One of the earliest of all prestige champagnes is Taittinger’s, ‘Comtes de Champagne’ a superb blanc des blancs, and easily recognisable in its squat bottle. The first vintage was 1952. A Rosé was added years later.
The story of this legendary champagne dates back to the days of Count Thibaud IV, King of Navarre, from 1222 to 1253. The House of Taittinger claims that when he returned from his escapades in the Holy Land and other far-flung regions, otherwise known as the Crusades, he returned with the Damask rose (from which all roses in Europe evolved) and an ancestor of the Chardonnay grape (the origins of grapes are a much-debated topic).
The name, ‘Comtes de Champagne’, has been used by the House of Taittinger for its finest champagne for many years, with the authorisation of Count Guillaume, the last descendant of the ‘Comtes de Champagne’. Their former residence was purchased by Taittinger in 1932, the year the House is considered to have been founded. Taittinger restored it to its former glory.
Since the release of the 1952, there have been a further 35 vintages.
The Rosé is a much smaller production. The first vintage of it seems to be a matter for some debate. 1966, 1971 and 1973 all have claims. It is a style which is rarely seen, but needs time. It is said that Rudolph Nureyev once claimed that “when I drink Comtes de Champagne Rosé, I no longer dance, I fly”.
Comtes is always a vintage release; always blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay), with the grapes coming from vineyards from five Grand Cru villages – Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Oger and Mesnil-sur-Oger. It is first press juice only. Around 5% will be aged in new oak barrels for four months, to add to the complexity (when I say new, it is actually a mix with something like a third of this small component of oak new each vintage). Dosage is now under 10 grams/litre, well down from near twice that back in the 70s – the viticultural practices now in place have assisted in riper grapes helping to offset the need for such a high dosage and ensuring better wines. Production is between 100,000 and 300,000 bottles, vintage dependent (by comparison, although Dom Perignon do not release figures, estimates range from three million, up to as high as five million bottles).
The wines then age in the magnificent cellars of Taittinger. These Gallo-Roman chalk quarries, originally carved in the 4th century before becoming the cellars for the Saint-Nicaise Abbey some 900 years later, are 18 metres below ground level, and are part of the reason the Houses and cellars of Champagne are included on UNESCO’s list of Cultural Heritage.
2007 is not the first year one thinks of when listing the great vintages of Champagne, but that does not mean that there were not some very fine wines released. Early heat, rain leading into a cold, wet summer, all contributed to the unevenness which plagues the vintage. Some humidity in places, and hail, did not help, but a drying wind and better weather in August did allow Houses to make some excellent wines, with good acidity. It is considered that Chardonnay was the pick of the varieties.
The 2007 Comtes is a scintillating champagne, fresh, balanced, crisp and with great length. Lean with finesse, there are notes of Asian spices, lemons, florals, gingerbread, pears and crème brulee with an underlying oystershell minerality. It really should be put away for the best part of a decade, and then drunk over the next fifteen to twenty years, when it will start to reveal a much richer, more complex profile. At the moment, for me, 96.
Other recent Comtes include a stunning 1998 with glorious plushness (98), a wonderfully elegant and complex 2005 (96), a ripe 2005 Rosé, still very young (92), one of the all time greats, the 1996 (99), and an amazingly fresh and exceedingly long 1989 (98).