Antonio Galloni - 31/10/2011
House & Garden - December
About this WINE
Ruinart is a low profile, yet select, Champagne house which is steeped in history. It dates back to the 17th century, the time of the famous Dom Pérignon. It was founded in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart in the city of Reims, the year after a Royal Decree in 1728 whereby Louis XV gave his consent for sparkling wines to be shipped in baskets containing 50 to 100 bottles. This opened the gates of Europe to champagne and thus makes Ruinart the oldest Champagne House. Nicolas' uncle was Dom Thierry Ruinart, close friend to Dom Pérignon himself and an inspiration behind the creation of this house after the Dom’s death. Its Gallo-Roman chalk cellars are now a UNESCO-classified historical monument and every two years the finest sommeliers in Europe gather there to compete for the Trophée Ruinart.
Since the second world war the house has become synonymous with class and its production of only 1.7 million bottles per annum is small compared to other grande marques. It is now part of the LVMH group that also owns Moët & Chandon.
The house style emphasises the pre-eminence of Chardonnay over Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.
The 'R' de Ruinart NV contains 40% Chardonnay minimum, with 25% reserve wines. Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay, sourced predominantly from Premier Cru vineyards, while Ruinart Brut Rosé is typically 45% Chardonnay and 55% Pinot, of which 18% is red wine, so following the assemblage, rather than the saignée method of rosé production.
The Dom Ruinart range, named for the spiritual father of the House, represents the prestige cuvées of the house. Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is a Grand Cru Chardonnay, predominantly from the Côte des Blancs (70%) and the remainder from the Montagne de Reims.
Dom Ruinart Rosé champagne has the same basis as the Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) to which 15%-20% red wine (Pinot Noir from Verzenay and Verzy) has been added. These are amazingly rich and pure in youth developing red Burgundian notes with long ageing such as in the 1988 or 1990 vintages.
Our wine buyers leave no stone unturned in their quest to find the best Champagnes, and Berry Bros. & Rudd takes particular pride in its eclectic range of artisan Champagnes that represent a real sense of terroir, original winemaking, labour-intensive viticulture (often organic/biodynamic) and the uncompromising excellence of the end product.
How Champagne is made
In 1668, in the village of Hautvillers, the monk turned cellar master, Dom Pérignon, is said to have discovered how to make sparkling wine; while the same technique is used all over the world today, the region of Champagne continues to make some of the finest.
So what makes wine sparkle? Adding a solution of sugar and yeast to a white wine starts another fermentation in the bottle which results in the bubbles. Once the yeasts have done their job, a sediment known as ‘lees’ collects on the side of the bottle; contact with this deposit during maturation gives the wine its characteristic flavours of freshly-baked bread, toast and biscuit. Once this sediment is isolated (remuage) and removed (dégorgement), the Champagne is topped up with a sugar solution to make it dry or sweet
The Champagne Wine Region
Champagne is the most northerly wine region in France and is situated north-east of Paris. There are three main vineyard areas: Côte des Blancs, Vallée de la Marne and Montagne de Reims.
Ripeness of the grapes is often a problem, which is one reason why a blend of grape varieties is usually used: the white Chardonnay to give fruit and elegance, and two reds – Pinot Noir (particularly to provide a ‘backbone’) and Pinot Meunier.
In Champagne there are around 15,000 growers and 290 Champagne houses. Traditionally, growers have sold their grapes to the Champagne houses which account for 70 percent of production and 90 percent of exports. Recently, increasing numbers of growers are making growers’ Champagnes themselves, using their own grapes.
The Champagne houses used to be organized into a Syndicat des Grandes Marques, which had 28 members, not all of them of equal quality. That has now been superseded by the Club des Grandes Marques, with 24 participants: Ayala, Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, Canard- Duchêne, Deutz, Dom Pérignon, Heidsieck & Co. Monopole, Henriot, Krug, Lanson, Laurent-Perrier, Moët & Chandon, G.H. Mumm, Perrier Jouët, Joseph Perrier, Piper-Heidsieck, Pol Roger, Pommery, Ch. & A Prieur, Louis Roederer, Ruinart, Salon, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot-Ponsardin.
Made exclusively from grapes grown in a single year, this is produced only in the best years, and is released at about six years of age.
Most of the Champagne produced today is Non-Vintage, comprising the blended product of grapes from multiple vintages. Typically grapes from a single-year vintage will form the base of the blend, ranging from 15 percent to up to 40 percent.
Typically light in colour, rosé Champagne is produced either by leaving the clear juice of black grapes to macerate on its skins for a brief time (known as saigneé), or by adding a small amount of Pinot Noir red wine to the sparkling wine cuvée. The saigneé method is more elaborate and costly, requiring highly-skilled winemaking, hence only a few houses still use it – among them Laurent Perrier and Louis Roederer.
Luxury (Prestige) Cuvée
Top of the range, this is vintage-dated. Famous examples include Louis Roederer's Cristal, Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle, Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, Duval-Leroy's Cuvée Femme and Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.
Demi-Sec (Rich) Champagne
Demi-Sec or Rich is a medium-dry to medium-sweet style which occupies the other end of the spectrum from the standard dry "Brut" style. Brut Natural or Brut Zéro contains less than three grams of sugar per litre, Extra Brut has less than six grams of sugar per litre, and Brut less than 12 grams of sugar per litre.
Recently Disgorged Champagne
R.D. (Recently Disgorged) style was introduced for the first time by Madame Bollinger in 1961, on the 1952 Bollinger Grande Année vintage. Late disgorgement allows the Champagne to retain its freshness, vivacity and fruity expression, despite the ageing.
Blanc de Blancs Champagne
Blanc de Blancs denotes a Champagne made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes.
Blanc de Noirs Champagne
Blanc de Noir Champagnes are made exclusively from black grapes, Pinot Noir (typically) and Pinot Meunier grapes. Bollinger's prestige cuvée Vieilles Vignes Françaises is the lead example.
Which grapes are included in the blend, and their proportion, is one of the key factors determining the style of most Champagnes. Three grapes are used - Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier.
26% of vineyards in Champagne are planted with Chardonnay and it performs best on the Côtes des Blancs and on the chalk slopes south of Epernay. It is relatively simple to grow, although it buds early and thus is susceptible to spring frosts. It produces lighter, fresher wines than those from Burgundy and gives finesse, fruit and elegance to the final blend. It is the sole grape in Blancs de Blancs, which are some of the richest long-lived Champagnes produced.
Pinot Noir accounts for nearly 40% of the plantings in Champagne and lies at the heart of most blends - it gives Champagne its body, structure, strength and grip. It is planted across Champagne and particularly so in the southern Aube district.
The final component is Pinot Meunier and this constitutes nearly 35% of the plantings. Its durability and resistance to spring frosts make the Marne Valley, a notorious frost pocket, its natural home. It ripens well in poor years and produces a soft, fruity style of wine that is ideal for blending with the more assertive flavours of Pinot Noir. Producers allege that Pinot Meunier lacks ageing potential, but this does not deter Krug from including around 15% of it in their final blends.