The number one Champagne brand in France, number three in the world, it has been all change at Nicolas Feuillatte in recent times, as it evolves its style and focuses its UK effort on targeting buyers. Already a huge presence in off sales, the giant growers co-operative now wants a slice of the on trade pie. Champagne lover David Kermode, aka Mr Vinosaurus, was at Somerset House for the UK launch for The Buyer.
Feuillatte has enlisted the support of Castelnau Wine Agencies who will sell the rival products alongside its own range of Champagnes.
If you’re a seasoned Champagne drinker, there’s little chance you won’t have had Nicolas Feuillatte at some point. If you’re a regular traveller to France, then you are bound to have enjoyed a glass in a bar somewhere, as it’s by some margin the country’s most popular Champagne. Even the United States has fallen for its charms, thanks in part to its co-founder’s high-society links to the Kennedy and Onassis families, regular visitors to his plush apartment on Fifth Avenue. Nicolas Feuillatte is also huge in the UK retail market, but not – thus far – its on-trade.
In this country’s fiercely competitive Champagne market, Feuillatte’s management has targeted that particular deficit for change, appointing Castelnau Wine Agencies to represent a newly-rebranded range that’s exclusive to trade customers.
The deal raised a few eyebrows, but CWA’s General Manager Keith Isaac MW is confident that the new stablemate is complementary to Castelnau’s own range of Champagnes, meaning he has “two horses in the race”, citing some early success achieving listings for both brands alongside each other.
Earlier this month The Buyer’s Peter Dean (who loves a bottling line) visited Feuillatte’s impressive new headquarters in Chouilly, where there is capacity for an astonishing 10 million litres of Champagne, from the co-operative’s 4,500 growers.
To launch the new range, our tasting, at Spring in Somerset House, is led by Guillaume Roffiaen. Described by the accompanying literature as in a “constant state of creative renewal”, which sounds exhausting, he has been at Feuillatte since 2014, and chief winemaker for just over a year. Roffiaen is keen to talk us through his winemaking, although he declines to be drawn on specific dosage figures, explaining that the wine element in the liqueur d’expédition is of far more importance than the sugar.
We start with the best-selling Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve NV (RRP £27) in its new livery. The on-trade-focused re-brand is subtle, but clever, with a reversal of the blue and black on the label that gives it more visual impact and a touch more class.
Based on the 2014 vintage, with 40% reserve wines, it has enjoyed 3-4 years bottle ageing. 20% Chardonnay and equal parts Pinot Noir and Meunier, a fine bead of bubbles reveals green apple flesh, citrus pith, a waft of pineapple and a chalky note. Fruity and expressive, this must be one of the most popular Champagnes in the world, and it’s easy to see why.
Nicolas Feuillatte Brut Reserve Rosé (RRP £27), 10% Chardonnay, with equal parts Pinot Noir and Meunier and 2-3 years of bottle ageing, is served in a larger glass, presumably to fit in the riot of red fruit it contains. Juicy cherry and strawberry dominate, with a satisfying trifle note coming from the autolytic end. There’s nothing especially subtle about this, but it is perfect for summer.
Next, the special cuvée to which I treated my festive guests (it’s sold in Majestic). Nicolas Feuillatte Collection, Vintage 2009 (RRP £69), equal parts Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier, with at least 5 years bottle ageing, offering an elegant toasted brioche nose, with honeycomb, red apples and a streak of minerality.
Nicolas Feuillatte Collection Vintage 2012, Blanc De Blancs (RRP £69), is still a baby really, but Roffiaen is releasing such wines a little earlier into the market now, for those with a preference for freshness. Gently toasty, it’s pretty, with citrus blossom, red apple, pineapple and passionfruit. This is a crowd-pleaser.
At the top end, Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2012 (RRP £85), with at least 5 years bottle age, is seductive with fresh meadow notes, lime zest, ripe apple and fresh gingerbread, with a gentle smoky note. A delicious partner for oysters.
Finally, Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru, Blanc de Noirs, Millésime 2008 (RRP £85) is easily my favourite of the tasting. 100% Grand Cru Pinot Noir, mostly from Montagne de Reims, with at least 5 years ageing, this is a beautifully structured Champagne, with rich apple, green pepper, lemon zest, fresh bread with mountain honey. A proper food wine, with lovely tension, it’s tarte tatin in a glass. And what value too! This is a lot of structure for the price.
David Kermode is a wine presenter, writer, broadcaster and judge with his own website vinosaurus.co.uk