Our third day of vins clairs tastings began in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, a Premier Cru village in the east of the Vallée de la Marne and home to Champagne Laurent-Perrier. We were greeted by Marketing Diretor Olivier Kanengieser, who led us deep underground to the tasting room and laboratory of veteran Chef de Cave Michel Fauconnet, where we learned all about the 2017 vintage for Laurent-Perrier and conducted a vertical tasting of Vintage and Grand Siècle champagne.
Vins Clairs 2017
“It was an easy harvest until the end of July,” Fauconnet began. “And then the rain came.” Typically, Champagne enjoys 4-5 days of sunshine pre-harvest, however in 2017 the region experienced 4-5 days of rain before the sun arrived. As with other houses, Laurent-Perrier reported that the Pinots had been adversely affected more than the Chardonnays. “[Harvest] was easy and fast for the Chardonnay, but not so much for the Pinot Noir… it was difficult getting the right maturity,” Fauconnet said.
As the white grape is the dominant variety in their blends, vins clairs tastings at Laurent-Perrier always begin with Chardonnay. We tasted a range from villages all over the region: the Côte des Blancs, Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and the Côte de Sézanne. The first three were an education on the impact of geographical location. The Grand Cru villages of Le Mesnil, Avize and Cramant are all situated within 10km of each other in the centre of the Côte des Blancs, yet the diversity between the three was astounding.
Le Mesnil was straight, pure and gentle on the palate; Avize – normally celebrated for its elegance – was quite round and full-bodied; and Cramant was soft yet surprisingly generous. Fauconnet described all three of them as atypical, displaying characteristics not usually seen.
Fortunately for Laurent-Perrier, they got lucky with their Chardonnay from Villers-Marmery. This Premier Cru in the east of the mountain was subject to a lot of botrytis in 2017, but the Laurent-Perrier vineyards were spared. The final Chardonnay we tasted was from the Côte de Sézanne . A region not normally famed for harvesting great white grapes has this year produced a mature, richly flavoured base wine with impressive tension from the supporting acidity.
|Le Mesnil-sur-Oger | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Has an obvious toasty character with a great mouthfeel and the apple and grapefruit dominate, delicate, full and balanced.
|Avize | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Lots of ripe pear and tropical notes on the nose and when you taste, pineapple and wow, what lovely spiciness and power. Very fine and long length.
|Cramant | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Has some power on the nose, very smoky and seems quite soft and lush. Has lots of lychees, pineapple, ripe apples and guava. Good length; rich and ripe.
|Villers-Marmery | Premier Cru, Montagne de Reims
Quite delicate ripe apples and grapefruit. Has good body, firmness and quite fleshy ripe lemons. Nice chalky texture adds to its personality.
|Chavot-Courcourt | Autre Cru, Vallée de la Marne
Dusty chalky notes and loads of ripe lemon and apple mixed with spiciness and bright acidity.
|Bethon | Autre Cru, Côte de Sézanne
Even more chalky, ripe guava and pineapple. Great tension, richness of fruit, underlying spice, chalkiness all giving strong textural pleasure on the palate.
“Overall, it was a very complicated year for the Pinot Noirs… there is not as much evolution and structure in 2017,” Fauconnet said as we moved onto the Pinot base wines. Asked if they did any grape sorting during the harvest, he told us it wasn’t immediately obvious which were the bad grapes. “The juice wasn’t obviously diluted – it was only after fermentation that it became clear they were,” Fauconnet added.
That said, they were some promising vineyards. The wines from Ambonnay and Verzy – two consistently high-quality Grand Crus in the east of the mountain – were both clean and well-balanced, although perhaps lacking some of the fruit forward character normally expected (a result of the heavy rain and consequent dilution). One village without any climate problems in 2017 was Les Riceys, the largest village in Champagne, located on the southern border of the Aube. Whereas wine from Ambonnay is usually much warmer and generous than wine from Les Riceys, the reverse was true in 2017 – Fauconnet told us Les Riceys will be instrumental in this years Cuvée Rosé blend.
|Ambonnay | Grand Cru, Montagne de Reims
Some strawberry, smokiness and red berries and on the palate a lot of fresh spicy character and some yellow plums. The acidity seems very bright. Fauconnet “not as much fruit as normally expected.”
|Verzy | Grand Cru, Montagne de Reims
Very chalky and dusty. Some black fruits and richness, though quite light.
|Jouy-lès-Reims | Premier Cru, Montagne de Reims
Quite light on the nose. The richness is better here; some redcurrants, black fruits and spice. Finishes short but clean and bright.
|Les Riceys | Autre Cru, Côte des Bars
Very chalky again – some redcurrants and hints of peach. Good vibrancy.
Finally, we tasted two Pinot Meunier wines. The story here was similar to that of Pinot Noir, however the Meunier underwent an unusually fast evolution. This was most evident in the base wine from Damery, which was like a reserve wine already – less intense and tight than other vins clairs and even quite calm and settled, showing incredibly early signs of maturity and evolution.
|Damery | Autre Cru, Vallée de la Marne
Very dusty chalk. Lots of fruit like redcurrants and plum. Seems quite full and round, lots of peaches and nectarine with a bit of rhubarb.
|Brouilly | Autre Cru, Montagne de Reims
Very dusty yellow plums, lots of juiciness with raspberry and strawberry notes. Upfront already.
Overall, the picture for Laurent-Perrier is a bit brighter than for others in 2017. “The Chardonnay was best and for most of Champagne that is the key element,” Fauconnet summarised. Asked how the Cuvée Rosé blend is coming along this year, Fauconnet conceded it had been more difficult than previous years due to the poor quality Pinots, but was surprised at the body and fullness. “We picked early to avoid the weather, so there is less volume but the selection is good.”
To conclude our visit, we tasted some finished champagnes. Our first flight was a vintage vertical, which included a trial disgorgement of the forthcoming Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2008. Not expected to hit the market for another year or two, this was understandably still quite tight on the nose but looks to have great ageing potential.
Fauconnet commented on the rarity of having three good vintages in a row – 2006, 2007, 2008 – and shared his love for the latter. “1976, 1990 and 2008 are my favourite years for vinification,” he told us. We thought the Vintage 2008 was tasting superb already. With another few months on the lees and some more time post-disgorgement, this will no doubt be one of the best Laurent-Perrier vintages for years.
|Laurent-Perrier La Cuvée NV
55% CH, 35% PN, 10% PM | Base Year: 2012 | Reserve Wine: 25% | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: 2017 | Dosage: 9 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 1 Year
Hints of that chalky character. Lots of ripe lemons and apples, quite rich fruit with a lightness and freshness, v good NV. 17/20
|Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2008
50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 8 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months
Quite tight on the nose. Very nice texture, this has a lot of fruit and the creaminess is just starting to come through. This seems to have great ageing potential, solid and racy and very pure. Apples, pineapple and guava and hints of chalk giving textural delight on the tongue. Not due to release until 2019. One to watch 18.5+/20
|Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2007
50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 8 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months
Has a lot of fruit and texture. The CH comes through more on the nose and the PN comes through more on the end of the palate. Lots of ripe apple, raspberry and hint of blackcurrant. Light and delicate showing well today. 17.5/20 This is the current release
|Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2006
50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 8 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months
Has hints of custard coming through. Great ripeness to the apple and lemon fruit, with hints of pineapple, quite creamy and CH seems to dominate. This is very fresh and light on the palate. 17.5/20
|Laurent-Perrier Vintage 2004
50% CH, 50% PN | Lees Ageing: 12 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 8 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months
Lots of fruit like ripe apples and pear and good mouthfeel. Has an energy and again the CH comes through first and the PN comes later. All apples and pineapple initially and then plum and redcurrants. 17/20
The second flight was a fascinating vertical tasting of Grand Siècle blends – past, current and future. All had been disgorged three months prior to our visit in order to facilitate an objective comparison. Fauconnet explained that the philosophy behind the prestige cuvée Grand Siècle is not simply to blend the last three vintages of Laurent-Perrier, but to “create the ultimate vintage… 1 + 1 + 1 = 4.”
Winemaking language though this may be, we could not argue that the first Grand Siècle – a blend of 2008, 2007 and 2006 – tasted completely different to the vintages that we tasted above. Even with just three months post-disgorgement, it had a real creaminess and pastry character; this is one to watch when released in years to come.
|Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle NV | Vintages: 2008 (65%), 2007 (17.5%), 2006 (17.5%)
55% CH, 45% PN | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 6 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months
Has a texture that is very soft and gentle. Really ripe apples and lemons and richness of the lees comes through. Has lightly cooked apples with hints of creaminess and buttery pastry; great already, when you consider it will get a lot more lees contact then this is going to be fascinating to taste nearer release time in 4 plus years. 19+/20
|Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle NV | Vintages: 2006 (60%), 2004 (20%), 2002 (20%)
55% CH, 45% PN | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 6 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months
A lot of lemon and quite broad fruit. Seems very evolved and forward, lots of creaminess and apple ripeness. Seems very ready now. Will be great when released cant see it improving after a few years. 17.5/20
|Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle NV | Vintages: 2004 (60%), 2002 (25%), 1999 (15%)
55% CH, 45% PN | Lees Ageing: 12 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 6 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months
This has quite a lot of development; aged character coming from 1999 and then the 2002 acidity lifts it up. Quite a lot of honey and some brown apples coming through. More fresh on the palate and charm coming from long lees contact. The fruit forward character guess is the 2004 vintage. 17.5/20 Current UK release
|Laurent-Perrier Grand Siècle NV | Vintages: 2002 (70%), 1999 (15%), 1997 (15%)
55% CH, 45% PN | Lees Ageing: 14 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 6 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months
This is incredibly fresh making the previous edition look tired! Has a lovely balance of fruit and acidity and custard and cream coming from long lees contact. A mouthful with lightness and delicacy and great texture. 18.5/20
Before we left, we made sure to ask Fauconnet his thoughts on our favourite topic: technological corks. Technological corks guarantee protection against cork taint (TCA), ensuring bottle-to-bottle consistency and have become increasingly popular with champagne producers in recent years. Fauconnet told us that Laurent-Perrier are currently using traditional corks but are conducting trials with technological corks. “Traditional cork is currently best,” he said. “We need more trials on ageing – when we age, we have more porosity. Once we are certain about the ageing potential and elasticity, we will consider changing.”