed limestone tension and focus. Very intense with seamless texture, regal mineral complexity, subtle passion fruit hints and great rigour on the finish. “Wines like this should challenge the senses, not entertain them!” was a very poignant comment from Nigel Platts Martin. (96/100 GS)
At these lunches, we always seem to open our “back up bottles” even when not required, and here again, my Didier Dagueneau Buisson Menard Pouilly Fume 1997 was added to the first flight. An interesting bottle, it had tasters scratching their heads endlessly as the wine unfurled in the glass. Plenty of white peach, passion fruit, pineapple and stoney minerality were in evidence. Beautifully exotic with a mercurial dry finish. “A bit of an upstart”… but certainly showed its class in my mind. (93/100 GS)
Just as we were about to move on to the reds, we were treated to another late addition and definite rarity. A fine bottle of Raveneau Chablis Grand Cru Les Clos 2002. The initial nose was quite lactic, with hints of cottage cheese and cream, yet also full of oyster shell, fennel, pineapple and aniseed. There was a touch of wet dog to the wine combined with great minerality which led many of us to the Loire. But this was classic, elegant, fresh, super fine Grand Cru Chablis at its best and developed wonderfully in the glass. (94/100 GS)
The first three reds revealed a Rhoney theme but with a few twists. First up was Neal Martin’s amazing Jaboulet Cornas 1972 that showed a bouquet of rich brûlée oranges, savoury cured meats, and cherry confit. Rich and textural, this beautifully lifted wine sang a wonderful melody, and while mature, was thoroughly enchanting. So typical of the Northern Rhone, almost all at the table plumped for Hermitage or even perhaps a great vintage of Crozes-Hermitage. La Chapelle was even mentioned. But Cornas it was. I would have expected a little more blood and iron for a Cornas but perhaps the Jaboulet personality was shinning through more than the appellation’s terroir. A real treat. (93+/100 GS)
The wine that followed was younger and required a bit more thought. Beaucastel Chateauneuf du Pape Hommage a Jacques Perrin 2000. Very complex Mourvèdre dominated wine (60%) loaded with black berry and bramble fruits with saddle leather, cured meats, liquorice, tar and sweet earthy black fruit notes. Dense and concentrated, this was a delicious grand vin wine almost certainly drunk too young. Give this classic another decade at least. (96+/100 GS)
So we were well and truly treading a Rhone path, when the next red from Alex Lake had us all a bit fooled. A Giaconda Warner Vineyard Shiraz 2002 was not to my memory picked out as New World by anyone. Smoky lifted nose with granite dust, aniseed root, and earthy black berries, this was a very compact, focused wine with plenty of tension, crisp acids, and a subtle, restrained, savoury boxwood and pepper corn spice finish. A very smart wine that along with the Mullineux reds, is one of the few new world Syrahs / Shirazes Keith openly admits to drinking! Nice to taste this wine again with more age, but still a long life ahead of it. (95/100 GS)
The next pair of reds charmed some more than others, but as a devout Italian fine wine lover, the next two reds had me weak at the knees, (or was that the previous 10 bottles?). An utterly sublime Soldera Case Basse Brunello di Montalcino 1999 was bursting with sweet cherry blossom perfume, savoury earthy notes, saddle leather and wet tobacco, gun smoke, and graphite. Plenty of energy, this really was a superb, seductive hedonistic red full of character. (96+/100 GS)
To partner the Soldera was another real rarity ~ a Valdicava Madonna Del Piano Brunello di Montalcino Riserva 1990. Not a wine you come across very often anymore, this wine had all the archetypal power and prowess Valdicava’s Riserva’s are so famous for, except this one was finally giving an impression that despite being beautifully fresh and vital, it was approaching peek drinkability after 27 years! Dark and smoky, dense and dusty, it was quite saline, tight and precise, with pithy caramelised cherry fruits, grilled herbs, leather, graphite, aniseed and meaty savoury bramble berry depth. Very fine acids and also a touch of VA just to add more lift and complexity. The Riserva can be a hard wine to understand in its youth, or when James Suckling scores them 100 points, like with the 2010. But after tasting a maturing vintage like this, a lot of puzzle pieces fall into place. (96+/100 GS)
At this point, we were all amazed that no Burgundy or Bordeaux had featured in the flights yet! But the next wine broke the drought. A most majestic Chateau Cheval Blanc 1985 from St Emilion. This was a real treat and must be one of my favourite vintages of Cheval Blanc. Loaded with black berry fruits, gun powder, briary, and aniseed notes, it was also so vibrant, energetic and packed full of saline cassis, a touch of ink, leafy spice, sandalwood and buttered brown toast. Drinking in the perfect harmonious mid point between youth and maturity. For me, a top right bank Bordeaux ready to drink does not get much better than this. (98/100 GS)
The last red was possibly another late addition, hence it was not included in the Rhone flight. But in many ways, it received more deserving attention being served in isolation. A contender for wine of the lunch, the Les Cailloux Chateauneuf du Pape Cuvée Centenaire 1990 from Lucien & Andre Brunel was indeed profound. A solid 100 pointer on the Wine Advocate scale, Robert Parker once described this wine as one of the greatest vintages ever made at the estate. This bottle was deliciously saline, rich, intense and dense but never tipping over to heavy in anyway. Sleek, crystalline, and supremely elegantly textured, this wine is still so youthful, fresh and perfumed, showing its true class. A really profound wine. (98/100 GS)
To accompany a most delicious cheese dessert course, two sublime sweet wines were served. The iconic Mullineux Olerasay No.1 Chenin Blanc NV made from a Solera system. The word that encapsulates this wine is effortless harmony. It is neither too sweet nor too unctuous, merely finely balanced and beautifully intense. A lot of effort goes into making straw wines of this quality, and this blend deserves a big score if for no other reason, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Amazing wine. (98/100 GS)
Before we could cross our T’s and dot our I’s, we were treated to another profound dessert wine ~ the Reinhold Heart Ohligsberger 2010 Mosel Eiswein. After a long afternoon of intense, thought provoking fine wines, nothing could possibly refresh the senses better than a delicious, vibrant glass of rapier fresh Eiswein. Packed full of lemon and lime cordial notes, white peaches, and sweet yellow grapefruit, the acidity balanced the sugar brilliantly and was the perfect ending to a fascinating afternoon of fine wine and of course exceptional Michelin starred food.
Bon voyage Keith, I am sure most of us will still be talking about many of these wines by the time you return in 6 months time.
It’s been a long week with moderate jeg lag after arriving back from San Francisco last Sunday. By Friday, I felt I was just about back to normal, only waking up at 5am… instead of 3am. But there can certainly be no better pick-me-up than some bubbles, and today I had a lovely visit from Pieter ‘Bubbles’ Ferreira himself, the master of Cape MCC.
As someone who did their MW dissertation on MCC Production in Constantia Valley, I am of course a great lover and eternal ambassador of fine Cape Methode Champenoise sparking wines, or Methode Cap Classique as they are classified in South Africa. And there are no greater names in MCC circles than Bubbles Ferreira, who makes some of the greatest examples of bottle fermented sparkling wine outside of Champagne.
Interesting to hear from Pieter that MCC sales continue to grow around 14% per year for them in SA and I suspect this is probably only slightly higher than the overall category average. For three quarters of the year, South Africa is almost too hot to drink too much red wine, so beer, white wine and of course chilled bubbles are the order of the day. South Africa has developed into a serious producer and quality of MCC across the board is very high on average. Not surprisingly, South Africa is now also the largest market for French Champagne on the African continent.
So it was great to have another look at the famous Graham Beck Cuvee Clive 2009, the most prestigious cuvee in the Graham Beck portfolio and an absolute personification of Pieter’s passion and obsession for creating the perfect sparkling wine. Grab a bottle if you can get your hands on some of the tiny allocation that has made it to the UK for the first time.
Tasting Note: A blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, both were whole bunch pressed and only the tete de cuvee was used, being mostly fermented in stainless steel but with a small percentage in Piece Champenoise 205 litre oak barrels. The wine is pale straw and wonderfully vibrant and fresh. The nose is rich, subtly savoury and exceptionally complex, showing wonderful opulence and attractive notes of biscuit, dusty limestone, shitake mushrooms, and white truffles. The whole while, the nose and palate are underpinned by vibrant, creamy citrus fruit purity. Lemon and dried herbs, yellow grapefruit and white citrus blossom. The texture is hedonistic and luxurious with a real salty, briney sea breeze character coming through on the long, toasty, nutty finish. Beautiful creamy mousse is perfectly assembled and in fine balance with fresh acids and elegant mineral finesse. A truly world class expression. Bravo Bubbles Ferreira.
Going to large tastings, like the London Wine Trade Fair, I always find certain styles of wines get neglected. For starters, Ports and fortified wines, Madeiras and Sherries, but also Champagnes and quality sparkling wines.
I find fortified wines tend to fatigue the palate prematurely and bubblies make all subsequent still wines taste disproportionately flat or flabby. So getting the opportunity to sit down for an intimate, focused lunch with one of Champagne’s top winemakers over a 4 course lunch at Nigel Platts-Martin’s fantastic La Trompette Restaurant in Chiswick was very exciting.
We tasted a fantastic selection of Champagne Henriot’s portfolio with Laurent Fresnet, their head winemaker and maitre de chai, and his importer John E Fells, ably attended to by the very talented sommelier Tanguy Martin.
The Henriot Brut Souverain NV, to start with, was a fantastic intro that has really become a massively popular by-the-glass offering in restaurants. 50% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, and 8% Pinot Meunier make for a superbly versatile style. (Wine Safari Score: 92+/100 Greg Sherwood MW)
We also tasted the excellent Blanc de Blancs NV from magnum (95/100), the Rose NV (92+/100), and then the tantalising Brut Rose Vintage 2008, which was lifted, fresh, vibrant and oh so perfumed. A real class act (94/100).
The highly impressive, award winning Brut 2006 (94/100) was the perfect lead into our final pairing… the prestige cuvee Henriot Enchanteleurs 1999 from magnum and the 2000 from bottle. The perfect accompaniment to the cheese and dessert.
The star of the lunch, the Henriot Enchanteleurs 1999 ~ An explosion of truffle, lemon butter, brioche and creamy lemon biscuits. Wow, such complexity and vibrancy. Exceptional! (95+/100)
Scallop amuse bouche
Rhug estate Chicken
Custard tart, cinnamon ice cream and quince purée.
Incredibly good Michelin star food and superb service matched the greatness of the wines. A real privilege. Thank you Laurent! I look forward to visiting you in Reims soon!