Earlier in the year I was invited to the trade and press tasting held by Le Caveau in the function room at Fallon & Byrne in Dublin. When I say invited, I sort of invited myself, but they were a very welcoming bunch.
Originally starting out with a retail outlet in Kilkenny in 1999, Le Caveau specialises in importing artisan wines directly from small, family-operated vineyards from around the world. The following year they added a wholesale arm to supply the on- and off-trade throughout Ireland, and of course they have a website.
As you might see from my selection, the husband and wife team of Pascal and Geraldine Rossignol take great pride in the “hand-made” aspect of small producers, though they offer a few bigger brands here and there to broaden out their range.
So let’s begin at the beginning – it’s the fizz!
Meyer-Fonné Crémant d’Alsace NV
Meyer-Fonné are one of the many excellent family vineyards in Alsace. Having tasted a couple of their wines a Sweeney’s Wine Merchants in Dublin, when I organised a family holiday to Alsace in 2012 I made sure I included them in the itinerary. And they were incredibly warm and welcoming – without any pressure to buy the poured me a taste of every single wine they make – so we’re talking over fifteen here. Thankfully my wife could drive us back to our gîte – and I did buy a fair few bottles anyway!
So how is their fizz? This would never be mistaken for Champagne – but it’s not trying to be Champagne so why should it apologize? Like many Alsace Crémants it is predominantly made from Pinot Blanc, though apparently it also contains some Pinot Meunier (the third of the traditional Champagne grapes, though very unusual for Alsace!) and Pinot Noir.
As a Crémant it is made in the same traditional way as Champagne, though without the “C” word on the label it comes in at around half the price of some well known marques. It has been such a success in France that it is now the second best selling type of sparkling wine after Champagne.
Meyer-Fonné Crémant has lovely fresh citrus and apple notes, with just a touch of balancing residual sugar apparent – it would make an excellent aperitif or partner well with white fish and seafood.
Philipponat Royale Réserve Brut NV
The predominance of red fruit (strawberry, raspberry, redcurrant, red cherry…) over citrus (lemon, lime…) and the chewy texture made me think that Pinots make up the majority of the blend. And so it transpires…it’s made from the first pressing (the cuvée) of Pinot Noir (usually 65%), of Chardonnay (30%) and of Pinot Meunier (5%).
The Pinot Noir mainly comes from Philipponnat’s own vineyards, located in Ay (sounds painful in French!) and Mareuil-sur-Ay. As a non-vintage Champagne, each bottling is based on a particular year’s harvest but with reserve wines added from previous years – depending on the quality and style (this is very important) of the vintage, between 25% to 40% of the total is made up of reserve wines. These are blended again every year in a “solera” fashion in order to incorporate older wines without loosing freshness.
The aromas and flavours are definitely reflective of the blend; citrus and red fruits plus fresh bread on the nose. In the mouth the there’s a dash lime on the attack and then softer red fruits and apples – sumptuous!
Champagne Gobillard Grande Réserve 1er Cru NV
Don’t mind the battered label – that’s what happens when a bottle is left in an ice bucket and lots of winos help themselves to a taste!
Only 44 out of the 319 Champagne villages are classed as Premier Cru (1er is the French abbreviation). A further 17 are classed as “Grand Cru”, though the luxury cuvées that the grapes usually go into rarely advertise their provenance – it’s all about the brand. So it’s often at Premier Cru level where quality and value are to be found.
The assemblage is a third each of the three traditional Champagne grapes, sourced from Hautvillers (on the southern side of the Montagne de Reims), Cumières (also Montagne de Reims) and Dizy (Vallée de la Marne). Two full years on the lees have imparted a creamy, bready character behind the red berry and citrus fruit.
Watch this space for the next installment – Le Caveau whites!