louis roederer cover

At the Scala Wine tasting at 67 Pall Mall last week, Louis Roederer’s esteemed chef de cave, Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, hosted a fascinating tasting in order to demonstrate how the impacts of climate change are transferring from the vineyard to the glass. 

The tasting was titled ‘Fighting for Freshness’ as it is now well known that the warming climate is increasing the ripeness of grapes in this marginal region, and so altering the style of the wine that the consumer ultimately receives. 

Jean-Baptiste: “Freshness is the DNA of Champagne!”

This focus on freshness is certainly a key characteristic of many regions but for Champagne, it is a defining issue. This was reiterated in an earlier interview on this site with Krug CEO Margareth Henriquez who emphasised the enormous lengths undertaken to not just sustain but to increase freshness.

Because we somewhat simplistically associate the freshness in the wine with the higher levels of acidity, Jean-Baptiste (J-B) emphasises that to the taster it is more than this. It is a combination of “high acidity, but with more precision, purity, length… salinity, sapidity… all contribute to freshness.”

Is it just a case of dosage adjustment?

louis roederer brut nature2010 x2

A question I invariably ask out of interest at sparkling wine tastings is “what’s the dosage?”, mainly because there is an undeniable trend towards lower dosage wines. There is also the obvious association between this lowering of added sugar and the ripening of the grapes. The sensations in the mouth can be enormously impressive and occasionally shockingly electric.

I noticed that J-B batted away questions from the room asking for the dosage of the wines we were tasting, sounding almost vague with the answer, preferring to comment that the dosage is adjusted to achieve the right balance and that is the key.

A bit later he did state that over the last 30 years dosage has generally come down in brut wines from 12g/l to 7-8g/l. Although there is not much new in this knowledge, it does demonstrate that climate warming creates the feedback of adjusting the balance levels, and over certain thresholds, emergent fuller styles of Champagne may well be on the way.

Counter-punch

Banks exhibition London - buy original Banksy printsNola Pink Yellow Rain by Banksy - New Exhibition at Heathrow VIP by Tanya Baxter Contemporary

In order to dispel any notion that dosage is the ultimate governor of balance, the tasting began with Louis Roederer’s Brut Nature 2009, which bursts onto the palate with a light creamy texture, fresh cut apple and clean long finish. There is dryness from the low dosage but it is offset by the ageing that gives a touch of autolytic roundness to the flavour and impression.

I am personally ambivalent about very low dosage sparkling wines as they can give a bit of shock. That said, they do also provide good reference points to tasters exploring the boundaries of freshness and balance.

Impact of organics and biodynamic processes

The conversion to organic and biodynamic winemaking is a hot topic everywhere and winemakers stating they are either is certainly resonating with consumers.

Champagne writer and author Michael Edwards said afterwards, “Jean-Baptiste is a great student of champagne vintages and harvests since the Roederer family planted their first vines in the 1840’s. Their story today is as much looking back to the excellent vintages of the 49s and 50s (47, 49, 52, 55, & 59) - a time when the best Champenois houses and growers were organic before it ever became fashionable.”

It has been the drive for quantity that has made the use of chemicals so ubiquitous and necessary but now the winds are blowing in a new direction. Overuse of chemicals is killing soils and reducing biodiversity. This is not just something seen in wine but also across all agriculture.

Responding to a combination of changing consumer demands and improvements in the actual wine produced from vines growing in a biodiverse environment, producers are striving to bring life back into the fields.

Many producers in Champagne are radically reducing the use of chemicals and working with newly developed techniques to encourage biodiversity and resilience in the vineyard. Roederer uses organic and biodynamic processes across the board despite only having biodynamic certification for 2 of their wines.

But do these processes help in the fight against climate change? It is a loaded question but one J-B answers assuredly saying, “There is a new balance of ripeness and freshness but with lower pH. and the technique is adapted for vintage variation.” As with the dosage, there is no fixed dogma when one goes toe to toe with nature.

We also tasted the Louis Roederer Blanc De Blancs 2010 which I thought was particularly delicious. During the period of 1930-60, this wine was only created for family consumption. It had a lower pressure of 4bar, like a crémant, giving it a creamier mousse than typical champagne. The acidity here is so focused that it holds the baked apple and savoury flavours together on the palate like a sensitive parcel of pleasure. A dry finish with a touch of mineral salinity. According to J-B, "2010 was a Chardonnay vintage". Very enjoyable indeed.

The last wine we tasted was the Cristal 2008 which has a great concentration of pear and a super fine/precise acidity, full of life and energy. The parcels of vineyard that provide these grapes are the chalkiest Roederer have with vines up to 65 years of age to add to the concentration of flavours.

The combination of structure and round easy fruit that stays on the palate adds to the seductive quality of the wine. J-B calls it “discreet power” and he is spot on.

The finish

The tasting draws to an end with our thoughtful host saying, "The excellence comes from the soils and climate, not the winemaking. With climate change and farming practices changing, it means that winemaking needs to be reinvented.”

The irony today is that Champagne is in a golden age, producing many outstanding wines that benefit from a very slight increase in temperatures. But this golden age should be seen through a window of fast-moving change. With the climate flux just beginning and our collective societal efforts to reduce or stop emitting CO2 failing, there is currently no countervailing force to halt or reverse rising temperatures. Jean-Baptiste himself corrected a fellow taster who used the term climate change, saying: "I will call it a climate crisis because calling it climate change is too nice". 

It reminds me of a line in Hemingway's book, 'The Sun Also Rises'. When the bankrupt Brit is asked how he ended up that way, he replied, "Two ways. Gradually, then suddenly."

Nick Breeze is on Twitter and Instagram as @NickGBreeze

 Additional Links: www.scalawine.com | Louis Roederer

Related:

Champagne Krug CEO discusses the mission to preserve freshness in a warmer world

Is the style of Champagne Bollinger changing due to climate change? Interview with Chef de Cave, Gilles Descotes

0
0
0
s2smodern

Follow us for free:

Secret Sommelier on TwitterSecret Sommelier on Instagramfacebook 001linkedin 001youtube 001

Join our mailing list for occasional updates of what we have been up to:

Sitting inside the ancient castle walls inside the town of Soave, a short drive from Verona in northern Italy, the unique slightly almond aroma of the indigenous grape, Garganega, rises gently from my glass. The castle sprawls up the side of an extinct volcano that gives the region its variant soil structures that mark out the better quality of Soave wines.

 

Tanisha Townsend decided to move to Paris 4 years ago after regularly passing through the city en route to the world’s most famous vineyards. In fact, it was about 2 years ago at the Printemps de Champagne Bouzy Rouge tasting in Reims that I saw (who we shall now refer to as) GirlMeetsGlass chirpily speaking to her web followers on Snapchat.

 

The cathedral in Santiago de Compostela, the final resting place of Saint James, rises out of the landscape, infested with antiquity. The rambling steep streets give way to shafts of dramatic light, emblazoned chapels, and tightly packed tapas bars, dusty, as old novels pressed together in antiquarian bookshops.

 

Driving into the Entre-Deux-Mers region from the north, the vineyards roll out like a bright green deep-pile carpet across the undulating land. It’s hard not to be excited about tasting wines with so much heritage, as we head to Chateau-Sainte-Marie to meet with 5th generation owner, Stéphane Dupuch. 

 

It’s been a hot couple of weeks here trekking around northern Catalonia. From the homeland and backdrop to surrealist Salvador Dali’s world to dramatic remnants of the volcano park an hour away, this place is a land of rough-hewn vistas and rustic hospitality.

 

Carluccio's deli and restaurants are a high-street staple, where great flavours in food blend easily with quality wines on the list. Following the death of the charismatic founder, Antonio Carluccio, his spirit lives on in style and philosophy. Nick Breeze talks to Head of International Operations (especially where wine is concerned!), Mike Stocks about wine-list tips, food matching and the great man of "mof mof":

 

We use cookies to improve our website and your experience when using it. Cookies used for the essential operation of this site have already been set. To find out more about the cookies we use and how to delete them, see our privacy policy.

  I accept cookies from this site.
EU Cookie Directive plugin by www.channeldigital.co.uk