This month’s new Louis Roederer Collection 244 gets released two years after the House bravely ditched its best-selling Brut Premier NV cuvée and replaced it with the Collection, a multi-vintage blend that uses both a string of reserve wines and a high proportion of solera-style Perpetual Reserve – created in 2012 and topped up after subsequent harvests. Underlying the move is cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon’s vision to cope with warming temperatures in the region and to create an unique NV that gets increasingly complex with each subsequent harvest. Roger Jones attended the launch of the new Champagne which he tasted alongside every iteration made, four of which were never given a standard release.
“Louis Roederer Collection 244 is a powerful, bright, focused champagne that oozes class, it is luscious, fresh and complex, truly outstanding,” writes Jones.
When Louis Roederer launched its new multi-vintage wine two years ago with Collection 242 it was with the intention of bringing a vintage strategy into the non-vintage category – creating a cuvée that changes every year and revels in that uniqueness rather than a multi-vintage cuvée that has the brand promise of a consistent style, as it had done with Brut Premier NV. It also bumped the price up by £4 a bottle, making it more expensive than the non-vintage Champagnes of the other Grandes Maisons.
But underlying the transition was Louis Roederer’s response to climate change. When Brut Premier NV was launched in 1986 Champagne was still a region that fought for ripeness – the non-vintage blend overcoming the vagaries of vintage variation both in quality and quantity.
“We harvested high acid grapes in mid-October and Brut Premier was the idea to create a blending philosophy that would bring ripeness to unripe matter,” Lécaillon said at the Collection launch. “We corrected it with mature reserve wines that would bring ripeness to these young, green wines and it worked very well. The creation of Brut Premier was the fight for ripeness: we had to create in the cellar whatever the grapes lacked.”
“Today, you get ripeness from the most recent harvest, so it is a fight for freshness,” he added. “(climate change) pushed us to rethink the blending and rethink the multi-vintage blend, today, when you blend for multi-vintage, the fight is not for ripeness anymore but for freshness.”
At this month’s launch of Collection 244 he elaborated further: “This thought process about Collection began years ago. The facts were undeniable, climate change had been affecting the Champagne region over the past 30 years and we saw in this an opportunity to harvest extra mature grapes at the end of earlier harvests. Responding to the times we live in, along with sustainable and respectful wine growing practices that accentuate the qualities of the terroir, has become central to our ethos and our work.”
Back to the drawing board
Watching Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon present the philosophy behind the launch of Louis Roederer Collection 244 was in someway a ‘back to the classroom’ experience, with chart after chart explaining in detail how climate and the environment has changed, how vintages have changed and above all why Lécaillon decided 12 years ago to take this new direction. Lécaillon held the audience to utter silence, and we were fixated by this brilliant orator, speaking with such passion and knowledge. At one stage he even stopped and said, “please do try some of the wines in front of you”, and there was of course plenty including Cristal.
In 2012 Lécaillon started a perpetual reserve of half Pinot Noir, half Chardonnay and added equal amounts of this 50/50 mix from every harvest since. This réserve perpetuelle is not original in itself (Jacques Selosse and Henriot both use one) but using it alongside other reserve wines is new. With each new Collection roughly one third of the blend will be made up by réserve perpetuelle, the bulk will be made up of the most recent harvest and about 10% of oak-aged reserve wines. So the new vintage brings a ‘twist’ to the underlying core of reserve wines.
As for the Louis Roederer Collection 244, this is made up of 54% from the 2019 harvest, 36% from the Perpetual Reserve and then the balance made from ‘oak-aged reserve wines’.
Louis Roederer Collection 244 is a powerful, bright, focused champagne that oozes class, it is luscious, fresh and complex, truly outstanding. And the name Collection is an excellent descriptor as I have always felt that the term Non-Vintage is negative and does not explain what the wine is nor how complex is the blend.
Lécaillon explains: “Aged for almost four years in our cellars, Collection 244 is a wine that has reached great plenitude, borne by the maturity of the year, the freshness of the Perpetual Reserve and the complexity of the oak-aged reserve wines. It is wonderfully well-balanced champagne with an incredibly luscious power, marking the return of the Meunier grape variety, which adds a fruity, caressing softness to the more structured, saline Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays”.
Lécaillon has tried to balance freshness, precision, complexity and “deliciousness” where the unpredictable climate is impacting ripeness of grapes. So rather than search for consistency in the Collection, he has embraced variation.
He re-iterated that each Collection will vary, that the recipe concept is no longer working with fruit changing at an alarming rate…. climate change has challenged us to question our mindset. The future of champagne will be different, and may reflect wines of 100 years ago as opposed to recent fruit styles, he added.
Lécaillon believes that we used to think man was above nature, now we need think that man is a part of it – “in the fields and in wine.” “We are a generation that can write a new chapter working and adapting to climate change.” To do this he believes that the art of blending and craftsmanship will become key again as will innovative techniques –embracing not fighting the environment.
Before the tasting began he promised that his wines will be fresher, more balanced, more complex and, overall, more ‘delicious’, explaining that there is a new freshness, not from the acidity but an “aromatic brightness” and “ripe bitterness”, with more intensity of fruit, texture and layers.
So how did the Louis Roederer Collection 244 MV taste?
The new wine was shown against every Collection made, with Louis Roederer Collection 242, based on the 2017 vintage, the first to have an official release.
Louis Roederer Collection 238 MV (2013)
White chocolate and white truffle brioche, lime curd, coffee extract, bright, mouth-filling citrus freshness, pink grapefruit, (very similar to an aged Brut Premier) sweet malo flavours – large round and creamy with some acidity.
Louis Roederer Collection 239 MV experimental (2014)
Full, fruit-forward then reductive on palate, opens up to give a refined balance, textured and starts to evolve leaving a delicate refined palate with bright citrus/lime on the finish, still creamy but there is a lovely freshness here.
Louis Roederer Collection 240 MV (2015)
Beautiful, bright, fresh, clean, glowing, bright, delicate toasty brioche; the balance and deliciousness is perfect – tiny bubbles of citrus freshness, this has aged perfectly.
Louis Roederer Collection 241 MV (2016) released in magnum and jeroboam only
Balanced, pure, focused, lovely concentration, but lightness to touch, then the complexity on the mid-palate, white nuts, elegant, textured, long luscious finish.
Louis Roederer Collection 242 MV (2017) – 1st official release
Nature was not good and this was a challenging vintage – fast and furious. Older vintage reserve wines certainly helped here, this is more aromatic than fruity, honey and smoky, hints of white chocolate. Evolves well on the palate, needs food.
Louis Roederer Collection 243 MV (2018)
Fresh, focused, bright, peeled stoned fruit, chalky, creamy brioche, delicate notes, lovely focus and mouthfeel, with some herbaceous, delicate floral notes – think fresh herb flowers and wild meadows.
Louis Roederer Collection 244 MV (2019)
Expressive on the first taste – delicate ‘Pear William’, white nectarines – the purity and freshness is immense with a fine dusting of chalk. The elegance and precision is stunning, lemon meringue, an outstanding wine.
We also tasted a range of Cristal
Louis Roederer Cristal 2015
Delicate, refined but full of flavour, bright freshness with a lovely purity, a hint of mineral notes, with a background of lovely citrus acidity, (more classic like ‘08, also a ripe year). The salty finish is a classic Cristal style, the chalky nature of the soil with a low pH. The mouthfeel is immense, stunning, with a bright twinkle on the end – fresh but with that talc/chalk creamy feel -(the barrels are very lightly toasted, searching for the mineral salty saline feel). Salivating.
Louis Roederer Cristal Rose 2014
Savoury and red-fruited, cherries and redcurrants, mirabelle, spice, alive, mouth-filling excitement, flavours dance on the palate, beautiful finish, moreish, raspberry perfume lovely concentration, hints of toastiness, quince, rhubarb, purity,focused… Wow!