Having your own bespoke cuvée of champagne elevates your ‘House’ fizz to something altogether more special. Louis Latour Agencies has been offering this service to the premium on-trade as witnessed when it launched Marcus Wareing’s own cuvée of Gosset last October to much fanfare. Champagne Duval-Leroy has also been producing bespoke labels or ‘sur measure’ and it was Mere Restaurant’s bespoke cuvée that Victor Smart sampled at a tasting lunch along with the house’s other top wines, including a rare outing for its top of the range Femme de Champagne – Brut 1996.
The bespoke service allows Mere to list a Grand Cru champagne, bearing its own name, on the wine list for a mere £69
Ten lucky descendants of a Duval-Leroy client are in for an unexpected treat some time in the future. Recently, this unnamed but clearly well-heeled customer got the family-owned champagne house based in Vertus to produce a sur measure wine, ten bottles of which are to be gifted to each of his grandchildren once he dies. Just a hundred bottles of the fizz have been made. It would be tasteless to speculate how long he will live and whether there will be time for a decent maturation, but let’s hope so.
Sur mesure, or bespoke wines, tailored for individuals’ tastes and made in tiny amounts are quite a thing. Take the Mere Restaurant in London’s Charlotte Street where we savoured Duval-Leroy’s range over lunch. This has its own sur mesure, crafted by Duval-Leroy for the head sommelier Sandra Bein, the chef Monica Galetti and her husband and proprietor David. In this case 1,000 bottles have been produced. It appears on the eatery’s ample wine list as “MERE Sur mesure, Duval Leroy, grand cru, blanc de blancs, Brut, Vertus NV’ at a comparatively modest £69.
Sitting next to me at lunch is the wine buyer from a restaurant in Chelsea’s Cheyne Walk. As he sips Mere’s bespoke fizz, he is clearly pondering whether he too needs a sur mesure offering. For one thing, it overcomes the association ‘house champagne’ has in customers’ minds with cheapness.
‘Mushroom purée with Marmite’ grace the first course of Asparagus and Morels. Clearly the Galletis are unafraid to innovate.
We start off with Duval-Leroy’s Brut Reserve which has a dosage of 7g and retails for around £35. This a straightforward blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with a generous quantity of reserve wines. There is some dark chocolate, cinnamon and roasted yellow figs. This is not going to shake the world, but I would have been perfectly happy savouring it throughout the meal.
This is not be. We are moved up swiftly to the Rosé Prestige Cru Brut which will cost you another tenner at retail. With a 8g dosage, this is made from premier cru Pinot Noir and Chardonnay; it reminds the guest opposite of Laurent-Perrier Rosé but, he says, it “does the business more at the end”. I can see what he means.
Then arrives the Prestige Premier Cru Extra Brut. A bit sceptical about Extra Brut? Well, so am I. And only one per cent of the champagne market is Extra Brut, apparently. But this is something different. Again this is a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend. With a dosage of 4.5g its finesse is extraordinary.
Charles Duval-Leroy, the house’s commercial director, explains, “It has less sugar but you can’t feel less sugar”. The bubbles are fine and frankly irresistible. We ask the man from the restaurant in Chelsea if it is a little bit too racy for the conservative clientele in Cheyne Walk? “Not at all,” he says, “they would lap it up.”
Our hosts determinedly move us on to another Extra Brut, this one an oddity – or rarity, if you like: Petit Meslier – Extra Brut 2007. Petit Meslier is a rare white wine grape that is a minor component of some champagne blends. It is valued for its ability to retain acidity even in hot vintages but can be difficult to grow, with poor disease-resistance and low yields. There are just 20 hectares in France and Duval-Leroy have set themselves the task of husbanding the grapes. This is an ideal wine if you want to impress the pants off someone who thinks they know everything about champagnes; the dosage is 4g and retail price is around £90.
Finally, we reach the summit of Duval-Leroy’s range with a cuvée prestige: Femme de Champagne – Brut 1996. Women, including winemaker Sandrine Longette and the house’s president Carol Duval-Leroy, are in many of the top roles in Duval-Leroy. And it is fitting that their finest produce should take the name femme. The dosage is 4.5g and it is made from Chardonnay with a touch of Pinot Noir.
Time has performed its magic and there is all that you would expect – a wine of exceptional finesse, structure and complexity. Fine bubbles abound and delight the palate. For this vintage you won’t see much change from £300, though later vintages are a lot more affordable…well, sort of. But best not rush things: as one of the Duval-Leroy team murmurs, “every top cuvée is too young.”