With the harvest taking place amidst such insatiable hype – following record breaking weather conditions and a seemingly flawless growing season – some winemakers in Champagne have adopted a cautious tone when describing 2018, perhaps in lieu of managing already sky-high expectations before the quality has been confirmed beyond doubt. However, one winemaker who isn’t afraid of revealing his excitement, is Lanson’s Chef de Cave, Hervé Dantan.
“It was a dream, this harvest,” Dantan told us. “After fermentation, there were some bad opinions spread about the vintage and others have been influenced by these rumours. In my opinion, it is a very special vintage… so dry, so hot, so sunny, with very wet weather during winter and spring time.” Ever the statistician, he informed us that there was 400mm of rainfall between November 2017 and March 2018, 70% of the annual amount in just 5 months.
“In my career, I have never seen such a great harvest. No botrytis, no disease, and an incredible level of maturity,” Dantan said. He did acknowledge that, at first, the acidity seemed like it might be an issue. “Some [winemakers] were afraid, saying that the vintage is very soft, too round.” However, high sugar levels, low acidity and no botrytis are conditions comparable to many other great vintages, with Dantan citing 1947, 1959, 1976, 1989 and 2002 as examples.
Each year, Lanson utilise a maturity index to calculate a numerical figure that is useful for comparing vintages. The equation, maturity index = level of sugar (g) / total acidity, equalled 28 in 2018, which Dantan described as “a good level, so the acidity was not a problem.” He went on to say that “maybe this is the year for malo, as we kept a high level of freshness in the wine.”
With the summer heatwave and continuous warm and dry weather forecast throughout harvest time, lack of water presented a potential problem. However, even that was solved by the climate. As the warm soils cooled overnight, they produced condensation in the form of dew, which was swallowed by the leaves, swelling the grapes to an even healthier level.
“This is a very good vintage to have after 2017. Even the oldest 90 year winegrowers I have spoken to have never seen such a harvest.”
2018 Vins Clairs
Comparing the grape varieties, Dantan believes it could be a slightly more favourable harvest for the Pinot Noir than the Chardonnay. “There is maybe a bit more energy and density in the Pinot than the Chardonnay… but the Chardonnay is still very good!” The blancs we tasted, from the Grad Cru villages in the Côte des Blancs in particular, were notably powerful yet elegant, with heaps of tropical fruit.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Autre Cru: Montgueux
Lots of tropical notes with white fruits like peaches, pears and slight hints of tangerine.
|CHARDONNAY | Vallée de la Marne | Premier Cru: Bisseuil
Really bright yellow fruits, plums, freshness and solid lees structure.
|CHARDONNAY | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: Trépail
Lots of bright apples and lemons. Really rich freshness but with a good structure. The lemony ripeness is really attractive with some stone fruit.
|CHARDONNAY | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: Villers-Marmery
Bright red apples with good structure, freshness and some hints of pineapple and lees.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Premier Cru: Vertus
Lots of lemon with apple and hints of grapefruit. This has a roundness and lots of pear on the finish.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Cramant
Smokey notes and rich lemons. Lots of power, density and elegance.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
Big ripe apples and pineapple. Another one with good density and power.
The Pinot Noirs all had great structure; there wasn’t a weak example amongst all those we tasted. The wine from Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims is Dantan’s secret weapon in 2018: “This is a monster… all the wines from this village were good this year”.
Discussing how much more readily enthusiastic Dantan is about the future for 2018 compared to other winemakers, he commented: “The disappointment is from people who were expecting a rich harvest with a lot of concentration. In the end, the high volumes meant we couldn’t get all that concentration.” Therefore, although expressing similar characteristics, 2018 will not have the concentration of 1976 or 1989. But, according to Dantan, it could have a richness comparable to 2002, with the brightness of 2004 or 2008.
|PINOT NOIR | Vallée de la Marne | Premier Cru: Dizy
Powerful, almost meaty character with peaches and hints of rhubarb.
|PINOT NOIR | Vallée de la Marne | Premier Cru: Mareuil-sur-Aÿ
Lots of soft strawberry fruits, yeasty and still has a fresh acidity.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: Chigny-les-Roses
Lots of pretty redcurrant fruits with bright red cherry and power.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Verzenay
Lots of bright red fruits.. Nice power and structure. Loads of fruit, black fruit with blackberry, spice and real density.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Bouzy
Bright red fruits with a meaty edge, black cherries and very refreshing,
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Ambonnay
Very pretty and forward red fruits with bundles of power, lots of roundness and pretty lees character. Has a sweetness to the red fruits with some spiciness.
The Black Label and Rosé Label blends were completed just two weeks before our visit. Always very similar assemblages, the 2018 Black Label NV this year has slightly more Pinot Meunier and less Chardonnay than the Rosé Label NV. The 35% reserve wine content in Black Label NV also comes from a wider and older range of vintages, dating from 2017-2003, compared to 2017-2015 for the Rosé Label NV. The 6.5% Pinot Noir red wine in Rosé Label NV comes from three villages: Bouzy, Cumières and Verseuil.
|Lanson Black Label NV Assemblage | Base Vintage: 2018
50% PN, 30% CH, 20% PM | Reserve Wine: 35%
Very aromatic fruits on the nose, already seems to be showing off with a nice broadness and toasty notes. Lots of tropical flavour, freshness and salinity with some great nuttiness on the finish.
|Lanson Rosé Label NV Assemblage | Base Vintage: 2018
50% PN, 35% CH, 15% PM | Reserve Wine: 35% | Red Wine: 6.5%
Loads of bright red fruits jump out and sing. Loads of strawberries on the mid-plate and a nicely balanced, long lasting finish.
Clos Lanson Vertical Tasting
In keeping with the rising popularity of single vineyard champagnes, Lanson revealed their own masterpiece, Clos Lanson, in 2016. The secret 1-hectare walled vineyard is located in the heart of Reims and is planted with Chardonnay vines, the grapes of which typically contributed to the vintage champagnes in the past.
However, a change of company ownership in 2006 prompted a reevaluation of the vineyards and Clos Lanson’s unique properties were finally discovered. The micro-climate within produces temperatures 2 degrees higher than the surrounding area, yielding much riper grapes (they are consequently often the first to be picked in the region). “You get very special Chardonnay from Clos Lanson – it’s very generous in character but never forgets to be elegant. It’s never rich, and has a mineral core,” says Dantan.
Prior to bottling, the wines are vinified in oak barrels for 6-8 months. “We have two types of barrels,” Dantan told us. “One from Burgundy and one from Argonne.” The latter is a consequence of the Lanson family’s rich history with the Argonne forest, where they used to live.
The intention is to produce a Clos Lanson champagne every year that reflects the individual properties of each vintage. So far, they have succeeded, producing a champagne annually since the inaugural Clos Lanson 2006. We sampled a bottle of each vintage from 2006 to 2014, all of which had been disgorged the morning of our visit, with no dosage added.
The results were quite surprising. Although Clos Lanson 2008 and 2012 (two of the most celebrated vintages in recent history) clearly have great potential, the two vintages tasting best currently are Clos Lanson 2010 and 2013, which are both considered weaker years. Dantan commented: “Clos Lanson 2010 is my favourite now. The 2013 is an underrated vintage in champagne, similar in style to 2008. The 2014 also has good energy, although is still too young.”
|Clos Lanson 2014 | 17.5+/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l
The oak seems forward at the moment, then you start to see the layers: loads of tropical fruits, banana, mango and pineapple. Already seems to have a lovely creaminess.
|Clos Lanson 2013 | 19/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Disgorged: March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l
Smokey and reductive, loads of oak character and freshness with a tighter structure. Nice elegance with bright and ripe lemon and then some of the tropical pineapple flavour. Going back this has a real freshness to the acidity. The surprise of the tasting!
|Clos Lanson 2012 | 18.5+/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 6 Years | Disgorged: March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l
Seems quite restrained at present. The chalky character is what I first experienced, then on the palate there is some great concentration and power of fruits like pineapple, peaches. Wow, the texture is really beginning to build from the lees ageing and then some great creaminess and hints of custard richness is coming out. Very bright and fresh; spicy and complex.
|Clos Lanson 2011 | 16/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 7 Years | Disgorged: March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l
Has a more wooly/lanolin character. The chalk is very dominant and not as much fruit. Doesn’t seem very harmonious. Hervé says this probably won’t be released.
|Clos Lanson 2010 | 17.5+/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l
Very pretty and delicate nose, some creaminess and a good weight of fruit. Real freshness, loads of citrus layers: lemon, lime, cumquats and pineapple.
|Clos Lanson 2009 | 17/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l
Quite powerful at first, those ripe apples and pineapple show off on the nose. Really fat and juicy on the palate and then finishes fresh with hints of spice. Feel like it should be drunk now; fresh with hints of spice and very well balanced.
|Clos Lanson 2008 | 18.5+/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l
A hint reductive and the oak seems more forward right now. The acidity is right up there so I am guessing this needs a lot more lees ageing. Lots of fruits, zingy apple, lemon richness and some tropical pineapple. Very young – feel as though this should be left on the lees, with 2009 and 2010 released first.
|Clos Lanson 2007 | 17/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 11 Years | Disgorged: March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l
Very up front, loads of yellow plums and smokey charm. Packed full of fruit and power, lovely lees texture and bright lemons and apples. Some hints of tropical fruit and just a touch of tradition.
|Clos Lanson 2006 | 17/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 12 Years | Disgorged: March 2019 | Dosage: 0 g/l
Big oaky character and some creaminess. There is a lot of fruit in this; it has now past that initial freshness stage and is starting to show some of the bottle age characteristics. Big and round, perhaps the freshness going, which sees me drop half a point to 17/20.
We concluded our tasting with a few examples of the prestige cuvée champagne, Noble Cuvée, which undergoes extended lees ageing and has near limitless ageing potential. Although both the Blanc de Blancs and Brut have been on the 2002 vintage for some time and there are no signs of an upcoming transition, they have both recently received newly designed, very chic and minimal labels (pictured right). Noble Cuvée Brut 1985, despite now being nearly 35 years old, still has all the relaxed elegance of a much younger vintage.
|Lanson Noble Cuvée Blanc de Blancs 2002 | 18.5+/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 14 Years | Disgorged: February 2017 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years
This has a lovely creamy character and is still so tight. Only just coming out of its subdued phase, it is now showing more of its power and delicacy. I’m picking up more of the tropical notes and the length is growing as that creamy character starts to show. Fresh and light and elegant. Always shows so well.
|Lanson Noble Cuvée Brut 2002 | 17/20
70% CH, 30% PN | Lees Ageing: 12 Years | Disgorged: June 2015 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Years
After having been open for a while the fruits comes out, has lots of ripe peaches and apricot. I much prefer the Blanc de Blancs as it is more elegant.
|Lanson Noble Cuvée Brut 1985 | 17.5+/20
70% CH, 30% PN | Lees Ageing: 11 Years | Disgorged: 1997 | Dosage: 6 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 22 Years
Original disgorgement in 1997. Lime and citrus and concentrated power. Has a laidback personality, but is so fresh with bundles of creamy apple, lemon fruits and some of those dried lemon and apricot characters. Wonderfully combines the acidity you get in a cool year with the ripeness of the fruit from a hot year.