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Brut Premier best proof of Roederer expertise

Taking Roederer’s blockbuster releases as read, the brand’s core Brut Premier is worthy of more attention. We consider why.

Brut Premier is the best expression of Louis Roederer’s expertise, according to executive vice-president Michel Janneau

It’s a common concern for longstanding brands: if they produce successful range-topping variants or headline-grabbing additions, there’s a danger people will forget their core product. And just such a problem may be afflicting Champagne Louis Roederer. Because it’s renowned for its prestige cuvée Cristal and respected for its vintage offering, buyers and commentators sometimes overlook Roederer’s Brut Premier, the house’s non-vintage label.

Exacerbating this issue is its Brut Nature 2006.

Launched in 2014, it’s Roederer’s first sugarless Champagne, coupled with a striking package – the label was hand drawn by French designer Philippe Starck. Attracting much comment, and critical acclaim, the new Champagne has earned its place as another successful fixture in the Roederer range, and the house is planning to unveil a Brut Nature 2009 later this year.

But, hiding behind the headlines, Roederer’s Brut Premier has continued to play a vital role as flag bearer of the house style, while undergoing subtle quality improvements. Some of these concern viticulture, others pressing techniques, fermentation procedures or ageing times.

Together, these have made Roederer’s non-vintage blend better than ever, but there’s a sense that such development has been overlooked. Consequently, it’s time to shift the spotlight, for now, onto this Champagne.

Indeed, for Roederer’s executive vice-president Michel Janneau, the house has been “too modest” concerning its promotion of Brut Premier, and he believes that people need reminding that Roederer’s non-vintage is a strong contender in this, Champagne’s most competitive category.

Janneau also wants to spread the message that Brut Premier is the best expression of the producer’s expertise. “There is no better example of the skill of Roederer than its Brut Premier,” he says.

Roederer’s first sugarless Champagne has already earned its place as another successful fixture in the Roederer range

Cellar master Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon agrees, pointing out, “Brut Premier is the heart of our know-how; it is about history, about reserve wines, about blending; it is a very complex wine.”

Continuing, he says, “I create Brut Premier, but I compose a vintage – Brut Premier is really a Roederer creation.”

Producing the Champagne is also exceptionally arduous. Lécaillon says he has as many as 600 different wines to blend for the brut NV – around 400 from different vineyards across the region for each base vintage, followed by a further 200 across eight different vintages from older harvests, held in Roederer’s reserves.

“It is the most complicated Champagne we make because there are so many variables, the combinations are never-ending,” he says.

However, Lécaillon adds that he has had plenty of practice producing Brut Premier. “I’ve been with Roederer 35 years, so I’ve had 35 trials.”

Little tweaks are made on a yearly basis to attempt to maintain a high degree of stylistic regularity. For example, should the base wine come from a ripe vintage, Lécaillon will block malolactic fermentation and blend it with reserves from fresher years: “The idea is to reach a balance, and every year we adapt,” he says.

Further helping to retain consistency is grape sourcing. Brut Premier contains a minimum of 50% grapes from Roederer’s own vineyards. “If you don’t have your own parcels, then every five years you might have to change the origin of your grapes,” says Lécaillon, referring to the standard length of a supply contract in Champagne, and the primary advantage of using the producer’s own fruit.

Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon says that no Brut Premier release tastes exactly the same

Nevertheless, Lécaillon admits that no Brut Premier release tastes exactly the same – “it is not industrial, each one is a limited edition”.

Furthermore, Lécaillon points out that without a small degree of variation, making Brut Premier “would be boring, and we would have to be very heavy handed in the winemaking; it would be like a sauce covering up the flavour of the ingredients.”

Meanwhile, Janneau sums up the essence of Brut Premier: “It is always the same, yet always different.”

So what is the stylistic target for the NV Champagne? Lécaillon is clear: “We want to walk the line between gastronomy and aperitif; we want it to be smiling enough to be an aperitif and serious enough to be a food wine.”

Explaining further, he says that the Champagne should have “freshness and texture – at first there is a sensual touch, which is followed by fresh acidity.” This ensures that Brut Premier “has a four-wheel-drive kind of personality: it has such drive and adaptability to every situation,” explains Janneau.

For this reason, Lécaillon says of its style, as well as its position in Champagne’s quality hierarchy, “Brut Premier is not a vintage, but it is not a non-vintage, it is right in-between”.

Indeed, there’s a sense among those at Roederer that Brut Premier is constrained by its category. “The quality-to-price ratio of Brut Premier is extraordinary, but it remains in the world of non-vintage,” says Janneau, before stating, “but it should be higher”.

In short, Roederer wants Champagne enthusiasts to re-acquaint themselves with Brut Premier, and reflect on its quality, irrespective of its category. Such a process, should, in Janneau’s words, be “like an old couple that rediscover themselves, and fall in love again at a time when their lives are richer.”

Roederer Brut Premier: the facts

• Varietal mix: 40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier.
• 50-60% of the grapes for Brut Premier are sourced from the Roederer estate in Champagne.
• 5% of the wines are matured in oak casks with weekly batonnage (Also, in 2007, Roederer began fermenting around 5% of the wines for Brut Premier in large oak vats).
• 10% of the reserve wines are matured in casks.
• The wines undergo partial malolactic fermentation with the proportion depending on the vintage character.
• The wine is an assemblage of six different vintages.
• 70% of the wine from Brut Premier comes from a base vintage (currently 2010) and the other 30% comes from Roederer’s reserve.
• Brut Premier is matured for three years in the cellar on its lees and is then rested for six months after disgorgement (In 2000 Roederer increased the ageing time from two to three years on its lees).
• It has a dosage of between 10 and 11g/l, which is adapted to each vintage.

This article first appeared in the July 2015 issue of The Drinks Business.

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