The 2007 vintage is the last Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs to be launched under the auspices of Loïc Dupont, the motorcycle-mad, quiet man of Champagne, as he hands over the keys for Taittinger’s magnificent cellars to Alexandre Ponnavoy.
Dupont will be a hard act to follow. Not least because he has established a formidable reputation for consistency. It is fair to say that it was his predecessor, Maurice Morlot, who established the style of Taittinger as we know it today, but although he was responsible for some truly great Champagnes, it was Dupont who honed that style and introduced a new and exceptionally high level of consistency. There was never a duff wine under Dupont. The only variation was the vintage. Dupont is the only chef de caves in Champagne who has openly admitted to me that he uses ascorbic acid in the dosage and this practice is, I suspect, the reason for the fabled freshness of Comtes de Champagne.
Otherwise known as Vitamin C, ascorbic acid is a powerful and speedy anti-oxidant that is often used in New World countries, but seldom mentioned in Champagne. It is used in conjunction with sulphur, which is primarily anti-bacterial with lesser, slower anti-oxidant capabilities. Ascorbic acid has a more freshening effect than SO2, and also enables less SO2 to be used in the vinification process. It is more of a quick sweep than a replacement to SO2, as it mops up oxygen that SO2 would take some time getting around to and, in the meantime, without ascorbic acid, oxidation would begin. BUT ascorbic acid is not a magical potion and it has its downside: if the dosage of both SO2 and ascorbic acid is not correctly calculated, and ascorbic acid remains available after all of the free SO2 has been used up, then ascorbic acid becomes the bad guy, actively promoting oxidation itself! Get the dosage right, however, and freshness leaps out of the glass. Dupont was a grand-master of ascorbic acid and hopefully after three years at his side, Ponnavoy is too.
Consistency, freshness & honesty
Dupont was definitely an old-school chef de caves, rarely emerging from the cellars, except for one-to-one tastings with visiting professionals. Ponnavoy, on the other hand, is very much a 21st century chef de caves, putting himself on the road before he had even taken over. With all that time in his subterranean domain, Dupont had time to polish the mantle handed to him by Morlot and managed to do a lot. What does that leave for Ponnavoy to achieve at Taittinger?
Already on the road
That’s an easy one: bring Comtes de Champagne Rosé up to the same dizzy heights as Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs! How? By ring-fencing appropriate Pinot Noir vineyards, cultivating them for “rosé red wine” production, minimising phenolics while emphasising colour and aromatics. Too often potentially great Comtes de Champagne Rosé vintages have been spoilt by the use of far too ordinary red wine. When launched these wines have seldom been ready to drink, but as they have evolved, so has the very ordinariness of the red wine component. So Ponnavoy’s job, as far as I am concerned, is to create a red wine philosophy at Taittinger, while keeping the Blanc de Blancs plate spinning.
There is no questioning the quality of Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs itself. A quintessential blanc de blancs, it is long and linear with a sleekness of fruit and impressive minerality that must make it one of the top three or four absolutely greatest blanc de blancs in anybody’s book. Initially a blend of six or seven growths (Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Le Mesnil, Oger and Pierry being the most regular constituents), in recent years this has been refined to just four grands crus (Avize, Le Mesnil, Oger and Chouilly). Comtes de Champagne always undergoes 100% malolactic and up to 5% of the wine is matured for 2-3 months in new or recently used French oak, yet there is never hint of lactic acid and although some vintage evolve with more oak influence than others, the oak is seldom noticed when launched and never becomes intrusive over time.
Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2007
The fruit is sleek, but as with the 2006 and 2002, less sleek than either 2005 or 2004, a factor of vintage, with 2007, 2006 and 2002 being warmer years. The fruit is open and very slightly weightier, leaning more to citrus than mineral, but still possessing fine minerality. Vey fresh and classy, albeit with more glamour than class, the 2007 has medium-term longevity with the benefit of an early drinking window.