Magnum madness in Champagne…
Late yesterday afternoon, winemaker Clotilde Chauvet let me join in on the dosage trials for the next cuvées of the Chauvet Brut Sélection and Brut Rosé. It is always fascinating to see the enormous difference one gram of sugar per liter can make – and even more fascinating to find that often the samples that have had the most sugar added to not appear to be the sweetest, and vice-versa.
The next version of the Brut Sélection is based on the ’07 vintage, with about 20% reserve wine from ’06 in the blend to round out the weaker year of 2007. Roughly 50-50 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and a portion (about 5%) was aged in oak barrels before going to bottle for the 2nd fermentation. Clo presented three samples, one with 7 grams per liter, another with 9, and the third with 11 grams.
To say they were dramatically different is a huge understatement. Three completely different wines – night and day. I think I tend to prefer Champagnes with a lower dosage, but when doing these trials I am often fooled. In tasting them blind, the 7-gram version seemed too austere, almost grippy, and seemed to show the wood a bit. I was split between the 9-gram and 11-gram versions for a favorite, but finally chose the 11-gram bottling, which I felt was fresher, had a cleaner nose, and more precise flavors. I was shocked to find that it was the one with the highest dosage!
We then tasted three versions of the next cuvee of the Brut Rosé, which has about 16% Pinot Noir red wine blended in to a an equal mix of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir & Pinot Meunier, primarily from the 2009 vintage. The three samples had 6,7 & 8 grams per liter dosage, but again we were tasting blind. The 8-gram version smelled and tasted like sweet cookies dusted with strawberry-scented powdered sugar – I found it way to sweet and guessed it must have been the one with the most sugar. The 7-gram sample seemed a little tart, was drier overall and had more bite, but left an unpleasant sour note on the finish. The 6-gram sample was the one I liked best, and interestingly I found it to be the richest and juiciest of the three, with a lovely savory edge to it and a very “pinot” weight and texture. Was amazed upon the reveal to find it had the lowest dosage. Fascinating stuff – there are so many more variables, so many more decisions to be made in the course of the Champagne process. We have it comparatively easy just making “simple” Pinot…
Dinner last night was at the newly opened Chateau de Rilly, a gorgeous mansion that has undergone a 4-year, multi-million-Euro renovation, and is now a luxury boutique hotel and ambitious restaurant. Unfortunately, the chef has not yet arrived, so the kitchen was not up to the heights they expect to achieve. Here’s an idea – wait for the chef to show up before you open the restaurant! Seems like that might have occurred to someone along the way. At any rate, the place is really well done, and I will return to eat there when they actually have a chef in the kitchen. I will say that the Moelleux de Chocolat with fresh mint ice cream was a stellar dessert…
Today is Mother’s Day in France, and I awoke to a house full of relatives and guests and swarming kids, kicking off the celebration with platters of prosciutto, bowls of anchovies, and magnums of Champagne. Every year the Chauvets pull a 30 year-old Mag from the cellar to check in on the evolution – so this year it was the ’82 Brut. Wow! Still very young and fresh, and not very evolved at all –a really vibrant, intense wine. Flat-out loved it. We washed that down with some ’04 Special Club, ’05 Brut, and ’03 Brut. Breakfast of Champions indeed!
Clo then cooked us an amazing brunch of escargot (wild-gathered by her father, in the vineyards and forest!), roast chicken in Moroccan spices, cheeses, and tons of fresh cherries, with a nice ’07 Gevrey from Dupont-Tisserandot to help it along.
I will now not be eating for the next 24-48 hours. Ok, maybe a fresh baguette with jam in the morning, and maybe a little chocolate. At least until lunch. I’ve just settled in to the fabulous Hôtel les Avisés in Avize, owned by Champagne superstar producer Anselm Selosse (his winery is next door to the inn.) Another renovated mansion, this one is modern and elegant and très chic, and I would never leave it if I didn’t have to. Highly recommended for your next visit to Champagne.
Looking forward to a good night’s sleep and a then a nice run through the Côte des Blancs in the morning. Then, my search for the next great Grower Champagne producer continues. Have I mentioned I love my job?