Winston Churchill’s Champagne habit is well known – at 11am he enjoyed his first drink of the day, an Imperial Pint of Pol Roger’s Winston Churchill. That’s two thirds of a bottle by lunchtime. Quite a strong effort, even by Goedhuis standards.
On a slightly overcast morning in Vauxhall, we have taken inspiration from the great man, and had the good fortune of welcoming Tom, our man from LVMH, for a tasting of Ruinart at 11am. Maybe Winston was onto something – an hour later the world seems a much sunnier place.
Ruinart is the oldest Champagne house as opposed to Gosset who are the oldest wine producer in Champagne. Their origins lie with Dom Thierry Ruinart, a Benedictine monk and contemporary of the arguably more famous Dom Perignon, whose nephew Nicolas Ruinart founded the company in 1729.
Age in itself is not necessarily a recommendation. What does make Ruinart distinctive is their devotion to the Chardonnay grape and their spectacular Gallo-Roman chalk cellars. We also hear that they get the first pick of grapes out of all the many illustrious Champagne houses in the LVMH stable.
Opinions were split on the first two wines: Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and “R” de Ruinart Brut. The Blanc de Blancs is very fresh and elegant, delicate floral flavours, lightly toasty – I could imagine drinking a lot of this, but perhaps slightly short on the finish? The “R” was preferred by those who felt the Pinot Noir added a bit more weight and substance. The red fruit was apparent and gave an appealing grip and length.
The rose was good, but I fear we are not converted from our favourite Billecart-Salmon, and we were keen to move on to the vintage wines.
First the Dom Ruinart 1998 – this is another Blanc de Blancs, exclusively from Grand Cru grapes and it is spectacular stuff. The nose and palate are reminiscent of Grand Cru Burgundy – a seductive balance of orchard fruits, delicate spice and the classic toasty notes of Champagne – of course with some bubbles thrown in. And the length is astonishing.
We tasted the Dom Ruinart 1996 next – although older this was at a much earlier stage of development, but looks to be even better long term. Still tight and fresh on the nose, this is intense, balanced and very very long. According to James Low “a belter”.
The final treat was a couple of vintages of Dom Ruinart Rose – again Chardonnay dominates but the addition of around 15% of red wine from Bouzy delivers the required pinky-gold colour and also additional Pinot weight and flavour. The 1996 was bright and balanced – lots going on, citrus notes, crunchy berry flavours, a hint of liquorice and very very persistent. The food recommendation from Ruinart was “scrambled egg with sea urchin” – not sure this would be our first choice.
The 1990 Dom Ruinart Rose was fascinating – fully mature, the pink faded out of the colour to a tawny gold, a mature Burgundy farmyard nose – definitely a wine to go with food. This would not be for everybody, but we all thought it was stunning.