Champagne Ayala established its reputation for a dry style of wine when it became popular in the second half of the 19th century amongst the English aristocracy thanks to Edmond Ayala’s younger brother who had settled in London. Mind you at that time residual sugar of 19g per litre was considered dry, a far cry from the zero dosage wines which have between 0 and 3 g/l that are increasingly popular today!
The house was bought by family Bollinger in 2005 and they have since rejuvenated the winery and put in place a young and dynamic team to take it forward as a house with its own distinct character. With an annual production of around 700000 bottles this remains a small hands on winery in the heart of Ay. Caroline Latrive is the chef de cave responsible for maintaining the fresh and elegant character of these chardonnay focused wines.
Brut Majeur NV. A blend of 40% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir and 20% muenier. Aged for a minimum of two years before disgorgement and with a low dosage of 7g. A nice ring of persistent bubbles with a great tactile & invigorating mouthfeel. A reticent nose of lemon and zest. In the mouth more subtle citrus, biscuit notes and very fresh. A great aperitif to lift the spirits.
Rose Majeur NV A blend of 50% chardonnay, 40% pinot noir (of which 6% is added red wine) and 10% pinot muenier. Aged for a minimum of three years before disgorgement and with a low dosage of 7g. Presented in a box festooned with pink flowers. Copper salmon in colour. On the nose pink grapefruit a touch of peach. In the mouth fresh and dry some gooseberry & citrus fruit then a slightly salty finish. This would be great with a meal of sea food.
Brut Nature NV. The same blend as the Majeur but with no dosage and about four years aging on the lees. The nose is similar to majeur but with some spice and lovely autolytic notes of fresh bread. In the mouth great freshness hits one with a wash of sea spray then lime. Wow this has a great finish of minerals, bread, lemon peel and is very very long. Fantastic an excellent food wine.
Blanc de Blancs 2008. A blend of chardonnay from the Cote de Blancs 60% Chouilly (known for its creamy character) & 40% Mesnil sur Oger (known for displaying more exotic fruit notes). It spends 5around 6 years on lees and has only 6g dosage. Served in an extravagant clear glass bottle this wine has a rich & complex nose of baked lemon, scents of roasted nuts, pastry: crème Anglais. In the mouth pineapple, caramel, ripe stone fruit but still delicate with great freshness and persistence. Long finish.
Perle D’Ayala 2005. The blend is 80% chardonnay from Cote de Blancs and 20% pinot noir from Ay which cooled by breezes along the Marne is known for its delicacy. The wine spends 8 years aging on the lees and has 6g dosage. Fine but less pronounced mouse, looks more like a wine. A rich nose of dried hay, pot-pourri and baked lemon, nice tertiary nutty notes. In the mouth spicy notes, baked pastries, lemon, vanilla & chalk, all in a restrained and nicely balanced way. Very complex and long.
None of these wines feel the need to pose or pout for one’s attention but nevertheless they achieve a level of balance, lift and complexity that confidently commands it. Champagne Ayala
Standing high up in the gardens of the Abbaye Hautvillers one looks down on the meeting point of the three most important regions in champagne: the eastern end of the Valley de Marne, the northern tip of the Cotes de Blanc and the final sweep of the Montagne de Reims. Behind are the remains of the monastery where Dom Pérignon himself, the Benedictine monk credited with transforming wine making practices in the region, was cellarer. One can’t help feel somehow near the epicentre of Champagne.
Chef de cave Richard Geoffroy’s choice of tasting room; a spectacular thirty metre long hall sitting over the last remaining wing of the monastery’s four sided cloisters, also seems to emphasise the historical significance of the place. However as we tasted & discussed the wines it became clear that far from looking backwards Richard is a forward thinker constantly striving to make new & singular wines. Richard asserts that his wine making is not about style but is all about making the best vintage wines, and yet it is clear to us that they are all undoubtedly Dom Perignon.
Not every year is good enough to produce a vintage but in an unprecedented run Dom Perignon produced consecutive vintages of P1 from 2002 to 2006 and it was fascinating to taste these side by side. The vintage character is discernible but somehow seen through a ‘Dom Perignon filter’ like a pair of tinted sun glasses that make the sunset richer and more vibrant than it might otherwise be. In some years certain characteristics are more pronounced and in others they recede into the background but they are all always present coming together to make up the whole.
Richard doesn’t believe in artificial scarcity, if there is a good wine to make he will make it, this has meant taking calculated risks in certain vintages and thankfully they have paid off. Otherwise we would be so much poorer without superb wines like the 2003 and 2005. These really are the epitome of champagnes where bubbles are beside the point.
Prestige cuvees of champagne tend to be expensive and Dom Perignon is reassuringly so. However if have the opportunity to drink these wines you can be reassured of an extraordinarily special experience.
Also see Dom Perignon P2 ‘does exactly what is says on the tin’ for more details of the three Plenitudes that Richard makes and the thinking behind them.
Our contributing editor Stuart Grostern’s detailed tasting notes follow:
All of the wines had the same pure colour, with very little in visible bubbles served in Spiegelau white burgundy glasses.
Dom Perignon Brut millesime 2002. Sweet and slightly oxidised nose, green apples, smoke, caramel and a little mango, almost burgundy-like. In the mouth, sweet lemon rind, rich, white burgundy mouthfeel. Very concentrated, sweet, very long. Exquisite.
Dom Perignon Brut millesime 2003. From the earliest harvest to date, August 20th. A hot summer where the vines stopped producing sugars due to water stress while continuing to produce phenolics. Many champenois did not produce a vintage wine, but Richard inspected the ingredients and thought ‘of course!’. Smokey bready autolytic nose, a bit spirity with a hint of windscreen washer in a good and interesting way. Sweet, delicate, a bit of salinity, with a little hint of dessert wine botrytis. Beautiful balance, took me by surprise with its completeness even if it lacked the penetration of other vintages. Wonderful.
Dom Perignon Brut millesime 2004. Sprightly apple, smoke, spice nose. A zip when the wine hits the palate, followed by sweet baked apple, spices, a concentrated lemon and apple fizz, followed by a lovely saline lingering finish. This is a more linear wine, with such balance, and persistence and a long, long lingering sweet and salty finish. My favourites of the P1 vintages. Sublime.
Dom Perignon Brut millesime 2005. A warm and wet vintage in which the Pinot noir suffered from botrytis. On the nose, a lemon lime and iodine character. In the mouth, sweet attack in width of limes and spices with a linear concentration and salty character. The flavours narrow and concentrate onto a single point at the front of your tongue, with a hint of bitterness lingering alongside the lemon, lime and saline flavours. Sweet and savoury, so interesting. A great wine.
Dom Perignon Brut millesime 2006. Appley, smokey, iodine nose with something else (something savoury and beguiling), and a hint of red fruit. Good acidic attack of linear lime, slightly baked apples and bready slightly hot finish. Huge concentration that just sits showing the ripe deep fruit, with a never ending length. Amazing wine.
Dom Perignon Brut millesime Rose 2005. Served in a red burgundy glass. Copper pink hue. Some tar, more typical Cote de Beaune Pinot Noir with a hint of cola and liquorice. Fascinating nose. Sweet light red fruit followed by limes with a slightly tannic and dry palate, followed by more lime and peach. Wonderful length with lingering red berries, amazing persistence and balance. So beautiful, but I didn’t spend quite enough time to really get intimate with this wine.
Dom Perignon Brut millesime P2 1998. Disgorged in 2008/9.
Tasting session: Leesy, smokey, iodine and lemon skin nose. Rich red fruit at the start followed by lemons, limes with real concentration. Slightly drying and sweet Chardonnay lingering finish, with a hint of sherbet. Wonderful and so interesting.
Lunch: matched with papaya, scallops and caviar. Blended seamlessly and matched the flavours of the food perfectly, though its character was masked. With roast Turbot with olive oil and saffron risotto, this wine really came alive again, bringing out the sweetness of the fish, acidity cutting the flavours and enhancing the dishes just so well. An amazing and inspired match.
Dom Perignon Brut millesime P2 1996. Smokey iodine and lemon candy aromas. As it opened, some oxidative and bruised apple emerges. Brilliant acidity, with lemon and lime attack, laser like acidity on the tongue followed by a savoury and sweet pastry gush. A bit of red fruit of cherry with savoury moreish after taste. So very, very long, an incredible wine!
Dom Perignon Brut millesime P3 1973. While all of the other wines had almost exactly the same colour, this had a light gold shimmering hue.
Bready and shy, smokey with sweet mango nose. A sweet light mouth, delicate, precise, with savoury finish. The perfect balance of acidity, fruit, body and flavour, with a fine body. An ethereal wine of great character, paired perfectly at lunch with the yellow plum and osmentus ice cream dessert. A phenomenal finish to a magical day.
As I write this review I realise that I forgot to ask Richard perhaps the most important question of the moment: when is the 2008 P1 going to be released? I can’t wait! Dom Perignon
Champagne Andre Robert
When I made a surprise request for a video interview in the vineyards Claire Robert and her husband Jean-Baptiste were at first charmingly nervous but by the time I had fluffed the introduction on the first take and run out of battery part way through the second, they were their open and engaging selves again. Claire is the 5th generation of wine makers at Champagne Andre Robert taking over from her grandfather Andre who started making his own wines in the 1960s alongside supplying grapes to one of the big name houses. There was something slightly reverential in the way that Claire and Jean-Baptiste showed us around the family vineyards situated just outside Le Mesnil sur Oger and clearly they realise just what a special in the Cote de Blancs place it is. At the sometime they are obviously excited at possibilities that their new winery, just outside the village, open up for the future. Claire and Jean-Baptiste have plenty of new ideas too such as commissioning new oak barrels made from the local woods to make Les Mesnil in Le Mesnil barrels. They also plan to start producing a late disgorgement vintage champagne to add to the range.
Reserve Grand Cru A blend of 2010 & 2009, 100% chardonnay from a selection of plots near the village, 30% made in oak barrels. Then 3 years in bottle on the lees. This wine will soon be renamed Le Gardin de Mesnil. On the nose lovely lemon, pineapple & grapefruit. In the mouth great balance, linear crisp & dry with a very long finish. The wine develops in the glass showing mineral and toasty notes. It has minimal bubbles another real wine. Pure and elegant.
Mesnil Grand Cru vintage 2009. 100% chardonnay raised 100% in oak barrels for 7 months, lees stirring and then 6 years in the bottle before disgorgement. A wider creamy nose with butter, nuts, toast & some brioche, complex and accessible. Nice concentrated flavours precise and defined great freshness & balance. Long.
Mesnil Grand Cru vintage 2008. Lovely has an extra intensity to 2009 some floral notes, more patisserie, cake spices, buttery. On palate rich, hedonistic, but with a saline buzz & citrus zing, then the palate moves on to oak influences: toast, sweet nutty flavours. Great balance and a very long finish. Potential to age a long time. Superb!
Seduction 2008 Still chardonnay lead but with 45% pinot noir from an old parcel of vines dating from 1974. 7g dosage. On the nose ripe apple, some peach and a touch of spice even light pepper. In the mouth chalky mineral notes a hint of cumin, ripe red apple very long.
The wines here are superb and under Claire and Jean-Baptiste’s care the winery and the wines are destined to go from strength to strength. Seek them out and try them. Champagne Andre Robert
Available from Scala Wine