Tuesday, August 7, 2012

H. Blin Champagne: Bubbly For Food

"My only regret in life is that I did not drink more Champagne."
--John Maynard Keynes

One of the pleasures of tasting wine is discovering something new and compelling, and then sharing that revelation with others. Last week, I made such a discovery, coming upon several new Champagnes which are now entering the U.S. market and now I am here to share that find with my readers.

Monica, of the MBJ Wine Group (a wine importer/distributor), introduced me to Francois Gigandet, the Export Manager of H. Blin Champagne. With a delicious lunch of Japanese food, including sushi, from Haru restaurant, we tasted through several Champagnes. Francois was very personable and upfront, sharing his Champagnes rather than trying to sell them to me. Plus, he loves Sake and we even shared a glass of Wakatake Onikoroshi Junmai Daigninjo together.

As an aside, the Champagne paired very well with Japanese cuisine and as I have said before, Champagne can pair well with many different types of meals. It does not have to be just an apertif or something for a celebratory toast. From the Blanc de Blancs with the shrimp tempura to the Brut with the nigiri sushi, the Champagnes made a fine accompaniment. So the next time you are planning dinner, why not choose to pair Champagne with each course.

H. Blin Champagne is located in the commune of Vincelles in the Marne region and their vineyards consist of about 130 hectares, nearly all contiguous. The history of the Blin family extends back at least to the 18th century and they used to sell grapes to the négociants. But after World War II, the Blin family realized they might do better by keeping the grapes and producing their own wine. So, they formed their own company with 28 other growers. Today, H. Blin is a cooperative of about 110 growers, many who are related by family, and the president, since 2009, is Simon Blin, an 8th generation grower.

Like Recoitant-Manipulants, Growers, they do not purchase any grapes, using only what they grow themselves. Their vineyards are planted with approximately 70% Pinot Meunier and the rest with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Much of their soil is clay, which they feel is similar, though not the same, as the soil in the Chablis region. They have chosen to concentrate on Pinot Meunier which creates a rounder style. In general, Pinot Meunier is also thought to provide a lighter color and more acidity than Pinot Noir, with nice aromatics and lots of fruitiness, but some other producers feel that it does not age as well. Their vineyards are sustainably farmed and they are seeking organic certification, which they may acquire in two years.

They produce about 1 million bottles annually with 600,000 of those bottles under the H. Blin Champagne label. They also produce Coteaux Champenois Le Vincelles Rouge, an AOC red wine made from 100% Pinot Meunier. That wine sounds very intriguing but unfortunately it is primarily available only in France with some very limited exceptions. In addition, they produce some Champagne for various Houses. About 50% of their production is sold within France, and until four or five years ago, they did not produce a sufficient amount for export.

Oak is not used in the production of any of their Champagnes, except for their Rosé. They keep their dosage low, usually 9 grams or under, as they feel that sugar can easily hide flaws. If you reduce the dosage, then the flaws have few places to hide, and the terroir can be better expressed. Producers using a high dosage might be doing so to cover the problems with their wines. H. Blin performs 100% malolactic fermentation and disgorge about three months before release. Though they have experimented with some other disgorgement periods, they found that three months works best for their Champagnes. Their Champagnes are produced to pair well with food and they certainly worked great with Japanese cuisine.

H. Blin has two primary lines of Champagnes, a regular line and a limited edition. The regular line includes a Brut, Reserve, Blanc de Blancs, Vintage, Rosé, and Demi-Sec while the limited edition includes a Blanc de Blancs, Vintage, and Rosé. They have also been experimenting with other Champagnes such as a 100% Pinot Meunier and a 100% Saignée Rosé. Recently, they started selling and marketing their Champagnes in the U.S., and they should be available now or in the near future in Illinois, New York, Georgia, California and Massachusetts. Plus, they might also soon be coming to Indiana and Ohio, with other states possibly coming down the line.

I tasted four Champagnes from their regular line and was impressed with all of them. These are Champagnes you will want to drink, and they should also represent good values so keep your eye out when these hit the shelves of your local wine shop.

The Blanc de Blancs (about $45) is made from 100% Chardonnay and has an alcohol content of 12.5%. It is fresh and clean, with a delicious palate of green apple, pear and a strong minerality. It is crisp and refreshing, an excellent choice for seafood and sushi. Like all of their Champagnes, it is elegant and refined, and should appeal to a wide audience of bubbly lovers.

The Brut (under $40), which makes up about 70% of their production, is a blend of 80% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. It has an appealing aroma of white flowers and green apple, and on the palate it is round, with a crisp, clean taste of apples, a little minerality, and subtle notes of cherries and raspberries. It is not yeasty and while a simple wine in some respects, it has excellent taste and character. This is value bubbly.

They do not produce Vintage Champagne (under $100) every year and recently did not make it in 2001 or 2009. The 2004 Vintage was one of their best recent vintages, and they even made a 2003 Vintage, though many other producers did not make a Vintage that year.

I tasted the 2002 Vintage which is a blend of 1/3 Pinot Meunier, 1/3 Pinot Noir, and 1/3 Chardonnay, using only their best grapes, and it has less than 6 grams of residual sugar. They produced only about 4000 bottles and it spent 8 years in the cellar. They believe it is important to keep it in the cellar as long as possible so that the bubbles acquire more of the terroir. This is a fine Champagne with an alluring aroma, fine bubbles and an intriguing melange of flavors, including apricot, green apple, toasty notes, and some minerality. It has a mild creaminess with good structure and a lengthy, pleasing finish. At the price point, this is an excellent choice.

The Rosé (about $45) is partially produced in the Saignée method and includes a blend of 50% Pinot Meunier as well as 20% of their still red wine, the Coteaux Champenois Le Vincelles Rouge. It very much reminded me of a Provence Rosé still wine, dry, elegant and subtle with notes of strawberry and bright cherry. This is very much a style I enjoy, and this could be paired with lamb or even BBQ. An excellent summer wine, but something you can also enjoy year round.

Please note that these prices are tentative as the wines are only just coming onto the Massachusetts market. H. Blin is producing some delicious and elegant Champagnes, which lack that strong yeastiness you might find in some major House Champagnes. They reflect the terroir of the region and offer much at their value prices. These are excellent food wines, which will be sure to satisfy your dinner guests.

1 comment:

f. mortimer said...

I am in two minds re h blin champagne BHS has a bottle in a presentation case., just the one, for £160, it is a magnum, I haven't seen the bottle which is in the managers office, I gave never heard of h blin before