One can’t help but feel for our specialist Méthode Cap Classique producers. The local bubbly market is so crowded and, I’m afraid, there are more than a few Johnny-come-latelys, all of which diverts focus away from the dedicated few, who are making wines as good and even better than others outside of Champagne.
It’s easy to forget how good until the opportunity arises of tasting some international bubblies made in the same way; an opportunity which came my way earlier this week.
Roger Jones, Michelin-star chef at The Harrow in the UK, had kindly given me a bottle of Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard 2009; I suggested sharing it with Paul Gerber, winemaker at MCC specialist, Le Lude and Pieter Ferreira (no credentials necessary!); an offer that was snapped up.
Nathalie Stanley, assistant to Gerber, Ann Ferreira, PR for Le Lude and Debi van Flymen who runs Wine Cellar in Jo’burg* joined us and brought along another English bubbly, Coates & Seely Brut Reserve, a pair of Italian wines – Astoria Valdobbiadene Prosecco 2012 DOCG and Bellavista Brut Rosé 2008 – with Champagne represented by Perrier Jouet Brut NV and, as it sadly turned out, a corked Ayala Cuvée Perle 2001.
Our palates were tuned by the 70/30 chardonnay/pinot noir Le Lude Prestige Cuvée in magnum (chilled) and, for comparison in 750ml (we suggested the comparison, so this was off the rack and unchilled). Due for release later this year, these were degorged as we sat down, so as brut as they come. The comparison was telling. I love the linear tension in the magnum and, with longer on the lees, could drink it without any dosage (this will be added after trials to determine the sweet spot). The bottle was more rounded, richer (the oak fermented portion here more evident), its brioche notes more evolved.
The purity and lack of oxidative characters lend wines like Le Lude so much more of interest and it is this route Gerber and Ferreira would like to see local producers follow.
The maiden vintage of Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard 2009, a 79% pinot noir/21% chardonnay blend from their Sussex greensand vineyards (they also have vines on Hampshire chalk) enjoys the same purity, a creamy weight and mousse with citrusy lift. The dosage, composed of the same wine, at 10 g/l was felt by Gerber and Ferreira, to be a little on the high side, hiding full expression of the wine. That aside, it has evidently benefited from time: bottled in October 2010, it was disgorged in August 2013. More remarkable is that this was from three year old vines.
A visit to the farm three years ago, when I tasted through the range with winemaker, Cherie Spriggs, confirmed the high quality all round of Nyetimber bubblies. One point Spriggs made is that Nyetimber is dedicated to giving longer time on the lees than many producers, but they also believe in time on the cork before release. This was demonstrated by the current releases we tasted that June 2013; Blanc de Blancs 2007 and Rosé 2009. I was also very impressed with the Demi-Sec from 100% chardonnay and apparently, then, the first in England. Even with a dosage of 45 g/l, it seemed more rich than sweet with delicious baked apple flavours.
The Coates and Seely, a dour, earthy, short wine, couldn’t have been more different, either from Nyetimber or from the same label’s Blanc de Blancs, which came second to Beck’s Cuvée Clive on the English/Welsh vs South African Méthode Cap Classique taste off back in January. Roger Jones has told me subsequent releases are more similar to the Blanc de Blancs in quality.
English sparkling wine’s image is such that it’s not unusual for UK producers to receive between £25 and £50 a bottle, whereas Ferreira says our MCCs struggle to go above £15.
I see less written about Franciacorta, Italy’s major area for bubblies made in the traditional method from traditional Champagne grapes. Yet even when I visited back in 1989, several of the producers modelled their marketing on Champagne and its glamourous image. The Bellavista Rosé certainly reflects the fine quality from this area bordering Lake Garda in northern Italy. It’s a pretty beige/pink hue with biscuity, rich red fruit bouquet and a vigour that gives expression to layers of flavour and length. Elegant, classy and in the £44 range. Don’t bother looking for details on the website, it’s just a lot of PR puffery. Elsewhere one finds it’s a 68/32 chardonnay/pinot noir blend, the chardonnay spending in small white oak and the wine aged for five years prior to release.
Prosecco currently receives much more written attention and is hugely popular but it’s no replacement for wines made in the traditional method. The point here is that van Flymen observes they sell for £18 at the high end with an average price of £10. Pretty much in the same range as our more complex MCCs.
Ultimately, Perrier Jouet Grand Brut took the cake – er, brioche – exemplifying everything that Champagne strives for and can be about (but isn’t always): elegant, harmonious with subtle brioche, a creamy mousse and perfectly balanced dosage – a classic.
I’m delighted Graham Beck are going to phase out all wines in their range other than the bubblies; this will allow growth in this category to match demand and the necessary time on lees/cork to enhance quality.
A better image and prices for our MCCs need support not only from dedicated players and members of the MCC Association, such as Beck, Le Lude, Simonsig and Villiera but all producers of MCC.
A final word about the wonderful Le Lude tasting area and restaurant. A building site when I saw it last May, it’s now transformed into a relaxing space of green and white, a setting worthy to enjoy Nicolene Barrow’s perfectly prepared and delicious dishes.
- I have subsequently learned that Debi left Wine Cellar learlier this year and now has her own distribution company, DvF Wine Distributors and a Wine Events company, GrapeSlave. Apologies for the error.