Helen’s blog

Thoughts and tastings from Helen Savage, wine writer.

Archive for the ‘Champagne’ Category

Champagne Moutard Pinot Noir Extra Dry

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

I’m not normally attracted to Champagne in the Extra Dry style, which, of course, is anything but extra dry – it has more sugar than ‘Brut’, but Moutard’s Pinot Noir from their Vignes Beugneux site in the Cote des Bar is a real discovery. Moutard-Diligent  like to do things a wee bit differently as I discovered when I visited the winery three years ago: they make, for example, a single variety old vines Arbane (one of Champagne’s lesser known, but long-established grape varieties).

This Pinot Noir Extra Dry is part of their Terroirs series, that celebrates some of the better sites in the Cote des Bar, Champagne’s southernmost region, where they are based. It is 100% Pinot Noir, which has not undergone a malolactic fermentation and is aged for at least three years sur lattes and then dosed to 15 g/l sugar – in other words it only just qualifies as an ‘Extra Dry’. It is non-vintage, but each bottles bears a dégorgement date. Mine was disgorgorged on 30 April 2009.

The length of time on the lees lends it a creamy complexity, the non-malo style means that the high dosage is barely noticeable. It does not seem unduly sweet. It wasn’t as deeply tinted as I might have expected from a blanc de noirs, but was a pale golden straw colour. Its aroma was delightfully fruity- showing rich red fruits and the flavour was ripe and fresh, with more red fruit, and it had good length. The bubbles were soft and long-lasting.

Blanc de Noirs is often a great style to enjoy with food and this stood up to roast veal stuffed with wild mushrooms brilliantly. It cost less than €30 from a fairly pricey shop in central Paris. I think it’s a great success and I would love to get my paws on some more.

Good Value Champagne

Wednesday, February 24th, 2010

I enjoyed talking to a friendly group of Northumbrian ladies about Champagne at Matfen Hall earlier today. The wine I dug up to be served to them was Henri Chauvet, Blanc de Noirs NV – a lovely rich, fruity fizz made from 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Meunier. It’s a great illustration of how good and especially what good value ‘grower Champagnes’ can be. It’s not designed for keeping but for enjoying young and fresh, and is very food friendly.  Try it with really good quality pork. The domaine – and its grapes are at Rilly la Montagne, on the Montagne de Reims, a  family-run vineyard for over a century.

This reminds me that it’s high time a dropped a note here about some other, maybe even better, grower Champagnes. In the meantime, this wine is available from ‘Private Cellar’ and costs £20.38. (Phone 01353 721999)http//:www.privatecellar.co.uk

Champagne Drappier at Oddbins

Thursday, December 17th, 2009

I’m delighted to see that Oddbins have decided to stock three wines from Drappier: one of my favourite houses. I’m especially pleased that they’ve got their hands on some Grande Sendrée 2002 and a little Grande Sendrée Rosé too. Both are exceptionally fine – every bit as good as luxury cuvées costing twice the £44.99 and £49.99 that Oddbins  quote.

Grande Sendrée is made from seventy year old vines on one of the finest sites in the Aube, named after a devastating fire in 1837 that covered the site with cinders.  It’s a blend of 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay. I tasted it last in July at the Drappier cellars in Urville. As usual, it’s rich with  an extraordinary depth of fruit and a wonderfully creamy texture, but with crisp acidity and quite marked minerality. It was disgorged in November 2008 and has the potential to develop in the bottle for many years if stored carefully (which isn’t easy in most modern houses).

I take issue  with one thing: Oddbins’s comment on their website, ” Why sully this transcendental experience wih food?”  Of course food won’t sully it! It would seem even more magnificent when partnered with a simply fresh turbot landed at North Shields. If Oddbins provide the wine, I’ll cook the fish.

Grande Sendrée Rosé has only been made since 1990 and is usually fabulously fruity and elegant – one of the best ‘saignée’ champagnes on the market (made by using a rosé base wine, and not by blending red wine with white).  Oddbins list it as 2004 – I tasted the superb 2002 in the summer. If Oddbins are correct, I’d expect it to be softer and maybe fruitier and less complex than the outstanding 2002 – and it will probably mature more quickly too. I look forward to trying it.

The third wine ‘Premier Cru’ does not feature in Drappier’s published portfolio and I’ve never tasted it. I presume that it is a blend of wines bought in from Drappier’s loyal band of contract growers. Drappier’s buy in about a third of the grapes that they vinify.

The best book on Champagne for years

Monday, November 30th, 2009

I’ve already ordered several copies for presents of Michael Edward’s superb new book, ‘The Finest Wines of Champagne’, Aurum Press, London – easily available (discounted too) via Amazon. It’s beautifully written, authoritative and yet gentle. The photographs are superb too (by Jon Wyand). It’s a series of succint profiles of the best Houses and Growers by a man who not only really knows them, but who loves them. Although any personal selection will always invite a debate about why some growers have been included and others left out,  I find Michael’s choices extremely persuasive. I love it, and I hope that others will too. If only more wine books could be as good!