Ruinart’s cellar master Frédéric Panaïotis came to London last week to launch his latest vintage release, Dom Ruinart Blanc De Blancs 2007, which arrives in the UK early next year. David Kermode, aka Mr Vinosaurus, was there to taste it, alongside a non-vintage Blanc de Blancs and the established 2006 vintage.
With the 2018 harvest complete, Panaïotis also offered his thoughts on what looks like a potential vintage year, even though there is a deeply worrying aspect to it.
The 2018 harvest was bountiful, there were no significant battles with the elements, no serious Spring frost, no hideous hailstorms, the sun shone, the nights were just about cool enough, it was, according to Ruinart’s Chef de Cave Frédéric Panaïotis, “an amazing year”.
With the grapes harvested, one of the earliest on record, there is a palpable collective sigh of relief from the Champenois, with the challenges of 2017 – when reserve wines were heavily relied upon – still vivid. Now the hard work begins in the winery, to see whether ’18 turns out to be the ‘vintage year’ they hope for.
Panaïotis, in London to launch Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2007, obligingly kicked off with some thoughts on the recent harvest. While the quality of the grapes is undoubtedly something to celebrate, the underlying trend is more sobering for all but the most extreme climate change sceptics. The first grapes were pressed for Ruinart on August 22nd, making it the fifth August harvest since 2003 and only the sixth in its long history, a trend he admits is “worrying”.
As for the concerns about acidity after the roasting summer, Panaïotis appears relaxed: “it won’t be a year for high acidity, for sure, but the numbers suggest it will be fine and we were dealing with super healthy grapes and very low levels of botrytis”. He added that looking back at previous vintages from years with relatively low acidity had encouraged him to believe that it didn’t pose a significant issue with ageing potential.
Arguably, a more significant threat to Dom Ruinart’s longevity comes from the trademark clear bottle and its susceptibility to light damage. The bottle design is iconic and much-loved, but Panaïotis is clearly no fan: “it looks pretty for sure, but a darker bottle would be better (for ageing)”. So could change be afoot? “We have looked at technical solutions but it is very difficult”.
And that was all he was saying.
As for the 2007 Dom Ruinart, this was Panaïotis’s first vintage in charge, so it clearly has a special significance for him, even though he insists “it is always the signature of the house, not the winemaker” that matters.
To aid comparisons, Ruinart also showed its Blanc de Blancs NV RRP £60, and Dom Ruinart 2006 RRP £119. Panaïotis maintains that making a vintage Champagne is actually easier “as the Grand Cru grapes, and the time, do all the work”.
The Blanc de Blancs NV was showing well. With a 2015 base, disgorged in early summer, this latest release has a pretty nose of hawthorn blossom, lemon, peaches and fresh brioche evolving into a toasty, faintly chalky, fresh palate that is both approachable and elegant.
The new Dom Ruinart 2007, due to be released into the market early next year and yet to be priced, comes from a year that offered great hope and then ‘rained on the parade’. Spring was sunny and warm, but the summer months were gloomy, with high levels of rainfall. Despite this, it produced another August harvest. The blend is 100% Chardonnay from Grand Cru vineyards: 75% from the Côte de Blancs (Chouilly, Le Mesnil, Oger and Avize) and 25% from the northern slopes of the Montage de Reims (mostly Sillery and Verzenay).
The nose speaks of those bright Spring days, with hedgerow flowers, acacia, green fig, lime blossom and a twist of tea leaf. On the palate, there is chalk, married with an intense symphony of citrus – lemon, lime and grapefruit – climaxing in a long, pleasing bitter lemon finish.
The 2006 was slightly more sedate by comparison, with a delicate floral nose of citrus blossom, wafts of stone fruit and talc, leading to toasted brioche, lemon curd, dried apricot and a denser, complex, more wine-like texture. There are some delicious tertiary flavours already, but the 2006 still has a long way to go, with its creator describing it as “still a baby”.
Although both vintage offerings were exquisite, given the choice I would opt for the 2007 which offered a more thrilling ride. It is worth getting hold of either, or both, because there was also some bad news for lovers of Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs: Panaïotis has decided there will be no 2008.