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Luxury. With Meaning.

Posted on  | December 3, 2012   Bookmark and Share
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A glass of Champagne Delamotte

All-Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc Champagnes are rare, but reliable.

Given that Champagne is already a niche within the sparkling wine niche, it may seem odd to focus on blanc de blancs—a very small subset of Champagne. The overwhelming majority of Champagnes are non-vintage blends of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay; only about 5% of all Champagnes are blanc de blancs—made entirely from Chardonnay. However, this focus makes perfect sense in that blanc de blancs represent the Champagne genre at its finest, and by carrying and selling these elegant cuvées, merchants and fine restaurants can be assured that they are fulfilling the expectations of their customers who prize quality above all.

It might surprise some wine drinkers that great Champagne wines can be made entirely from the Chardonnay grape variety. We have all had our share of mediocre Chardonnay wines, many tasting (and smelling) more of oak than of fruit, and some tasting too sweet and/or over-ripe. Chardonnay’s image has suffered from such wines. But when Chardonnay grapes grow in suitable places in a cool climate, the resulting wines can be magnificent.

Given that Champagne is already a niche within the sparkling wine niche, it may seem odd to focus on blanc de blancs—a very small subset of Champagne. The overwhelming majority of Champagnes are non-vintage blends of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay; only about 5% of all Champagnes are blanc de blancs—made entirely from Chardonnay. However, this focus makes perfect sense in that blanc de blancs represent the Champagne genre at its finest, and by carrying and selling these elegant cuvées, merchants and fine restaurants can be assured that they are fulfilling the expectations of their customers who prize quality above all.

It might surprise some wine drinkers that great Champagne wines can be made entirely from the Chardonnay grape variety. We have all had our share of mediocre Chardonnay wines, many tasting (and smelling) more of oak than of fruit, and some tasting too sweet and/or over-ripe. Chardonnay’s image has suffered from such wines. But when Chardonnay grapes grow in suitable places in a cool climate, the resulting wines can be magnificent.

Relatively Young Genre

Blanc de blancs Champagne is a relatively new type of Champagne. Although Champagne has been made for over 300 years, commercially made blanc de blancs Champagne began in the 1920s, when Eugène-Aimé Salon (founder of Salon Champagne) released his first vintage in 1921. During the Roaring ’20s, Salon Champagne became the rage of Paris. However, the Depression, World War II and Salon’s death in 1943 practically caused blanc de blancs Champagne to disappear. Then, in 1957, the house of Taittinger released the 1952 vintage of its now-famous Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs. Other producers soon jumped on the blanc-wagon, in a big way.

Somewhat surprisingly, many large Champagne houses—such as Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Laurent-Perrier, Piper-Heidsieck and Bollinger—still do not make a blanc de blancs Champagne. I once asked Richard Geoffroy, chief winemaker of Moët & Chandon, and in personal charge of its gem, Dom Pérignon, why Moët does not make a blanc de blancs. Geoffroy cited two reasons: He does not find blanc de blancs Champagnes balanced in the way he envisions Champagne to be; and (perhaps more importantly), he prefers to use the best Chardonnay grapes to blend in with Dom Pérignon. A huge amount of Dom Pérignon is produced; Chardonnay is the scarcest and most expensive of the three main Champagne grape varieties. It makes up only 25 percent of the three varieties planted in the region, and considerably less than that amount comes from the best area, the Côte des Blancs.

Recommended Wines  

Blanc de blancs Champagnes are made as non-vintage or vintage Champagnes. The non-vintage blanc de blancs tend to be less expensive, and are generally lighter-bodied. Below is a list of recommended wines, with specific origin (indicated in parentheses), and approximate retail prices. The Under $50 category is the smallest group; good blanc de blancs Champagnes tend to be more expensive than other Champagnes. Some are made by the established houses; some by small grower-producers (also indicated). Grower Champagnes are typically among the driest of all Champagnes—although most houses, such as Ayala, are producing much drier Champagnes today than in the past.

In general, the renowned vintage blanc de blancs Champagnes, such as Krug Clos du Mesnil, Salon, Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne, are at their peak when aged for 15 or more years. The best blanc de blancs Champagnes are among the longest-lived of all Champagnes.

Food Factor

Light-bodied, very dry and elegant, blanc de blancs Champagne makes an ideal apéritif—just what you need to whet your appetite. For those who love caviar, these bubblies are never too heavy to obscure caviar’s delicate flavor. They are also an ideal match for sushi; or if seafood is on the menu—perhaps a delicately flavored fish, or a light fish soup—blanc de blancs can ably continue into dinner. Its style also works fabulously with vegetable dishes, egg dishes and Asian cuisine that’s not too hot and spicy. Medium to-full-bodied vintage blanc de blancs Champagnes, especially those from Cramant, Avize or Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, are heavy enough to accompany lobster, game birds and full-flavored poultry or pork dishes.


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