Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Champagne Gosset: Wine First, Bubbles Second

"With Champagne Gosset, the wine comes first, the bubbles come later."
--Jean-Pierre Mareigner, Cellar Master at Gosset

Although Champagne is very popular, there are still a number of misconceptions that exist about this sparkling wine. For example, I've said repeatedly that more people need to drink Champagne with food, to pair it with their dinner rather than just enjoy it as a celebratory aperitif. At a recent Champagne lunch at L'Espalier, a couple other misconceptions about Champagne were discussed. Representatives of Champagne Gosset led us through a tasting of a number of their sparkling wines, trying to illustrate and clarify a couple important points, concerning the reputation of non-vintage champagne as well as disgorgement dates.

Champagne Gosset, which was launched in the U.S. by Wilson Daniels and is distributed in Massachusetts by Ruby Wines, presented "A Sparkling Retrospective," through Bertrand Verduzier, Export Director, and Hermine De Clermont Tonnerre, Assistant Wine Maker. Both Bertrand and Hermine were personable and knowledgeable, and it was fascinating to taste their Champagnes, especially the comparison tastings intended to illustrate the wonders of non-vintage Champagnes. The top export market for Gosset is the U.S., with their three main markets being Boston, New York City and San Francisco.

Bertrand (pictured above) began the discussion, stating that an important goal of the tasting was to explore their Non-Vintage Grande Réserve Brut, which is the "face" of their winery. He wants to elevate the reputation of NV Champagne, to note its complexities and show how it develops with age.  He also wanted us to understand the nature of the cuvee, and how the different components affect the final blend.

The history of Champagne Gosset extends back over 400 years, to 1584 in Aÿ, a commune in the Marne region in Champagne. Pierre Gosset founded the winery, with the original purpose of producing still red wines as sparkling wine didn't come to the Champagne region until the 17th century. As such, Gosset lays claim to being the oldest wine house in Champagne. In 1993,  the winery was purchased by the Renaud-Cointreau family.

Jean-Pierre Mareigner has been the cellar master at Gosset for about 33 years, with a philosophy of: "At Gosset, we don't make bubbles, we make wines from Champagne with a real identity." This is a very personal approach to wine making and their current annual production is about one million bottles. They have the ability with their own vineyards and the growers they contract to concentrate on certain terroirs, to present Champagnes that are fresh and complex.

Hermine continued the discussion, noting that they use about 200-300 growers, which contributes to a vast diversity of Premier Cru and Grand Cru regions, all providing a unique terroir. They have about 100 different fermentation tanks, allowing them to create a variety of wines from different grapes and terroir. In general, they do not conduct malolactic fermentation as they prefer to maintain high acidity and the taste of the terroir. They blind-taste to help determine their blends and they generally age their Champagnes for at least twice the minimum times referenced in the official regulations.

We began with a glass of the current release of the NV Grande Réserve Brut, which was a blend of 43% chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, and 15% Pinot Meunier. The specific grape proportions vary a little from year to year, though no proportion is ever more than 50%. This particular wine had been aged on the lees for about four years, had a dosage of 8g/L, and was disgorged in 2015. Elegant, fresh and crisp, with pleasing flavors of citrus, apple and a hint of brioche. A strong backbone of minerality, plenty of complex and a lengthy finish. Delicious, this would stand on its own though should pair well with a variety of foods as well.

We then got to sample the three individual varietals that make up the usual cuvee, all from 2007. The Chardonnay is supposed to bring "sharpness and vivacity" to the blend, the Pinot Noir is supposed to bring "roundness, fruitiness, and bond to the blend", and the Pinot Meunier is supposed to bring "structure and backplate to the blend." It was fascinating to see the individual components of the ultimate blend, to try to trace the elements which would end up in the cuvee. It also helped to indicate some of the difficulty for Champagne blenders, who must use these different ingredients to create a consistent product. As I've said before, the art of blending is an under appreciated aspect of Champagne production.

Next up were three "older" NV Grande Réserve Brut Champagnes, which were educational in various ways.  First, we noted how dosage levels have been decreasing over time, partially to better showcase the wine and not just the bubbles. Consumer tastes have also contributed in part to the use of a lower dosage. Dosage is more than just perceived sweetness but it also effects the balance of the wine, and as a wine ages, the dosages also lessens.

Second, these older Bruts all have older disgorgement dates and Gosset generally doesn't want to place those dates on the wine label though they also won't hide the dates from anyone who really wants to know. The problem they see is that many consumers often mistakenly believe that a newer disgorgement is better, a "fresher is better" mentality. The importers of Gosset possess the disgorgement date, and they can disseminate to those who wish to know, but Gosset doesn't see sufficient value in placing it directly on the bottle label.

The first Grande Réserve Brut was a blend of the 1999, 2000 and 2002 harvests, which was disgorged in 2007 with a dosage of 10g/L. The second was a blend of the 1982, 1983 and 1985 harvests, which was disgorged in 1990 with a dosage of 12g/L. And the third was a blend of the 1979, 1980 and 1982 harvests, which was disgorged in 1987 with a dosage of 11g/L. We could see the transformation of the NV Champagne over time, how this NV sparkling wine had as much complexity and age-worthiness as a vintage Champagne.  Each of the three wines had its own unique flavor profile, yet there were also commonalities too, including a certain elegance and balance. And it was clear that older disgorgement dates don't negatively effect the wine.

As an aside, I asked both Bertrand and Hermine about which of their Champagnes would best pair with a Margherita Pizza pairing and they both agreed that the Grande Réserve Brut was the best choice, with Hermine stating there was a bit of the taste of the crust in the Champagne

Another NV Champagne of note was the Cuvee 15 Brut (about $150), which is just coming onto the U.S. market. The best vintages from the late 1990s were blended, with 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, and the wine was cellared in 1999, to spend 15 years on the lees prior to disgorgment.  With a dosage of 7g/L, only a small amount of this Champagne was produced. It presented with a more unusual aroma, almost cheese and earthy, though that didn't come out on the palate, which was bone dry, with plenty of mineral notes and a touch of brioche, citrus and green apple. There were layers and layers of subtle flavors, an intriguing complexity which was hard to put into words. A fascinating and delicious Champagne which is highly recommended. Gosset has also been experimenting with longer aging on the lees, but it is too early to know whether anything will develop from those experiments. Grab a dozen oysters and enjoy the Cuvee 15 Brut!

As was said, "Wine is food and Champagne is wine," indicative of the intimate connection of Champagne and food. This was the introduction before our Champagne paired lunch. We began with an Amuse Bouche of Spearpoint Oyster, pickled vegetables, and citrus foam, paired with the Grande Rosé Brut. This Rosé is a blend of 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir, with 8% red wine, and a dosage of 9g/L. Crisp, fresh, and tasty, with bright red fruit flavors, this was a compelling Champagne and worked well with the oyster and pickled veggies. I loved this Rosé and highly recommend it.

The First Course presented NY Foie Gras Royale with toasted brioche, walnut & raw honey, rhubarb and yuzu. Decadently delicious, this dish was paired with the Grande Blanc de Blancs Brut, made from 100% Chardonnay with a dosage of 9g/L. With high acidity, lots of minerality and pleasing apple and pear flavors, this Champagne was able to stand up to the creaminess of the foie, the sweetness of the honey and the bitterness of the rhubarb. The Champagne was elegant and complex, with fresh, clean flavors. Another winner.

The Second Course presented a dish of Wild Columbia River Salmon with Maine lobster, black poplar mushrooms, Maine crab and ramps. We drank the 2006 Grande Millesime Brut, a blend of 45% Chardonnay and 55% Pinot Noir with a dosage of 6g/L. Crisp and elegant, the dry palate was a complex melange of flavors, from green apple to brioche hints, plenty of minerality and a touch of lemon. It held up well to the rich tastes of the seafood, especially the lobster, and I could easily see a glass of this doing well with a New England Lobster Roll.

For Dessert, we enjoyed a Raspberry Arugula Creme Puff with raspberry ice cream, paired with the 2007 Celebris Rosé Extra Brut. This Champagne is a blend of 59% Grand Cru Chardonnay and 41% Grand Cru Pinot Noir, with 7% red wine, and a dosage of 5g/L.  Bone dry, this wine presents only the merest hint of red fruits, with citrus notes, some minerality, herbal elements and a lengthy finish. A more unique flavor profile for a Rosé, it was delicious and intriguing,  complex and thought provoking. An excellent way to end our lunch.

What are your thoughts on Non-Vintage Champagne? 

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