Although it is the prestigious prestige cuvées, new experimental blends and hyped-up vintage releases that receive the lion’s share of attention (and therefore column inches) from wine writers, critics and merchants, it is undeniably the brut non-vintage champagnes that form the backbone of the industry. Accounting for more than 80% of the region’s total sales, brut non-vintage is the chef de cave’s bread and butter. They are the most difficult and time consuming champagnes to create and they generate the revenue that, quite literally, keeps the bubbles flowing.
Perhaps because of their widespread availability, brut non-vintages are often the champagnes most overlooked by journalists and connoisseurs. They are the entry level cuvées, the ones swirled and tasted countless times, blended and bottled for mass consumption, whose stories have been told to exhaustion. However, while heads have been turned to the glitz and glam of the ‘next-best-vintages’, a quiet revolution has been occurring with non-vintage champagne.
For decades the industry has been peddling the myth that brut non-vintage champagnes are created equal, maintaining the same consistent quality and taste year upon year. In reality, while each annual blend may be created to fit a certain house style, they are far from identical. This fantasy was emphatically shattered by Krug in 2016 when they began acknowledging the intricate distinctions between each Grande Cuvée blend and, further, chose to make a virtue out of this variance.
In recognition of their heterogeneity, each new release is now a numbered ‘Edition’ with an ID code on the back label that allows consumers to discover every minute detail online, or via a smartphone app (a similar strategy has recently been adopted by Laurent-Perrier for their multi-vintage prestige cuvée, Grand Siècle ‘Iterations’). However, while Krug and their world famous reputation generated the necessary exposure to bust the myth once and for all, they were actually a little late to the party.
When brothers Jean-Hervé Chiquet and Laurent Chiquet took over Champagne Jacquesson in 1988, it was already a well established house. As was (and still is) typical, the range included a brut non-vintage champagne, called Perfection, and a vintage champagne, called Grand Vin Signature. Again, as was and still is traditional, they aimed to create a consistent character and taste with Perfection NV from one release to the next. In the late 1990s however, after creating a blend that was preferable, but different, to the classic Perfection style, they realised the inherent flaw in the system: that blending to match a predetermined homogenous style often meant intentionally producing inferior champagne.
In 2000, with the value of consistency called into question, the Chiquets jettisoned both the non-vintage and vintage blends, replacing them with a new champagne: Cuvée 728 (so named as it was the 728th blend created since 1898, when the house began keeping records of every wine made). Since then, a single numbered cuvée has been produced each year – 729, 730 and so on (sound familiar?). With the brothers having just finished assembling Jacquesson’s 746th blend, we met with Jean-Hervé at the house in Dizy to learn more.
“If you really want a non-vintage wine to be consistent, you should express the best possible blend every year,” Jean-Hervé told us, sitting comfortably in a relaxed yet stylish reception room that overlooks the vineyard at the rear of the house. “If you truly aim to make the best wine, that means not saving the top grapes for the vintage only. In this way, the [non-vintage] wine is better, and it is different year upon year.”
Like other non-vintage champagnes, the Jacquesson Cuvée 7-Series is produced every year with the most recent vintage constituting the majority of the blend. However, for Jean-Hervé the similarities end there. “[Cuvée 7-Series] is not a non-vintage for two reasons. One, it doesn’t aim for consistency, and two, our use of reserve wines doesn’t cover up the vintage.” In keeping with their philosophy of simplicity, the reserve wine content is “just the previous cuvée” and between 20-30% is added each year.
Rather than constituting a non-vintage style, the 7-Series could be more accurately called a vineyard style. Since its inception, the vineyard sources have remained essentially the same: Grand and Premier Crus in the Marne Valley and the Côte des Blancs, such as Aÿ, Dizy, Hautvillers, Avize, and Oiry. The blend is always Chardonnay based (typically around 50%), with the remainder roughly equal parts Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
Alongside the standard 7-Series, the Chiquet brothers also release a Cuvée 7-Series Dégorgement Tardif (late disgorgement). Where the standard cuvée is aged on the lees for 3-4 years, the Dégorgement Tardif, or simply DT, is aged for around 7-9 years. They also undergo a longer resting period post-disgorgement. “The more you wait to disgorge wines, the longer they need to recover post-disgorgement,” Jean-Hervé explained. “So the regular release waits 6 months post-disgorgement and the DT waits 12 months post-disgorgement.”
Jean-Hervé seemed rightly proud of the fact that he and his brother “have never missed a vintage.” Though the production quantities are often reduced, they always strive “to make something.” We tasted the current release, Cuvée 741, alongside the previous and future releases and a selection of older, Dégorgement Tardif, blends.
|Jacquesson Cuvée 742 | 16.5/20
57% CH, 22% PM, 21% PN | Base Vintage: 2014 | Reserve Wine: 33% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: September 2018 | Dosage: 1.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 9 Months
Lots of white scented floral aromas. The palate has some tropical notes, peaches and ripe apples and so much lees character that adds broadness to the palate. Nice freshness from a good backbone of minerality.
|Jacquesson Cuvée 741 | 17/20
57% CH, 22% PM, 21% PN | Base Vintage: 2013 | Reserve Wine: 20% | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: June 2018 | Dosage: 2.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Lots of juicy white perfumed aromas broadened out on the palate with yellow plums and hints of pineapple with a Chardonnay freshness and rich lemon lees character. Vibrant and fresh.
|Jacquesson Cuvée 740 | 17.5/20
50% CH, 25% PM, 25% PN | Base Vintage: 2012 | Reserve Wine: 20% | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: May 2017 | Dosage: 2.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
This has richness, power and elegance. Hints of clove-like spice with bundles of yellow fruits. Quite creamy like toasted almonds and cashews on the finish. Great texture.
|Jacquesson Cuvée 738 Dégorgement Tardif | 19/20
61% CH, 21% PM, 18% PN | Base Vintage: 2010 | Reserve Wine: 33% | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: June 2019 | Dosage: 0.7 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 0 Days
Preview, disgorged morning of tasting. Shows an attractive reductive quality with that smoky gunflint character. Has so much Chardonnay fruit personality, lots of ripe apple and pineapple and a real creamy texture. 61% Chardonnay, much higher than usual. Showing great texture and power of lemon, grapefruit and some tropical notes. Very good.
|Jacquesson Cuvée 737 Dégorgement Tardif | 17.5+/20
43% CH, 30% PM, 27% PN | Base Vintage: 2009 | Reserve Wine: 30% | Lees Ageing: 7 Years | Disgorged: November 2017 | Dosage: 1.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
The minerality of the vineyards is striking, that chalky character with ripe lemons, a hint of orange, freshness and lees contact texture. Finishes a hint saline which freshens the palate and a twist of bitter on the end.
|Jacquesson Cuvée 736 Dégorgement Tardif | 18/20
53% CH, 29% PN, 18% PM | Base Vintage: 2008 | Reserve Wine: 34% | Lees Ageing: 7 Years | Disgorged: November 2016 | Dosage: 1.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Years
Concentrated lemon with some lychee spice and tropical notes. This has richness and power of the fruit with real mineral chalky freshness and long length. On second taste, the spice notes come forward and grapefruit. Very interesting – developed a lot after a few minutes.
|Jacquesson Cuvée 735 Dégorgement Tardif | 17.5/20
47% CH, 33% PN, 20% PM | Base Vintage: 2007 | Reserve Wine: 28% | Lees Ageing: 7 Years | Disgorged: November 2015 | Dosage: 3.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Years
Zingy citrus and ripe apple combine with the lees ageing character adding roundness and lush tropical fruits. Very pure and mineral with tropical notes of peaches and pineapple and a clean finish with a hint of salinity.
|Jacquesson Cuvée 734 Dégorgement Tardif | 16.5+/20
54% CH, 26% PM, 20% PN | Base Vintage: 2006 | Reserve Wine: 27% | Lees Ageing: 7 Years | Disgorged: October 2014 | Dosage: 3.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Years
Very exotic white flower scents and then the fruits build especially peach and lemon. Light and delicate with bundles of fruit.
|Jacquesson Cuvée 733 Dégorgement Tardif | 17/20
52% CH, 24% PM, 24% PN | Base Vintage: 2005 | Reserve Wine: 22% | Lees Ageing: 7 Years | Disgorged: September 2013 | Dosage: 2.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Years
Very generous fruit, with tropical notes, pineapple and lemon richness. Great texture, the lees really lending a more vinous style.
The brothers are charmingly hands-on in their approach. Jean-Hervé, once the cellar master, now primarily covers the commercial side of the business, leaving younger brother Laurent to manage production in the cellars. Both however, still work closely with their vineyard manager, Sylvain Leblanc, paying close attention to even the tiniest details. As an example, Jean-Hervé led us to the small vineyard in the garden to show-off their ‘aerated vines’. “We have less botrytis as the vines are aerated, they aren’t drowned in leaves.”
Taking the opportunity to tell us more about their holdings and vinification methods, Jean-Hervé revealed that annual production, at 250,000 bottles, is quite low, “because we want to make better quality wines”. They own 18 hectares in the Vallée de la Marne (and buy from a further 6 ha) and 11 hectares in the Côte des Blancs (and buy from a further 2 ha). They limit their purchases from buyers as much as possible (they parted from their largest buying contract in 2008) as “it is better to focus on our own vineyards.”
Viticulture at Champagne Jacquesson is “semi-organic”. One third of the domaine is certified, while synthetics are still used elsewhere to protect against mildew. “We do both … we know that life is not that simple.” They start work on the soils very early in the season, either ploughing or cover cropping each vineyard, depending on “the weather, the vines, and ‘your nose'”.
Some of their strictest practices occur at the pressing station. The brothers only only use vertical presses (as horizontal presses are “more abusive”) and put dry ice into the juice as soon as it starts to pour, giving a physical cover of CO2 and thus creating an inert atmosphere free from oxygen.
Touching on the oft-held debate over whether to use taille (the second, inferior pressing of the grapes), Jean-Hervé told us, “Grand Cru Chardonnay is supposed to be good, but we don’t ever use taille“. Jacquesson typically exchange their taille for cuvée (the first, superior pressing) and will even sell their cuvée if it doesn’t meet their impeccably high standards. “We do not keep juice which is not good enough … if we don’t like it, we sell it!” As an example, they sold more than 40% of their grape juice after the difficult 2001 harvest.
Malolactic fermentation is never blocked at Jacquesson, for two reasons. Firstly, “because where Champagne is located, lack of acidity is not a problem, even with climate change,” and secondly, “because the process is invasive and you have to add more sulphite and filter.” They typically do some bâtonnage (stirring of the lees) once every two weeks, aiming to “never let the wines become clear.” For Jacquesson, bâtonnage gives more creaminess and has an anti-oxidative effect, which means they don’t have to add sulphites.
They don’t do any fining, (“not sure why anyone does it [fining] in Champagne … we have dosage and other elements”) and the dosage is always kept low. The brothers blind taste samples between 0 and 3 g/l and choose the best one. The majority of their champagnes (40-45%) go to the French market, with the remainder exported (in descending quantities) to: Italy, Japan, Germany, US, Belgium and the UK.
Today, the Cuvée 7-Series represents roughly 95% of Jacquesson’s total production and the remaining 5% comes from their 4 single vineyard champagnes: a Blanc de Noirs, Vauzelle Terme from Aÿ; two Blanc de Blancs: Champ Caïn from Avize and Corne Bautray Dizy; and a Rosé, Terres Rouges, also from Dizy.
“The single vineyards are made by Mother Nature. Take a great vineyard, wait for a great vintage and you will have a good wine,” Jean-Hervé told us. We tasted the (current) 2008 vintage release of all but the rosé, a preview of upcoming Terres Rouges 2012, and one older bottle, Champ Caïn 2004.
Jacquesson further helped pioneered an honest and unadorned approach to bottle labels. Great care is taken with the labels to transparently detail all relevant information about the wine (without marketing flourishes), creating a deeper connection between producer and consumer, which is at the very heart of everything they do.
|Jacquesson Dizy Terres Rouges 2012 | 19/20
Vineyard | 1.35 ha | Vines: 11,500
Champagne | 100% PN
Has those distinct Pinot Noir identifiers, with peach, raspberry and apricots. Has bright acidity and a soft chalky texture. Also very youthful, will be fascinating to watch it develop over the coming years.
|Jacquesson Dizy Corne Bautray 2008 | 18/20
Vineyard | 1 ha | Vines: 9,000 | Grapes Picked: 28th September 2008 | Potential Alcohol 11.5° | Acidity: 8.3 g/l
Champagne | 100% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: April 2018 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Plenty of fruits, this is really aromatic and with refreshing acidity slightly tempered by the lees. Has a ripe fruit character, plenty of peach and a creamy texture. Long length and acidity gives freshness and salinity on the finish.
|Jacquesson Aÿ Vauzelle Terme 2008 | 18.5/20
Vineyard | 0.3 ha | Vines: 2,500 | Grapes Picked: 25th September 2008 | Potential Alcohol 10.8° | Acidity: 7.2 g/l
Champagne | 100% PN | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: April 2018 | Dosage: 0 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Very floral and intense with peach and red fruits the most dominant. The palate has the expected bright acidity of a 2008 and good lees texture, lots of yellow plum and peach. Fresh and precise and very youthful, also be good to see this after a few more years ageing.
|Jacquesson Avize Champ Caïn 2008 | 18+/20
Vineyard | 1.3 ha | Vines: 12,000 | Grapes Picked: 26th September 2008 | Potential Alcohol 10.7° | Acidity: 7.7 g/l
Champagne | 100% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: April 2018 | Dosage: 2.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Distinct chalky character and lots of ripe lemon and citrus notes. Has freshness from the bright acidity you expect in 2008, good lees texture and chalky mineral layers. Finished light and fresh. Very impressive, youthful and will be great with a few years more age.
|Jacquesson Avize Champ Caïn 2004 | 18/20
Vineyard | 1.3 ha | Vines: 12,000 | Grapes Picked: 4th October 2004 | Potential Alcohol 11° | Acidity: 6.6 g/l
Champagne | 100% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: February 2013 | Dosage: 1.5 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Years
Has a lot of fruit, very pure with ripe peach and apricots dominating. Seems soft and gentle on the texture like a laid-back 2008! Great finish, fresh and zesty leaving you wanting another glass!