Did you know that half of the Champagne produced every year is consumed in France? And outside of France, Australia is one of the world’s biggest markets for Champagne (8 million bottles a year) and our thirst for the drop is growing rapidly – up 24% last year alone!

G.H. Mumm’s Chef de Caves Didier Mariotti (Head Winemaker is the less cool English translation) shared these and other fascinating  tidbits at a recent masterclass on the G.H. Mumm lineup at Vintage Cellars, Double Bay.

The lineup of wines for us to try was stellar: G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV, G.H. Mumm Le Rose NV, G.H. Mumm Le Millisime 2006, Blanc de Blancs de Cramant NV, G.H. Mumm Rene Lalou Cuvee 1999.

Unfortunately, the delightfully fresh Blanc de Blancs de Cramant is not easy to source in Australia and was unavailable to buy on the night. Only 50,000 bottles are made each year and the French are reluctant to let it leave their shores! A pity, because this wine is a brilliant expression of Didier’s winemaking philosophy – its hallmark characteristic being simplicity, not complexity!

In Didier’s opinion, to achieve a sophisticated, yet simple (perhaps ‘pure’ is a better English translation?) expression of the chardonnay grape from a single vintage is extremely difficult, because you can’t disguise mistakes by blending in reserve wine.

The grapes comes from just one village – the Grand Cru vineyards of the chalk hillside village of Cramant in Côte des Blancs. (Mumm has been making a blanc des blancs from this area since 1882.)  To produce a wine that is sharp and crisp yet still has an interesting minerally mid-palate, Didier deliberately bottles the wine at a lower pressure and adds only a small dosage (less than 6 grams).

The wine’s perfume was superb – a delicate mix of scented white blossoms with lemon and fresh fruit. Didier explained that he and his four winemakers receive olfaction and taste training twice a year, sometimes from a perfume expert. Continual training is useful when up to 300 different wines are sampled to create the best blend – a necessary requisite for even the entry level G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV.

GH-Mumm-Cuvee-R-LalouI can’t finish without a rave abut the deliciously different and sophisticated Cuvée R. Lalou 1999. Named in honour of Réné Lalou, who ran the Champagne House from 1920 to 1973, only nine vintages of this prestige cuvée were produced between 1966 and 1985. In 2007, Didier decided to revive the bottling using the same grape varieties from the same parcels as its celebrated ancestor (five parcels of pinot noir and seven parcels of chardonnay). The Cuvée R. Lalou 1999 is the second release after the inaugural Cuvée R. Lalou 1998. Aged on lees for a minimum of 10 years, Didier deliberately uses more chardonnay than pinot noir to maintain freshness, but the wine is still gloriously rich and textural. A great one to savour over dinner!

by Merrill Witt, Editor

The Cuvée R. Lalou 1999 is available on the Cellarit Wine Market