Vins Clairs Tasting with chef de cave, Alexandre Ponnavoy.
April 14th, 2023
Champagne Taittinger has been one of my longest-running collaborators in the world of champagne, and a house I have always admired for its innovation, evolution, AND it’s appreciation for wine communicators, like myself.
I have been working with Champagne Taittinger on Instagram Campaigns, Blog Posts, Instagram Lives, Private Tastings, Events, Visits in Champagne, and as my business has evolved, their openness to evolve with me has always been a gift.
After years of sharing their history and vision, bringing countless clients and audiences through tastings of new releases, etc, it seemed only natural to have the opportunity to finally meet their chef de cave, and taste through their Vins Clairs. But, to be honest, it isn't natural at all, as this is not something that the house does often with trade, so when I received the invite to do so, I was honored and thrilled to be able to dig deeper and get closer to the iconic world of Champagne Taittinger. Merci, Claire.
During an afternoon in April this year, a few of us met Claire Sarazin and chef de cave, Alexandre Ponnavoy at 44 Boulevard Lundy. It was an intimate setting, a table covered in a white table cloth, with glasses, spittoons, and vins clairs ready to pour. Alexandre started our tasting by introducing his take on recent vintages for Champagne Taittinger.
2018- A quality and quantity vintage for Taittinger
2019- not the same quantity, but incredible in the future
2020- A really really good vintage for Taittinger
2021- A hard year with small quantity. The key to 2021 was the freshness, and will be really interesting to taste this in five or ten years in bottles. Alexandre is an optimist for this vintage.
2022 - Very different harvest as you have the freshness of 2021, but with 2022, there is fruit and floral, but sometimes a slight bitterness which gives this level of elegance and surprise. Obvious ripeness, but still acidity and freshness.
2022 was a difficult year to determine the harvest date, but the house used their knowledge from 2011, 2015, and 2020 to understand the best date to pick. There was no problem with ripeness, as trends are end of August / early September, but maintaining the acidity is the challenge. Taittinger waited in 2022, and were able to maintain the acidity. There are so many factors when determining the right date- alcohol potential, concentration, acidity, PH and taste. And for the ripeness, there are two- sugar concentration, and phenolic ripeness, the latter being something you must wait for.
The Vins Clairs of 2022
Champagne Taittinger owns 288 hectares, around 712 acres, which is quite substantial in Champagne, and a large part of their overall vineyards. The vins clairs we tasting during the afternoon were all from their own plots.
The characteristics that Alexandre looks for in Taittinger's vins clairs are suppleness and tenderness, which are so the DNA of Taittinger, accompanied by an aromatic palate.
Chardonnay Vins Clairs
Bergères-lès-Vertus- used for their vintage, a very nice wine, just not as much elegance as we want.
Avize- aromatic palate, more elegant than Bergères-lès-Vertus , with more minerality.
Le Mesnil-sur-Oger- more fruit, depth, potential for Comtes according to Alexandre, and I found this one to have a gorgeous texture, austerity, and minerality.
Chouilly- fruit and ripenesss, yet precise and fresh. For Comtes, it is the small aging in barrels, about 5 months, as Chouilly can withstand that. The barrels give it just a slight spice.
Hautvillers- used vintage and non-vintage, complex terroir with many climates, red wines from Hautvillers for NV rosé, interesting profile, but simple, nice texture, not too open but you can imagine the elegance in the future, small red fruits, minerality, supple wine.
Mailly- Taittinger love Mailly, used a lot for Prelude and Comtes Rosé, vintage, and nonvintage for reserve. The profile is the definition of pinot noir in a cold terroir, which happens to be the lowest temperature in Champagne, freshness and minerality. Alexandre mentioned that normally this is a quite closed and difficult vin clair to taste, and difficult to see potential, but this year it is open, lots of spice, fruit, and minerality. He said that in the end, it is too open to produce Prelude this year, and will keep it for non-vintage.
Just a little tangent about Prelude because I love this cuvée- Alexandre sees this as a cuvée that is the link between their non-vintage brut to Comtes. I spoke to him about a recent tasting I hosted where we did each house’s non-vintage brut side-by-side with their prestige cuvée and how I felt that some houses were easier to find the common thread than others, and he felt that Prelude really helps define the common thread for Taittinger.
Verzenay- This one has the potential for Comtes Champagne Rosé and for me, this one was delightful. It was great to taste this knowing we were going to Roederer later, since Verzenay is so key for them, and I would be tasting their vins clairs later.
Ambonnay- Too open for the Comte, but supple, and more of the profile of the year, so it will go into their vintage.
A little tangent about Comtes Rosé because I think this is one of the best rosé champagnes- In 2014, Alexandre changed the recipe to add more chardonnay, since the DNA of the house is chardonnay. But, because of this change, they needed to wait 12 years to age on the lees, compared to 6 years before. This prestige cuvée now has a whole other level of complexity and quality, It is a gastronomic cuvée, with a gorgeous color, fruitiness, elegance, and freshness.
Since we touched on rosé, what about Coteaux?
Alexandre says, “We CAN produce a Coteaux… if we wanted”.
Eight years ago, Taittinger defined a special area of vineyard for their red wine, and special vineyard practices with no herbicides, reduced yields, just for the red wine. In reality, they have more parcels than they need, but this allows them to push for quality, so they only use between 60% and 70% for their red wines. For the grapes not used for red wine, it is made into white for non-vintage.
Red Wine from Bouzy- This one used for their red wine. Four days cold maceration in 12 degrees celsius, to extract the fruit, color, and flowers (not tannins). Eight to ten days for the alcoholic fermentation, and then they separate the grapes and the wine. Almost 15 days total maceration, which is a long time in Champagne.
After our session in Taittinger School with Professor Ponnavoy, we graduated from the vins clairs, to the final product, and celebrated with a beautiful private lunch.
The Champagne We Enjoyed (thoroughly enjoyed)
Brut Réserve en magnum
Prestige Rosé en magnum
Vintage 2015 en magnum
Paired with our lunch
Comtes de Champagne 2012
Prélude Grands Crus en magnum
Comes de Champagne Rosé 2009
Folies de la Marquetterie
Overall Takeaways of 2022 for Taittinger
This was a wow vintage, powerful, with huge structure, lots of texture and fruit, characteristic of the year, with some bitterness, and nice salinity. Very interesting profile. “For me it’s really a vintage of the soil. Can already feel the character of the chalk in the wines (chardonnay).”- Alexandre Ponnavoy
The DNA of Taittinger
Champagne Taittinger has a reductive style, with the utmost elegance, fruit, minerality, and acidity. It is chardonnay driven, with wines that are not heavy, but have structure and personality, and ultimately, keep you wanting more and giving you pleasure with every sip.