Dom Ruinart 1990
These days I seem to spend every waking moment documenting the history of various Bordeaux châteaux, or scrabbling through genealogy resources trying to find just one scrap of evidence concerning the history of some of the most famous Loire domaines. I don't often find myself looking at Champagne as often as I once used to, or indeed as often as I would like to, but this is an inevitable consequence of specialising in a certain region (two regions in my case) or field; other areas of wine lose out. Nevertheless, a good bottle gives some excuse to open the Champagne history books, and there is no more worthy house than Ruinart, which as most readers will know stakes a valid claim as the original Champagne house, having been founded in 1729. It was only in 1728 that the transport of wine in bottle, an absolute necessity with Champagne, had been declared legal by Louis XV. Before then, the law stated that wine could only be transported in barrel, clearly prohibiting the transport of Champagne, where a second fermentation in the bottle is an integral and essential step in the production process.
The new law meant that the region's sparkling wine could now be shipped to customers in far distant lands, thereby greatly increasing its potential to generate sales and revenue. Demonstrating a bold entrepreneurial streak, Nicolas Ruinart laid the foundations of his sparkling wine business within a year of the royal decree, and in the centuries that followed the wine he and his descendents made was shipped throughout Europe (often following Napoleon's armies), Russia, America, and beyond. The house remained in the hands of the Ruinart family for well over two centuries, as it was not until 1963 that it was acquired by Moët et Chandon, and thus it came into the ownership of LVMH. It remains part of the LVMH empire today, which explains why at a dinner at Château Cheval Blanc (also in LVMH ownership) a few years ago the evening kicked off with a glass of the distinctive (and really quite delicious) Ruinart Blanc de Blancs. Apart from Moët et Chandon itself of course, the other obvious choice with which to charge our glasses would have been Krug, although I believe this is habitually reserved for visiting popes, saints and others of equal standing, such as those who hold both the MS and MW qualifications, or any wine writer with more than 10,000 genuine followers on Twitter.
Ruinart has long developed a reputation as a house for Chardonnay, and quite sensibly this aim and image has been maintained under LVMH ownership. The core of the vineyard portfolio is 15 hectares of vineyards on the Montagne de Reims which Ruinart own; remember, vineyard ownership is relatively rare in Champagne, and although many houses own some vines for most the majority of the fruit they require comes from contracts with growers. The Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is the very top cuvée, named in honour of Dom Thierry Ruinart, a monk and uncle to Nicolas Ruinart. It utilises 100% grand cru Chardonnay from both the Côtes des Blancs, said to bring freshness and minerality, and from the aforementioned Montagne de Reims, the fruit here said to bring intensity of flavour. The use of such high quality fruit from the best sites means this is a wine that benefits from aging, and at present the wines typically spend 8-10 years in the Ruinart cellars before they are released.
Despite now having more than twenty years in bottle the 1990 Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs shows a reassuring presence of gas on opening; it is gentle, but it is certainly there. In the glass it appears as a richly coloured wine, gold, intense but pure, not the deep worrying gold of oxidation. A very fine bead is also evident. The nose starts with a remarkable presence of sweet, desiccated fruits, before moving onto a style of fruit more evolved and honeyed. It has a broad and remarkable depth to it, the fruit character seeming concentrated and dried admittedly, but with remarkable definition and clarity. There is a seam of nutty evolution here too, although to my palate it adds background complexity, and doesn't really speak of oxidation. And the palate has that same fresh character, showing great breadth, but also very certain definition of flavour. It is in no way tired or really showing its age; it still has fine energy, the palate balanced and fresh, underpinned by great acidity, and with an elegant, prickling but undeniable mousse. The nutty seam runs through it again here alongside the desiccated fruit, but again as a minor nuance rather than a dominant feature. There is great substance in the finish, and there is a fabulous length to it as well. This is an excellent and very confident example of the blanc de blancs style, and is superb for drinking now; I certainly wouldn't hold on for much longer if you have any, although I am sure any decline we see will be slow and possibly very interesting to experience. 18.5/20 (17/3/14)