Blanc de Blancs, the most refreshing of Champagnes

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We recently tasted five special blanc de blancs Champagnes with Daniel Lorson. Blanc de blancs is made entirely from Chardonnay grapes and is among the lightest and most refreshing of Champagnes, says Reva Singh. Champagne is not the only bubbly in the world, but it’s the best known and most highly priced. It is also the standard by which other sparkling wines are judged. blancdeblancs1.jpg

blancdeblancs2.jpg Daniel Lorson, Director of Communications, Comité Interprofessionel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) was in India last month, reiterating the message that “champagne” is not a generic term for a bubbly wine, but a region in the northeast of France. “Champagne only comes from Champagne …” was his constant refrain.

The CIVC is the joint trade association of Champagne growers and Champagne houses. It defines policies, and is responsible for quality control as well as the promotion and protection of the Champagne appellation.
Champagne is usually made with three grapes: pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay. There are many different styles of Champagne. During his visit Lorson decided to showcase only one category, namely, blanc de blancs which is French for white wine made from white grapes. (You also have blanc de noirs, a Champagne made entirely from pinot noir or pinot meunier grapes, or from both; it is more robust and complex). Blanc de blancs Champagne is 100% Chardonnay, characterised by citrus and floral notes and known for its elegance and lightness. It is relatively scarce because only 28% of the total surface of Champagne is cultivated with Chardonnay grapes, but most Champagne houses have for long been producing a certain quantity of blanc de blancs, said Lorson.
Indians are well acquainted with Champagne in general. However, Lorson’s objective was to introduce us to the next level and demonstrate that even within a specific Champagne category the diversity is immense. He chose five interesting wines for the tasting, starting with Pommery, a non vintage blend of Chardonnay grapes from ten different villages plus 10% reserve wine. “This is a good introduction – an entry into the world of Chardonnay with a classic blend.”
The dominant flavour was citrus, mainly lime and grapefruit, which evolved to more exotic fruits like mango and pineapple that were slightly candied. Body, strength and structure comes from Pinot Noir but blanc de blancs gets elegance and finesse from Chardonnay. It was dry and crisp with an average finish that didn’t last very long but was still pleasant on the palate.
“Pommery is a 24-hour Champagne, easier to drink than many others that are more opulent. An ideal aperitif, it opens up the appetite and makes your mouth water!” Lorson said. Pommery is imported into India by Brindco.
Champagne houses have assiduously promoted the blending of terroirs and vintages in their bubbly and 85% of Champagne is non vintage. Pommery combines different vintages to reach a distinct style decided by the chef de cave.
The other Champagnes tasted were: Michel Gonet Prestige 1998, which was a good vintage (imported by Hema). Gonet is a medium size family company producing 300,000 bottles a year. Nicolas Feuillatte Cramant 1996 imported by Sonarys, is the biggest Champagne cooperative. Billecart Salmon Blanc de Blancs (non vintage) is imported by Dhall Food and Taittinger Blanc de Blancs 98, by TTG, now Prestige.
Lorson said, “For me, Taittinger is the best expression of blanc de blancs.” A classic green-gold with a nice, fine mousse and tiny bubbles, the Champagne had a toasty, buttery flavour. With its salty, mineral character, Lorson felt it would go well with seafood, caviar, oysters and lobsters. “It’s also a wine that you would enjoy with pleasure on its own.”
Read Shivani Dogra’s interview with Daniel Lorson in the November/December 2008 edition of Sommelier India-The Wine Magazine. For importers’ contact information look up SI Listings, available in print and online for SI subscribers.

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