WORDS KEN GARGETT
If ever a champagne house has gone from the penthouse to the proverbial outhouse, it was the once noble house of Lanson. And now, as a former Prime Minister might say, it appears that they have done a ‘Lazarus with a triple bypass’, slowly but surely working their way back to the elevated status they once held, but doing so without the extraordinary vineyard resources that were once at their disposal.
Founded in 1760 by a local magistrate, Francois Delamotte, Lanson is one of the older Houses, though it has been through some changes over the years. In 1798, Francois’s son, Nicholas-Louis, took over and went into partnership with Jean-Batiste Lanson, who changed the name in 1837, giving himself top, and sole, billing.
They were extremely successful, especially popular with various royal families. The house was sold in 1980 and then went through a form of musical chairs with the ownership, including a short stint with LVMH (owner of Moet, Veuve and numerous others), who moved it on though cleverly kept around 206 hectares of their priceless vineyard resources, out of their original 208. Eventually, to BCC before the music finally stopped in 2006, at Lanson-BCC, run by Bruno Paillard. There were also problems when the decision was made in some countries to discount the brand heavily, shredding its reputation.
The task of restoring the style, vineyards and the very name of the House itself now resides with their talented winemaker, Herve Dantan.
The key to Lanson has been the style, which relies on little or no malolactic fermentation. Most wines see none, though the Non-Vintage and Rose NV are only 20% non-MLF. Malolactic fermentation is the process whereby the bright, appley malic acidity becomes the much softer, creamier lactic acid. If the wine does not go through this, it tends to be vibrant and fresh and usually very long-lived. They tend to be wines that are less approachable young, but reward time in the cellar.
Lanson also do a good percentage in larger format bottles, such as magnums.
Our top five does not include their ever-reliable Black Label NV, nor the great value Gold Label Vintage and not even the refreshing Rose NV. These champagnes are very fine, consistent and extremely well priced, time after time.
Here are some which you might be less familiar with.
‘Pere et Fils’ Brut NV ($69) – This is largely an on-premise release, with no malolactic fermentation. It would be ideal with fresh oysters or grilled whiting. Easy style to enjoy with freshness, bright acidity and a crisp refreshing finish. 92.
‘Green Label’ Brut NV ($99) – Made from certified organic grapes, from biodynamically farmed vineyards in the Marne Valley, Pinot Noir dominant with contributions from both other grapes. A death in the family saw the House of Leclerc Briant selling vineyards in 2010 and Lanson were one of the beneficiaries with 13 hectares. No malo. Lovely mix of biscuity notes, honeycomb and stewed pears. 93.
‘Extra Age’ Brut NV ($120) – A 60/40 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, this is a blend of 2004, 2005 and 2006 wines from mostly Grand Cru vineyards and then spending ten years on lees. Seriously complex nose. Real depth. A complete wine with a crisp finish. 95.
‘Noble Cuvee’ 2002 ($210) – Lanson’s prestige cuvee has always been a joy, and a long-lived one. If you want a champagne to put away to age further, get on board. A wonderfully fragrant wine with notes of honey and rose petals over a slightly minerally note. Fresh, complex and elegant. 2002 is a great vintage and this wine takes full advantage. 96.
‘Collection 1985’ in Magnum ($1,300) – Granted that this might not fall into the ‘great value’ category, but it is a cracking aged champagne. Brilliant stuff and if the pockets are deep enough, you will not be disappointed. 1985 was a wonderful year, though a very small one. This champagne was disgorged in February, 2018, so has spent a very long time on lees. It is mature and complex with nutty notes and hints of white chocolate. A touch of apricot and smoked pear. Tobacco leaf and truffle notes. Glorious. 98.