Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut NV
This week some Champagne, kicking off with this wine today, then my notes from the annual Champagne tasting at Banqueting House in London over the next two days. It would I suppose be only natural on Thursday to bring out the next instalment of my Champagne guide which is ready and waiting in the wings, but instead it will be my notes on 2009 Sauternes, as I think it is vital I let these see the light of day no later than this week. In the meantime though it is Champagne all the way, and following on from my thoughts on Laurent-Perrier's recent releases including the ever-popular Cuvée Rosé, the latest vintage to hit the shelves, the Brut 2000, and of course the relevant prestige cuvée, Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siècle, that it was time to take a look at another notable wine in this house's portfolio, the non-vintage Ultra Brut.
The story of this Champagne begins not with the fashion in the past few decades for zero- or low-dosage Champagnes. We must look further back for the origins of this wine, to the 19th century in fact. The story of Laurent-Perrier's Ultra Brut begins in 1889, a year that saw the completion of the Eiffel Tower, when the house introduced the Grand Vin sans Sucre. Released onto the market by Mathilde-Emilie Perrier the wine was a vanguard for the style. At the time the prevailing taste was for sweet, more heavily-dosed Champagnes, a style that remained popular well into the following century. This is perhaps best illustrated by the 1907 vintage of Heidsieck & Co. Monopole Gout Americain, a shipment of which was recovered from the depths of the Baltic Sea in the late 20th century. The wine, intended for consumption by the Russian Imperial Army, was being transported by the Swedish vessel Jonkoping en route for Finland when, on November 3rd, 1916, the ship sank following a U-boat attack, and the entire cargo was lost. In 1998 the wreck was located by a Swedish search team led by Peter Lindburg, the first evidence that they had found the Jonkoping being the presence of bottles of Champagne lying on the deck of the vessel, 64 metres down. The taste, when the bottles were opened (before they were offered for sale, some bottles making £900 each at a Christie's auction in 2000), was decidedly sweet.
In 1981 Laurent-Perrier's chef de cave Alain Terrier decided to recreate this cuvée which now goes by the name of Ultra Brut. Although once unique, today this is one of many such cuvées with curtailed dosage, Laurent-Perrier having once again led the way. We now have many such low dosage cuvées to choose from, not just from the more eclectic sources such as Pierre Larmandier of Larmandier-Bernier or the smaller houses and vignerons such as Tarlant, Pierre Gimonnet and Raymond Boulard, but also the long-established and traditional grandes marques including Bollinger, Jacquesson and Pol Roger and many others. All the same, Laurent Perrier's Ultra Brut - now made under the watchful eye of Michel Fauconnet, who took the reins from Alain Terrier in 2004 - remains an exemplar of the style.
In the glass the non-vintage Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut has a fine and pale straw hue, and shows a plentiful and lively bead. The nose kicks off with a scented, aromatic style, quite floral and perfumed, with hints of acacia. Then there are some more substantial, richer tones coming through, led by citrus fruits, notes of orange blossom and lemon zest, and stone fruit too, especially the dry rub of a peach stone. The palate is fresh and vivacious, very well defined, beautifully framed, certainly dry but not with the unbalanced excess that some zero-dosage wines can display, wines which seem to display acidity at the expense of all else. Here there is a balanced, fresh fruit flavour, even a tinge of almond, and there is also a creaminess to the texture, at the start and middle anyway, although it does flatten out with a tighter presentation at the finish. Nevertheless it is a vibrant and vivacious style, showing a little more flesh than I expected (a good thing!) although it certainly sits firmly at the 'bone dry' end of the spectrum. And yet it has length too. This bottle worked particularly well with some salmon, fennel and pak choi fish cakes. 17/20 (19/4/10)