Brut Réserve has been evolving over the last five years. Lees-ageing is down from the heights of 6 or 7 years to around 3 for current releases. From 2016 onwards 5-7% of old oak is in use too; something that appears to go hand-in-hand.
2016 base (mise en cave 2017), disgorged 2020. (I wish they’d give a month by the way). I believe this is still 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir and 20% Pinot Meunier with an addition of 46% reserve wine.
On popping the cork I was surprised by some roasted spices – a little oxidative flourish almost. This blew off and the heart of the wine came through, although it took a little while to open.
Roast apples and apricot pasties, a very sweet golden profile of mango lifted up with pepper and toasted almonds. The oak is there with a supporting line of sweet, buttery citrus-oil and vanilla richness, and there are some touches of licorice and something peppery that I love.
It is a bit jumpy, especially on day one. Day two is a different story – the texture has really settled. There is bristling, youthful energy and a fine kind of grippiness to it in comparison to the luscious, limpid creaminess of previous bottlings, but the balance and internal build feels as flawless as ever.
It’s still one of the first I’d pick off the shelf, and one of Champagne’s essential purchases. 17 (could be 17.5 with more bottle age)
The top wine in the range for now (the 2006 is the current release). Blanc de Blancs from Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Avize, Cramant and Vertus. At the time this was only the fifth release since 1983. Its predecessor, the wonderful 1995, was made in such large quantities that we didn’t get a 1998 or a 2002. Shame..
You need to leave this wine for a little while after opening. When it starts to go, it really goes – beautifully fresh, with pineapple pastries, lemon cream and this slightly exotic jasmine/orange blossom character over sweet mango. If it sounds extroverted it really isn’t – the ‘white’ is still in front of the ‘golden’ in terms of flavour for now, although the aromas all sit on a very pleasing cushion of crème-pâtissière richness.
What I love is how this headiness is delivered with such calmness and coolness in shape and texture. Beautiful precision and true, delicate chalkiness building to a delicate play of grapefruity bitterness and developing nougatty warmth. Oh, and the mousse is so measured, like smooth satin. The insistence and drama of headline vintages like 2002 or 2008 is not really the story – it reinforces my idea of 2004 as having a quieter, politer sort of finesse. 18
2013 base. 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay. Ambonnay, Bouzy, Verzenay. 50% barrel fermenation. Broad-shouldered stuff with the walnut, beeswax and spice patina of old oak over some big roasted red pear fruit and a touch of honeyed plum. Hard not to smile at that nose. Spreads out rather than pushing on with forward motion.
Just a trace of bruised fruit, spiked a little with some oxidative notes. A bit plump. Still very appealing though – perhaps this would have been a shade brighter a year or two ago. I got this for a good price, but since then they have moved quite a bit unfortunately. 16.5
2013 Base. 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier. So great to taste this with an extra 2 years on cork.
An enveloping, enticing nose! Roast red apples and citrus still lightened with blossom notes but turning golden with maple/pecan/coffee richness now. A slightly fudgy blackberry and apple warmth with some yellow spice – reserve wines? Open and unified on the palate, a lightness but not tightness of the 2013 vintage in evidence with a delicate tang. Leaves an addictive waft of pecan, caramel apple and ratafia on the finish. Definitely worth cellaring these. 17
2013 base? Or 2014? Disgorged June 2018.
Sillery, Northern Montage. Based on 2015. All steel with Malo. Very likeable stuff, showing a slightly exotically green side to its flavours – lime, white pepper, green mango, some herbs even. Nice clarity and suppleness. A good, stylish NV bottle, although there is a slightly hard, green phenolic character (especially noticeable on day 2). Picked earlyish for acidity in the hot, dry conditions of 2015? 15
75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay from this fine co-op based in the Grand Cru village of Mailly on the Northern side of the Montagne de Reims. Disgorged in 2018 with 2.3g/l dosage.
A bit of a change in style from the entry level wines here, at least with this bottle – broader, more oxidative. Roast apple, charred lemon, a meaty kind of Pinot character, some smokey woodspice. This is developing fairly quickly I think. I wouldn’t keep it too long but it’s in a good place to drink right now. 16
Vilmart Grand Cellier. This had been in my, er, petit cellier for a few years. Disgorged late 2016, I’m thinking 2012 base. Chardonnay dominant.
There’s the richness and boldness you expect from this terrific house based in Rilly-la-Montagne, but there’s also great refinement. Lemon shortbread and apricot kernel are getting delightfully heady with time in bottle, with delicious glazed apple tart set against a citric energy that pulls everything into tremendous, magnetic focus.
This dances with all the magical duality of top champagne. Richness/precision. Decadence/stoicism. Naturalism/Stylism. Fancypants/Just-Bloody-
Prélude is Taittinger’s in-betweener. A small production ‘non vintage’ wine that sits about £10 below the straight vintage in price. All Grand Cru, 50:50 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. It’s actually a vintage wine, but the year is a guess – it spends 5 years on lees and tasted like a recent disgorgement (within the last year?) so I’m guessing 2014. Didn’t have the tension of 2013 to me. Not sure though.
Really sweet-natured, fruity and clean style here. I was perhaps expecting something a bit more chiseled, but this turned out as more of a charmer with its white peach, blossom and whitecurrant fruit, the Chardonnay leading the charge at the moment with some crystallised pineapple ripeness coming through. Ample, but balanced dosage and the youthful post-disgorgement florals make this a very pretty wine that will gain in gravity with a little time in the cellar. Approachable but not quite as energetic as I was hoping for. Time, maybe. 16.5
Billecart-Salmon Extra Brut. Newish Cuvée, although I believe it is actually now labeled as Brut Nature. Which it is!
Classic Billecart blend of 40/30/30 Pinot Meunier/Pinot Noir/Chardonnay. All steel, all Malo, 48 months on lees.
Everyone loved this wine, myself included. It managed to harness all the magical Billecart Meunier fruitiness, which keeps things eminently jovial even in this kind of stark presentation.
Fuzzy apricots and red apple, with this sweet, gentle blackberry blossom meunier plushness pushing through just when you think it might dip. The richness of dry honey and oat biscuits lurks, and an interesting lime-leaf note forms a layer of addictive fragrance. It plays a lovely arc, letting itself down gently into the hard ground at the end of the brut nature palate. Really good example. 17