JACQUESSON CHAMPAGNE TASTING W/ JEAN-HERVE CHIQUET – Beltramo’s in Menlo Park, California (9/2/2009)
My friend Philip introduced me to the Jacquesson numbered cuvees on a visit to France two and a half years, or so, ago, and I’ve been on the lookout for them ever since. It was therefore a treat to be able to meet and hear from Jean-Herve Chiquet on his Northern California trip, which included tasting sessions at Beltramo’s and Terroir.
While Jacquesson was founded in 1798, and was once a fairly big Champagne house–by 1860, shipping three times the bottles they ship today–they now produce only 25,000 cases annually. Jean-Herve’s father was a Champagne grower who wanted to expand his family’s operation, so in the early 1970s they acquired everything from Jacquesson–the vineyards, the name, the library–except the buildings in which Jacquesson had been housed. Chiquet Senior moved the operations to the Chiquet family’s own existing operations, and incorporated their existing vineyard holdings into Jacquesson’s. Jean-Herve’s brother, Laurent, joined the family business after Jean-Herve did, in 1986, and in 1988 the father turned the reigns of operations over to the two brothers. Since then, Jean-Herve and Laurent have changed all but the location, name and production level; they’ve changed vineyards, viticulture, winemaking and the product lines.
A major change to the product line occurred in 1998, after the brothers’ experience in making the company’s then-flagship wine, the ’97 Perfection. After having decided with that year’s blend, to which they’d added Pinot, even though they thought their original Chardonnay-dominated blend was superior (but limited, as they had grown a limited amount of Chardonnay that year), their new aim was to make the best blend possible, regardless of the quantity and cepage. The result was the Cuvee No. 728–the next number available following the internal logs of Jacquesson which went back to 1798 with Cuvee No. 1. They use first press wine for this, the House’s flagship bottling, and just Grand Cru and Premier Cru fruit. (They have vineyards in three grand crus, and three premier crus.) They sell off the second press wine in bulk, and also sell off other fruit that doesn’t measure up to their standards (20% of the fruit in 2006, and 40% in 2001). The 733 is the latest release, and that was the first wine we tasted. Two of the other wines we tried below are product lines that Jacquesson no longer makes, as they now make only the 700 series Cuvee, and then up to four single vineyard Champagnes, if the fruit is good and not needed for the Cuvee.
Jean-Herve’s personal ordering of the 700 series Champagnes so far, from best to least best, is 730 (since it’s mainly 2002 fruit), 733, 728, 732 and 729. He also reported that 2008 is shaping up as a great vintage for them, and it should be particularly wonderful “when late disgorged in 2027”!
Jacquesson’s production requires 40 hectares worth of fruit, of which they own and grow 30 hectares. They buy the remaining fruit from neighbors they have relationships with in the same villages as their own vineyards. Given that they grow such a large portion of their production, Jean-Herve explained that they consider themselves most like a large grower rather than a Champagne house. They do all the pressing on site, and are pretty much an organic producer, with the exception of using a minimal amount of copper sulfite to fight mildew around the period of flowering.
This Cuvee is an assemblage based on the ’05 harvest, and thus succeeds Cuvee No. 732, based on the 2004 harvest. The assemblage contains 52% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Meunier and 24% Pinot Noir, entirely from the Premiers and Grands Cru vineyards in the Grande Vallee de la Marne and the Cote des Blancs. Seventy-eight percent of the blend is from the ’05 harvest, 16% from ’04 reserve wines and 6% from 2001. The wine was vinified on its lees in casks with regular batonnage and no filtration.
- N.V. Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Cuvée No. 733 – France, Champagne
Light butter yellow color; nice cream, tart peach, yeasty, lime, ginger and green herb nose; tasty, tight, tart peach, minerally, lemon, lime palate; medium-plus finish (52% Chardonnay, 24% Pinot Meunier, 24% Pinot Noir; 78% from ’05 vintage) (92+ points)
2000 Blanc de Blancs
This is a wine Jacquesson is no longer making, starting with the ’02 vintage. They decided to go with single vineyard bottlings with that year, after testing single vineyard bottlings in ’95 and ’96. They also decided to concentrate on Champ Gain as being the best of the three vineyards they own in Avize. 2000 was the hottest vintage they had experienced since 1956.
- 2000 Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Avize Grand Cru – France, Champagne, Avize, Champagne
Bright light canary yellow color; bright cherry, orange, apricot, caramel and sercial Madeira nose; elegant and poised tart orange melon, apricot, mineral, baked apple, lime and stony palate; medium finish (93 points)
The brothers Chiquet stopped making a rose Champagne in 1998 for awhile. In 2002, they tried out making one with skin contact, a maceration rose from a spot that ripens particularly well. That was a 2000 bottle experiment. It came out so well that they decided to make a rose for release from the 2003 vintage from the lieu dit of Terres Rouges, which is on the lower slopes of the Premier Cur of Dizy, where Jacquesson farms more than six hectares, half of which are planted to Pinot Noir and half to Pinot Meunier.
- 2003 Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Dizy Terres Rouges Rosé – France, Champagne
Bright light medium cherry red color; tart cherry, berry, strawberry pie nose; reticent, tart cherry, mineral, nutmeg, honey palate, with lime showing toward finish; medium finish (83% Pinot Meunier, 17% Pinot Noir) (90+ points)
2002 will be the last year of the vintage champagne, known in ’97 as the Millesime, and previously as the “Signature” wine.
- 1997 Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Millésime – France, Champagne
Light medium canary yellow color; lemon, yellow melon, creamy, kumquat, ginger and caramel nose; focused, soft, tart lemon, mineral, cream, tart green melon palate; medium-plus finish (93+ points)
- 1989 Jacquesson & Fils Champagne Grand Vin Signature Dégorgement Tardif – France, Champagne
From magnum – light bright butter yellow color; brussel sprout, cream, butter, baked apple nose; tasty, yeasty, tart lemon, lime, mineral palate, with depth, very youthful; long finish (disgorged in 2008) (94 points)