Champagne's Newest Cuvées
The Latest and Greatest
The tradition of prestige cuvées in Champagne is centuries old. Perrier-Jouët began in 1811. And the famed vintage Dom Pérignon was first released in 1921. But the great houses of Champagne never rest on the success of their early successes. Instead, Champagne growers continue to innovate. This year was a particularly good year for new ideas in the Champagne world, with nearly a dozen new cuvées reflecting changing taste and times.
Some new releases celebrated old ideas. This year marked the return of Mumm's prestige cuvées R. Lalou. The wine has changed in style and in name since its last release in 1985, (then called Cuvée René Lalou). The new release is composed of equal parts Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to create an elegant, modern interpretation of a Champagne tête de cuvée.
Another concept popping up is reintroducing a known cuvées with a new presentation, like Piper-Heidsieck's latest foray into fashion is the Viktor & Rolf bottle, a collaboration with the famed fashion design team. The designers created a wildly innovative bottle to hold Heidsieck's delicious NV Rosé Sauvage. The wine was released at the end of 2007, but the bottle seems to be this year's star of holiday Champagne displays across the country.
Others of this year's new cuvées were born out of necessity. Gary Westby, the wine buyer for K&L wines of San Francisco and Los Angeles believes that the new trend of "no dosage" cuvées is a product of global warming. Suddenly Champagne, a region known for its crisp and distinctively dry tête de cuvées is finding increasingly ripe grapes on its hands. Westby feels that Pol Roger released Pure, a new no dosage cuvées, in response to recent criticism from the wine trade on too many houses making "sweet bubbles."
And Pol Roger is not alone in the release of new no dosage Champagnes this year. Nicolas Feuillatte released Brut Extrem'. A super-tart Chardonnay-based cuvées, Extrem' is Feuillatte's first venture into the no dosage realm.
Westby also feels that this year's crop of new Rosé Champagnes is a result of both global warming and the changing taste of the wine-drinking public. The theory is certainly plausible, after all, Bollinger—a Champagne house that has been around since 1585—released its first-ever NV Rosé this year. What better explanation than that the weather is finally warm enough to get the ripeness needed in the Bollinger vineyards for a Rosé wine?
Dom Pérignon is packaging three new releases (D. P. Vintage 2000, Oenotheque Vintage 1995 and Rosé Vintage 1998) together in a black wooden case called Power Trio. Other houses releasing new cuvées include Tarlant and Bollinger, which, in addition to Rosé released 2003 by Bollinger.
Although it would seem hard to top the present extremes in both dry and full-bodied, the future of Champagne is likely to hold even more extremes. Several houses, including Fleury and Tarlant have more low and no dosage wines in the works. And several houses have begun concentrating on ancient vines indigenous to the region as well as single-vineyard Champagnes.
by Amy Reiley