WORDS KEN GARGETT
There was a minor earthquake in the Champagne region this month and the aftershock could be felt all the way to Australia.
Penfolds had been rumoured (well, it was a rumour they started last year, but they would not tell us any details) to be involved with a Champagne. Turned out to be three Champagnes and the first has now been released.
Of course, regulations prevent anyone (even a producer as esteemed as Penfolds) from claiming a wine is Champagne, unless it is made in the region, in accordance with very strict guidelines. To achieve that, Penfolds have teamed up with a highly regarded local producer, Champagne Thienot. Thienot also has Joseph Perrier and Canard Duchene in their portfolio so, if we may put it in the vernacular when it comes to making Champagne, they are no mugs.
Through Thienot, Penfolds were able to source material from a range of vintages, including the stellar 2008. They selected 2012, a year that is quickly achieving legendary status of its own, even though many of the wines from this year have not yet been released and others will need plenty of time to exhibit their real quality.
They have three Champagnes which will be released at staggered intervals this year. All cost $280, meaning that they are firmly in ‘prestige Champagne’ territory, so they better be good. And they are. All three are made with low dosage, and all of the liqueur for that dosage was stored in ex-Yattarna barrels, giving the champers an Aussie accent, without transgressing the regulations.
The first, now available, is the Chardonnay/Pinot Noir 2012, a 50/50 blend of the two grapes, from Grand Cru vineyards. 100% malolactic fermentation, to soften the acidity. Offers an immediate creamy note with hazelnuts, spices, citrus and some honeycomb. All class, it is complex and seamless. The quality of the vintage is evident. On the palate, a hint of green apple moves to lovely baked apple pie characters. For me, 96.
The Blanc de Noir 2012, hence 100% Pinot Noir, is the least of the trio (Blanc de Noir must be made from the ‘dark’ grapes – Pinot Noir and/or Meunier; Blanc de Blancs must be 100% Chardonnay). From Ay, a vineyard of just 0.9 hectares, this is a fine champagne, but more burly and with less finesse than the others. Notes of ripe strawberries, coffee beans and stonefruit with that creamy texture. 93.
Finally, the Blanc de Blancs 2012 is from a half-hectare vineyard in the Grand Cru village of Avize. Again, no malo. Stunning. Baked apple notes, nuts, lemon curd, white peach and florals, it is complex, clean and fresh, with an appealing texture and great length. 97. Wonderful.