Visiting the house of J de Telmont champagne
I had to choose between taking a 7am flight from Heathrow or catching the 6:55 am Eurostar. No brainer. Why would anyone want to go to Heathrow when you can jump on the Eurostar and be in Paris in 2 hours? Not to mention, skipping the hassle and expense of getting to Heathrow. Did I mention that you also get a lovely Continental breakfast on the train, fresh croissants, real coffee, actual cutlery AND glasswear? Ahh, a throwback to the way air travel used to be (but on a train). I have to go to Portugal next month. Anyone know if Eurostar goes there?
Anyway, I was hurtling through the English and French countryside on my way to Champagne via Paris. I’d been invited the Champagne Bureau to their Ambassador’s Dinner but first there was a visit to a lesser known champagne producer, the J. de Telmont house to have a visit and tasting. The champagne house of J. De Telmont in the village of Damery close to the town of Epernay. J. de Telmont was founded in 1912 by Henry Lhopital and until the late 1990’s relied solely on it’s private client base to sell it’s wines. In 1997, the decision was taken to become a bit more mainstream and the house opened up to the outside world, even becoming one of the very first champagnes offered by Majestic wines. Majestic was one of de Telmont’s first overseas customers and you can still find their champagnes in their shops. The house is still run by the same family and the fourth generation, Bertrand Lhopital is the current Managing Director.
On arriving we had a buffet of canapes to keep us occupied while we tasted through the house’s non-vintage and brut reserve wines. De Telmont specialize in blanc de blanc which is most unusual for the Valle de Marne, where they are situated, as blanc de blanc is not usually made in this part of Champagne. Their non-vintage blanc de blanc was crisp and refreshing, notes of white flowers and brioche on the nose, on the palate, fresh with more brioche and buttery flavours. J. de Telmont also does a rose (85% chardonnay/15% pinot noir-still table wine) and when we toured the cellars, saw rows and rows of magnums of those beauties, some at rest and others going through remuage. A very pretty sight.
In Champagne, they don’t call themselves winemakers, they call themselves grape growers. A small but significant distinction that was impressed on me while I was there. To be a winemaker is a New World attitude, it implies that something must be done to the wine to make it a wine. Whereas a grower does all his work in the vineyard, there is no need to “make” the wine because everything that must be done to ensure a quality wine has already been done in the vineyard. The task of the Champenois grape grower is to grow the grapes and the cellar master is the one who then combines the separate components from each of the vines into that magical, sparkling libation that is called champagne. A process called assemblage which can involve any number of base wines, ( a base wine is a wine that has been completely fermented but not aged) artfully blended together by the cellar master to produce the house signature style.
I’ve tasted the base wines that are used in the assemblage and all I can say is, I now understand why they have to do it, the wines are thin and acidic, the chardonnay were quite mouth puckeringly bitter, like swishing lemon water around my mouth. Not a pleasant experience but essential to understanding the art of blending. An interesting side note, De Talmon let’s the chardonnay that will go into the non-vintage wines go through malolactic fermentation but the wines that are to go into the reserve, which spend much longer in bottle then the non-vintage, are not allowed to go through malo, so as to preserve the freshness that chardonnay brings to champagne. The pinot noir, the colour being white as it has no contact with the skins, was akin to tart, unripe strawberries and the pinot meunier, again a clear white wine, had a bit of a rounder mouth feel to it, with hints of fruit peeking through, although still quite sour.
De Telmont offers 24 hour packages to make your own champagne, starting with a base wine tasting and from there you can blend and create your very own cuvee, ready for you in about 2 ½ years. What I found of the most interest was how the wines go from being thin and acidic lemon water to the sparkling wine we call champagne. After the base wine is blended, it then goes into a second fermentation and is left on the dead yeast cells or lees for a couple of years before being disgorged, topped up with a dosage and then bottled.
After the tasting of the base wines, we were treated to some of the older vintages of de Telmont. We tasted the 2000, 1999, and 90 blanc de blancs. What I found most surprising about all these wines was the freshness of all of them. Despite the fact they were all over 10 years old, they were fresh as daisies. According to the house, that’s is one of their hallmarks, the fact that there champagnes can and do last for many years. They attribute this to the fact that they don’t let the base wine go through malo.
We also had the opportunity of trying their flagship champagne, the 1735 O.R. Another blanc de blanc, the 1735 O.R. is named after the ordere royale of 1735 when the King decreed that all champagne should be closed with a cork and held in place with string. Prior to that, the vignerons used any type of closure. In homage to that, all bottles of the 1735 are closed with a cork and string and a pair of scissors are needed to pop open a bottle. The O.R.2000 1735 is aged in old oak barrels and is a finely balance, delicate champagne with quite a bit of finesse, soft but still very fresh.
We finished our tasting with the 1735 but it was a great way to end the afternoon. I can tell you the trip back to the hotel was a sleepy blur to me after all that champagne.
Champagne J. de Telmont is available in the UK online and is very reasonably priced. Their non-vintage champagnes start at £18.95, a bargain and definitely miles better then the “brands” that crowd the shelves and take up far too much space in my opinion.