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Champagne Lanson now allowing MLF

Champagne Lanson is now allowing some of its wines to undergo malolactic fermentation (MLF), despite the brand’s long history of blocking the conversion.

Lanson Black Label Brut NV is the world’s seventh biggest Champagne brand by volume

The change in fermentation philosophy follows the arrival of former Champagne Mailly winemaker Hervé Dantan, who joined Lanson in 2013 as assistant cellar master, before taking over the top job in 2014, following the retirement of Jean Paul Gandon – who had been a winemaker at the house since 1972, and chef de cave since 1986.

Speaking to the drinks business in Reims last week, Dantan said that he didn’t want a rigid winemaking approach at Lanson, and would allow the conversion of malic to lactic acid should it be necessary to bring softness, consistency and additional flavours.

“We are seeing now a proportion of wines in Lanson Black Label that have gone through malo,” he confirmed, adding, “Because we don’t want to be dogmatic with non-malo… if we need to do it for a question of balance, then we will allow it.”

Continuing, he told db, “Maybe we need some roundness, and it will give more complexity.”

Dantan, who instigated the change, said that the blend for Lanson Black Label wouldn’t contain more than 25% of wines that had completed the malolactic fermentation, noting that his approach would be similar to Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, cellar master for Champagne Louis Roederer, who allows a varying proportion of MLF in the wines for Roederer’s Brut Premier depending on the character of the base vintage – the harvest that makes up the majority of any single Brut Non-Vintage release.

“Maybe in the future Lanson will be 20-25% MLF; it will be the same approach as Roederer,” he said, adding “With MLF we can achieve greater consistency, because, for example, we can use more in a very fresh year.”

Lanson cellar master Hervé Dantan. Photographed by Michaël Boudot

Then he stated, “Even with the vintage we may find some wines that need MLF.”

Admitting that this was a major development for a Champagne house that has built its stylistic reputation around the decision to block the malolactic conversion in all its wines, Dantan said, “For Lanson, this is a kind of revolution.”

Nevertheless, he stressed that Lanson would “continue to express the non-malo style… people won’t see a sudden difference, it will be a slow evolution.”

“I think we do need to make a change, I think our style needs to be adapted to new consumers, but I don’t want us to lose our soul – Lanson will always be known for mouth-watering freshness.”

Dantan also said that Lanson’s strong emphasis on the non-malo approach had excluded other positive winemaking messages for the Black Label.

“With the non-malo message, Lanson has forgotten to talk about the quality of its reserve wines and its grapes: over 50% of the grapes for the Black Label come from premier and grand cru vineyards.”

Continuing, he emphasised the beneficial long maturation period for the Black Label wines. “We age the wines on their lees for a minimum of three years, and now we have at least six months post-disgorgement ageing,” he said, adding, “Behind the non-malo message there is a style that is very complicated to make, but many points have been overshadowed by the non-malo style.”

In 2014, Dantan told db that he was beginning to use a small proportion of wood fermented and aged wine to bring an extra “roundness and creaminess” to Lanson’s Brut NV, although consumers won’t see the impact of this development for a further two years.

Meanwhile, two years ago, Champagne Gosset, another house that is famous for preventing MLF, said that it had been putting some of its wines through malolactic fermentation to make its brut NV “slightly softer” and “more accessible”.

Summing up his approach to Lanson Black Label, Dantan said, “My view is to change it a bit, but with respect to the past,” and told db that he wanted to create “a lively, smiling wine”.

  • MLF refers to malolactic conversion or fermentation. This is a process after the primary fermentation whereby malic acid present in the grape must, which has a sharp taste, is converted to milder lactic acid by the successive action of various bacteria of the genera OenococcusLactobacillus and Pediococcus. In modern stainless steel fermentation vessels it can be started by inoculating the wine with a bacterial culture, and stopped by fining, filtration or cold stabilisation. Some Champagne houses block the conversion, notably Gosset, Lanson, Alfred Gratien, Krug and Louis Roederer (although the last may allow a proportion to go through MLF, depending on vintage conditions).

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