Maison Ruinart Still Knocking it Out of the Park at Age 288

Benedictine Monk Dom Thierry Ruinart (1657-1709) was a friend and confidant of the more famous champagne-making monk Dom Pérignon.  The Dom’s nephew Thierry Ruinart (1697-1769), a linen trader, presented his shmata customers with sparkling wine as a kind of loyalty bonus.  He soon realized that the wine was more popular than the cloth.  On September 1, 1729, Thierry founded what was to become Champagne’s oldest (and one of the region’s most respected) house, Maison Ruinart.

Ruinart’s history would take several columns to tell, but tout court it’s the usual litany of wars and plagues intermingled with glorious moments.  At the magnificent winery visitors can tour the vast underground Crayères, deep caverns cut into the chalk soils.  They consist of eight kilometres of cellars on three levels.  They were dug in the 15th century and purchased by Claude Ruinart at the end of the 18th century.  They’ve done service as quarries for building materials, aging cellars for champagne, and as a refuge from invading German forces during WW I.

History notwithstanding, Ruinart snugs perfectly into the 21st century wine world.  Many leading champagne houses like Bollinger favour a gently oxidative pinot-dominated style. Ruinart chose a different direction, pioneering the “blanc de blancs” style.  Unlike some “grower” champagne houses, they look for a degree of consistency in its bottlings.  The approach seems to be working: Ruinart produces over 2.5 million bottles a year.

Ruinart’s Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaïotis explains the current house style with enthusiasm.  “The strength of the house is chardonnay.  What are we looking for?  Aromatic freshness, keeping the primary elements of the varietal.”  How do you do that?  “Freshness demands a reductive (winemaking) style.  All our wines are fermented in stainless steel and we pay attention to possible oxidative elements.”  Part of the pursuit of freshness and varietal character is a reduction in the dosage (the addition of sugared wine prior to final corking).  “Our dosage was 12.9 g/l twenty years ago.  Now it’s about 8 g/l.”

Maison Ruinart buys in about 90% of its grapes.  Blending across village lines gives the house’s winemakers a broad palate of flavours and textures with which to create the final product.  Wines made from Côtes des Blancs fruit are gentler.  Those from the Montagne de Reims are more square-shouldered.

Last October a group of Circle of Wine Writers members were treated to a sumptuous dinner and tasting at Maison Ruinart’s chateau-like headquarters in Reims.  Frédéric Panaïotis was on hand to comment on the stunning array of Ruinart champagnes generously opened for us.  There were two NV blancs de blancs, four well-aged vintage bottlings, a blended brut and two rosés.  It was a vinous museum tour.  The wines were outstanding to exceptional.  The courses, which danced divinely with the champagnes, included raw tuna on toasts with crème fraiche and herbs (with the ’93 B. de B. from the magnum), mi-cuit foie gras with pear and  chutney (with Ruinart ‘R’ from the jeroboam), roast bass with white beet, candied citrus fruits and a fresh cheese emulsion (with the ’04 B. de B. from the magnum), smoked guinea fowl supreme with braised marrow, creamy hazelnut and a sangria reduction (with Dom Ruinart Rosé 1990), and matcha tea shortbread with red fruits (with the N.V. Rosé).  I know what you’re thinking:  It’s tough work, but somebody has to do it.  Prices where listed are English and approximate.  Generally, N.V. bottlings are priced with other known champagne brands.  Vintage products are costlier, the price increasing with age.


Maison Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV (~$80+, score 90) is the first of two NVs.  This one is primarily crafted from the 2013 vintage with a generous addition of wines from 2012 and 2011.  The citrus and gentle autolytic aromas lead into a crisp palate balancing intensity and delicacy.  There’s a hint of toast there, all through a long fruited finish.

Maison Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV (score 90+) is last year’s model.  It’s mainly 2012 backed up with 2011 and 2010.  It features earthy autolytic, citrus ad white peach aromas.  It’s crisp and delicate but rich, with a long citrus fruited finish.

Maison Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2004 (~$160+, score 91), like all the house’s vintage B de B sparklers, is made exclusively of grand cru fruit from a range of vineyards.  This one has an autolytic white peach nose with a flinty note.  It’s fresh, rich and complex with sweet autolytic and citric flavours with mineral notes.

Maison Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Vintage 2002 (score 91) featured a harmonized autolytic nose.  In the mouth it’s crisp, plump and rich with autolytic, ripe lemon pulp and brioche flavours.

Maison Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Vintage 1998 (score 91+) had a very Burgundian funky autolytic nose with a coffee note.  Fresh and creamy, it offered sweet autolytic, honey and ripe lemon flavours with fine persistence.

Maison Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Vintage 1996 (score 92) is more closed, more mineral and toastier than the 1998.  It’s sweetly autolytic with white peach fruit and toasty flavours through a long finish.

Maison Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Vintage 1993 (score 91+) was an old-gold darling with almondy autolysis and very ripe lemon characters, fresh and sweetly autolytic on the palate.

Maison Ruinart Blanc de Blancs Vintage 1992 (score 88).   This wine was regrettably slightly oxidized.

‘R’ de Ruinart NV Brut (~$75+, score 90) departs from the house’s chardocentrism in thus blend of 45% pinot noir, 40% chardonnay and 15% pinot meunier.  The nose is gentle and complex, with a hint of sour red fruit.  It’s crisp and rich and full, but not heavy with lingering notes of toast and autolysis.

Maison Ruinart Rosé NV (~$80+, score 89+) is a deep rose petal colored champagne redolent of autolysis and red berry fruits.  It’s simple, but delicious.

Maison Ruinart Rosé 1990 (score 89) has matured to a salmon pink sparkler with autolytic and red berry fruit aromas.  It’s fresh, rich, ripe and well-fruited throughout.

[Thanks to the Comité Champagne for organizing the CWW tour of Champagne and to our fearless leader and den mother Caroline Henry.]


Ruinart crayere 1Ruinart Panaiotis 2

Top:  Stairway in one of Ruinart’s vast underground crayères.

Bottom:  Serious but passionate Ruinart Chef de Caves Frédéric Panaïotis discusses the house style at a dinner with WWC journalists.








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Bollinger: Still Delivering the Goods

Bollinger is a venerable and highly regarded Champagne producer.  Founded in 1829, the house has survived the region’s engulfment in wars, revolutions, economic depressions and waves of destructive vineyard plagues and is now at the top of its game.  The style of their wines is intense and rich, showcasing the power and red fruit nuances of pinot noir (at least 60% of each cuvée) and the toasty buttery influence of oak aging of their base wines in old 228 litre Burgundian barrels.

Bollinger may be famous but it considers itself to be a “small producer.”  Its annual production of three million bottles puts it at 1% of the region’s production and 25th to 30th in volume behind such giants as Moet & Chandon, who pump out thirty five million bottles a year.  The firm owns an impressive 160 hectares of vineyards in Grand Cru and Premier Cru zones of Champagne.  A large store of reserve wines amplifies the depth and diversity this gives to their cuvées.  Ripeness, more difficult to achieve than freshness in the cool climate of Champagne, is much sought after with meticulous attention to vines and picking grapes as late as possible.

At a recent event at Toronto’s King Edward Hotel, Bollinger’s Ontario Agents John Hanna & Sons presented a tasting for wine folks of six Bollinger champagnes and a still pinot noir-based red produced by the house.  Bollinger enologist-turned-export-manager Frederic Reuter was on hand to answer our detailed questions.  The wines partnered beautifully with cod, veal, duck and cheese courses at a lovely lunch.  These are not inexpensive bottlings, but they’re affordable if you think of them as special treats for special occasions.  The prices quoted apply in Ontario.

Champagne Bollinger Special Cuvée ($78.95, score 90+) is a 60/25/15 blend of pinot noir, chardonnay and meunier, over 85% Grands and Premiers Cru.  It makes up 80% of Bollinger’s annual production.  The nose is intense with aromas of sweet autolysis, ripe peach and sweet spices.  It’s bone dry and crisp in the mouth with vigorous mousse, power, mineral grip, and a hint of black berry fruit.  The finish is long.

Champagne Bollinger Rosé ($103.95, score 90+) is 62% pinot noir, 24% chardonnay and 14% meunier.  Red pinot wine makes up 5% to 6% of the total.  It represents 7% to 8% of the house’s production.  A pale salmon coloured sparkler, this rosé features strawberry and stewed plum fruit with raspberry and mineral notes and a vegetal autolytic nuance.  It’s tasty and crisp with red fruit notes and a long finish.

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année 2007 ($159.00, score 91+.)  This wine is a 70/30 blend of pinot noir and chardonnay made only in exceptional years, 91% Grand Cru fruit and 9% Premier Cru fruit.  Straw gold, it has a complex but harmonious nose of toasted almonds, autolysis, sweet ripe stone fruit and a hint of citrus.  On the palate it’s crisp and creamy, bone dry with a honeyed note, a black fruit note and chalky grip.  The finish is long and rich.

Champagne Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2005 ($199, score 92) was only disgorged in April 2016.  A pale salmon/onion skin colour, the wine exudes very deep very ripe mature strawberry and raspberry fruit with sweetly spicy autolysis and a ginger note.  It’s fresh to crisp with nice grip and a long finish.  Sophisticated stuff, this.

Champagne Bollinger R.D. 2002 ($279, score 92+) is a blockbuster blend of 60% pinot noir and 40% chardonnay sourced from 23 crus (71% Grand Crus and 29% Premier Crus).  The R.D. stands for “Récemment Dégorgé” (recently disgorged in English.)  This means that this champagne aged on its deliciously decomposing yeasty lees until April 25, 2016 when it was finally poured off the stuff.  The resulting sparkling wine is a saturated pale gold with a deep, complex, harmonious and enchanting bouquet featuring notes of toast, autolysis, herbs and sweet spices.  It’s grippy in the mouth and persists richly for a long time.

Champagne Bollinger R.D. 1976, Magnum (priceless, score 93) was the generous gift of tasting participant Michael Barnstijn.  From a searingly hot summer, the wine was amber-tinged gold in colour with a still-vigorous mousse.  The nose was a harmony of autolysis, ginger, toasted nuts and buttered brioche.  In the mouth it was oxidative but not oxidized with autolytic flavours, a chalky grip and a very long finish.

Bollinger La Côte aux Enfants 2013 Côteaux Champenois ($115, score 90) is a still 100% pinot noir from Aÿ.  It’s aged for eight months in small three to ten year old barrels.  This specimen was a medium pale purple-tinged cherry colour.  The intense nose featured sweet ripe red berry fruit with a cola/root beer note.  In the mouth it’s fresh with velvet grip framing bone-dry sour cherry and cranberry flavours through a long finish. 

[For more information about Champagne Bollinger contact Ian L. Hanna at]




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Champagne Jacques Selosse

The Selosse family had been growing grapes in Champagne for centuries when Jacques Selosse began bottling his own wines in 1959.  Hedging his bet, he continued to sell much of his crop to Lanson.  He needn’t have worried.  His wines found an audience and earned their keep.

After successful undertakings outside the family business Jacques’ son Anselme studied viniculture and viticulture in Burgundy, worked for a while in Rioja, and returned to Champagne in 1974 to apply what he had learned.  The eventual outcome of Anselme’s homecoming and involvement in Domaine Jacques Selosse was bigger than anyone could have anticipated at the time.  Folks began paying serious attention to his activities when the prestigious Gault Millau guide named him the top winemaker in all of France in 1994.

Anselme Selosse became a leading figure in what turned out to be two surgent trends in Champagne: He was among the first to popularize of “grower champagnes,” wines produced from grapes the growers traditionally sold to large houses.  Next, he became a practitioner of “la biodynamie.”  Biodynamic vine growing and winemaking is the creation of Rudolf Steiner, an early-20th century thinker with views on all aspects of society including agriculture.  In 1924 he presented an elaborate programme of ultra-orthodox organic techniques believed to bring vines, grapes and wine into harmony with the cosmos.  In addition to useful ideas about fertilizers and alternative methods of pest control, biodynamism relies heavily on what can be most kindly described as “folk wisdom.”

When I asked him about his current practices, Selosse replied that he no longer considers his operation to be biodynamic.  With a very Gallic shrug and a sigh he said “it’s not biodynamic.  It’s about the grapes and capturing terroir.   Biodynamics has become a creed more than a technique.”)  He picks and chooses the aspects of biodynamism he believes help in achieving his goals.

Anselme Selosse’s winegrowing philosophy is centred on growing grapes that rigorously reflect the site where they were grown and intruding as little as possible during their transformation into wine.  “A vineyard is a living thing.  I’m a butler, not a controller; an obstetrician, not a plastic surgeon.”  He crafts intense characterful bottlings and eschews wines in a crowd-pleasing house style year after year, preferring to craft intense characterful bottlings.  “I like the unfamiliar.  My wines are like an ugly French singer whom all the ladies love.”  He harvests very late to ensure full ripeness and avoids malolactic fermentation to preserve maximum acid freshness.  He ferments (using indigenous yeasts) and ages his base wines in oak and acacia barrels, sometimes new, for periods depending on the nature of the vintage.  He regards oxygen as “life” to his wines.  His levels of the sweet liqueur de dosage are very low and, in some cuvées, zero.  His blends lean heavily on reserve wines.  He packs nineteen vintages in one of his cuvées.

When a delegation of Circle of Wine Writers members visited Champagne Selosse last autumn, Anselme was bringing in the last of his fruit.  Despite his wine weariness he was a thoughtful, direct and engaging host.  He presented three of his wines, all of which were outstanding.  Production is very limited and prices straddle $200.

Jacques Selosse “Initiale” Blanc de Blancs Champagne (score 90+) is a lovely pungently autolytic blanc de blancs with ripe orange fruit and mineral notes.  It’s crisp and creamy and leaves an impression of sweetness through the fruited autolytic long finish.

Jacques Selosse V.O. (Version Originale) Blalnc de Blancs Extra Brut (score 91) sports a funky autolytic nose and a crisp chalky grip on the palate.  It’s got beautiful corners and is long.  

Jacques Selosse Les Carelles Blanc de Blancs Champagne (sc0re 91) was a blend of base wines from the ’07, ’08 and ’09 vintages.  The nose marries mineral, autolytic and smoky oxidative notes.  It’s crisp, minerally and autolytic with caramel notes on the palate through a long pleasing finish.


(Left:) Anselme Selosse ponders questions from a group of CWW members at his winery in the middle of harvest.  

(Right:) Selosse’s freshly-pressed chardonnay juice was dazzlingly sweet and mineral with distinct crunchy chalky mineral notes.


In 2011 Anselme Selosse and his wife Corinne opened Les Avisés, a hotel-restaurant in Avize.  Our group was treated to a luscious lunch there.  If you’re ever in Champagne, have a meal or stay there.  It’s as warm and charming as its proprietors.



[Thanks to the Comité Champagne for hosting CWW members in Champagne.]

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Champagne Jacquesson

Champagne Jacquesson was established in 1798.  The house flourished through the 19th century under the eponymous founding family.  In 1920 ownership passed to a broker, Léon de Tassigny.  In 1974 the business was purchased by Jean Chiquet.  The baton passed to his sons Jean-Hervé and Laurent Chiquet in 1988.  This history explains how Champagne Jacquesson manages to be old and new at the same time.

A dozen members of the Circle of Wine Writers enjoyed a relaxed lunch with Jean-Hervé at the winery in Dizy last autumn.  He told us that he and his brother took over from their father “to make better wine.  We were right.”  Their plan was to reduce production, which has gone from 450,000 bottles a year in ’88 to 260,000 last year.  This has been achieved partly by reducing yields, more rigorous shoot pruning and generally stressing the vines.  Pesticide use in the vineyards has been eliminated (except for copper sulphate and some fungicides to treat mildew).  Pheromonal traps are now employed to reduce insect pests.

The Chiquet brothers also made changed in the chai.  They use a vertical press because “it disturbs the grapes less.  The skins are never fully ripe.”  Pressing is stopped earlier to reduce bitterness.  The base wines are aged in “mostly large old oak.  We don’t want any oak flavour.”  Malolactic fermentation is initiated “as needed.”

The Chiquet brothers make production decisions such as the level of sweetening dosage by assessing the wines separately and comparing notes.  Jean-Hervé noted with pleasure that they always agree.  “We have the same taste.”  These and other techniques have led to richer flavours and rounder textures in Jacquesson’s finished champagnes.

The mainstay of the Jacquesson product line is the Cuvée 700.  It’s a blend of several vintages from first pressings of the house’s three Grand Cru and two Premier Cru plots.  Each release is given a three digit number beginning with 7.  The back label decodes the number, identifying the predominant year in the blend.   The Cuvée 700 wines are not intended to be a non-vintage brand crafted to reflect a house style year after year.  They’re meant to be expressions of a particular year, buttressed by older reserve wines.  They’re released at two stages of their development, with four or eight years of aging.  The late disgorged DT version is more complex.

Jacquesson’s sparkliest sparklers are their single vineyard wines, produced only in years when they aren’t needed for the Cuvée 700.  These wines, treated in the same way as their 700 siblings, are all about terroir.  Certain parcels have revealed great typicity which, especially in favoured years, is captured in these bottlings.

Here are my impressions of two Cuvée 700 wines from two vintages, a Cuvée 700 DT, three single vineyard white champagnes, and a single vineyard rosé sparkler.  Prices in Canada are hard to guess (but I’d guess around $70 to $120.)  I can say of all the Jacquesson Champagnes I tasted that I’d buy them if I saw them.

Cuvée 700 wines:

Cuvée no. 738 (score 90+) is based on fruit from the 2010 vintage.  It has a bright nose with rich pear fruit, autolytic aromas, a caramel note and mineral nuances, framed in a brisk creamy structure through a long crisp finish.

Cuvée no. 739 (score 90) was made mainly from the 2011 vintage.  It’s more balanced and broader than the 738 if a bit less exciting.  The wine has an earthy nose with restrained autolysis and a toasty note.  It’s crisp and round in the mouth with a lingering citrus pith finish.

Cuvée no. 728 Dégorgement Tardif (DT) (score 91) is 2007-based.  Part of the cuvée was released in 2011.  The remainder, released as the D.T., was aged on its lees until 2015.  The powerful nose features autolysis, sweet spice, delicate minerality ad a smoke/toast note.  It’s fresh, round and creamy on the palate with a long, fresh autolytic persistence.


Single-vineyard wines:

Dizy Corne Bautray 2005 (score 91+) is a charmingly delicate but intense wine with aromas of minerals, smoke and toast, acacia and ripe lemon fruit.  It’s fresh, round and lemony with a long complex finish.

Dizy Corne Bautray 2007 (score 91+) received zero dosage.  It’s focused, harmonious and autolytic, crisp, ripe and long in the mouth.

Avize 2005 (score 91+) is sweetly autolytic with ripe lemon fruit and lots of power.  It’s crisp, round and well-fruited with good rich length.

Ay 2009 Rosé (score 90) received no dosage.  It’s a deep salmon colour, acquired by skin contact rather than the ore usual addition of still red pinot noir to white base wine.  The nose flaunts big autolytic aromas, strawberry fruit and sweet spices.  It’s fresh and fruity.

[My thanks to the Comite Champagne, who hosted our happy band of wine writers.]



Jean-Herve Chiquet has an intense personal relationship to his vines, evident in the hand-harvest at Jacquesson.  Friendly competitor Eric Rodez lauded Jacquesson Champagnes as “made from the heart.”


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Canada-EU CETA Deal Could Ease Drinks’ Costs in the Great White North (from Drinks Business, Feb. 15, 2017)

Go-ahead for EU-Canada CETA trade deal



Go-ahead for EU-Canada CETA trade deal

15th February, 2017 by Arabella Mileham

The EU has voted to ratify a controversial trade deal with Canada which will boost the exports of drinks between the two trade blocks, and remove Canadian regional monopolies on wine retailing.

The Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA), which opened negotiations in 2009 and was signed in October, is one of the most comprehensive deals the EU has undertaken. It will eliminate 98% of tariffs on goods traded between Canada and the EU – including wines, spirits and beers. The vote this morning paves the way for it to come into effect in months once it has been agreed by each member state’s parliaments.

The deal should make it easier for smaller EU drinks producers to gain entry into the market as well as making them more competitive in Canada. The agreement will also smooth the route to market for EU drinks exporters, as the deal will end Canada’s regional monopolies on wine retailing that are applied in every region apart from Alberta, however as yet there is little more information as to how this will operate.

Earlier this week the SWA called on MEPs to back the controversial deal, arguing that it would be good for the entire European distilling industry by boosting sales to Canada.

It said the deal would bring a range of benefits to whisky in particular including removing barriers to entry, and removing the potential for Canadian regional liquor board to introduce unfair mark-ups on imported products such as Scotch.

Sales of Scotch whisky to Canada are worth around £77 million a year, the SWA noted, with Canada the industry’s thirteen largest market by value.

Scotch Whisky GI is already protected in Canada and benefits from a zero tariff, but CETA will boost Scotch whisky bottled in Canada. The deal will mean Scotch whisky imported as bulk to be bottled in Canada will benefit from Scotch’s geographic indicator status, by removing a Canadian rule that requires a small proportion (around 1% minimum) of locally-produced spirits must be added to bulk spirit imports if they are bottled by anyone other than the Candian liquor board – meaning that the GI status no longer applies.

The SWA welcomed the news. SWA Global Affairs Director Sarah Dickson said the deal was “good for trade and good for Scotch Whisky”.

“Following the overwhelming endorsement of MEPs, industries in the UK and across Europe will be able to generate growth and jobs through increased exports with one of world’s top markets,” she said. “The Scotch Whisky industry can look forward to building on its trade relationship with Canada, which is already our thirteenth largest export market by value worth around £80million a year. This will, in turn, generate a further boost to UK exports, cementing the industry’s position as the largest net contributor to the UK’s balance of trade in goods.”

However there was stiff opposition for CETA both within the EU parliament, and from protesters outside the building, who delayed the start of this morning’s debate.

The Wine & Spirit Trade Association in the UK also commented, saying it was delighted that MEPs have voted for the “progressive” trade agreement.

“The lifting of all import tariffs on wines and spirits will allow UK products to compete fairly with an important trading partner in an increasingly globalised market,” WSTA chief executive Miles Beale said.

“Spirits such as gin and vodka will now be able to enjoy the same zero-tariff rates as whisky. CETA will allow British gin, which already accounts for 1 in every 3 bottles of UK spirit exports to Canada, to expand its reach overseas.”

“Additionally English wine can look to the Canadian market with an increased incentive as a destination in their bid to grow exports of their world-renowned sparkling and still wines.”

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“Here and Now” Interview on Post-Trump Stress Disorder

Gill Deacon interviewed me today (January 31) on CBC Radio One’s afternoon drive show “Here and Now” about the tsunami of dire news flooding us out of our everyday lives, and how to deal with it.  This link will take you to it. 

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Fresh Air Interview: Managing Political Anxiety

Here’s Ralph Ben Mergui’s January 29 interview with me on the CBC Radio One programme “Fresh Air.”




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