Last week turned into a Champagne week, although the reality was not quite as glamorous as it sounds. The big event was a Vin Clair tasting with Devaux, one of the lesser-known houses that has a very good reputation amongst aficionados. A Vin Clair is a wine that has finished fermentation, and is ready for blending prior to being refermented and given the liqueur de tirage. Without sugar or fizz, you get a fascinating glimpse of the different wines that are used to make a Champagne. Each village, often each vineyard in each village is vinified separately; some go through malo-lactic fermentation, others don’t; some are vinified in stainless steel, others in oak barrels of various sizes; some of these barrels are new, others old. It creates a myriad of different wines. The task of blending these together, discarding those that don’t fit, falls to the Cellar Master or Chef de Cave. However, Vins Clairs are very acidic – if you are ever invited, make sure you bring your Bisodol with you. The tasting was fascinating but for wine anoraks only, with a series of tastings showing different cuvées, all of which go into the final blend. It did prove just how much work and how many wines are used to put together a Champagne.
Then on Friday, for a forthcoming article on blends (most sparkling wines are a blend of some sort), which may turn into a Champagne and sparkling wine article, I cracked open a bottle of AR Lenoble champagne, imported by Greenacres of Wexford, who have one of the finest selections of wine in the country. It was very good. I tried a bottle of Mauzac Nature from Terroirs, a bottle of Bouvet Cremant de Loire Rosé (I was sold when the sales assistant said ‘I don’t like sparkling wine and I don’t like rosé, but this one is different!”) from Whelehans along with a bottle of their excellent house Champagne – from Bénard-Pitois, a small grower . Then I took delivery of a bottle of Veuve Cliquot Rosé 2004. But back to Devaux.
Devaux is based in the Côte des Bar, 100 kilometres south of the other three champagne sub-regions, a mere thirty minutes by car from Chablis. The company is a collective of 12 co-operatives, with 7,500 growers and 1,500 hectares in the Bar. 92% of vineyards in the region are planted with Pinot Noir – strangely Devaux never use Pinot Meunier. Do not believe the Grande Marque houses that claim they don’t use wines from the Bar in their non-vintage cuvées; according to Tom Stevenson in the Christie’s Encylopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, statistics show most contain 15% of Aube wines, the vast majority bought from Devaux or one of its members. Coincidentally I also tasted Drappier, another Côte des Bar champagne last Saturday at the Dalkey book festival. I always have a soft spot for this house, as it was served at my wedding.
The Devaux tasting included the following still wines:
• Three Pinot Noirs, all made in the same manner and from the 2014 vintage, from three different villages in the Bar.
• Three Pinot Noirs from the same vineyard and vintage, one which had undergone malo-lactic fermentation, one which hadn’t, and one vinified in small oak barriques. Incidentally all the Devaux barrels come from two big forests in Champagne.
• Two Chardonnays, from the same vintage and vineyard, one vinified in older oak, the other in 100% new oak.
• Finally one wine from Solera D (a blend of vintages from 2002-2013, from a large oak cask; a Solera Chardonnay, a blend of vintages )1995-2013) from Chouilly, a Grand Cru village in the Côte des Blancs; and the blend for Cuvée D, their flagship wine, from 2013/2014.
Cellar master Michel Parisot, who hosted the tasting, said that very few champagnes were made by simply blending 2-3 wines. His contain multiple wines, each making up less than 10% and usually 2-3% of the final cuvée. The Vin Clair tasting showed the different character each wine contributes to the blend. Only then did we move on to the actual champagnes, four from their superior ‘D” collection range.
The Ultra D de Devaux Extra Brut, which has 2 g/l residual sugar was beautifully fresh and lean with precise developed flavours of toasted nuts, a little brioche and a very fine long finish. Excellent wine.
The Cuvée D de Devaux Brut was equally fine, richer, with toasted nuts, a honeyed element, and luscious fresh peach fruits . Delicious.
The D de Devaux Vintage 2006 was the least impressive for me, although still very good, crisp and clean with good citrus notes and plenty of acidity. Good.
The D de Devaux Rosé Brut was elegant, almost delicate, with raspberry and redcurrant fruits finishing dry. Very good.