“Not a great year for Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, but a good year for Chardonnay”, Chef de Cave Loïc Dupont began, echoing the general consensus of 2017 that we’d heard at other houses. Given that the vintage was kinder to the white grape variety, one might expect a Chardonnay dominant house to have had a more favourable experience with this difficult harvest. We met with Dupont and Marketing Director Vitalie Taittinger to find out.
Vins Clairs 2017
“The difficulty for Chardonnay was harvest timing,” Dupont told us. Despite having reached the right acidity by the start of the harvest, the grapes weren’t yet ripe enough, so Dupont made the decision to delay picking. “Fortunately, they jumped very fast… reaching maturity in 2-3 days,” he said.
The first two Chardonnays we tasted were from Avize and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, two consistently high-quality Grand Crus in the Côte des Blancs. Both were promising – Avize for its remarkable aromatic potential and Le Mesnil for its richness and structure. Indeed, Essi Avellan was most impressed with Le Mesnil, commenting: “This is the first [base wine] that shows real potential for me.” Together, these two still wines will constitute 60% of the Comtes de Champagne 2017 blend.
Interestingly, 6% of the Comtes blend comes from wine partly produced in oak barrels. For these wines, first fermentation takes place in stainless steel vats, after which (around November) they are put into oak barrels, where they rest for around six months before being transferred back to stainless steel vats for malolactic fermentation. “We must experiment with barrels,” Vitalie said, adding that they give a vanilla toastiness to the wine.
Typically, wine from Chouilly is produced this way. We tasted two samples: Chouilly matured in brand new oak barrels and Chouilly matured in three-year old oak barrels. Dupont believes the small 6% addition (1-2% of which is from new barrels, the rest from older barrels) helps the ageing capacity of Comtes: “Micro oxidation in barrels helps protect it from future oxidation.”
|Avize | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Smokey and toasty. White fruits like pear and lemon and lovely punch of acidity. Very pure, light, elegant and refreshing.
|Le Mesnil-sur-Oger | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Has so much tropicalness and spicy notes. Good freshness on the palate.
|Chouilly en fût neuf | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
This has such roundness and richness and an added wow-factor with all the oak. Seems to have such a great personality.
|Chouilly en fût de 3 vins | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Has lots of spice from the barrel. Great acidity comes through and the fruit and juiciness lingers on long.
Next, we tasted a selection of Pinot Noirs from Grand Cru villages in the Montagne de Reims. Both Amobonnay and Mailly had impressive fresh and forward fruit characteristics, which Dupont believes will lend the 2017 Brut Réserve NV blend a fruit-flavour dominance. Unfortunately, the Verzenay grapes succumbed to adverse weather and complications during picking. “Things evolved quite quickly in Verzenay; the best results were from those picked earlier”, Dupont said. For our educational benefit, he shared an example of a poor quality Verzenay base wine, which was full of those earthy aromas of mushroom found in undesirable Pinots and subsequently won’t be used in the blending.
|Ambonnay | Grand Cru, Montagne de Reims
Has nice roundness and generosity. Balance of the acidity and fruit is great. Lots of berry fruits like strawberries.
|Mailly | Grand Cru, Montagne de Reims
This is all freshness and citrus and vinous character. Fresh fruit and softness and loads of peach. Finish is a bit short.
|Verzenay | Grand Cru, Montagne de Reims
Example of a poor quality vin clair. Has those musty mushroom aromas found in many 2017 Pinots. Will be de-classified.
Overall, the prevalence of Chardonnay in the Taittinger range means they will perhaps be less negatively affected by this difficult growing season than others. Asked for the nearest vintage comparison, Dupont likened 2017 to 2011 – a similarly troublesome year that favoured Chardonnay over Pinot. Although lacking the power of Pinot to be a classic Brut Millésime year, Dupont will make a small amount of Comtes de Champagne 2017, “to showcase the characteristics of the vintage”.
To conclude, we tasted a range of finished champagnes, which included the upcoming Taittinger Brut Vintage 2012 (from both bottle and magnum) and test-disgorgements of both Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008 and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2008. With 2008 and 2012 being the two best vintages of the last decade, these were an exciting insight of what’s to come.
As we tasted, talk turned to two of our favourite champagne-geek topics: jetting and technological corks. Jetting – a technique which involves squirting a droplet of water, usually mixed with sulphites, into each bottle at high speed immediately after disgorgement to create a foaming effect which prevents oxygen from getting into the neck of the bottle, promoting consistency and freshness. Technological corks guarantee protection against cork taint (TCA), similarly ensuring bottle-to-bottle consistency. The use of both jetting and technological corks is becoming more and more popular in Champagne.
Dupont informed us that Taittinger have experimented with jetting on half-bottles, which is arguably more important on bottles of that size due to their faster oxidation risk. They are currently waiting for the longer-term results, after which they plan on experimenting with jetting on standard bottle sizes. Taittinger have also conducted trials with Diam Mytik technological corks, but seem more hesitant on this front. Dupont did however raise a valid point – with the rise in popularity of technological corks, manufacturers of natural cork have been forced to improve their product. For now, Taittinger remain happy with the quality level of their natural corks.
|Taittinger Brut Vintage 2012 Bottle
50% PN, 50% CH | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: October 2017 | Dosage: 9 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 5 Months | Released: May 2017
Gosh isn’t this lovely, has so much juiciness of fruit, rich lemons and grapefruit and ripe apples and some creaminess, fine chalky texture and refreshing. Similar to 2002 & 2008! 18/20
|Taittinger Brut Vintage 2012 Magnum
50% PN, 50% CH | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: September 2017 | Dosage: 9 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Months | Released: Late-2017
This has such incredible freshness, the fruits similar to the bottle, slightly held back nose right now with the same fine chalky texture and more lees character. 18+/20
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: September 2017 | Dosage: 9 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Months
A preview and not final release as still on lees. Wow, this is quite exceptional. Very young and vibrant, lots of aromas ripe lemon & apple & a panoramic of taste, already some creamy character with hints of toast from a small portion being barrel fermented. A fine chalky texture on the palate, with a freshness and can you describe this as having a nervousness in its tension?! 19+/20
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2008
70% PN, 30% CH | 15% Red Wine | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: September 2017 | Dosage: 9 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 6 Months
A preview & not final release as still on lees. Has oaky hints from the Ambonnay and Verzy red wine. Lots of cherry and red fruit flavour, delicate and fresh and long length. 18.5/20