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Lanson uses oak to up Champagne quality

Lanson has started using oak vats to improve the quality of its future Black Label Brut NV Champagne, according to the brand’s new cellar master, Hervé Danton.

Lanson new cellar
Lanson’s new ageing cellar. The vats are for wines for future Lanson Black Label Brut NV, while the barrels in the centre are for maturing the wines for Clos Lanson – which is due to be released later this year.

During a visit to Champagne last month, db was told by Danton that wood would bring an extra “roundness and creaminess” to Lanson’s Brut NV, which doesn’t undergo malo-lactic fermentation, and consequently has a firm acid structure.

The first wines to go into the new vats were from last year’s harvest, meaning that consumers won’t see the results of the oak influence for around three years, as the Lanson Black Label spends at least 30 months ageing on its lees before the Champagne is released.

“Putting non-malo wines in big barrels brings a lot of creaminess to the taste and more complexity,” Danton commented, stressing that the new vats were only for ageing the wines, not for the fermentation.

Continuing, he said that the wooden containers would also be used to hold reserve wine – wines from previous harvests used to blend with the youngest vintage to form a non-vintage cuvée.

“I hope we will get some roundness from the wood, and also some from the reserve wine – we will increase the proportion and the quality of the reserve wine [in Lanson Black Label],” he said, adding that the oak vats would “improve” the reserve wines.

Currently Lanson use around 20% reserve wine held in stainless steel vats for Black Label, and Danton said that the house has “a very strong collection of reserve wines across 10 different vintages.”

Lanson new cellar with vats
Lanson has invested €15 million in a new winery which opened just in time for the 2014 vintage

Continuing, he said, “We want to preserve at least 10 years of different vintages of only grands crus, and increase the percentage of reserve wine to give more roundness.”

Among other quality improvements for Lanson Brut NV, Danton told db that he wouldn’t be increasing the lees-ageing beyond three years, but would be upping the period of time the Champagne rests post-disgorgement to a minimum of six months, around double the standard time for a big brand Brut NV.

He described the developments as “just a little evolution within the Lanson style”, although he added that the winemaking changes were the result of a €15 million investment last year in the brand’s winery.

Part of this outlay has gone towards the new oak vats, with Lanson now owner of 23 large wooden containers: 16 which hold 80hl, and a further 7 which can take up to 40hl of wine.

The money has also been invested in more stainless steel containers too, with a rise from 20 different sizes of tanks to 55 in time for last year’s harvest, ranging from 50-100hl. The total number of fermentation and ageing vessels for the Lanson brand now exceeds 350 according to Danton.

Danton stated that the owners of the brand, and the Lanson Group, Philippe Baijot and Bruno Paillard, were “now investing a lot in quality”.

Similarly, at Champagne GH Mumm, chief winemaker Didier Mariotti told db that he had increased the proportion of reserve wine used in the brand’s Brut NV, Cordon Rouge, as well as brought in some large oak vats this year for more “complexity”.

“Since we built our new winery in 2008/2009 we can keep our reserve in much better conditions, enabling us to keep it fresh and for longer, which was not the case 10 years ago,” he recorded.

This has allowed Mumm to raise the levels of reserve in its Cordon Rouge from 20-25% to 30-35% in the last six years, a development which “brings more details to the blend, so more dry fruit and toasted flavours,” according to Mariotti.

Then he told db last month that the installation this year of 10 wooden foudres at 110hl each would be used to aged reserve wines for the Cordon Rouge.

“The wines will be aged in the wood for one year not for the flavour of oak, but for the different type of ageing compared to stainless steel: with the foudres you have much more exchange with oxygen from outside, so you get more evolution,” he explained.

Even though the wood-aged reserve wines would only form 1% of the blend in the Mumm Cordon Rouge, Mariotti said that making the cuvée was like “cooking a dish – you improve it with small changes like adding spices”.

Within the last decade, other houses that have started using oak to age wines for their Brut NV cuvées, including Veuve Clicquot, Louis Roederer and Philipponnat.

However, Moet’s Benoît Gouez has told db that he would not be trialling wood for the Brut Impérial, although he has made a number of other adjustments to the cuvée, including gradually lowering the dosage from around 12g/l in 1998 to 9g/l today.

Of course, before the advent of stainless steel tanks in the 70s, Champagne employed oak to both ferment and age its Champagnes.

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