jamie goode's wine blog: Champagne: tasting vins clairs

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Champagne: tasting vins clairs

It's a day well spent when you learn something new. I tasted Vins Clairs for the first time today, some 14 of them. Vins Clairs are the base wines that result from the first fermentation of Champagne grapes, and the ones we were tasting were a selection of 2006s from Champagne Mumm, presented by cellar master Didier Mariotti. The base wines are picked at about 9-10% alcohol, with high acid, and are chaptalized up to about 11%. Much later in their life they'll undergo a secondary fermentation in the bottle - about 18 grams of sugar per litre will raise them up a degree of alcohol to 12%, and then they will have a final dose of sugar, usually about 9 grams/litre, to balance them out after the plug of dead yeast cells is removed.

Tasting base wines isn't supposed to be fun. These are not wines you'd enjoy drinking with your dinner. They all have their different characteristics, and are like colours on an artist's palate, which the cellar master can then blend to good effect. A good base wine will typically have high acidity, good flavour and nice midpalate structure, but they vary, depending on where they come from in the region and the variety used. Didier says that tasting the vins clairs is the most important part of his job.

Champagne is fascinating, and I'm enjoying learning about it. As an aside, kudos to Didier for fulfilling his commitment to this tasting despite nursing a freshly broken ankle (from handball - his crutches are visible beside him in the picture).



At 1:03 AM, Anonymous Ole Martin said...

Interesting. As one fascinated by the concept of 'terroir', I can still see the attraction of the cellar master working like an artist with the base wines he's got at his disposal. However, with house styles and the like, it will be like trying to paint the same painting year after year.

At 8:32 PM, Blogger Jamie said...

Good point: I guess more of a craft than an art. Like a skint Parisian artist doing knock-offs of impressionists for tourists.


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