It’s been over 20 years since Maison Ruinart has decided to add to its portfolio, and after sitting with Frédéric Panaïotis, Chef de cave of Ruinart, during my last visit in April, it seems like the most NATURAL thing to do.
On April 13th, 2023, I had the utmost pleasure to visit the Maison with Yuri Shima and Dan Rosnov. I arrived in Champagne that morning, checked into my Airbnb in Reims, got settled in, and then headed over to Ruinart for an afternoon visit. My first moments of the visit were stepping into their incredible Crayères, and my first sips of champagne, were their Vins Clairs (which I will share about later). The entire afternoon was a dream, from start to finish, but when I walked out from our visit, my biggest takeaway was… I just got SCHOOLED in the house of Ruinart.
When you sit down with a Chef de Cave, and especially when you are drinking their wines with them, you enter the world of that Maison in the most intimate way. They say that the best way to learn about Champagne is to drink it, and I am going to take that a step further and say, the best way to learn about Champagne, is to drink it with a Chef de Cave. I walked out of Ruinart as if I didn’t know anything about champagne before those couple of hours, and this is normally the case in these types of settings, because the depth of Fred's knowledge, his philosophies, his communication of the house and its future, come from a depth of experience, a first-hand encounter of every stage of the champagne making process over many years.
Beyond understanding Maison Ruinart, the style, the history, and the future more deeply, discovering their newest release was not only exciting, but eye-opening.
The WHY behind Blanc Singulier
Ruinart’s new project was born out of discussions about Global Warming, and how it is affecting the balance in Champagne’s growing cycle and in its wines. Around 2015/2016, there were conversations about "what do we do in warm years? How do we adapt?", because Champagne is seeing this more often now. The house had already been working on reducing its carbon footprint at the time, so climate change was at the top of mind. During these warmer years, some wines really show richness, and a different profile to what we know Ruinart to be, and in the past, these wines were put into the Blanc de Blancs NV, and essentially ‘hidden’ in the blend.
But as Fred and the team at Ruinart discussed these wines in detail, it felt more natural and transparent, to do something more with them, possibly to showcase global warming.
So they decided to make a cuvée showcasing these exceptional years, or changes in the climate, focusing on Chardonnay, and not being afraid to highlight Chardonnay that may be more round, more rich, with lower dosage.
Now this is where it gets eye opening….
When Fred shared this secret project with us, he also shared a presentation that was a reflection of Global Warming in Champagne from 1961-2022, information mainly gathered from the CIVC (Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin Champagne).
The first slide in the presentation showed the average temperature in Champagne over the years, and you can clearly see the increase of 1.3 degrees since 1961. Now, one degree change may not look like it is a big change, but it’s the spikes of heat that you see in the later years of Champagne that are alarming. For example, 2003, 2018, and 2022, where the average temperature was 4-10 degrees above.
A few slides in, he showed us the Evolution of Bioclimatic Indicator which includes the Huglin’s Index (rates regions according to their climate), Cool Night Index, and Drought Index. The Huglin’s Index captures the sum of temperatures during the growing season and puts them into 5 categories from very cold climate to warm climate. You are taught in most Champagne studies, that the region is at the most northern limit for growing grapes (cold on the Huglin’s Index), but since the 90’s, we have seen Champagne move to a temperate climate, and increasing.
As for the other two indexes, the Cool Night Index shows Champagne going from having very cold to cold nights, which is something to note because the cold nights and diurnals are important for the grapes physiological maturity and enhances the production of polyphenols. For the Drought index, Champagne has moved from humid to sub-humid.
Traditionally, in Champagne, we are taught that the average days between flowering and harvest are around 100 days, and to be honest, this is what I have personally thought as well. But, in recent years, the average is now 87 days. The Budburst average is around the same start time, but harvest is starting earlier, and since 2003, Champagne has had 7 harvest start dates in August, something that was never really seen before. Fred's concerns with this, and using 1996 vintage as an example, is that the length of the growth cycle needs to be long in order to gain complexity needed for Champagne. Finding the right balance with harvest is a dance between technical maturity and physiological maturity, and is becoming increasingly more difficult. When you harvest too soon, you lack the physiological maturity (like 96), and the wines will age more quickly.
So with all of this data and discussion, Ruinart’s Blanc Singulier was born. A Blanc de Blancs, singular expression of Chardonnay, that captures the uniqueness of vintages and the different aromatic expressions they reveal.
Released TODAY, it is a base of 2018 (80%), with 20% perpetualle reserve, and 0gr dosage, and only available in France, AND the US (lucky us) with limited production, and will be available in future markets next year.
During our visit, we tasted this blind next to their Blanc de Blancs. We had no idea what it was, or how it was made, but I can tell you that the biggest characteristic I remember was the texture being so beautiful and so different from the BdB. So much more intensity, it was savory, structured, yet silky and the length seemed to go for days. Let’s just say that I WILL get my hands on one of these (at least one), as I think it is not only a thought-provoking, interesting, and historical cuvée for the Maison, but also extremely pleasurable to drink!
Bravo Fred, and team Ruinart! It is truly a cuvée that will be enjoyed by many, and in addition to that, I hope that it will spark more conversations around the WHY!
Ruinart Vins Clairs of 2022 with chef de cave,
For the 'warmup' during our Tasting with Fred, as we have done with other chef de caves, we tasted through a handful of Ruinart’s Vins Clairs.
I believe I have mentioned this before, but I really enjoy a Vin Clair tasting, especially in a setting like this where we can try different plots, villages and also blends, to understand a producer’s style more intimately.
Reflection on 2022 Vintage
As we began, Fred mentioned that he was pretty pleased with 2022. At first he thought the year may lack freshness. He defines this as the combination of acidity, savoriness, tannins, bitterness, and the salivating quality that they look for in their wines. But now that he has a better picture (the day before they just finished the blends), he feels confident in the year. He also mentioned that he initially thought Pinot Noir would be good, and Chardonnay not as good, but when he did the Dom Ruinart Blend a couple of days prior, it confirmed that the year has been very successful. Did you like how I just slipped that casually in… yes, there will be a Dom Ruinart 2022!
The Style of Ruinart
Let’s put the Vins Clairs into perspective before I simply list my tasting notes.
The house of Ruinart strives for clean and precise wines. They avoid, at all costs, lactic, oxygen, and too much reduction.
They use low intervention wine making, but are always on it- extremely hands-on and careful, especially with oxygen intake. The best way to avoid oxygen, is by avoiding steps that would allow for the chance. Contact with air is limited to preserve a very clean and fresh style.
Fred mentioned that the later stages in wine making, closer to final stage, is more important to protect from oxygen. For example, the juice can absorb oxygen, but the wine, when observing oxygen, it will alter or change the overall profile.
Sillery, a Grand Cru village in the Montagne de Reims, is a significant village for Ruinart, so you will see this in the Vins Clairs we tasted. Dating back to 1733, Ruinart's first vineyards were here, and also, it is the only village where chardonnay is predominant in the Montagne de Reims. This village plays an important role in their cuvées and is a major component (on average 35%) of Dom Ruinart, their prestige cuvée.
Fred has compared Chardonnay from Sillery to Corton-Charlemagne in Burgundy, meaning that these wines take a long time to mature, coming across young, even at ten years of age.
Vins Clairs of 2022
Beautiful fruit, clean and crisp expression.
Pinot Noir- Verzy, Verzenay, Sillery
Lots of freshness, nice tannic character, body and astringency, more austere in a way (went into the vintage)
Approachable, floral, citrus, ripe pineapple, ripe tropical, charming, most drinkable, friendly, known to make approachable chardonnay when they are young, important for Ruinart’s BdB NV, round, soft, good layers.
Chardonnay- Montagne de Reims Blend GC/PC
mineral, citrusy, power, orchard fruit, more length, zesty on the palate
So much vinosity and character, more interesting, makes up around 30% of Dom Ruinart 2022.
Chalky, so much length, 50% of the blend Dom Ruinart 2022.
2 Vins Clairs Blends (cold stabilized / filtered) 2022
Blanc de Blancs NV
In addition to our Vins Clairs (and Blanc Singulier) we enjoyed their Blanc de Blancs NV (base 2020), their Dom Ruinart 2010, which was amazing to revisit a 3rd time now since December 2022, and their owe so stunning, Dom Ruinart Rosé 2009.
This afternoon will forever be remembered as my first lesson at the School of Ruinart. What a honor to have spent these precious moments with Fred, tasting through Ruinart's DNA, and so grateful for Lilian's time and generosity, hosting us during our tour of the beautiful caves. Merci, Team Ruinart, and hope to continue my learning journey with many moments in the future.