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A fantastic wine from a fantastic year, this blanc de blancs Champagne shows stunning elegance of youthful green apple, lemon pith and brioche notes now, and will develop a deep flinty richness with time.
Product Code: CH3941
View all products by Champagne Alfred Gratien
The Wine Society first started working with Gratien in 1906, making it one of our oldest suppliers. To mark the 100th anniversary of our business relations in 2006 we launched a centenary cuvée which was a resounding success with members.Based in the heart of Epernay, Gratien has deservedly earned its place as a top Champagne house over the years and its approach is very much quality-driven. Indeed its owner, Alfred Gratien used to compare his Champagne to haute couture. For much of this time, the company was family-owned but then was sold to the German sparkling wine specialist, Henkell & Söhnlein, who immediately began to use their extensive wealth to good effect, making essential repairs, buying vineyards and allowing for modest expansion, without in any way challenging Gratien’s devotion to the old methods of making great Champagne.These include fermentation in small oak casks, which are bought second-hand from the Chablisienne cooperative in Chablis. Each cru is vinified apart and such is Gratien’s reputation that they are able to buy grapes from top producers and from choice grand and premier cru villages. Though ownership has changed, the cellar master has not: indeed, this all-important job has been in the same family for four generations. Nicolas Jaeger, the present cellar master is very much in charge, though his father is still influential in perpetuating relations with grape suppliers.The Jaeger family comes from the small village of Reuil in the Marne Valley where pinot meunier is the majority grape and has an important role to play here. The meunier works well with barrel fermentation but only if the malolactic fermentation – the conversion of sharp, malic acidity to softer, lactic acidity after the alcoholic fermentation – is suppressed. Gratien wines do not undergo the malo and because of that, they need longer cellaring to enable acidity levels to settle. Non-vintage bottlings, for example, are not released until 3 years after the end of the final stage of production. Nicolas’s mother comes from Le Mesnil where some of the best chardonnay is grown so, not surprisingly, chardonnay is also an important element especially in the long-lived vintage wines.For such a small house, Gratien produces numerous cuvees, including non-vintage, demi-sec and non-vintage rosé, examples of each of which are sold under The Society’s label. The prestige Cuvée Paradis is a non-vintage blend of chardonnay and pinot noir, drawn from the best vats of grand cru wines. The vintage wines come exclusively from grand cru vineyards and, with their immense complexity and capacity for ageing, are the flagship of the house.
Vintage cuvées often represent the very best Champagnes made by a house or grower. In theory, Champagne producers may declare a vintage in any year they please. Occasionally a house or grower will declare a vintage that seems out of step with the majority of producers if they feel that the performance of their particular vineyard(s) warrant it in any year.Generally, however, vintage Champagnes are only made in exceptional vintages.In contrast with the NV (non-vintage) wines, which are blended to maintain a house style, producers want their vintage Champagnes to display the quality and character of that one year's harvest. Vintage Champagnes always benefit from cellaring, and develop beautifully for those with the patience to leave them. They can be drunk upon release, but the vast majority will improve immeasurably with age. Champagne is made from chardonnay, pinot noir or pinot meunier grapes (there are one or two other permitted varieties but these are very rare) grown on chalky hillsides within a strictly demarcated region centred on the twin towns of Reims and Epernay, some 90 miles east of Paris. After hand harvesting, each grape variety is vinified separately, and in the following spring, the wines are blended unless a blancs de blancs is to made in which case any blending will be from parcels of chardonnay that were vinified separately. Yeast and sugar are added, and the wine is bottled for its second fermentation which creates the bubbles, or mousse. The yeast feeds on the sugars, producing alcohol and carbon dioxide, which, with nowhere else to go in the sealed bottle, dissolves into the wine. Vintage Champagne must then mature for at least three years compared with a minimum of 15 months for non-vintage. Gradual turning of the bottles, remuage, brings the yeast sediment to the neck of the bottle, which is then frozen to allow the yeast pellet to be cleanly ejected (dégorgement). In some Champagnes the dégorgement is delayed, sometimes for years, to increase the depth and complexity of the flavours through more time spent on the lees. After topping up (dosage) with a little more wine and sugar (known as liqueur d'expédition), the bottle is sealed. What marks the ‘Champagne’ method from other sparkling wines is the fact that this complex and gradual maturation process, along with the second fermentation, takes place in the same bottle as the wine is sold.
An excellent vintage saved by an Indian summer after growers contended with heavy rain and fierce hail, especially in the Aube. August was fine and September warm and dry through the harvest so though the crop was small the wines are very well balanced. The two pinots performed particularly well.
"This is most enjoyable, but I think it is well worth spending £3 more to instead go for Alfred Gratien's straight vintage 2006. That is a champagne masterpiece.
The Three Drinkers 11th Jun 2019
"Proper, seriously good, 100% Chardonnay
Champagne with all the trimmings: brioche, apple-skin, peaches, rainbows… Helena Nicklin"
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