Ruinart 2002 lunch
This week marked the beginning of Spring and I am so ready to say goodbye to winter! What better way to celebrate then with the launch of the Dom Ruinart 2002. Oh, yeah! Ruinart have a very distinctive bottle shape and it’s easy to spot one across a crowded room. I am a sucker for design but what’s in the bottle is just as distinctively designed.
One of the qualities I most admire about champagne is the concept of assemblage. Having spent a fair amount of time around vineyards both in Champagne and in other wine producing regions, I think that to blend champagne must be one of the most difficult things to do (no disrespect to other wine makers as I know how hard producers work to coax wine from the vine). The cellar master uses base wines (which are thin and acidic forerunners of the wine to come) from various vintages and is able to foresee how that wine is going to transform into champagne after going through not one but two fermentations and then spending a minimum of 3yrs in a cold dark cellar laying on a sediment of dead yeast cells. Incredible and yet, the Champenois manage to produce their amazing champagnes year in and year out.
Ruinart Chef de Cave Frederic Panaiotis pointed out that for Ruinart, the quality they most desire is a refined timelessness and elegance while at the same time not becoming a boring champagne which never changes with the vintages. He said that when they work on blending the wine they pay particular attention to the mouthfeel, weight and softness in the mouth while at the same time ensuring that they are making a lively and flexible champagne. He likened their champagne to alpaca wool, instant luxury and quality combined which, although you don’t have to be a connoisseur to appreciate, does help. The complexity and depth of the champagne is a pleasure for experts but it also has an immediate appeal and he says that his champagnes are definite crowd-pleasers. He feels this is a tribute to the growers of their grapes. 90% of their grapes are sourced from growers and the contracts are renewed every 3 years. If the quality of the grapes is not up to scratch, Ruinart moves on. Refinement is key to them and they are constantly striving to maintain their very strict standards.
For Ruinart, time does not make a difference to their champagne, the effects of time are a consequence of a deliberate choice in using only grand cru vineyards to produce their champagnes. Ruinart champagne tends to be more reductive than oxidative and they do this because it is most important for them to maintain the aromatic qualities of the wine. I attended a lunch last year where Frederic showcased a set of aroma bottles containing the 8 main scents of their blanc de blanc. A great excercise in finding and recognizing aromas in champagne.
Ruinart were back in town last week to launch the Dom Ruinart 2002 vintage champagne during a lunch held at Brown’s Hotel in Mayfair. But first, we had plenty of their non-vintage blanc de blanc, served in magnums to tide us over while we waited for all the guests to arrive. Ruinart is proud of their blanc de blancs and the chardonnay grapes chosen come from villages near the winery with a third coming also from the Montagne de Reims. Frederic thinks that allows Ruinart to produce full bodied and rich wines. The blanc de blanc in magnum was no exception. I think magnums of wine are incredibly sexy and the Ruinart clear glass magnums are indeed an object of beauty. Fresh and vibrant but at the same time, a very elegant champagne.
Ruinart doesn’t have a very large range of champagnes because they want to keep things simple, their philosophy being, simple is best. So for the lunch we were served the non vintage blanc de blanc, the Dom Ruinart 2002 and 1998 and the Dom Ruinart rosé 1996. Only 3 styles of champagne but they are such a joy to drink, it’s hard to feel like you’re missing out.
The 2002 Dom Ruinart was served with a fillet of Brixham cod on a crab risotto and what a delight. I love the aromas on this champagne. Despite the fact that its already 10 years old, it’s still holding up very well, having a fresh, mineral laden nose. I was also getting loads of chalk and oyster shell aromas and the iodine note that you often find in champagne. There was also a hint of bergamot and fresh hazelnuts, the palate having lush white stone fruits flavours but still retaining a core of tight acidity. A firm champagne full of energy but still having a very approachable quality, with loads of tiny soothing bubbles and a clean finish. I could have drunk the ’02 all day but there were others to try. I would like to taste this champagne again in a few years, Frederic assured us that it had plenty of life in it and that the best was yet to come.
The second course of ham hock and split peas accompanied the Dom Ruinart vintage 1998. The ’98 is already at it’s peak and drinking very well right now. A nose full of gingerbread and candied fruits make this a rich and full champagne. 1998 was a warm year and it is reflected in the fleshiness of the champagne. Paired with ham hock and yellow split peas, the champagne did a good job of working with the salty pork. Frederic predicted that this champagne will only last for a further 9 or 10 years before beginning it’s decline.
The same can’t be said for the Dom Ruinart rosé 1996, still going strong despite being 16 years old already, it’s still got plenty of time. Frederic calls the rose a blanc de blanc of a rosé because only grand cru chardonnay is used as a base and then a small percentage of red wine is added. An intense onion skin colour, the champagne has had plenty of time to mellow and Frederic commented that Ruinart like extended aging times for their champagnes. Rosé champagne is enticing to look at and the ’96 was rather hypnotizing. Smelling like a mix of potpurri had been spilled on a lush forest floor, there were also hints of dried roses and even peat notes scattered about, despite having quite a high dosage (for Ruinart) of 10 grams/litre. It was quite dry with a discernible red fruit flavour profile, accompanied by Goat’s cheese and beetroot relish, the sweetness of the beets really brought out the red fruits in the champagne. A delicious combination.
A well paired menu to the elegant and well defined Ruinart champagnes, what a great way to start the Spring.