Yesterday was a Saturday afternoon well spent with assorted champagne-nut friends who each brought well-wrapped bottles of 2008 to taste blind. The smiles began early, egged on by a stiffener of Charles Heidsieck Brut Réserve NV before kick-off. This was mainly (60%) 2007, bottled 2008 and disgorged 2012, so showed popping bottle age, all quince and smoulder, a complete delight. About equal amounts of the three grapes. Nothing here to dislodge it from my own top triumvirate of current champagne entry level NV Bruts: Louis Roederer, Charles H and the Jacquesson 700s range. OK Krug could go in too, but they hate Grande Cuvée being called an NV Brut.
But back to those 2008 smiles. It is of course one of the three most toted vintages of the last 20 harvests, along with 1996 and 2002. There are many on the market now, everyone and their aunty made a 2008 but the top de luxe bottlings are not yet released. Roederer have just launched 2009 Cristal while they still hold back 2008. In Champagne this was a year that caused much heartache before heat and sun saved the day late on. There was plentiful rain in a cool winter, mild spring but then a cold June bringing a tough flowering with significant millerandage (seedless small hard berries) and coulure (‘shatter’ – flowers falling off the potential grape bunch). Mildew, both kinds, and a grey July and August, along with some hail in the Aube, did not exactly suggest the Promised Land. But then September lit up with constant sun, high temperatures and very cool nights. The berries galloped to a glorious finish, harvest starting 15th-20th and going on a long time as producers could wait for perfection in each parcel with this weather. The rest is history. Very concentrated, intense ripe fruit and high levels of racy acidity.
All the wines were tasted blind, although we each knew our own wines were in the mix somewhere. The notes that follow were as I wrote, with my scores. But my two highest marks – for the Nicolas Maillart 2008 and the Louis Roederer Rosé 2008, were also the highest marks of the whole group. We agreed completely on the top two. Notice also that the Jacquesson 736 was a (welcome) curve ball chucked in by one of the group, being NV, but 66% 2008. The detailed notes on production of each wine I’ve added after. The view of the group was these are gorgeous and impressive wines, with lots yet to come but a complete warm and fuzzy delight on the day, and with a couple of complete stunners.
Drappier 2008 Mineral, stony. Slightly reduced nose, and the reduction goes on with a touch of cabbage. There’s an austere and lovely saltiness too, savoury gravy notes and rich sponge cake airy baking notes emerging to give it a filip of sweetness, faint but telling, on the end. Impressive light-footed and medium weight. A sense of things to come here. 16.5 (60 Pinot Noir, 40 Chardonnay. 6 years on lees. Dosage 5.6 g/L Dosage aged in oak.)
Nicolas Maillart 2008 Impressively focused nose, lemon crystal, ozonic and heady. Playing with the mind from go. Then lily, moss and forest, real depth and a pressing unfolding mousse exactly matching the medium weight and what seems like astute modest dosage. Complex and rather good indeed. All immanence, a very 2008 feeling of held-back power in reserve and all to come. 17.5 (60% Pinot Noir, 409 Chardonnay. 40% made in oak. disgorged 07/14. 5.5 g/L)
Louis Roederer Rosé 2008 Pale copper amber. Blancmange and wild strawberries nose. Then biscuit and briar and frank perfumes of red juice, spiky with pepper, smoke, beetroot and Morello sour cherry. A good deal of power and interest with a brisk mousse texture. Lovely mid-weight, floats to a finish and a peal of organges and lemons. High tension and magnetic, maybe much for the future and not at all resolved yet. Wait. 17.5 (70% Pinot Noir from Cumières, 30% Chardonnay, all estate grown. Made by addition. Limited malo, 9.5g/L)
Deutz 2008 Lovely fresh, light, japonica nose. All white flowers, white pepper behind, heady and a very pressing sensation, the pressure of intensity, all held in for now. Crystal and pure and some flavours only emerging from a mineral, stony neutrality. This is shy in a white gown. But goodness, so persistent. Opening this is just a fleeting glimpse of what will come in 5-10 years and it will be even better. 17 (65% Pinot Noir, 30 Chardonnay, 5 Meunier. Only the cuvée used)
Guiborat Le Mont Aigu 2008, Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Chouilly Very pointed and spiky and light feet, suggests Chardonnay. And a bit of toffee development, hazlenuts and flinty like maturing Chablis. Pastry, yeasty and pretty complex. But possibly the fastest developing of the wines so far. 16 (Guiborat has recently become a small NM, presumably buying from friends and family. 100% grand cru Chouilly from lieu-dit Montaigu. Malo blocked, 80% stainless steel, 40% 400L oak, 6 years 8 months on lees, disgorged 12/14/ 5.5 g/L)
Vazart-Coquart Grand Bouquet Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Chouilly 2008 Pale, a smoke and chalky nose. Really pithy citric end and saline sensation. In between a slow-flowing river, all rather stately a sense of flowing current, hidden energy. Structured and driving, not especially smiling in the sun. Still quite cool and demanding respect. Intrigue but not yet all pleasure and much to come. I hope we haven’t opened all these too soon. 16.5 (100% grand cru Chouilly Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay, 100% stainless steel)
Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage 2008 Smoky, reductive struck-match nose and long. Briary, full of smoulder. A very pointed balance, well done if not truly exciting. Bow down to this autolytic sharp and catchy texture and yet it is very familiar, maybe a cliché? It tends to dominate the style of a wine, perhaps close off other smells and tastes? Terrific honeysuckle notes and well-judged dry finish. 16 (40% Chardonnay, 37 Pinot Noir, 23 Meunier. 5g/L)
Jacquesson Cuvée 736 Very attractive flavours of prayerbook vellum and a yeasty, slightly beery frankness. Saline and savoury with what seems like a clever balancing honey touch. Very pressing energy and zesty. Not completely resolved yet but a feeling there’s lots of good to come, just peeping round the corner for now. Tight, quite stern, a benign dictator. Very dry and chewy. 16.5 (66% 2008, 40 reserve wine. Bottled 2009. Fermented and held as vins clairs in foudres before bottling. 53% Chardonnay, 29 Pinot Noir, 18 Meunier. Disgorged 11/12 Dosage 1.5 g/L)
Moët et Chandon Grand Vintage Rosé 2008 Very amber salmon pink. Earthy, stewed strawberries and lots of interest. Seems a blend of light cool quincy fruit and more cooked earthy flavours. Pretty voluptuous impression, a bit boudoir but flattering. The most open and ready and obvious of all the wines here but not a bad thing. A relief after all the stern focus on the future horizon of the wines before. 16.5 (46% Pinot Noir, (of which 20% still red wine - ie 9.2% of total – high for rosé by addition) 32 Chardonnay, 22 Meunier. Disgorged 04/15.
Note: Scalawine is a UK importer of champagnes Nicolas Maillart and Vazart-Coquart, Rather bizarrely, by chance, only Vazart-Coquart here is a single estate RM (‘grower’), all the rest are NM négociant houses. However, Maillart and Guiborat are NM in name but are such only in order to buy small amounts of grapes from family members. All the Louis Roederer wines (apart from their Brut NV) are both vintaged and made only from their own grapes, largely organic and biodynamic nowadays. Jacquesson (NM) behave in many ways as a grower and have recently hugely reduced their buy-in of fruit to 22% of the total. Their viticulture is more progressive and advanced than many growers..