It is a tough gig in the wine trade, those wines won’t taste themselves you know.
Throughout lockdown, we've been doing our best to keep the show on the road- a socially distanced sample bottle with a colleague down the road; a Zoom tasting here and there; and we've done our fair share of digging deep into the cellar to pull out those odd bottles we can’t quite remember where they came from. This has all been incredibly enjoyable actually and has brought its own benefits. A tour of the vineyard at Rosé des Grands Pin in St Tropez, drinking (ahem…I mean tasting!) the 2017 Barbaresco new release from Gaja whilst hearing from the fabulous Gaia Gaja, sipping on a dram of Glenfarclas 50 year old whilst Callum, the Distillery Manager showed us the spirit safe in the distillery - to name just a few highlights.
What a pleasure this has all been, but I was reminded this weekend that nothing comes close to visiting producers on their home turf. Having taken the ferry over for a jolly holiday in the French countryside I realised I was within reach of Reims and what better way to spend a Saturday morning mid heatwave than in a perfectly cool cellar? The superb team at Taittinger welcomed me with open arms (metaphorically of course), I have been lucky enough to visit many wine regions around the world during my career but I have never made it to arguably the closest region and my first trip (and definitely not last!) to Champagne definitely did not disappoint.
Taittinger age their prestigious Comtes de Champagne on the site where Benedictine monks built the abbey church of Saint Nicaise. The abbey is long gone and all that remains are the cellars which form a network of galleries, crypts and gothic vaults built at the heart of former chalk quarries from the Gallo-Roman era. These cellars have an overwhelming amount of history interwoven across the ages reminding you that you are somewhere so special. You can even see the marks where the Romans dug and removed the chalk and drawings and grafitti carved into the chalk during the war when these cellars kept soldiers and refugees safe. There are so many relics from the abbey dotted around, I could have spent hours getting lost amongst the labyrinth of bottles and riddling racks.
Their small and perfectly formed library where the family keep a few bottles from each vintage goes back to the 1950s which reminded me of a bottle of 1970 we opened in the office a year ago which retained its freshness even after 50 odd years. The bottles spend 10+ years ageing in these cellars which are so full of history and heritage that it is no wonder Taittinger Comtes de Champagne has such a sense of place.
Chalk is an important feature in Champagne and looking 18 metres up to the ceiling of the cellars, you can imagine the vine roots working their way through this soft mass contributing to the minerality and freshness of the final product.
As the world went into lockdown just a few weeks before the Bordeaux En Primeur week, the trade missed the annual pilgrimage to Bordeaux to taste through the 2019s. This was of course the right thing to do but it was a tough pill to swallow so being back in the tasting saddle felt great.
Brut Reserve NV
40% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier. Perfect elegant and balanced every day drinking.
A blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir exclusively from Grand Cru vineyards. A new addition to the Taittinger range in 2000 when they released magnums that were a blend of the 1995 and 1996 to celebrate the millennium. This was massively popular, and they have released bottles ever since bring back the large format only earlier this year. Generous and vibrant and poised – absolutely delicious.
Folies de la Marquetterie NV
Single vineyard from the Taittinger House first released in 2005. 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay with 4-5 years of ageing. They do a green harvest to ensure the grapes offer optimum maturity and concentrate the sugars giving the Champagne a rich intensity. The subtle lean towards Pinot in the blend gives this a bit more structure and opulence whilst maintaining Taittinger's elegant house style.
Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blanc 2007
100% Chardonnay made with only the best grapes from Grand Cru vineyards this is their flagship Champagne. 10+ years of ageing in the cellars at the site of Saint Nicaise. The 2007 is still young, a bit like a brooding teenager it is tight and only just starting to let on what it has in store for us. As it sat in the glass it opened up and starting to give away more of its depth and complexity. All the components are there to make this a stunning Champagne and do not be fooled when comparing it to its opulent and open sibling, the 2006. A fabulous wine now but you will be rewarded by more years in the cellar.
Comtes de Champagne Rosé 2007
70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay this is a rosé d’assemblage with 13-15% Pinot Noir red wine from Bouzy. This is again only made with the best Grand Cru grapes. Smaller production than the Blanc de Blanc. This is a knockout, gorgeous and elegant but subtle and complex at the same time. We discussed the best times for Champagne Rosé and once we started the ideas just kept on coming, as an aperitif at a party, accompanying your eggs Benedict at brunch, alongside a piece of aged comté or just in the bath on a Monday night.
We have recently been reminded that we never know what is just around the corner and that things can change at the drop of a hat. At the time of writing we don’t think vines can get Covid-19 (thank God). They just keeping on doing what they have been doing for thousands of years - bud burst, flowering, fruit set, veraison… the cycle continues. 2020 is looking to be an early harvest with plans to start on the 20th August and the fruit looks great (although there is slight unrest amongst growers as to the quantities they are allowed to pick which is imposed by the regulatory body the CIVC). It gets you thinking where we will all be when the bottles with the juice from the 2020 harvest is released.
In the meantime, we have the hotly anticipated and hugely exciting Comtes de Champagne 2008 release in the next few months...we’ll make sure you’re the first to hear about it.
And then looking slightly further into the future (around 2023) we have Taittinger's first foray into the English fizz scene to look forward to. In 2017 they planted their first vines in Kent and I have no doubt that their expertise will produce something magical.