Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Understanding a Champagne Label - 1999 Pascal Doquet Grand Cru Le Mesnil Sur Oger Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne

In addition to the Memorial Day festivities of the past weekend, we also start to celebrate my birthday week every year at this same time. This year we opted to start the "celebration of me" on Saturday with the 1999 Pascal Doquet Grand Cru Le Mesnil Sur Oger Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne. As I typed out the name, I was thinking that it was quite long for something affectionately known as "Farmer's Fizz". Within the long title, however, there is a wealth of information about this wine on its labels.

Starting with 1999, this means that this bottle was produced exclusively from grapes grown and harvested in 1999. Champagne producers do not get to determine when they want to call a vintage, it is legally declared in what are expected to be the best years. 1999, as a vintage, has been met with mixed reviews as to its "greatness". This was due to heavy rains in September before harvest which can result in diluted flavors and low acidity. Some producers were more affected than others. A vintage date also says that this wine was aged longer on its lees than a non-vintage version by law, a minimum of 36 months as opposed to a minimum of 15 months. On this bottle, there is a disgorgement date on the back label which lets me know that this bottle was aged on its lees significantly longer than required for about 10 years and it has rested/matured in this same bottle for over three years after that date.

On the label, under the producer's name Pascal Doquet, is the term Recoltant-Manipulant (all spelled out here making it easier, only RM is required by law) which means that this wine was produced by an individual estate grape grower who then independently made his own wine using at least 95% of his own grapes, hence the nicknames: Grower Champagne or Farmer Fizz. This is not unusual in the world of wine but it is somewhat unusual in the world of Champagne production where less than 5,000 of the approximately 19,000 independent growers do so.
Grand Cru Le Mesnil Sur Oger refers to the location of the vineyard. This tells you that the grapes were sourced from the commune of Le Mesnil sur Oger which is a Grand Cru village in the Cote des Blancs sub region of Champagne. The Cote des Blancs is almost exclusively planted to Chardonnay and the grapes from here tend to be more expensive and heavily sought after than the other sub regions. The Le Mesnil area is a prestige area within the sub region which will then, in theory, help to create a wine that is more terroir specific. The belemnite chalky soil of Le Mesnil was formed in the tertiary period and should help the grapes maintain their acidity while adding a chalky mineral character to the wine. 

Blanc de Blancs means that the wine is white and was made from white grapes. Typically, in Champagne, this means 100% Chardonnay, although there are rare exceptions, this is not one.

So, from the front label, I know that I am getting a Chardonnay-based wine made sparkling in the traditional method, sourced from a Grand Cru vineyard in a premier region of Champagne, France, created by a producer who grew the grapes on his property  during a specific year and then created the wine himself, following not only production methods required for the region but also the more stringent requirements required in the production of a vintage Champagne. 

It is easy to understand why the market for Grower Champagne continues to expand. There is the sense that you are getting something a bit more special for your money. In the glass, the 1999 Pascal Doquet Grand Cru Le Mesnil Sur Oger Blanc de Blancs was a pale straw color with golden glints and a steady stream of pinpoint bubbles creating a soft mousse at the rim. Brioche bakery notes were the most pronounced aroma followed by fresh lemon and baked pear. On the palate, there was a creaminess to the texture with a high level of racy acidity (defying the trials of its vintage) with zesty citrus and toasty flavors along with a decided minerality throughout the lengthy finish. Absolutely outstanding!

In a breakaway from the expected heavy barbeque meals of the weekend, we served this with my homemade crab cakes- almost all crab, very little cake (with optional pineapple/mango Tequila sauce and a Horseradish sauce), a meadowkaas gouda cheese, heirloom cherry tomatoes, natural almonds and fresh strawberries. The Champagne was not only fantastic alone but delicious with all the above food including the sauces.
Highly recommended and available at Spec's for about $70.
related posts:
Thinking about Vintage Champagne
Dosage Comparison in 2002 Ayala Perle Champagne
Ruinart Champagne Challenge - Houston