At the beginning of March a small group travelled from London to Aÿ to experience the 2016 vins clairs tastings at two of the regions most prized houses. This is an opportunity to experience the wines after the primary or alcoholic fermentation but before they begin the secondary fermentation where they will form the all-important bubbles.
The first visited was Champagne Ayala, located amidst the region’s most prized vineyards in Aÿ it is the archetype of an art deco chateau. The guests were given a guided tour of the property by Philippe-Alexandre Bernatchez learning some of the history of the house, from its foundation in 1860 through the golden age of the 1920s, up to the purchase by the Bollinger family in 2005 and through to today.
The Champagne Ayala vins clairs took place in the renovated winery with Chef de Cave Caroline Latrive who joined Ayala in 2006 before becoming cellar master in 2011. Today Caroline carefully maintains the house style and focuses on producing wines of exceptional quality with an emphasis on Chardonnay.
We tasted a selection of 2015 and 2016 vins clairs from Oger & Cuis in the Cote de Blancs, Verzy in Montagne de Reims, Avency in the Vallee de la Marne and finally the Ayala Brut Majeur base wine. After the Vins Clairs tasting we returned to the house for a guided tasting of the champagnes of Ayala with Philippe-Alexandre, taking in the Ayala Brut Majeur, Rose, Brut Nature, Blanc de Blancs 2008 & Perle d’Ayala 2005.
The following day saw our party return to Aÿ to experience the vins clairs at Champagne Bollinger. Before the tasting we were treated to a tour of the vineyards and the cooperage where Bollinger’s oak barrels are constructed & maintained, followed by the cellars where Bollinger ages its reserve wines in magnum under natural cork. The tour of the cellars culminated in a visit to the Galerie 1829 & La Réserve, a showcase of Champagne Bollinger’s extraordinarily legacy with wines dating back as far as 1830.
The Champagne Bollinger vins clairs took place in the winery where we tasted the following:
Trépail 2016 vinified in vats – 100% Chardonnay
Avize 2016 vinified in barrels – 100% Chardonnay
Chouilly 2007 reserve wine vinified in barrels and aged in magnums – 100% Chardonnay
Chigny 2016 vinified in vats – 100% Pinot Meunier
Avenay 2016 vinified in vats – 100% Pinot Noir
Aÿ 2016 vinified in barrels – 100% Pinot Noir
Verzenay 2016 vinified in barrels – 100% Pinot Noir
Tauxiéres 2015 reserve wine vinified in vats and matured in casks – 100% Pinot Noir
Blended Special Cuvee for bottling April 2017
La Côte aux Enfants 2016 – matured in barrels – 100% Pinot Noir
The vins clairs was followed by a lunch & guided tasting with Chef de Cave Gilles Descôtes, also in attendance were President Jérôme Philipon & International Sales Director Guy de Rivoire. Gilles Descôtes talked through the challenging 2016 vintage describing it as “The most difficult year I’ve ever lived.” Although at the end of the year the harvest was perfect even if Bollinger will not be producing a 2016 Grande Année.
The lunch comprised of Bollinger Special Cuvee accompanied a selection of canapés, La Grand Année 2007 with a warm butternut velouté & langoustines, La Grand Année Rose 2005 paired beautifully with fillet of turbot, fresh herbs, saffron cream & mushroom fricassée, this was followed by R.D. 2002 special reserve Comté & mature Gruyere both selected especially by Champagne Bollinger before a final coupling of Bollinger Rose and a gazpacho of red fruits & fresh mint with vanilla ice cream & financiers cakes.
There was just time after lunch for a tour of the Vieilles Vignes Françaises vineyard and a final glass of Bollinger Special Cuvée before heading back to Paris and the return journey to London.