Champagne

Krug Clos d'Ambonnay 2000
Julian Campbell - 27 July 2015

The walled garden that supplies Andrew Fairlie’s eponymous two star restaurant at Gleneagles Hotel was the setting for last week’s unveiling of Krug’s Clos d’Ambonnay 2000.  

All four vintages of this tiny .68ha jewel in the portfolio were poured, making it a unique chance to see the full Krug output from the 100% Pinot Noir walled vineyard in Ambonnay.


The vineyard itself was purchased by Krug in 1994. The village of Ambonnay has historically always provided the highest quality Pinot Noir in the  Grande Cuvée  blend and so when the opportunity came to purchase arguably the greatest Pinot Noir vineyard in the greatest Pinot Noir village in Champagne, the decision was an obvious one. A sibling for Clos du Mesnil was born, though one far rarer (Clos du Mesnil is almost three times the size). 1995 was the very first vintage, not released until 2007, and since then we have seen the 1996, 1998 and finally today, 2000 released.


Production in 2000 amounts to just 5,000 bottles, that is 415 cases, so about the size of Le Pin. The grapes were harvested in a single day - on 29th September. The 2000 vintage was a very good vintage if your vineyards avoided the hail and storms that swept across the region in July. Clos d’Ambonnay did. The dominant characteristics of the vintage were warmth with cool September nights. The harvest was a late one, allowing exceptional richness in the Pinot Noir grapes, while the rains and cool nights provided good mineral content and plentiful acidity. How does it compare to the other three vintages? The 2000 has the heady and highly complex Pinot Noir perfume of red fruit, honeycomb and spice that seems to characterise Clos d’Ambonnay, wonderful precision on the palate and currently the most minerality of all four vintages. It comes across as a fresher, more precise version of the 1995, definitely less linear than the 1996, with some of the intense and broad Pinot Noir notes of the 1998, but a greater sense of poise. To my mind it has the potential to be the best of the lot.

 


 Clos d’Ambonnay 2000

“Such a characterful, Ambonnay nose, honeycomb, raspberry, a Pinot Noir perfume that blends into herbal notes, fennel then red currant -  such crystalline clarity to the nose and with a swirl the tell-tale rich notes of truffle and honey are released. Fennel, cucumber, verbena and mint, seriously complex garden notes coming through with more air, blending seamlessly with the laser cut red fruit on display.  The palate is dry and broad, expansive and electric, with Krug’s signature golden minerality still at the forefront. The finish is pure, long and poised, with a beautifully integrated but still electrifying acidity. There are no hard edges here, just total focus and total equilibrium. Spell-binding stuff.”

 

The four vintages provided a fascinating insight into just how spectacular this walled vineyard is. 1995 was captivating from the word go. Mature and complex yet in high focus, with a vivid sense of freshness allied to a kaleidoscopic complexity. Powerful, rich, concentrated yet weightless. It offered it all, and on the day jumped pretty quickly into pole position for my desert island champagne of choice. The 1996 felt a lot younger and less expansive, the most high-wire wine in the group; precise, focused and linear. It needs some years to show its full potential. 1998 was pure pleasure, the richness of Pinot Noir fully on display, without perhaps quite the electric acidity of the 1995. Generous, perhaps the most open of all the cuvées, with stunning and very vinous Pinot Noir flavours appearing with air.

 


Clos d’Ambonnay 1995

“Honeycomb and crystalline liquid-lemon scented golden beeswax. A single stream of very fine bulles, kite-flying-bead. Brioche, croissant, with wonderful truffle note and spice. On the palate this has unbelievable cut and precision, electric acidity, laser cut, power yet no weight whatsoever. Massive concentration, super bright liquid mineral and concentrated lemon flavours, alongside brioche, truffle and glorious red fruits."

 

Clos d’Ambonnay 1996

"A bit more bread and yeast initially, then truffle notes. More linear with notes of fresh buttered pasty and red currant. Very clean and pure. On the palate this is so very linear, utterly pure and arrow straight, an archer - pin head precision. The acidity here is still unyielding and needs a few years. Very high-wire and electric - like a single note on a violin. Much less generous than 1995; this is a taut wine of tension and nerve. Needs further cellaring, and will probably always be at the linear end of the spectrum."


Clos d’Ambonnay 1998

"Glorious nose - truffle and musky honey, baked pastry and an extraordinary perfume of fresh vegetable-garden and herbs. This is much more like the 1995; dry, rich and powerful. Less complex and precise than the 1995, but similar character. A big vintage. Heat-wave few days in August. Doesn't have the electric acidity of the ‘95. Loaded with flavour and very giving.  Ready, and probably the wine you would drink first. Generous, broad, with lots of red fruit and Pinot flavours, a vinous character. The more it sits in the glass, the more the complex, aged Pinot flavours come out."

Growers Champagne
Julian Campbell - 13 March 2015

Growing ‘pagnes - small production grower champagnes pushing quality ever higher.

It is no secret that the UK champagne market is dominated by the Grandes Marques. According to a grower we lunched with in Champagne earlier in the week, Britain’s thirst for grower champagnes accounts for a measly 1.5% of Champagne’s market share. In Italy, by contrast, 15% of all champagne comes from smaller independent producers, while in Japan that number is 10%. We clearly have some catching up to do. 

The reasons for this state of affairs are no doubt historical, but also educational, and sociological. The might of the Grande Marque, not to mention the cachet of serving one, resonate strongly with the British public and there still appears to be a general lack of awareness that there are myriad family run estates across Champagne producing small batch artisan Fizz from fully owned plots of carefully tended vines. 


Over the course of a very brief two day trip, we were invited on multiple occasions to come and taste still wines, the Vins Clairs, from the vats of growers who evidently class themselves as winemakers just as much as champagne producers. The likes of Francis Egly (-Ouriet) in Ambonnay and the Diebolt Vallois family in Cramant are producing vinous wines of such personality, precision and charm that it’s impossible not to be won over. The stringent quality controls they employ are perhaps only possible when working on the scale like this, where a small team quite literally oversees every element of production, from tying back the vines, to harvest, and into the cellar for elevage. And all this at prices that in the grande (marque) scheme of things, seem exceedingly fair. 

Once the UK market in general starts to wake up to the quality on offer from these sorts of small, focussed estates, the rush will begin. For the time being, growers’ champagnes remain relatively under the radar, and arguably something of a steal: all the better for those who care more about what is in the glass than on the label. 

Some stand out wines from a recent trip: 

Egly-Ourriet Brut Tradition NV – Base 2010, a tremendously high quality entry level cuvee that combines rich fruit with great clarity and control at just 3-4 grams of dosage. 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. 

Pascal Doquet Diapason Grand Cru Le Mesnil sur Oger – 85% 2006, 15% 2005 – an all chardonnay cuvee that begins broad and gourmande and finishes highly pure, taut and focussed. A lot of wine for the price and currently in conversion to organic. 

Diebolt Vallois, Cuvee Prestige Blanc de Blancs – a blend of 2009, 2010, 2011 (though the next release set to be a blend of six vintages) – potentially the best value of the lot. Precise, detailed fruit supported by super fine structure and an exceedingly pretty floral character. 

Krug, a tasting to remember
Justerini & Brooks - 15 October 2013

Quality is something that Krug know a fair bit about, having made nothing but Prestige Cuvees every single year since 1843. Olivier Krug is at the helm of this great house and is committed to driving quality to ever greater heights.

We had the pleasure of Olivier’s company last Thursday. He kindly hosted a tasting in our cellar and a lunch for a few very lucky clients. We had the good fortune to learn all about the complexity of Krug’s Grand Cuvee, the Rose and the latest vintage, Krug 2000. They are fascinating Champagnes and ones to be enjoyed for the unique, complex styles they portray.

The Grand Cuvee is a blend of 10 vintages and over 120 different wines from numerous parcels and villages. Between 30 to 50% is produced from the most recent year and the rest a blend of up to nine vintages from the previous 15 years. We had examples of the Krug Grand Cuvee from the 2005 vintage, 2001 vintage and the 2000 vintage (as the base). Each was beautiful and individual. Since 2012, every bottle has a unique ID code, which allows the owner to learn about the cépage of their wine. Please click here to learn more.

Their superior and sophisticated rose is a rich blend of three different grape varieties and a wide range of vintages. It is remarkably versatile and is probably at its best accompanying food, allowing the structure, texture and beauty of the Cuvee to stand out. The Pinot really shows though giving plenty of red fruit character and spice; the Chardonnay the elegance.
Our final wine was the latest Vintage release, the 2000. This is already remarkably approachable, showing richness and intensity on the nose, the palate is indulgent, complex and precise. It is known by the Krug family as the, ‘stormy Indulgence’, due to the unusual climatic conditions the vintage experienced. You get the tell-tale biscuit and toasted brioche notes, with hints of smoke and oak on the pallet. It is rich and powerful, but is still young and tightly wound. This is underpinned with chalky minerality and citrus fruits making for a lively lift out of the brooding complex richness. The fresh but balanced acidity and fruit will let this age very gracefully and leaves a haunting, long finish.

Olivier spoke passionately about his wines and Krug’s heritage. Each wine is an individual and should be embraced and enjoyed to the full. It was a great pleasure to listen and learn from such an inspirational man. We look forward to organising more events with this wonderful house and enjoying their fabulous wines together in the future!
Dom Pérignon vintages back to 1970
Justerini & Brooks - 14 August 2013

Recently I had the great fortune to visit the jewel in LVMH’S portfolio, Chateau de Saran, built in 1846 and located in green rolling hills just outside of Epernay.

It was once the hunting lodge and family residence of the Moët family. This venerable Chateau is now used to show the lucky few the iconic brand Dom Pérignon, in a fittingly breathtaking setting. We were there to taste the newest release, the seductive 2004 vintage, and to gain an insight into what makes this champagne the luxury wine it is today. 

It was an experience I will never forget and I came away thinking we all should be buying far more vintage champagne, as it ages with grace, poise and charm and is utterly seductive even after 40 years! Dom Pérignon does all of that. It is unashamedly high class and will knock your socks off. I will try to explain a little of the philosophy behind this great champagne before ending with my tasting notes. 


Dom Pérignon takes risks and embraces challenges. This is, and has always been, their mantra. Each vintage they dare to reinvent, to reveal the wine's ‘soul’ through the unique characteristics that each year gives. Every bottle gives the drinker a glimpse into that vintage’s identity and Dom Pérignon’s philosophy for that year. It is a fascinating adventure to be taken on.

Moët & Chandon own 1500 hectares in total and it takes about 2000 people to harvest. This ensures the grapes selected to go into the blend of their prestige cuvee, Dom Pérignon, come from the best, most sunlit sites, thus giving them the cream of what each vintage has to offer. The creation of every vintage starts with best of the best and if it is not good enough they simply do not make it.

Winemaker Vincent Chaperon relishes the challenge of thinking afresh every vintage. In his view, Dom Pérignon’s vision is all about the ‘lees’ and how long the wine stays on them , as this gives you the true expression of that vintage of champagne. Everything possible is done to reduce oxidation. Oak casks were used up until the 1964 vintage; since then it has been exclusively stainless steel.

Vincent described to us that Dom Pérignon can have 3 different stages of being at the optimum point of release. These are known as ‘plénitudes’ . At the first plénitude they would look to release a vintage after 7 to 9 years in the cellar; they taste this wine every six months to a year. The second plénitude, 10 to 20 years after the vintage is tasted once a year and often results in the first Oeonothèque release of that vintage; while the third plénitude comes after 25 to 40 years and results in the second Oeonothèque release. These bottles are generally only tasted every 2 years.

In keeping with Dom Pérignon’s philosophy on extended lees ageing, the Oenotheque wines, released at an optimal moment in their development, generally possess even greater depth, richness and complexity than their straight vintage siblings. The oldest Oeonothèque is the 1959.

Though the final blend varies with every vintage, they try to run with an assemblage of 50% Pinot noir and 50% Chardonnay. It is a beautiful blend of power and elegance, despite the large production. The richness and intensity of the Pinot balances beautifully with the elegance of the Chardonnay, allowing the champagne to withstand the test of time and age very gracefully.

The first vintage of Dom Pérignon was 1921, since then there have been 40 more until the release of the 2004: 1921, 1926, 1928, 1929, 1934, 1943, 1947, 1949, 1952, 1953, 1955, 1959, 1961, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1985, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2004.

The first vintage of Dom Pérignon Rosé was 1959, since then 22 vintages have been produced until 2002: 1959, 1962, 1964, 1966, 1969, 1971, 1973, 1975, 1978, 1980, 1982, 1985, 1986, 1988, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1995, 1996, 1998, 2000 and 2002.

During our visit I had the great fortune to taste the following wines within the Abbey of Hautvillars, which has been lovingly and sympathetically restored. The exclusivity of what we were about to embark on was told to us as soon as we started; Vincent said, ‘we do tastings like this once or twice a year’, that got me seriously excited!

2005 vintage: not yet released, but we were told it is going to be a year of selection and one of the biggest vintages they have seen.

2004 vintage: 52% Pinot Noir, 48% Chardonnay, known as the ‘dark revelation’. Very elegant, has finesse, taught and racy, very mineral. Toasted almonds, hints of flower petals mixed with citrus notes, limestone and oyster shells. Strict on the palate, glimpses of the nose echoed on the complex, but mineral back palate. Very drinkable now, but will age gracefully. Spice and toast with fresh concentration and a long racy mineral finish. Charming, and utterly delicious. Drinking now and very age-worthy. According to Vincent the vintage and style is comparable to 1970 which we tasted at dinner after the 2004.

2003 vintage: Rich and brooding. Smoke, powerful depth of fruit, deeper style than the 04, less strict and mineral. The 03 possesses broad structure, richness and flamboyance. However, it is in no way fat or flabby and still retains poise. Hints of tropical fruit, very well integrated and balanced. The unique style of the 03 vintage shows great character. Long and dry on finish. This is the vintage that shows DP’s risk-taking. One of the earliest harvested on record, 1822, 2003, 2007 and 2011 were all harvested in August and have a higher percentage of Pinot Noir. It will not be everyone’s style, but I really enjoyed its individuality. I also feel this will age still further.

1996 Oenotheque – Disgorged 2003: Charming and very inviting with floral and citrus hints on the nose. Palate somewhat richer, smoke, fresh coffee and strong mineral notes intermingled with white pepper, brioche, pastry and vanilla, giving a wonderful creamy roundness. Great length, very intense, balanced acidity. Seductive. This vintage was a great commercial success, but not a wine makers vintage whereas 2002 was - hard selection and work was needed.

1970 Oenotheque – Disgorged 2006, Creamy complexity, broad and rich. If this were a wine it would be a mix of Riesling and Puligny Montrachet. The salty, oiliness of the Riesling with its lively acidity and the stony, citrus, raciness of the Puligny. Notes of herbs, mint, toasted brioche, white chocolate, orange flowers, vanilla and praline. Savory, but elegant. The complexity and freshness of this ‘wine’ is breathtaking. Bright well balanced, with a haunting finish. Outstanding. Enjoyed this at dinner after the 2004 vintage, they feel this is a similar vintage to 04.

1971 Oenotheque En Magnum: Elegance and brooding power combined. Butterscotch, praline, toasted brioche and spice, giving layered depth and complexity. The 71 Oenotheque is rich opulence. If I compare it to a wine it would be much more of a Meursault/Montrachet in style than the Puligny/riesling racey styled 1970.It Has more weight, but at the same time retains its freshness. It is quiet explosive in power, with fine bubbles that ooze class. Still showing tension and has a wonderful bright colour. The flavour in the finish is deliciously long and moorish. Sublime.

Rosé Flight: Made predominately with Pinot Noir grapes from Ay and Bouzy, which get the most maturity by being blessed with mostly south-facing sites.

2003 Rosé: Dark red forest fruits, blackberry, dark morrello cherry, with hints of strawberry coulis. Broad structure and masculine power. Quite brooding with dark deep phenolic’s, lots of fruit and mineral complexity, seductive flavours. Drinking now. Similar to 1978 vintage.

2002 Rosé: Stark contrast of personality here to the 2003. Very lively and playful, scented roses and spring flowers. Still quite tight and youthful. Palate full bodied in style and very intense hints of pretty red fruits going through to darker mineral structure. Elegant, bright and racy; beautiful. Very good indeed, very pretty and inviting to drink now, however I think given time this will flesh out and be outstanding!

1993 Enotheque Rosé: A very elegant fine nose, touches and hints of dried Rose, hoi-sin sauce, soy, cinnamon, tea. Very beautiful. Palate very elegant, delicate notes of fruit intermingled with mineral and limestone. This wine still has power, but the balance of structure, fruit and acidity are so harmonious, it floats effortlessly.

1992 Enotheque Rosé: This nose reminds me of a whisky, very distinctive. Sandalwood, peat, iodine, and smoke, leading in to a herbaceous forest floor and dried oyster mushroom. Palate has all components of the nose and remains dark, deep and smokey. But once again there is freshness. Very individual in style, quite challenging for me.

1985 Enotheque Rosé En Magnum Disgogred 2010, fig, ground coffee, compote of red fruits. Notes of hoi-sin sauce, sweet alpine strawberry along with oyster mushroom notes. Again toasted brioche notes and minerals. Very lively, fresh long finish. 1985 had exceptional weather condition. Quite Delicious. Really enjoyed this.

1982 Enotheque En Magnum: prune, fig, rich mature fruits, coco, vanilla, rich nutty fruit cake on the front palate, this leads to brighter and prettier fruit on the back palate. Broad but elegant structure, amazing focus with a lovely savory edge. Vibrant with integrated acidity, very harmonious with a silky mouth-feel. Outstanding!

Hand on heart I can honestly say, drink more vintage champagne, especially Dom Perignon, whose vintage Champagnes are so seductive, complex and age worthy; they are nothing short of magnificent!!

- Private Client Sales Manager
Growers Champagne - Diebolt Vallois
Justerini & Brooks - 23 May 2013

Diebolt Vallois, the toast of Michelin star establishments in Paris. Jacques Diebolt and his daughter Isabelle have some outstanding vineyard holdings in the Grands Crus in the Cote de Blancs, predominantly in Cramant. These are wines of authenticity, character and energy and Isabelle talks us through these.

Krug; quality obsessed and please don't mention the oak!
Giles Burke-Gaffney - 18 October 2011

Last week's visit to Krug was an enlightening and inspiring trip.

I am very sensitive to the silver-tongued and often very skillfull marketing speak of many Grand Marque Champagne houses. Together with marketing smoke and mirrors, their skill lies also in blending and producing Champagnes that meet people's expectations with impressive consistency. Krug, however, are supposed to be a little different and, reassuringly, my trip confirmed exactly that. They may be owned by a giant of the luxury goods industry but it has been sensitively kept in family hands, with Olivier Krug at the helm. Talking passionately about the vineyards in the middle of a visit to Krug Clos du Mesnil, Olivier made the close connection of the Krug family to the vines and their terroirs very clear.

A tour of the cellars revealed the incredible parts that can make up Grand Cuvee. First stop in the winery is the barrel room, where all Krug undergoes the primary fermentation. These are old barrels so the aim is not to bring any direct oak flavour or "fat" to the wines, Olivier stressed, they are more a function of Krug's painstaking plot by plot approach to harvest and vinifcation. These smaller vessels also add complexity by allowing a certain limited amount of oxygen contact. This approach is further highlighted by the battery of micro steel tanks in the cuverie. The oldest single wine there being a 16 yo parcel of Grand Cru Bouzy, waiting for its call to the Grand Cuvee stage.

Apart from tasting a fascinating Grand Cuvee from bottle and magnum, which as of next year will have id codes on the back of each bottle from which you can tell disgorgement date, we were also introduced to the 2000 vintage of Krug and Clos Mesnil. The former was stylish, impressive, rich but composed and already very user friendly now but with the guts to suggest a good ageing potential, the latter was a sheer delight - the mineral, chalk and lemon-stuffed green olive character of Clos Mesnil is so strong and ever present in all of its wines. The 2000 has this in spades whilst showing the round, pliable character of the vintage. Another example of Krug's fastidious approach to quality was the 1999 Clos du Mesnil, having disgorged it they took a very late decision not to release it. Its a good drop but Krug just simply did not feel it had the requisite Clos du Mesnil character to warrant an official release.

The final piece de resistance was the Clos d'Ambonnay 1998, an excellent red fruited Champagne of great intensity and, no doubt, with a price tag to match!
Champagne Pommery: An antidote to football?
Giles Burke-Gaffney - 08 June 2010

‘In victory we deserve it, in defeat we need it’. (Winston Churchill)

For every person wishing the England squad good luck for their coming few weeks, there will doubtless be another for whom the beautiful game holds no allure at all.

If you wish to escape the World Cup melée, the Sanderson Hotel’s top chefs and our champagne agency Vranken Pommery have come together to create a champagne and food matching extravaganza to give you an alternative evening to football. The first champagne dinner kicks off on Saturday 12th June at 7pm - probably just around the same time as the referee’s whistle. There will be a second champagne dinner on Friday 18th of June. And should England proceed through the stages, the dinners will continue...

In the UK we have a tendancy to only drink champagne as a celebratory tipple or an aperitif. The French on the other hand have long considered champagne as a perfect partner with food.

The evening starts, on the fabulous al fresco dining Terrace, with a tutored champagne tasting exploring the different combinations of grape varieties and cuvees that make up some of Pommery’s finest champagnes. The tutorial starts with Apanage , created by our Chef de Cave, Thierry Gasco as a champagne specifically for food; then Summertime, a refreshing Blanc de Blancs from our ‘Seasons’ range; a Pommery Grand Cru from 1999, and Apanage Rosé, the newest addition to Pommery’s pink portfolio.

After the tasting we will then combine the champagnes with a gastronomic dinner created by the top chefs at the Sanderson. We will look at why certain champagnes work wonderfully with certain foods, such as the Apanage with an ‘Amuse’ of Seared Scallop and Confit Suckling Pig Belly, or why a Blanc de Blancs has the structure and finesse to compliment a Halbibut Boulangere. If you think champagne and seafood are the only match made in heaven, we will take you through a meat course of roasted Bresse Quail , Mushroom Cannelloni and Albufera sauce matching with Pommery Grand Cru Vintage.

So if an evening of gastronomy and fine champagne is a welcome escape from hours of football call the Sanderson Hotel on 0207 300 1444. Tickets are priced at £90.00 per person, plus Service.

The Courtyard Garden, Sanderson, 50 Berners Street, W1T 3NG