Tasting vins clairs, or the still wines resulting from the first fermentation, is becoming more and more of a widespread activity here in Champagne. When I first started doing it ten years ago it was still a bit of an oddity, but today it has become quite a commonplace event for many people.
There are vins clairs that one never, ever tastes, however, and among these are the wines of the various houses in the Laurent-Perrier group. They simply don’t allow anyone else to taste them. (And believe me, I’ve pestered them.) So when my friend Jean-Baptiste Cristini, export director for Salon and Delamotte, e-mailed me to say that he had gotten hold of some Delamotte samples from 2008, I was a bit surprised.
We tasted five wines in Le Mesnil this afternoon, all chardonnay, all Côte des Blancs grand cru. A Chouilly from purchased grapes was impressive, with a forward, highly fragrant aroma and round body typical of the village. It was outclassed by a Cramant, which is often the case—Delamotte has excellent holdings in this cru just under the Butte de Saran, but as these samples came from lots that were already pre-assembled in preparation for the final blending, it’s likely that this wine was made up of a number of different parcels. Nevertheless, it showed a classic Cramant character, feeling more closed than the Chouilly but possessing noticeably more finesse and complexity, and appearing firmly driven by its tense undertones of acidity and chalky minerality.
An Oger was intriguing to taste alongside the Chouilly, as I’ve always thought that these two villages relate to each other, with their warm, ripe fruit tones and ample bodies. The difference between the two is one of northern vs. southern minerality, and that was clearly on display here: while the Chouilly felt round and forward, showing a broad girth derived from close proximity to the Marne, the Oger was strongly marked by the pure, saline chalkiness typical of the southern Côte des Blancs. This wine wasn’t quite as overtly fleshy as usual for Oger chardonnay, but it could be because Delamotte’s vines in this village are located in the lieu-dit of Les Tartelettes, very close to the border with Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.
We finished with two wines from Le Mesnil, marked 1 and 2. Delamotte has holdings in two different sites here, Roses and Les Zalieux, and Jean-Baptiste speculated that perhaps these formed the basis for the respective blends. The #2 was closed and a little reduced, showing a flinty, smoky edginess, yet the #1 was surprisingly generous for a young Mesnil chardonnay, demonstrating a rich, floral fragrance and appearing nearly exotic in its citrus tones. This is not to say that it didn’t possess classic Mesnil character: underneath the ripe fruitiness there was a firm backbone of acidity and minerality, and the long, complex finish felt racy and sleek, marked by a strong salinity.
Overall, these were quite impressive, reconfirming my high opinion of the vintage. It seems to also be a vintage that suits the Delamotte style, with its high acidity and firm structure. Of course, we won’t see the results for at least another five years or so, but they should be well worth the wait.