As Ruinart’s charming Chef de Cave Frédéric Panaïotis described the unusual weather patterns that played out in 2018, there was a discernible sense of not just incredulity, but also caution, in his tone. “The weather was not normal… this is amazing, but slightly scary. If it continues on the same projection… what do we have in the future?”
Climate worries aside, in winemaking terms, the weather was ideal. The success was in the marriage of a very wet winter, which bolstered the water reserves in the soil, priming the vineyards for what was to come; and a hot growing season: the driest and warmest on record. “The perfect combination,” Panaïotis described it.
Pushed for a comparison to a previous vintage, Panaïotis couldn’t commit. “This is unlike any season we’ve ever seen, even 1976… 2003 was similar, but the nights in 2018 were not as warm. This was a year of extremes.”
With little frost, low mildew and only localised hailstorms, the biggest challenge during harvest was storing the sheer quantity of high-quality grapes. According to Panaïotis, the yield was around 18,000 kg/ha, and almost all of it excellent. “We cannot ask for more,” he said. “We’ve cleared out the [lower standard] 2017 wines and restocked with 2018.”
2018 Vins Clairs
To demonstrate just how good the grapes were in every region, Panaïotis shared with us a range of vins clairs from around Champagne. Although all grape varieties were promising, he believes the Pinot Noir really excelled in 2018. “Black grapes are around 70% of the vineyard, so we’re very happy to have a good year for black grapes following 2017 [a very bad year].”
For Ruinart, the acidity was low last year compared to average but the pH was normal. “The acidity is not yet low enough for me to consider doing malo [malolactic fermentation],” Panaïotis told us. “We have been blind tasting malo vs non malo and the difference is obvious.”
The success of the harvest was clear from tasting the vins clairs. Compared to the acidic and astringent base wines of 2017 (which can be quite punishing on the teeth and gums after tasting 100+), the 2018s were a joy. The Chardonnay’s were quite plump, with lots of ripeness and richness and the black grapes were soft and juicy with bags of power.
Unsurprisingly, Panaïotis has already decided to produce a Dom Ruinart Blancs de Blancs 2018. “The key was to find a blend that will age well, as some wines were a bit too rich,” he said. The strength of the harvest has allowed the winemaking team to let the style of the vintage flourish, as opposed to last year, where the characteristics of 2017 had to be suppressed in favour of the house style.
|PINOT MEUNIER | 50% Vallée de la Marne, 50% Montagne de Reims | Premier Crus: Chigny-les-Roses, Ludes
Quite meaty red berries, loads of raspberry and loganberry and some peachy character. Quite weighty.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Sillery
Lush peaches and loads of raspberry and strawberry. Soft and juicy with a spiciness.
|CHARDONNAY | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Sillery
Very tropical; pineapple, ripe apples and mango. Quite rich with lots of pear on the palate and great freshness from the acidity.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Crus: 50% Chouilly, 50% Avize, Le Mesnil, Oger
A lot of fresh grapefruit, apples and plenty of tropical notes.
|RED WINE | Vallée de la Marne | Grand Cru: Aÿ
Some spicy notes and quite a bit of tannins. Good structure, just a hint reductive. More elegant than other LVMH brands.
We also sampled the latest additions to the Ruinart champagne range, a number of which have recently transitioned vintage, or will be doing so soon. The Brut and Blanc de Blancs NV’s are now based on 2015, described by Panaïotis as “not an easy year”. With draught in the summer, the Chardonnay’s were a little on the reductive side… a bit too reductive even for the Ruinart style.
The recently released Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2007, Panaïotis compared to 1988. Although the harvest’s were a month apart, both vintages have a nice lean balance, natural years in which to make Blanc de Blancs champagnes. The new vintage has a lightness and delicacy that surpasses the year from which it originates.
Finally, Panaïotis confirmed there will be no Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2008, but told us that the next release will be the first that has been aged on cork (rather than crown cap), teasing: “Dom Ruinart 2010 is the one.”
|Ruinart Brut NV | 17/20
49% PN, 40% CH, 11% PM | Base Vintage: 2015 | Reserve Wine: 28% | Dosage: 7.5 g/l
The red fruits are forward on the nose, on the palate there is some richness coming from the lees, combined with dried fruits like apricots and pineapple. The dosage seems higher than the Blanc de Blancs. Light and fresh with good balance.
|Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV | 17+/20
100% CH | Base Vintage: 2015 | Reserve Wine: 20-25% | Dosage: 7.5 g/l
Light and delicate with loads of ripe tropical fruits and hints of buttery pastry. Fresh on the palate and great acidity. Some pineapple, ripe apples, banana and hints of spice and buttery character.
|Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2007 | 17.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: 2017 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 2 Years | Dosage: 5 g/l
75% Côte des Blancs, 25% Montagne de Reims. Nice, clean and precise with a hint of flint character and some reductiveness. Lots of ripe lemons, peaches and bundles of lees character.
|Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2006 Magnum | 18.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: May 2015 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 4 Years | Dosage: 4.5 g/l
67% Côte des Blancs, 33% Montagne de Reims. Lots of ripe tropical fruits. Has a real creamy character and then underneath all the rich fruits come through, like dried lemon, orange and almond skin. This is very generous with a great texture from the long lees aeging.
|Ruinart Rosé NV | 16/20
55% PN, 45% CH | Base Vintage: 2016 | Reserve Wine: 20-25% | Lees Ageing: 2 Years | Disgorged: December 2018 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Months | Dosage: 8 g/l
Great vibrancy of colour and has loads of strawberry, redcurrants and loganberry. Hints of spice and bitterness and has salinity that lifts you up at the end.
|Dom Ruinart Rosé 2004 | 18.5/20
80% CH, 20% PN | 20% Red Wine | Lees Ageing: 11 Years | Disgorged: February 2016 | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Years | Dosage: 4 g/l
On initial opening, there are hints of smokiness from that reductive character, then the rose-hip, red cherry and peaches come through. Lots of summery fruits with great width and freshness.