Champagne Ayala, An Historic House Coming Alive Again…

Feb 17, 14 Champagne Ayala, An Historic House Coming Alive Again…

Walking up to the House of Champagne Ayala, I was struck by the ornate and grandiose facade of the winery. Built after the 1911 Champagne riots, the winery is where everything happens at Ayala. Ayala can claim that they are one of the few houses where all the production occurs under one roof, from pressing to packaging, it’s all there.

House of Champagne Ayala

House of Champagne Ayala

At first glance, Ayala doesn’t sound like a French champagne house but it has a long history in the region. The Ayala family were originally from Spain and were sent to South America by the Spanish government in the colonial period to govern in what is now Colombia. The family spent two generations there before returning to Europe in 1830 and settling in Paris, where Edmond, the founder of the House was born.

Offices and Tasting Room at Ayala

Offices and Tasting Room at Ayala

Edmond moved to Champagne in the 1850’s and married the niece of the Vicomte de Mareuil, whose dowry included various vineyards. He created the house in 1860 and set out to build the brand. One of the first things he did was launch a drier style of champagne to the UK market. At the time, champagne made in the mid 19th century had up to 300 grams/litre of sugar so when Ayala introduced a champagne with ‘only’ 21 grams, it was a revelation. So much so that they eventually received a royal warrant from the Royal Family. By the 1920’s Ayala was producing over a million bottles of champagne a year.

220 hectalitre barrel, used until the 1970's

220 hectalitre barrel, used until the 1970’s

Unfortunately, the house fell on hard times and from the mid-20th century went into decline. It wasn’t until the house was bought by Bollinger in 2005 that they have now begun to recover their former glory. Bollinger has put in considerable investment to bring the house back from the brink. Although, they are careful to point out that Ayala is not Bollinger’s second wine. The styles are widely divergent, with Ayala making completely unoaked champagnes whereas one of the hallmarks of Bolly is the influence of oak. They’ve also introduced new labelling for Ayala to reduce confusion with Bollinger’s labels. Today Ayala produce 700,000 bottles annually but are hoping to source more grapes so that they can increase production.

stainless steel tanks in the winery

stainless steel tanks in the winery

In keeping with Edmond’s philosophy of low dosage, Ayala’s champagnes have relatively low dosages most ranging around 6 – 6.5 grams/litre.

Ayala have recently revamped and reduced their range. After our tour, we sampled the range. My notes:

Ayala Brut Majeur

Ayala Brut Nature

Brut Majeur – their NV and main cuvee, 40% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier, 7 gr/litre, fresh and lively, loads of apple and citrus on the nose and palate with a long elegant finish. We thought it would make a very good aperitif.

tiny bubbles, Brut Majeur

tiny bubbles, Brut Majeur

Rose Majeur, NV, 50% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir (6% of which is still wine), 10% pinot meunier, 8 gr/liter (highest percentage in the range), a delicate but fresh rose, loads of raspberry and cherry flavours, a soft rose unhampered by too much tannic. The French like to have rose with dessert and I imagined this would go well with a raspberry tart.

Brut Nature –  40% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir, 20% pinot meunier, zero dosage, aged 4 years on the lees. Mineral and salty aromas and flavours jump out of this wine. It’s quite pure and cleanses the palate. Our guide, Phillipe recommended we have it with a cigar due to that cleansing quality. I’ll definitely have to keep that in mind!

Blanc de Blanc 2007

Blanc de Blanc 2007

Blanc de blanc 2007, 100% chardonnay, 6.5 gr/litre and only produced in vintage years, it’s still very young and fresh with pure and intense fruit and a hint of chalk on the finish. I can see this wine developing well into the future.

2005 Perle d'Ayala

2005 Perle d’Ayala

Perle d’Ayala 2005 is their prestige cuvee, aged 8 years under cork before disgorgement, it’s composed of 80% chardonnay and 20% pinot noir and is form 100% grand cru vineyards. Having only 6 gr/litre, it’s produced only in vintage years. A very expressive nose, full of  minerality with loads of toasty coconut and hazelnut, a complex champagne that was constantly evolving as we drank it. Still youthful, it has plenty of potential.

An educational tasting as I wasn’t really familiar with Ayala before visiting, I will certainly look for them the next time I’m champagne shopping.

 

 

 

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