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- Joe Schmoe - 03-11-1999 07:36 AM
Hi everyone. It's the new kid on the block again. I have been away on the final residential seminar for the Master of Wine exam in July, so haven't had a moment to see what's going on here. Anyway, last Tuesday, I attended a tasting for a small group of people, who were either my colleagues or people connected to Lanson champagne. David Molyneux-Berry, a very well-respected taster and wine figure over here, did an exceptional job of hosting the tasting.
For your information, here are my notes (abridged!)
N.B. Lanson is the only large champagne marque that ferments all its wine in stainless steel (since 1971), while also blocking the malolactic fermentation completely. This leads to an expressive but backward style of champagne that really does require extended lees and/or post-disgorgment ageing to show its biscuity best. (This is only my opinion, mind. Tom S. Any comments?)
1993 Gold Label Vintage (magnum)
Although youthful, ripe bright and forward for such a wine. Excellent ripe chardonnay fruit characters, and a blanced, if slightly short finish. Distinctly light-bodied but ready to drink. Successful for a 1993, I think, but not top rank.
1990 Gold Label Vintage (magnum)
Definitely putting on weight, this wine is not as easy to drink as it was a year or 2 ago, on release. The brightly focused, soft, rich fruit flavours have firmed up and are being overtaken by considerable secondary aromas. Toasty, with a still fleshy, quite pinot driven palate. A smoky, Dom Perignon style autolytic character is being to show through, adding another dimension. I would keep this now, until after the Millennium. Very promising.
1989 Noble CuvÃ©e (magnum)
Well! This is was good, really good! A superb, fresh attack of minerals and ripe apple fruit followed by a seemless build of richness on the palate, finshing long, unctuous, but bone-dry. A magnificent luxury cuvÃ©e I think, and destined (maybe even deservedly so) for a price increase in forthcoming vintages. This, and the following wine, were classic expressions of their vintage, and although showed a common house style, were totally different characters, each equally good.
1988 Noble CuvÃ©e (bottle)
Intense smoky, autolysis on the nose and a slatey crisp attack in the mouth, followed by youthful, linear fruit that is beginning to show a hint of the complexity on the palate to come. Astonishing wine that will live as long as the best of the vintage. Start to drink at the end of next year.
The following older wines were all disgorged for the tasting a month ago.
1981 Red Label (magnum)
Wonderfully fresh, lemon aroma with a deliciously incisive, fresh biscuit palate. Good acidity, with a still firm concentration.
Although recently disgorged, I am sure that the stock will stand atleast another 10-15 years cellaring before it is 'a point'.
1976 Red Label (bottle)
A rich, leesy, but by now, slightly volatile cuvÃ©e that had tremendous richness, but was teetering on the brink of collapse. A rich pinot led wine that built in richness in the mouth. The finish was a little raw, showing a few cracks but was still an admirable complex wine. Probably the least typical wine here.
1971 Red Label (magnum)
A beautifully feminine wine with light body but deliciously proportioned flavours. Very round and creamy, with just a touch of tertiary mocha characters coming through. A wonderfully citrussy but not particularly tight acidity on the finish shows this wine to be the perfect drink now, although it would easily be swamped by strongly flavoured food. The ideal aperitif!
1969 Red Label (bottle)
(This wine was the last vintage Lanson to have been produced from base wines fermented partially in oak.) Deep straw in colour, this wine exhibited a fair amount of richness, and an unsusually high level of phenolic development. A strong aroma of ripe melon was present with a rich coffee and tobacco flavour. This wine was very interesting and had unique appeal. However, I felt that this wine should be consumed soonest. Richly textured with good acidity, despite the phenolic development.
1961 Red Label (Magnum)
This is one of the highlights of my vinous year to date. Beautiful pale white gold in colour, with an exasperating aroma of candied fruit, mocha, mango and brioche. On the palate, it danced(! Please allow me some serious poetic license here. The wine deserved it.)) - richly textured creamy mousse with perfect balance, supported with the lightest touch of crisp apple acidity, that took hold very slowly and persisted through the finish, showing immense concentration and length. This is a great wine. I put it on a par with DP 61. You may think I am exaggerating, but maybe Tom Stevenson could verify or dispute this claim. It was truly superb.
1959 Red Label (bottle)
A still full, fine mousse, with a deep straw gold hue. Quite oxidative on the palate with rich tangy flavours that reminded me of an old tasty white Hermitage, or even an old long-lived white Rioja. This was the last vintage wine to be fermented entirely in oak at Lanson. It is, therefore, difficult to ascertain whether the oxidative characters came from natural 'affinage' of the base wine in wood, or whether a magnum would have been much fresher.
Well, I will never look at Lanson in the same light again. We had the opportunity of trying a Black Label (now 97% echelle des crus rating) with 5 years bottle age, which was memorable. It definitely needs that extra time, as it is raw and almost unpleasant on release. Also the (Demi Sec) Ivory CuvÃ©e was superb, going with both my orange and blackcurrant sorbet, and the tarte au citron that some of the other guests had.
I don't know how many American wine merchants specialise in old champagne, but as far as I'm concerned, it will be the only way to see in the new year with style....
- Bucko - 03-11-1999 10:21 AM
Lanson has long been a favorite of ours. Fabulous tasting!
- tomstevenson - 04-05-1999 01:02 PM
Sorry I've not had the chance to answer you or, indeed, take an active part in any of the posts on this excellent site, but the flood put my tastings behind, the tastings put my book (next edition of the Millennium fizz guide) behind and now I'm desperately trying to tie-up loose-ends for a 3 week trip to Wasgington, Oregon and California, and when I return I'm going to be really hard put finishing the book off, so I'd better put my tuppence-worth in now.
I think you mean the only grande marque that BOTH ferments in stainless-steel AND blocks MLF for all its cuvees, as of course there are plenty that do one or the other for some or all of their wines, but I certainly agree that this makes for a rather backward style, although it is the post-disgorgement ageing that has the greatest mellowing effect on this. It also tends to favour longer ageing on the lees, but the influence of vintage plays an equal role (it could be argued that the influence of vintage also affects the rate of post-disgorgement evolution, but in this respect the vintage is definitely playing the lesser role).
I note and wholeheartedly agree with your comments vis-a-vis Lanson NV Black Label, and it reminds me of a lunch I had with Marie-Laurence Mora a few months after the acquisition of Lanson by Marne et Champagne (whose sole owner was Marie-Laurence's late uncle, the wiley old Gaston Burtin - then still alive). At the time Marne et Champagne's ownership of Lanson had come under attack from many different quarters, all of which suggested that as this company was a BOB-specialist that dealt heavily in the sur-lattes trade, they could not possibly run a grande marque, especially now (ie., then) that the company no longer owned the vineyards that were the heart and sole of Lanson's style (after buying Lanson from the yoghurt company that had purchased it from the fertiliser firm, Moet had kept the vineyards and sold the brand and stocks on to Marne et Champagne). Much of this criticism had come from other grande marque houses, and I know because they said it to my face when I asked them what they thought about the Lanson deal. Some were quite snooty when they asked me back: "How can Lanson continue being a member of the Syndicat de Grandes Marques under the ownership of Marne et Champagne?". Well, I had enough of this hypocracy and said so several times in print, pointing out that although many houses claim not to use vin de tailles (final pressings) and are always ready to explain that they sell them to Marne et Champagne, they are rather more reticent to admit that when demand exceeds stocks, the records show that they buy back ready-made Champagne sur-lattes from Marne et Champagne, slap their own famous label on the bottles and sell them to their loyal, unsuspecting customers. It got up the nose of a few houses when I wrote that if at some time or other most grandes marques are quite happy to sell Marne et Champagne under their own label, why should any of them object to Lanson selling it. Actually Lanson has never sold Champagne made at Marne et Champagne, they kept their own facility and, indeed, Lanson's long-serving winemaker, Jean-Paul Gandon. True they no longer had Lanson's vineyards, but they have impressive contracted suppliers and it would be at least five years before any of Marne et Champagne's severest critics would even get to taste a Lanson vintage produced from these purchased grapes. Only from that point could the quality of Lanson under Marne et Champagne start to be judged. Anyway, Marie-Laurence was appreciative of the fairness of my articles and, knowing that I had always tempered my admiration of Lanson vintage with a less than enthusiastic view of Lanson NV Black Label, she asked me what would be the one thing I would do to improve it. I explained the effect of non-MLF on a young wine and said that an extra year between disgorgement and shipping would transform the reputation of this cuvee amongst more discerning consumers ... see Joe, I hadn't digressed! Well, she obviously took note and discussed it with her husband, Xavier, who runs Lanson, but equally obviously they must have also taken on board some typically French advice (probably Jean-Paul Gandon's) because when they announced that Black Label was to have an extra year's ageing, it was pre-disgorgement, not post-disgorgement and, as you rightly point out, it still has a raw, malic edge. This backs up what I was saying about post-disgorgement ageing having the greatest mellowing effect on non-MLF Champagne. I have not yet had the heart to tell Marie-Laurence that she missed the point! And it is too much to expect another year's ageing (bringing it to five) for such a wide-selling brand: time costs money. It is particularly difficult for Marne et Champagne, which purchased Lanson with the help of bank loans at the top of the market and almost immediately had to endure one of Champagne's worst depressions. Another year on the cuvee that accounts for 85% of its sales could bring the company down! However, I might suggest that they could bring out a special connoisseur's version of Black Label with an additional year's post-disgorgement ageing, then at least people could see what the potential is.
Jesus, now I know why I've laid off the net for such a while: it's compulsive, you get drawn in and the above would net me Â£500 if I was writing commercially!
I won't respond to all vintages, but the interesting thing about the 1993 is that is the first Marne-made Lanson vintage. There are no truly great vintages between 1990 and 1995 (the 1996s are even better - possibly better than the 1990s, and definitely will be very special), although there are a number of very good wines made in these intervening years by some producers. Your note on this vintage is very similar to mine in the MILLENNIUM guide (Promises to be a relatively quick developing vintage in Lanson terms. Nice already and will improve, but not top stuff.).
Your note on the 1990 is, I think, more indicative of the magnum-effect: try the bottles, which are much easier to drink now. But you're right, the magnums do show impressive promise.
1988 Cuvee Noble and 1981 Vintage: Agree absolutely.
1976 Vintage: It's a long time since I tasted the 1976 in bottle, but Lanson was certainly one of the successes of the vintage. I've got it in magnums in my cellar and it was holding up well a few years ago, but it is a while since I've tasted it.
1971 Vintage: I can certainly identify with the citrussy character and we both agree on its exquisite quality and finesse.
1961 Vintage: Not the very greatest Champagne I have ever tasted, but certainly stunning stuff and, as I said in the Christie's catalogue, this "ranks with the greatest Champagnes produced by the greatest houses". It certainly should have been the best by far of the wines you tasted.
1959 Vintage: Your bottle definitely sounded oxidised. This used to be great and although I have not tasted it in ages, I'm sure that well-cellared magnums should still be magnificent.
You'd better pass your MW after all the time you can afford to spend on the net!
- tomstevenson - 04-05-1999 01:02 PM
This was a duplicate, so I've edited to avoid wasting space, and request that a moderator or admistrator delete it altogether,
[This message has been edited by tomstevenson (edited 04-05-99).]