Champagne Cellar Moment

by Alastair Harrison November 15, 2017

champagne aging in the cellars in epernay france

My friend Tara, the Wine Passionista, has asked me to contribute a short article to a book she is writing.  This set the create juices flowing.  I knew what she meant about wanting a “memorable wine moment” and I can think of quite a few.  But what leapt out at me most was a totally impromptu vertical tasting in the cellars of one of our producers located just outside Cramant.  Such a fun memory, that I thought it worth sharing.

JL Bonnaire makes LeComber champagne for Park Lane.  He is a terrific producer located in Cramant, a 100% Grand Cru chardonnay village.  The champagne itself is clean, crisp, fun but with serious undertones.  Sort of grown up, in an adolescent sort of way, which makes it a great aperitif, great for a serious moment and also a great refresher when back from a hard session at the gym!  When asked which person would describe the wine and why, I settled on two: Ruperty Penry-Jones meets Holly Willoughby because they are fun, captivating and appeal to wide audience!

We started working with Bonnaire in around 1997.  The fantastic moment came when Monsieur JL took us down to the cellars to demonstrate bottle age;  it was about 10.30 in the morning  and the heart was still recovering from the double shot of coffee just administered!  We went down to the second stage of cellaring and he took out a bottle opener and opened a bottle in the old fashioned way (ie by cracking off the crown cap, letting the natural bubbles eject the sediment and then stoppering the bottle with his thumb).  Bottle 1 open;  bottle 1 tasters poured.  This bottle had had 18 months age and was lively as a cricket but svelte at the same time.  Bottle 2 was followed by bottle 3 and then by bottle 4.  LeComber tasting was finished with the last bottle at about 40 months bottle age and I suspect overlooked from earlier disgorgings!

But somehow, Monsieur was on a roll.  I will never know if it was because we caught him on a good day or it was because we were generally fascinated by the tasting but we headed down to level 3.  These were the pure Chardonnay (blanc de blanc) cuvees, and vintage at that.  We ended up tasting champagne from the early 1980s and I was blown away by the fantastic creaminess with woosh of vanilla, but all the while the freshness and alertness defied 15+ years of aging.

Interestingly, this taught me two lessons:  the UK consumer is conditioned to what is fed to him most often;  Bonnaire champagnes are excellent but they are also more sophisticated – which means somewhat out of the ordinary – and they are more difficult to sell when compared side by side with a conventional blend.  I also learnt about the distinction between pre and post disgorgement bottle age and how newly disgorged older wines can offer something so sophisticated and yet so out of the ordinary;  sort of old but new.  Interestingly it seems that the major houses have also caught on with this technique with Bollinger and Dom Perignon frequently offering recently disgorged parcels of older vintages.

Sometimes people think personalised champagne means inferior champagne.  Not so in every case, and certainly not so in our case.

As the nights draw in and the temperatures plunge, think about trying your champagne slightly less chilled for maximum enjoyment.

Pip pip!

Alastair Harrison

Alastair Harrison founded Park Lane Champagne in 1995. The focus has always been on supplying excellent quality champagnes to customers under their own brand and in small quantities.

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