Pierre Gimonnet Champagne Premier Cru Gastronome 2002
Digging around in a long-established cellar is a little like archaeology. When it comes to unearthing ancient artefacts, sometimes it is the find itself that fascinates, but more often than not I think it is the connections and insights into past lives these artefacts afford that is what really drives archaeologists. So too with this weekend’s favourite bottle, pulled from a deeply buried row in the last rack in the cellar, long-lost behind wooden cases of Bordeaux and cardboard cartons stuffed with assorted bottles of Vouvray, both young and old. It gives a glimpse into a time long past when I had a much broader approach to wine, and I used to buy a lot more Champagne than is currently the case. I wouldn’t say my purchases these days have fallen to zero, after all who isn’t partial to the occasional glass of Bollinger Grand Année Rosé or Krug? But certainly very few bottles find my way into the cellar now. The last vintage I bought in any real quantity was 1996, although I have a handful of 2002s, bought even though my attention was naturally turning elsewhere. This is a bottle of vinous archaeology. Like a coin bearing Gratian’s head, from the dying days of the Roman Empire in Britain, it is an artefact from the end of an era.
So why did I turn away from Champagne? It is not that I have anything against the region, despite the questionable manner in which some of the vineyards are managed (a criticism that could of course be levied against many wine regions), nor the obscuring of terroir in the buying and blending across a vast vinous landscape that some of the big-name grandes marques practice. I am less enamoured, admittedly, with their pursuit through the courts of anybody daring to infringe upon their intellectual property. To a certain degree it is understandable I suppose, although it is distasteful when taken to extremes, such as suing family-run domaines over the colour of their labels, or pursuing critics such as Jayne Powell simply for using the word ‘Champagne’. These suits reflect badly on Champagne, and surely can’t be representative of the region as a whole. At least I hope not.
No, I have moved away from Champagne simply because I tend to focus more on the sparkling wines of the Loire Valley these days, everything from Vouvray and Montlouis from Philippe Foreau, Champalou, François Pinon, Vincent Carême, François Chidaine and Jacky Blot to Crémant de Loire such as the deliciously decadent Préambule Rosé from Yves Guégniard or the Chardonnay-dominated Dom Nature from Domaine Richou. Not only do I find the hunt for and the drinking of these gems more rewarding than buying six-packs in the latest supermarket 25%-off sale of already over-priced non-vintage Champagne, but I think they are perhaps more relevant to Winedoctor, and more interesting to read about. Even so, I still have a few interesting bottles of Champagne lingering in the cellar, from small growers such as Serge Mathieu, Pierre Gimonnet and Pierre Moncuit. These little domaines perhaps have more in common with the growers of the Loire than they do with the legally belligerent grande marque behemoths. I still find their stories, and their wines, of interest.
Pierre Gimonnet laid the foundations for this house in the 1930s, and was succeeded in his work by his son Michel. Today the latest generation, Olivier and Didier Gimonnet, hold sway over the domaine, which amounts to 28 hectares of Chardonnay planted on the Côte des Blancs, including parcels in grands crus Cramant, Chouilly and Oger, and the premiers crus Cuis and Vertus. The Champagne Brut Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Gastronome is, as the latter part of this name might suggest, intended for drinking at table, a style achieved with malolactic fermentation on the base wines, using a wide range of reserve wines which are stored in bottle rather than vat, bottling with a lower pressure and a lighter dosage of just 8 g/l. As for the wine, this has a fresh straw-yellow hue, and despite that lower pressure it displays a fine and plentiful bead in the glass. There are elegantly precise notes of dried white fruits on the nose, a very pure and defined character, very blanc de blancs in style, lifted by notes of citrus fruits and desiccated zest. It has a fresh, pure lively palate, there is perhaps a touch of blanched almond and brioche here but no real sign of advancing age otherwise. It has a full, lightly creamed texture, fresh and vigorous acidity, with tense citrus pith character, still showing tension and precision, a wine still clearly in possession of super potential. It is delicious now, but I think this would have been just fine had my archaeological excavations been delayed, and I unearthed it many years from now. 17.5/20 (11/5/15)