Wine column for week of December 24

Ruinart, the oldest champagne house in France, has been producing bubbles since 1729.
It has chosen a very distinctive bottle shape, inspired by the first champagne bottles of the 18th century.
Highlighting a classic champagne seems relevant as we enter the Yuletide season because Ruinart makes elegant and memorable wines that are appropriate for Christmas consumption.
Ruinart’s cellars are among the largest in the Champagne region. They are the product of ancient chalk mining, extend about 40 metres below the ground and are eight kilometres long. The chalk helps keep the cellars at a constant 11 degrees Celsius — ideal for storing champagne. These chalk pits were classified as a historic monument in 1931.
The Ruinart taste depends on ageing in these chalk cellars. Non-vintage champagnes are kept for three to four years, with nine to 10 years of average cellaring for a Dom Ruinart vintage wine.
Frederic Panaiotis, chef de caves (chief winemaker) for Ruinart, said chardonnay was the “very soul” of Ruinart. The grapes mainly come from the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims regions or terroirs, and are the “heart of all our cuvées,” he said.
“With its fresh aromas, vivacity, purity and luminosity, the chardonnay is the essence of all our cuvées,” Panaiotis said while at a media tasting in Hong Kong.
This tasting involved the 2002, 1996, 1993 and 1988 blanc de blancs, made solely from chardonnay grapes. The 2002 had a green zing of acidity with flavours of cashews and brioche. It smelled of oyster shells, that iodine sense often found in great champagne, and tasted of fresh hazelnuts.
The 1996, from what Panaiotis described as a “glorious” vintage, exuded finesse and a toasty-ness feeling in the mouth. My favourite was the 1988 because of its slightly oxidised nature which produced flavours of butter and caramel – it was like drinking creme brulee, with an exquisite sense of silky smoothness on the palate.
Panaiotis noted that chardonnay grapes only displayed the full breadth of their aromatic richness after a long and slow maturation in the chalk cellars.
“Brightness, intensity and elegance — these are the combination of unique traits that produce the miracle that is called the ‘Ruinart taste’,” he said.
In parallel with the blanc de blancs tasting was an array of rose champagnes, with the 1996, 1990 and the 1988 vintages showing exceptional qualities.
The 1996 tasted like a quality single malt Scottish whisky, with aromas of smoke and peat. Annabel Jackson, a winetasting colleague, suggested it smelled like “cranachan”, a classic Scottish dessert. This traditional dessert of oats, cream, whisky and fresh raspberries is a delight to try over Christmas.
The 1988 was my favourite rose champagne. It had aromas of truffles and mushrooms, and as winemaker Panaiotis noted, this champagne needed 20 years before its true qualities emerged.
Rose champagnes tend to have low tannins, with a creamy texture.
A fascinating question with these champagnes is the level of dosage, the sugar added to champagnes during the secondary fermentation that creates the bubbles. The amount of sugar influences the potential for age-ability, Panaiotis said.
Creating classic vintage champagnes was a combination of science and art, he said. Technology was useful for measuring levels of sugar and acidity, but essentially “gut feeling” was the key in making great wine. It was an art form.
Ruinart is owned by Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, better known as LVMH. It has had a long relationship with the arts.
In essence, Ruinart champagne is a work of art. Enjoy some over the Christmas holidays.
* Published 27 December 2012. Find a link here.

Categories: Not home, wine

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