Monday, September 9, 2013

Champagne - Seven grapes are better than three

Conventional wisdom about anything - automobiles, movies, sports - can be a tricky thing. Usually that information is true, or at least accepted as true. I won't get into the misinformation that clogs up the internet these days - I could write all day on that topic.

Take Champagne for example, when it comes to universal truths. We all know that an authentic Champagne - produced from grapes grown in the Champagne district of France - can be made from three grape types, namely, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. That's a fact that everyone knows - right?

Well it turns out that there are actually seven varieties permitted in the production of Champagne. It's just that you don't hear about the other four as only a handful of producers use these other varieties. Then consider that these four varieties account for approximately 1% of the total planting in Champagne and you can understand why these varieties are rarely discussed.

Still, they exist and here they are listed: Pinot Gris (also known as Fromenteau or Enfumé), Arbane, found only in the Aube district, Pinot Blanc (also known as Blanc Vrai) and Petit Meslier. They're all white varieties by the way, so that means there are a total of five white varieties that can be used in Champagne (Chardonnay, of course, being the other) with two red varieties: Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

There actually are a few producers that craft a Champagne using all seven varieties and I recently tasted one, the Le Nombre d'Or "Campaniae Veters Vites" Brut from the great house of L. Aubry Fils of Jouy-les-Reims. This was the 2005 vintage and the primary grapes are Pinot Gris and Petit Meslier, while the other five varieties represent anywhere from 5% to 15% or 20% of the blend. The name incidentally means "the golden number," referring to all seven varieties in this wine. The specific cuvée name "Campaniae Veters Vites," means "old vines of the countryside." (Incidentally, there is also a Blanc de Blancs version of this wine - named Sable Blanc de Blancs - which is comprised of Chardonnay, Arbane and Petit Meslier.)

As you might imagine, this is a very distinctive Champagne; instead of the toasty, yeasty notes you find in the aromas of so many Champagnes, this has perfumes of green mint, dried pear, chamomile and even a hint of fig and dried yellow flowers. Medium-full, this is quite elegant and vibrant on the palate and there is a long, satisfying finish with very good acidity and a light earthiness. It's not an austere style of Champagne; it is delicious and extremely well balanced, and of course, displays marvelous complexity. It's beautiful now and should drink well for another 3-5 years - perhaps longer.

I may not have been in seventh heaven, but what a stylish Champagne!