“The consensus this year is that the black grapes were not easy,” began Frédéric Panaïotis. We met with Champagne Ruinart’s long-standing Chef de Cave during the busy blending period in March to taste a sample of the still wines and hear how Ruinart fared during the 2017 vintage. Noting the distinct lack of terrible years since the millenium – “only ’01 was really bad in the 2000s… ’11 will be a challenge but ’14 and ’16 are very manageable” – Panaïotis seemed unperturbed by the difficulties of the growing season just gone, perhaps a consequence of the house he represents. “Reserve wines are part of the game this year, so it’s good when you have a lot,” he smiled.
To demonstrate his confidence, Panaïotis shared with us some Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from a range of regions, highlighting which villages will be used in which blends for 2017.
Vins Clairs 2017
To begin our journey back into 2017, we tasted some Pinot Noir vins clairs. As with other houses, Ruinart had experienced some botrytis on their black grapes, particularly from vineyards in the Montagne de Reims. This can lend the wines an undesirable musty character, which renders many of them unusable. “Fortunately, the Aube was a good surprise this year,” Panaïotis said.
The Pinot Noirs we tasted were both blends of two crus, the first from the Aube and Montagne de Reims, the second from the Vallée de la Marne. The Aube region is known for producing wines with citrus and grapefruit abundance and the first vins clairs had all these classic characteristics. Commenting on the blend of Aÿ and Dizy from the Marne Valley, Panaïotis said: “not a lot of potential but a good workhorse.”
|Les Riceys/Puisieulx | Autre Cru/Grand Cru, Aube/Montagne de Reims
A colour that hints of strawberry dominance. Pretty lean and acidic, some blackberry and citrus.
|Aÿ/Dizy | Grand Cru/Premier Cru, Vallée de la Marne
Strong lemon sherbet notes. Great richness and texture in the mid-palate. Lots of grapefruit.
“In the last 10 years, Pinot Noir has done well overall… it’s good to have a Chardonnay year for once,” said Panaïotis, introducing the white grape vins clairs. The first was from Villers-Marmery, an unusual plot in the Montagne de Reims which used to be Pinot dominant, but changed to a Chardonnay village after World War II. Surviving the hail that blighted the region in mid-August last year, Villers-Marmery features heavily in the 2017 Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV blend.
The second Chardonnays were each blends of villages from the Côte des Blancs: the first of Premier Crus and the second of Grand Crus. Where the first was quite restrained, the second had incredible power and a structure not typically seen in still wine from the region. The Grand Cru assemblage will constitute 60% of the blend for Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2017.
|Villers-Marmery | Premier Cru, Montagne de Reims
Nice weight of fruit. Good mid-palate with lots of grapefruit, peaches, ripe lemons and some pineapple.
|Cuis/Vertus | Premier Cru, Côte des Blancs
Lots of ripe lemon, grapefruit, melon and ripe apples. Good mid-palate.
|Avize/Chouilly/Le Mesnil-sur-Oger/Oger | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Leaner than the last. Ripe lemons and grapefruit, a spicy edge and some lychees. This has structure and acidity.
To complete our vins clairs experience, we tasted the finished blend of Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV with 2017 as a base vintage. The final assemblage was 47% Villers-Marmery Premier Cru, 25% Autre Cru and 28% Reserve Wine from 2015 and 2016. Panaïotis explained: “Premier Crus alone are not enough, they are too restrained – the Autre Crus are the key to making the recipe work.” Despite the general difficulties of 2017, Panaïotis said the Blanc de Blancs NV was “easy to make this year… the Chardonnay was so plump, the only task was finding the right freshness.”
|Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV Assemblage | 2017 Base Year
Lots of pineapple fruit. Nearly 30% from ’15 and ’16, so freshness from three years – a little more richness from this year. Has a lovely balance.
Overall what might be a significantly tougher vintage for some was perhaps gentler on Champagne Ruinart. Although there will be no Dom Ruinart Rosé 2017 due to the weakness of the Pinots, Panaïotis and his team did decide to produce their prestige cuvée: Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2017. “We weren’t convinced at first,” he told us. “But we thought, let’s try – we made one sample and it was everything we wanted. When you have something good enough, why not make it!”
To conclude our visit, we also tasted a range of finished champagnes. Comparing the finished Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV with 2015 as a base year to the Blanc de Blancs 2017 still wine assemblage really showcased the strength of the 2017 Chardonnay – vibrant and generous, this will be a great base vintage for blanc de blancs.
Panaïotis also shared a preview of Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2007 which will be released in September 2018. Interestingly, Ruinart are the only Moët & Hennessy brand to have produced a 2007 prestige cuvée. Being the first year that Panaïotis was fully in charge at Ruinart, this is understandably an important champagne to him. The blend is 75% Côte des Blancs and 25% Montagne de Reims and has a razor sharp style compared to 2006 and 2004. “It’s still a baby… needs another 6 months post-disgorgement,” he added.
Our final champagne was a magnum of the illustrious Dom Ruinart L’Exclusive Blanc de Blancs NV. Crafted in celebration of the millennium and produced only in magnums, this rare cuvée has a 1993 base vintage (80%), with a selection of reserve wines (20%) from 1990, 1988, 1986 and 1985. During lees ageing, this was closed with a crown cap that had a cork lining – a popular choice of closure at the time. Although very slightly oxidative on the nose, the magnum we tasted was delightfully fresh on the palate with a sweet, candy fruit finish. Bravo!
|Ruinart Brut NV
48% PN, 40% CH, 12%PM | Base Year: 2014 | Reserve Wine: 25% | Lees Ageing: 3 Years | Disgorged: September 2017 | Dosage: 8 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Months
Some creamy notes with loads of ripe appley character and hints of tropical fruits,especially pineapple. The fruit has a richness that could fool you to thinking it is sweet! 17/20
|Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV
100% CH | Base Year: 2015 | Reserve Wine: 25% | Lees Ageing: 2 Years | Disgorged: December 2017 | Dosage: 7.5 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months
Banana, lemon and tropical pineapple. Wow, this is bright and fresh – has more of that match strike character. Delicious, lingering with bundles of fruit. 17.5/20
|Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2006
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: October 2016 | Dosage: 4.5 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 17 Months
Fatness from breadth of ripe fruits very tropical & hints of match strike character from its origins of reductive wine making. Very elegant & showing so beautifully balanced two years after release. 18/20
|Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2007
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: September 2017 | Dosage: 5 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Months | Release Date: September 2018
Hint of toffee and butterscotch with lots of that creaminess from vanilla and richness of tropical fruits. Does have a feeling that its mature already compared to the 2006. 17.5/20
|Dom Ruinart L’Exclusive Blanc de Blancs NV Magnum | Vintages: 1993, 1990, 1988, 1986, 1985
100% CH | Base Year: 1993 | Reserve Wine: 20% (1990, 1988, 1986, 1985) | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Disgorged: 1999 | Dosage: 6 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 19 Years
Has some of that lovely forest-floor hint earthy character. Many flavours, so much concentration of dried fruit and so much loveliness in the mouthfeel, very fine texture. I didn’t spit this one! 19/20