Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Image of Blanc de Blancs

I was speaking with Denis Velut of Champagne Jean Velut in Montgueux yesterday, and he said something that I found rather curious. We were tasting his 2000 millésime, which is 100-percent chardonnay—in the past he used to add about 20 percent of pinot noir to his vintage brut, but since 1999 he's begun making it exclusively from chardonnay, as chardonnay is rightfully the emblematic grape variety of the Montgueux area.

The label of this wine, however, still says Brut Cuvée Millésime, with no mention of blanc de blancs anywhere. When I asked him about this, he replied, "The name blanc de blancs doesn't have very good connotations. People in France associate it with crémant, and think of blanc de blancs as cheap sparkling wine."

I was quite surprised by this, as I doubt that people in export markets think of blanc de blancs that way at all. It seems to me, in fact, that it's the reverse—names such as Salon, Selosse, Larmandier-Bernier and Diebolt-Vallois have helped to give blanc de blancs a terrifically high level of prestige, even more so than other styles. Many wine lovers I know declare blanc de blancs to be their favorite style of champagne.

What do you think? Do you have a particular response one way or another to the term blanc de blancs? For those of you who are French, does blanc de blancs have any negative connotations for you?


Brooklynguy said...

Funny, i would have thought that whether it be blanc de blancs or blanc de noirs, the "specialness" of such a designation versus regular old blend implies something fancier.

Dan said...

I agree with brooklynguy.
It's not the matter of "superior or inferior", but that of just "different".
Just because the prestige blanc de blancs is made of the best chardonnay, it is considered to be the best. I don't think the name of blanc de blancs guarantee its quality.

Anonymous said...

About two years ago my wife and I and one other couple committed to examining the difference between BdB, BdN, and blends. After about 12 blind tastings of 6 to 8 wines each time we are all in absolute agreement that BdB are our favorites. It is very rare that BdN or blends even score close to BdB.

Samantha Dugan said...

The only thing that kind of stands out for me with Blanc de Blancs is that it is, or seems to be more rare, never makes me think of much more than that. Styles vary so amazingly that I cannot even think of it as a style per se.

Bluepastures said...

Am infinitely fonder of BdB than BdN or blends. Always find BdB to age more gracefully, as well. Very interesting comment- would love to hear from folks who are French as to whether they regard M. Velut's sentiment as being widespread...


TLR said...

I love BdB over most others. I have also done blind tastings and BdB have one WOTN everytime.

Hopefully the French will think it is swill and lower the price and ship it all to the USA

Peter Liem said...

Thanks for the comments. I don't think that blanc de blancs is intrinsically superior to other champagnes, but there is something about the finesse and clarity of chardonnay that strongly resonates with many wine drinkers. (I myself am certainly not immune to its charms.) I suppose it makes me think of Mosel Riesling—Mosel wines are not necessarily intrinsically superior to rieslings from other parts of Germany, but the style of Mosel wine is the favorite of many wine drinkers, and has become a sort of archetype in the public psychology for German riesling in general. Whether that's fair or not is not the point—the point is that many people tend to think that way. What surprises me even more about Velut is that Montgueux is known almost exclusively for being a chardonnay-growing region, so why wouldn't you be eager to promote your wine as blanc de blancs? Most people don't even realize that pinot noir grows there.

Thomas said...

I would have say yes to being a BdB lower. That doesn’t prevent me from liking all the “others” as well.
I think it’s caused by the flowery spectrum of these wines, clarity, acidity and crispness. But then again – when tasting such refined BdB like Les Ursules from Cédric Bouchard one should be careful on categorizing. Tough choices ;-).

Jeremy said...

Mr Velut is - how can I put this?- quite wrong! As a frenchman, I don't believe that there are ANY negative connotations to the term Blanc de Blanc. As Brooklynguy suggests, it is typically seen as "more special" than just a "regular" brut.

From a BdB, I typically expect a little more finesse and "tension" than in a blend. The Pinot does bring more broadness, but of course there are exceptions in an Appellation as broad as Champagne.

Sharon said...

As an almost absurdly partisan enthusiast of blanc de blancs, I have to agree with your remarks about the clarity of the thing (not that blanc de noirs or blends are inherently muddled; yet there is a heartbreaking unity of purpose to a blanc de blancs).

In France, I get the sense that they are considered "lightweight" and more apéritif (which is absurd, if you consider some of the heavy-hitters you cite); I haven't run into the notion that the image is contaminated by crémants, though.

Dan said...

I tend to like BdB more as well. They seem more fresh, crisp and drinkable without necessary being apperitif-like. I've never heard anyone say that they associate BdB with cremants or associate them with anything negative.


Agnès said...

A few years ago, I was presenting our range of Champagnes to a group of retirees. When I offered BdB I was answered : "oh no! not BdB, we want Champagne !". So yes, for the older generation it can have this reputation of low-quality crémant.

Iuli said...

I really like both descriptions of bdb's having more clarity and tension. What a great way to describe these wines.

I often gravitate toward bdb's also, but always feel like I have to scold myself for reinforcing my own bias.

I used to really enjoy Drappier's Zero Dosage, which i think is a bdn. I haven't seen in state side in many years, so please correct me if i'm wrong. I think i liked it because it was odd. Rich with Pinot fruit, but really dry with all that acid "tension".

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Am infinitely fonder of BdB than BdN or blends. Always find BdB to age more gracefully, as well. Very interesting comment- would love to hear from folks who are French as to whether they regard M. Velut's sentiment as being widespread... |

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I just know about blanc de blancs is a s easy to drink wine that women and teenagers can drink, too. But thank you for your article. I guess I have more choices in for this year holiday's wine.
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