When presented with the ubiquitous glass of fizz at a celebration you tend to pay little attention to what you are actually consuming. The surrounding event will be far more engaging than what is in the glass.
If you were to be presented with an appropriately aged Blanc de Blancs Champagne I would hope the reaction would be different. Made from 100% Chardonnay the king of white grape varieties produces the most revered and sought after Champagnes. When aged these wines take on a much richer, darker hue, the fruit becomes more intense, and a creaminess develops that carries with it a biscuity and nutty complexity that is unique to this style. It is not the sparkling wine to be quaffed at a celebration but rather one to be savoured and enjoyed on a smaller scale.
Aged Blanc de Blancs have gained a cult following and particular producers represent the holy grail to some. And whilst a 2002 Salon Cuvee S Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Champagne at £720 a bottle may seem a little outrageous, if you know and love Blanc de Blancs it is an experience worth investing in.
But this style of Champagne does not need to be viewed as quite so exclusive. A middle ground does exist and a little bit of exploration and experimentation with these wines is very rewarding. Particularly if they are approached as wines in their own right rather than just another glass of fizz.
Charles Heidsieck is a name most will recognise and for good reason. The house was founded in 1851 by the original Champagne Charlie and has retained a good reputation despite being bought and sold several times. They are known for high quality and care in their wines whilst remaining accessibly priced.
Their Blanc des Millénaires is made up of Chardonnay grapes from a selection of grand cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs and is an excellent example of a complex and elegant Blanc de Blancs. The wines spend a far greater time ageing on lees than the legal requirement with some seeing up to 11 years. This encourages depth and richness in Champagne that cannot be substituted by just adding an extra-large dose of sugar at the end (dosage – the addition of sugar will still occur but a smaller amount will be required).
2004 Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires Champagne £125 per bottle
The 2004 vintage of Blanc des Millénaires was not released until 2017 and has been gradually improving year on year. It is an elegant Champagne with great balance and finesse and just the right amount of depth and nuttiness to compliment the fruit. This will continue to age well for another decade.
Delamotte is the poor man’s Salon but, given the price of Salon, this is not something to view as a negative. Both houses are owned by Laurent-Perrier and share the same winemaking team. Delamotte’s wines show the level of quality that is gained as a result of this skill and they offer elegant and well balanced Champagnes that are well priced. It is also worth noting that in the years Salon do not make a wine, which happens more often than you might think, the grapes are diverted to Delamotte.
2008 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne £100 per bottle
2008 was one of the best vintages Champagne has seen in a long time. Both the Salon and Delamotte releases were highly praised with Delamotte now reaching the middle of its drinking window. This is rich and flavoursome with good length.
NV Delamotte Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne £44 per bottle
Excellent value non-vintage Blanc de Blancs that still offers good depth and balance but is made to be drunk on release rather than aged.
Taittinger is one of the oldest houses in Champagne whose style has always focused on elegance and freshness. Their top wine, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs has an extremely loyal following and has a reputation for consistency throughout the vintages. That said if you are starting out with this wine it is worth going for the less revered vintages as the price will be much more affordable but the quality and balance should remain.
2006 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Champagne £140 per bottle
A year that received mixed reviews with some claiming it was too sweet where others praised its creaminess and depth of flavour. At this price it is worth finding out for yourself. A nice amount of age to have allowed it to settle into itself but it should still show freshness and acidity.
The lesser known AR LeNoble is now run by the fouth generation family winemakers and the focus is on low intervention viticulture. The Blanc de Blancs comes from a grand cru vineyard located in the Côte de Blancs and is a complex, concentrated wine with masses of depth. This is a good example of what the smaller Champagne houses can offer in this style.
2008 A.R. LeNoble Blanc de Blancs Champagne Grand Cru £66 per bottle
2008 was a good vintage for most in Champagne and AR LeNoble is no exception.
And finally to a rather different producer who seems to be confusing his regions. Jaques Selosse, now run by Anselme Selosse, enjoys the use of a solera system to produce its cuvée which some think a little odd in Champagne rather than Sherry. However, the wines are well received and highly praised so something must be working. The Grand Cru Millesime varies each vintage, some years it is a blanc de blancs where others it will be blended with pinot noir.