Still or sparkling? This question, normally asked when you order mineral water, could soon apply to Champagne. “Bollinger avec gaz ou sans gaz?”
According to the latest figures from the Comité Champagne, despite – or perhaps because of – the Covid situation in the US and Europe, Champagne is fizzing again. Lanson chairman François Van Aal has described it as experiencing a “strong resurrection”.
The market will soon move beyond the 300m bottle shipments mark. But little of that will be still Champagne, and it almost certainly won’t be red. Once, however, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir without bubbles was the drink in the region; it was only around 1850 that bubbles became big business.
Bottled as Coteaux Champenois, the still wines of Champagne now account for only 0.7 per cent of production in a region celebrated for its sparkling wine superior. But the famous houses still produce quality still wines.
Making a Grand Blanc from a Grand Noir terroir, Charles Heidsieck cellar master Cyril Brun has released four single cru still Chardonnays from the 2017 vintage, representing Montgueux, Villers-Marmery, Vertus and Oger. Earlier this year, came Louis Roederer Hommage à Camille from Burgundian and Alsatian grapes specifically planted in 2002 to produce quality still wine and expressing the famous terroir of Champagne in a new way.
In May, Champagne Drappier released a truly “witty” wine – Trop m’en Faut! – a multi-vintage (2017/18) and an anagram of Fromenteau, the French word for Pinot Gris. It is also the old French way of saying, “I can’t get enough”.
Drappier also offers Permission, a single varietal Cotes de Bar Pinot Noir and Perpétuité, a 14-vintage blended white Pinot Noir. Based in Aube, Drappier was founded in 1808 and makes an Urville Rouge. “Before ‘Champagne’ as a sparkling wine became famous, what made our wines well-known was our ability to make delicate white wine out of red grapes,” says Michel Drappier.
“As the climate warms, the quality of Champagne’s still wines will evolve. With our limestone soil and the right weather, we’ll be close to the Burgundy of 30 years ago. Our red and white wines will doubtless be excellent.”
Michel, the seventh-generation vigneron of the 57 hectare estate, created the first single parcel cuvee with Grande Sendree 1975. Maison Drappier was the first to produce a zero dosage. It also produces the 30 litre, 40 bottle Melchizedek – the world’s largest champagne bottle.
The Fromenteau comes from the Truchots plot of Jurassic Kimmeridgian soil exposed to the south, now tilled by Ardennes horses led by Antoine Drappier.
“Because champagne is one of the cooler and more northerly grape growing areas of France, they are only just becoming better quality in the hotter years largely as a result of global warming making Champagne hotter,” says Nick Baker of London’s The Finest Bubble. “Most people who want to drink still wines from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay would of course travel the few hundred kilometres to Burgundy where the summers are considerably warmer.”
Still, the time cannot be far off when we can beckon the wine waiter to enquire about the range of flat champagne.