Boutique vs Grande Maison
Battle of the Blanc de Blancs Part 1
On Saturday night I hosted an intimate dinner party for a dear friend from the UK who was in Sydney for 24hrs to celebrate his birthday. This sparkling event called for a range of blanc de blancs Champagnes to match seared salmon in miso broth with mushrooms and asparagus.
We began logically enough with the extremely magnificent value Pierre Gimonnet Gastronome 2004, which was “absolutely lush” as they say on Gavin & Stacey, followed by the slightly older Pierre Gimonnet Fleuron 2002 (nb these wines are currently on promotion @ $100 for 2 bottles at your local Vintage Cellars). We finnished on the rare Louis Roederer blanc de blancs 2002 ($100 +). To my complete and utter surprise my favourite Champagne of the night was in fact the the first Champagne we tried – the $50 Pierre Gimonnet Gastronome 2004.
Looking beyond the high quality traditional grandes marques there are of course a host of high quality small Champagne producers smattered across the entirety of the Champagne region who all grow their own grapes and make their wine from their own vines. This one is a great example of whats happening on the Cote des Blancs.
The Gimonnet family have been growing grapes in the premier cru village of Cuis at the top of the Cote des Blancs(natural home of Chardonnay) since 1750. Like most growers the Gimonnet family sold the fruit of their land to the large houses until the Champagne grape market bombed completely in the early 20th century. Its not clear whether Pierre Gimonnet’s efforts to make his own family Champagne were very successful at first – as newly produced Champagne and traditional still wines all cost the same as unfermented grape juice!
Certainly from 1955 Pierre Gimonnet’s son Michel got involved in the family business and immediately raised the quality of the wines thereby creating a house style reflects the nature of Chardonnay in these parts.
Working with 26 hectares of vines – 14 in premier cru Cuis and 12 in grand cru vineyards in Cramant and Chouilly where the majority of vines are more than forty years old. Non vintage cuvees may incorporate up to 50% reserve wines. There can be no doubt that Gimonnet Champagnes deliver excellent value in the Australian market.
Representing less than 2% of annual production, the all Chardonnay vintage offering from the largest independent family owned Grande Marque(Louis Roederer founded in 1776) is unique in that this wine represents all the villages in the Cotes de Blancs, from Vertus in the south up to Cuis and including Mesnil, Oger, Avize and Cramant. The Louis Roederer wine has lower pressure than most Champagne, only 4 to 4.5 atmospheres as opposed to the 6 found in a normal bottle, making it a very delicate and exceptional Champagne. However when tasted immediately after the previous two examples of local grower style from the Cote des Blancs(just Cuis, Cramant and Chouilly), the super premium Louis Roederer from Reims seemed somewhat rich and cloying on the palate, rather like a thoroughbred racing car thats somehow just too finely tuned to finish the race first.
Pierre Gimonnet Gastronome Blanc de Blancs 2004: Creamy nutty ethereal style of Champagne which dances on the palate gently to begin with but, then delivers a graceful bubbly punch of lingering lemon crispness and fine balance. Extremely fresh approachable balanced 100% Chardonnay Champagne to enjoy equally with friends or fine company.
Pierre Gimonnet Fleuron Premier Cru Brut 2002: The entry level vintage of this Champagne is soft and fleshy in comparison to the 2oo2 Gastronome (which gains more acidity from a higher proportion of fruit from Cuis) but there is a delicious structure on the palate- firm but integrated with fine fruit and acid balance with texture – nuts, toffee and a sticky structure this wine is very drinkable.
Louis Roederer Blanc de Blancs 2002: Luscious golden yellow with hints of orange and melon on a delicate background of honey, butter and toast. This wine just melts in your mouth and promises to age very very gracefully indeed. A classic blanc de blancs.