It had to be a special project that brought all three branches of the Rothschild family together under one roof for the first time. And naturally enough it had to be in Champagne. When the family bought Maison Prieur in Versus in 2005 they set in motion a project which took them from gravel to chalk, from red wine to white, and the slow development of Champagne Barons de Rothschild. Acquiring 3 hectares of Grand Cru vineyard and concentrating on Chardonnay as the main varietal in its cuvées, the house has just released its new Blanc de Blancs, Champagne Barons de Rothschild – Rare Vintage 2010, a wine which Anne Krebiehl MW put to the test.
Champagne Barons de Rothschild: from gravel to chalk, from red to white, all in the name of ‘art de vivre’
Not that Champagne needed this sort of endorsement, but it is notable when seasoned wine aristocracy – rooted deep in Médoc’s gravel and stained in deepest Cabernet purple – turns its attention to solid chalk and foaming gold. I see it as a delicious concession to the lightness and brightness of Champagne; an admission that no matter how great, structured, or long-lived your claret, nobody can quite do without the essential refreshment finest fizz provides.
It was in 2005 that five members of the Rothschild family, namely Philippe, Benjamin with his wife Ariane, and Eric with his daughter Saskia, respectively of Châteaux Mouton Rothschild, Clarke and Lafite Rothschild, started a project in Champagne. They purchased an established Champagne house, Maison Prieur in Vertus, and had their first harvest in that year. They made their first Blanc de Blancs vintage in 2006 and set up shop in Reims in 2007. The stated aim was to make “exceptional Champagne bearing the hallmark of a great vintage, on a par with the wines produced by the family in its celebrated châteaux.” So far, the Rothschilds own 3ha of Grand Cru vineyards and are “in the ongoing process of acquiring vineyards” – while also purchasing grapes.
Frédéric Mairesse, the family’s man in Reims, says: “This project is a kind of magical idea from the Rothschild family. It’s the first time that the three branches of the family come together and associate their know-how to give birth to a co-owned wine house. To gather them all, there was only one obvious and natural choice: Champagne! They are all Champagne lovers; they have always welcomed their guests with a glass of Champagne as a true symbol of conviviality and French art de vivre.”
He also notes that they “immediately decided to create cuvées with a large dominance of Chardonnay, never less than 50% of the blend, mainly from Grands and Premiers crus villages, and a dosage never exceeding 6g/l.
It cannot have been easy to produce the wine in 2010, a difficult year in Champagne with a cool spell during flowering which, thankfully, did not hit the Chardonnay as much as the Pinots. The disease pressure of the humid summer and autumn of 2010 is also well-known, so this Blanc de Blancs is the result of painstaking selection and sorting.
Rothschild’s vintage description notes the “severe strain” and says: “The harvesters had a huge amount of work to obtain a high quality harvest.” The grapes are from Avize, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger. The base wines spent nine months on lees before tirage, the blend aged for 8 years on lees, was disgorged with a dosage of 5g/l and spent another year resting before release in 2020. Mairesse says: “This very carefully crafted Blanc de Blancs vintage wine is really what they aimed at creating when setting up the House back in 2005.”
Champagne Barons de Rothschild – Rare Vintage 2010, Blanc de Blancs, 12%
A very cool cloud of wonderfully tart but ripe apple flesh rises with the first swirl of the glass. More air then retains that coolness but imbues the nose with saltiness and something akin to oyster shell before the first powdery glimpse of yeastiness appears. Yet, this stays firmly on the taut, statuesque side, doing its Côte des Blancs provenance every honour. The palate is svelte but carries at its heart both autolytic roundness and an intense salty moreishness. These two elements compel each other, drawing us into vivid, chalky depth and giving us just enough emollience to make us sip and search for that salt again. The wine’s echo is of purity and freshness. The mousse is fine, persistent and lively, this is fresh-faced, tight and lovely now – but it has the structure and poise to still shine in a decade’s time. The only hint of evolution so far is the slightest note of blossom honey as the wines warms in the glass. A picture of restraint and depth.
The wine is distributed by Waddesdon Wine Limited. The Champagne Barons de Rothschild – Rare Vintage 2010 is available at Harvey Nichols for £270 per bottle or £800 for a 3 pack.