One of the things I love about wine, among the many, are the back stories that go with them. Meeting the winemakers or owners and listening to their tales of how the wine came to be, is fascinating and for me, always enhances the wine drinking experience.
I had just returned to London from a long press trip but wasn’t going to let that stop me and went straight from Southampton to The Greenhouse Restaurant in Mayfair to meet Carol Duval-Leroy, her son Julien and their winemaker, Sandrine Logette-Jardin.
I do love champagne and never say no if I can help it! What piqued my interest about Duval-Leroy was the fact that Carol took over after the untimely death of her husband about 20 years ago. She has not only kept the house going but is also the only woman to head a champagne house today. She now runs the house with the along with her three sons. Much like the original Veuve Clicqout of the 1700’s, she has not only continued but made many innovations as well as producing top quality champagne. The House is one of the few that uses organic grapes for their Brut Champagne and their tasting room is the only one in Champagne to incorporate photovolataic panels, have a system for retrieving rainwater and have soundproofed it with a wall of vegetation. Over 40% of the Estate is made up of Premier Cru and Grand Cru villages on the Cotes des Blancs and the Montagne de Reims.
But enough of that, on to lunch. We started with the Fleur de Champagne 1er Cru, made from 100% Premier Cru grapes, they call it the Fleur because the nose is very floral. A blend of 70/30 chardonnay/pinot noir, it was light and fresh, a great aperitif and way to start the lunch.
The Rose Prestige 1er cru is made by letting the must goes through an 18 to 20 hr maceration before malolactic fermentation and then a blend of rose saignee and white wine is added. The result is a full wine with a fantastic red fruit character but still very elegant and great with the sesame crusted salmon served alongside it.
We moved onto the Femme de Champagne 2000 Grand Cru for the Cornish Crab. The Femme has an interesting history as it’s only been made since 1990. Carol says that it symbolizes the expertise of the House and is blended exclusively from Grand Cru grapes and only made in exceptional years. It’s more than a vintage champagne as they have only made Femme in 1990, 1995, 1996 and 2000. Only the best parcels from the Cotes de Blanc and the Montaigne de Reims go into the blend. The 2000 is unique in that it is 95% chardonnay and only has 6 grams/litre of sugar. Very aromatic, floral and fresh with hints of oranges and brioche on the nose and palate, very delicate and a pleasure to drink.
We were then treated to the Clos de Bouveries 2005 cuvee oenoclimatique which is another special cuvee. Made from a special plot in Vertus that’s been in the family for a long time, it has it’s own special method of production, is composed of 100% chardonnay and is vinified partially in oak. The vines are 45 – 50 years old, giving low yields. They believe that the age of the vines allows them to see the climatic evolution of the vines. Sandrine told us that the soil is very particular here, being composed of chalky stone and flint which gives a wine with high minerality, very pure and linear. Another unique quality of this vineyard is the fact that no insecticides or pesticides are used. They definitely go to great lengths to produce this champagne.
The last wine we had was the Lady Rose. A champagne made for desserts. The history of this particular champagne is interesting in that it was made to go with Pierre Herme’s macaroons. As the bottle is encased in a bright pink jacket, it just looks like it should be drunk with macaroons. Sandrine and Carol worked hard to create a champagne that would stand up to the sugar. As we all know, champagne usually doesn’t go so well with sugary desserts ( witness how champagne and wedding cake clash) but with 25 g/litre of sugar the champagne has enough natural acidity and flavour to be a perfect match to the macaroon and raspberry dessert served with it.
I’m very glad that I was able to attend this lunch as the champagnes are fantastic. It’s great to be introduced to these smaller houses that although may not have the name recognition, are making great champagnes and well worth seeking out. Champagne Duval-Leroy is available in the UK from online wine merchants and in fine dining establishments.