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The movers and shakers among Champagne’s grandes marques

Essi Avellan MW selects the standout performers from our inaugural Champagne Report, highlighting welcome developments at familiar names, and eye-catching progress at less vaunted houses

Words by Essi Avellan MW

champagne perrier jouet
The Collection

The top spots in Club Oenologique’s 2022 Champagne Report were occupied by many of the usual suspects. That doesn’t mean all the action was predictable, but in this, the first part of the report, focused solely on houses and negociants, the big names once again showed their consistent greatness as they jostled for position at the top of the tree. Just how great was merely a question of which vintage and which bottle format was entered.

Among the highlights, the combination of magnum effect and extended lees-ageing led Laurent-Perrier, and its second ever Grand Siècle Les Réserves release (No 20), to my top score of 98 points. Yeasts and long ageing also worked their magic in Dom Pérignon’s similarly scored Plénitude 2 2003, while my other standout bottlings all came from exceptional years: Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé 2013, Dom Pérignon 2012 and Rare Champagne 2008.

Ruinart joined the party with a much less appreciated and scarcely declared vintage, the 2010 rendering of Dom Ruinart. Chef de cave Frédéric Panaïotis’ secret was shifting to natural cork for tirage in the 2010, ensuring a much more reductive ageing environment for the wine. It worked impressively, leading to a mini magnum-effect.

laurent perrier
Laurent Perrier's Grand Siècle Les Réserves release (No 20) scored 98 points for its 'beautifully evolved aromatics' and 'layers of fruity power'

Other changes in winemaking approach were also evident. Taittinger is fine-tuning its rosés and an added elegance can already be detected in the non-vintage Prestige Rosé. The recipe for the vaunted Comtes de Champagne Rosé is changing, too, with chef de cave Alexandre Ponnavoy increasing Chardonnay’s share bit by bit, starting with the 2009 vintage.

For me, a major leap in quality can be seen in the Champagnes of Veuve Clicquot, where Didier Mariotti has pushed forward the initiatives begun by his predecessor Dominique Demarville. The glorious La Grande Dame 2012 shows this new path but, equally excitingly, the Brut Yellow Label has never tasted better.

Making great Champagne takes time, and nowhere is this more clearly evidenced than at Rare Champagne, whose admirers will long be able to cherish the labours of love of one of the region’s all-time master-blenders, Régis Camus, after his retirement earlier this year. Then again, his successor Emilien Boutillat’s first non-vintage Piper-Heidsiecks are now entering the market – with outstanding results. Even in his first year, Boutillat dared to tweak the recipe of the house’s ‘wild card’ Rosé Sauvage, which in his hands is now being tamed into something much more elegant.

Similarly at Perrier-Jouët, cheffe de cave Séverine Frerson inherited from her predecessor Hervé Deschamps a cellar full of fine Belle Epoque vintages. But with a trick or two up her sleeve, she is already lending final flourishes to the current Belle Epoque releases by playing with the dosage liqueurs.

This is very much the era of the female cheffe de cave

This is very much the era of the female cheffe de cave. We can already taste the efforts of Julie Cavil at Krug and Nathalie Laplaige at Joseph Perrier; and there are more to come. Alice Tétienne’s first wines at Henriot are maturing in the cellars and Deutz recently announced that Caroline Latrive (previously at Ayala) will be taking over from retiring Michel Davesne.

The men are upping their game in response. At Drappier, Champagne lovers can increasingly enjoy the fresh winemaking touches of Hugo Drappier, while I am appreciating how, vintage-by-vintage, Sébastien Legolvet manages to bring more finesse and precision to Henri Giraud’s oak-lined cuvées. I also find that Hervé Jestin’s bio-energetic work gets better and better at Leclerc Briant while, in the latest releases of Brice, we can witness the major improvements made under the guidance of winemaker Christophe Constant.

Hugo Drappier (front left) is driving change at the family-owned house

Worth mentioning also is the increased vineyard and terroir focus at Bollinger, where the winemaking team is claiming ownership of blanc de noirs’ excellence having first launched the exciting PN series and then – on the day this report came out – La Côte aux Enfants single-vineyard Champagne.

But while traditional producers reinvent themselves, wholly new houses are being created too. Pierre Péters has teamed up with the Perrins of Rhône and Brad Pitt of Miraval for rosé Champagne excellence. Carbon shot to fame via its partnership with Formula One. Collery, though an old Aÿ house, is enjoying a renaissance, with quality ensured by using only grand-cru fruit, enabled by founder Nicolas Gueusquin’s strong grape-sourcing relations.

Sourcing is also behind Comtes de Dampierre’s fine performance in the tasting. Comte Audoin de Dampierre relied on two great Champagne growers, one in Côte des Blancs and one in Bouzy, to craft wines worthy of his noble name, and today’s owner Philippe Rosy has laudably managed to maintain these contacts. Meanwhile the cellars still house some mature gems like the magnificent Prestige Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2004.

While traditional producers reinvent themselves, wholly new houses are being created too

Elsewhere, more changes are in gestation, with several powerful owners wanting their piece of the Champagne cake. The Italian Campari Group entered the market by acquiring Lallier in 2020 and hiring Dominique Demarville to build it into an international brand. In the same year, Rémy Cointreau took many by surprise (having sold Piper-Heidsieck and Charles Heidsieck to investment group EPI in 2011) by acquiring Telmont. And the latest arrival on the scene is Artémis Domaines of the Pinault family, owner of Château Latour. Earlier this year it invested in Champagne Jacquesson, while last month a merger with Maisons & Domaines Henriot was announced. The race to the top is on.

Part One of Club Oenologique’s Champagne Report 2022 can be found here. Tasting notes and scores (featuring only those wines scoring 90 points and above) are available to all registered users of The Collection, the online home of our premium wine and spirits content. To register for free, click here. Part two of the report, focusing on grower Champagnes, will appear in spring 2023.