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Vintage Champagne market ‘being exploited’

The vintage Champagne category is being exploited by certain houses who are upping production to raise their prices, according to one producer in the region.

Antoine Malassagne

Speaking to the drinks business during a lunch at Le Gavroche last week, Antoine Malassagne, winemaker at Champagne AR Lenoble said: “A vintage Champagne should be something special with huge character and ageing potential.

“Many houses have released 2003, 2004 and 2005, but I didn’t think the quality was good enough for it – 2003 was a nightmare for us as it was too warm – but perhaps I’ve got a different definition of what vintage Champagne should be.

“I’d rather produce a really good non-vintage wine than a mediocre vintage expression. Some people are doing it to be able to increase the price of the wine and put a show-off label on the bottle. I want to surprise people with my wines.”

During the lunch, which was designed to show off the capability of the terroir in Chouilly on the Côtes de Blancs where AR Lenoble is based, Malassagne spoke about his belief that blanc de blancs Champagne is often so delicate it lacks character.

“Our style of blanc de blancs is oxidative, full bodied and rich. To achieve this, part of the blend is vinified in barrel.

“A lot of people promote the delicacy and elegance of blanc de blancs but sometimes that just means the wine is lacking in character – some of the Champagnes are too whispering to be interesting.

“Delicacy is not always a good thing. I’m often disappointed with blanc de blancs Champagne – finesse and elegance means nothing sometimes,” he said.

As for the different villages in Champagne, Malassagne believes some aren’t worth considering in isolation.

“Some villages aren’t destined for solo acts – they work better in a blend. I’m not convinced by the idea of 100% Pinot Meunier for example,” he told db.

Hopes are high at AR Lenoble for a vintage year this year, with the house just having completed the 2015 harvest 10 days ahead of schedule.

“There’s a chance for a very good vintage this year. We’re disappointed with the volume but it will be a good quality vintage with high acidity and sugar levels,” Malassagne said.

Though keen to work sustainably, Malassagne admitted that it was too cold and wet in Champagne to be fully organic.

AR Lenoble is run by Malassagne and his sister Anne. The pair have just released their 2008 expression, which they believe is a great vintage.

Earlier this year AR Lenoble produced its first commercial batch of vintage honey made at the estate from 70,000 bees. AR Lenoble Le Vallon Honey 2015 is on sale at Stannary Street Wine Company in London priced at £12.50 for a 250cl pot.

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