Last month, we travelled to Taittinger’s shiny new winery on the outskirts of Reims to taste the 2018 vins clairs with new Chef de Cave Alexandre Ponnavoy, Brand Ambassador Jean-Pierre Redont and Taittinger’s UK Director Kevin McKee.
The key weather events for Ponnavoy last year were the “hot winter, a spring with lots of rain, and sun in July and August”, which he described as “perfect conditions for the vineyard.” A successful harvest for Taittinger produced wines with an average 10.6 degrees potential alcohol, an average pH of 3.1 and yields between 13-14,000 kg/ha in most areas.
Overall, Ponnavoy seemed pleased with the results. The Chardonnays – which are always the focus at Taittinger – have “good maturity and freshness.” However, while Taittinger have consistently ‘good wines’ across the board, Ponnavoy did note that there are fewer ‘outstanding wines’ this year.
“I think we will produce a Comtes in 2018,” he told us. “The quality of the wine is very nice, very interesting.” For Ponnavoy, the standout characteristic of the base wines in 2018 is the specificity of the terroir. As there is less water and more minerality in the wines, the soil is distinguishable, with each vineyard across each region displaying its true independent nature. “When you have a harvest of good quantity and good quality, you can feel the acidity and concentration in the wine,” he said.
2018 Vins Clairs
We began our vins clairs tasting with the Chardonnays, all from Grand Cru villages in the Côte des Blancs. The wines from Avize and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger will constitute the majority of the Comtes 2018 blend, while a small amount of Chouilly will be added for structure. “There is a very nice maturity in the Chardonnay… excellent wine for the vintage. I think it will be a good vintage for the top, top cuvée,” Ponnavoy commented.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Avize
Lots of fresh apple and pear. Great freshness and acidity in this, good texture and almost has a crunchiness which we haven’t seen much in this year’s vins clairs.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Cramant
Lots of ripe fruits with sweet lemon and apple. On the palate, there is rich and ripe fruits with hints of spice and some tropical notes like lychee. Great balance on palate with good weight of fruit and freshness.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Le Mesnil-sur-Oger
Seems tight on the nose. On the palate, there is the power of ripe apple fruit with hints of tropical flavour like pineapple. The freshness is great.
|CHARDONNAY | Côte des Blancs | Grand Cru: Oger
Has lots of freshness and hints of menthol herbaceous character. The layers on the palate make this really interesting, it has has tension and finishes with underlying salinity; very attractive.
All the Pinot Noirs we tasted were from Taittinger-owned vineyards in the Montagne de Reims. Despite all being farmed sustainably – they do not utilise copper and have been free of pesticides and herbicides for 11 years in order to preserve the acidity and add more flavour – they are not yet organically certified. “We are less focused on obtaining organic certification… we use these methods for the improved quality of the wines,” Ponnavoy explained.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Verzenay
Lots of dark fruit black cherry and spice. Wow, looks very good and the palate; has lots of freshness and hints of liquorish.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Ambonnay
Great redcurrant fruit, with hints of peach. Great freshness and structure with layers of fruit and a nice fat texture.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Premier Cru: Rilly-la-Montagne
Some tropical fruit hints like pineapple and mango with notes of raspberry. Really ripe and very fresh acidity, showing great balance.
|PINOT NOIR | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Mailly-Champagne
Very soft compared to the others, lots of sweetness from the red fruits, just doesn’t have the freshness and acidity.
Next, we tasted three red wines from the famous Grand Cru village of Ambonnay, Verzenay and Bouzy. Although purchased as vins clairs, the process is very much a collaboration, as Taittinger have recently changed their red wine making technique. Typically, the juice undergoes 4 days of cold maceration and 6-8 days of fermentation, in order to extract more tannins: “The rosé at Taittinger is gastronomic, not an apéritif, and therefore needs more colour, more fruit.”
|RED WINE | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Ambonnay
Lots of ripeness and black berry and cherry notes. Good soft tannins and juicy fruit. Lots of spice and layers of fruits.
|RED WINE | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Verzenay
Has a bit of that menthol character and lots of fruit; cherry and blackcurrant.
|RED WINE | Montagne de Reims | Grand Cru: Bouzy
Seems to have a roundness and more juicy character. This seems bigger and rounder with more fruit and softer tannins. This has density, power and cherry and black fruits and yet has a delicate softness.
We concluded our visit with a ‘futurotheque’ tasting of Comtes de Champagne and Comtes de Champagne Rosé. For the blancs, Comtes 2007, which was released last year, will likely transition to Comtes 2008 soon – a champagne we’ve long been waiting for and, although still very young, tastes better and better each time we try it.
Looking beyond 2008, Taittinger decided to skip 2009 – despite it being considered a strong vintage – as they believed the Chardonnay would mature too fast. However, despite not producing a Brut Vintage in 2011 due to the Pinot Noir not being good enough, they did produce a Comtes 2011 as the Chardonnays were quite impressive.
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2007 | 18/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Has opened up a little on the nose since I last tasted, has hints of toasty character and richness of fruit and spice. This is showing delicacy, elegance, freshness and salinity. Great length.
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2008 | 19+/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Very pure and fresh with lots of spice and vanilla. Seems so young right now, you can see the precision of 2008 – very pure fruit profile, packed full of ripe apples, grapefruit, tropical hints and an underlying spicy edge. Finishes very pure with lots of salinity and freshness.
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2011 | 17.5++/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 6 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Quite muted right now, though lots of fresh fruit on the palate and a creamy texture. This has a purity and that lemon freshness and hints of custard. Seems to be evolving really well and shows in a year where PN was weak the Chardonnay grape can shine. Has many more years on the lees and although it is less obvious now there is much evolution to still happen.
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2012 | 18/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
This is quite chalky at present with bundles or ripe yellow fruits. Great balance of power and freshness and lots of ripe fruits and concentration; the lees is starting to fatten out the texture on the palate. This is quite delicious already, cant wait for release in 6 ish years from now! The yields in 2012 are typically 15-25% below average and perhaps that is the power and concentration you can already see in the champagne.
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2013 | 19.5/20
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 4 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Lots of generous fruit, like plum, lemons and apples. Has spice and freshness with complexity combining the hints of spice, the ripe fruits and the salinity on the finish. Showing very well for a champagne that has many more years of lees contact and further development. This could be one that pushes 19.5+/20, will be interesting to watch it develop.
The big surprise for the blancs however was Comtes 2013. Widely dismissed as an okay vintage, notorious for its uneven ripening and summer hail, Taittinger have managed to produce a quite excellent prestige cuvée, which Ponnavoy likens to 1993: “The same generosity.” This is definitely one to watch in the future.
For the rosés, we can safely assume Comtes Rosé 2007, which has all the spicy, floral characteristics of the vintage, will hit the market later this year. Comtes Rosé 2008 seems to have developed a bit more since we last tasted it, with power and richness in abundance, and will no doubt be a prestige cuvée rosé for the long-term. Comtes 2009 and 2012 have bags of potential but need the requisite time on the lees to mature a bit further before release.
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2007 | 17.5/20
70% PN, 30% CH | Lees Ageing: 10 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Light floral nose with hints of raspberry. The palate is quite broad with spiciness and grapefruit; this is very really delicate. Has a nice spicy finish, great length and refreshing acidity.
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2008 | 18.5/20
70% PN, 30% CH | Lees Ageing: 9 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Tight but very bright nose. Palate seems to have great acidity and good power of red fruit. This will be one to have in your cellar; lush, rich and generally quite stunning. Has a wonderful energy and tension.
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2009 | 18/20
70% PN, 30% CH | Lees Ageing: 8 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Packed full of lovely summer fruits like strawberry, this is only just starting to develop on the palate. Very soft, gentle and delicate right now.
|Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2012 | 18+/20
70% PN, 30% CH | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Disgorged: July 2018 | Dosage: 9 g/l | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 8 Months
Bright colour and still very youthful. Loads of bright raspberry fruit and blackcurrant. The acidity is currently quite dominant but it has a real freshness and a juicy fruit character. This is one to watch – everything seems just right and will no doubt be amazing as it develops.