7 Of The Rarest Champagnes In The World
Anyone who has had a taste of the Champagne region’s most recognised wine would be able to rattle off a few of their favourite houses—and more often than not, it’s a familiar label. The true connoisseur, however, will affirm the region’s uniquely broad selection of quality alternatives, many of which are a rarity for all the right reasons. Here, some of Singapore’s top sommeliers and champagne experts give their recommendations and insights into the reasons why the following champagnes are so rare and wonderful. Some are from bigger names and some are growers’ champagne, but their singularity and uniqueness are simply undeniable.”
Nicola Lee, Consul General of The Ordre Des Coteaux De Champagne
Singapore Krug Clos d’Ambonnay (Blanc de Noir)
Champagne is usually a blend of pinot noir, pinot meunier and chardonnay grapes, though champagne houses do produce single varietals. Not so common would be the Blanc de Noir (100 per cent pinot noir or pinot meunier); the volume produced is low, making these champagnes rare. When Krug released its inaugural vintage—the 1995 Clos d’Ambonnay— it caused a stir in the market with a record-breaking price per bottle. The vineyard, at only 0.68 hectares, is reason enough to understand why this bottle of bubbles is rare. Coupled with the Krug label, the hefty price tag is almost self-explanatory. Production ranges from 3,000 to 5,000 bottles, depending on the vintage.
Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francaises Blanc de Noir
This unique label’s annual production is around 3,300 bottles. What makes this champagne distinctive is that the vines are from the period prior to the arrival of the deadly phylloxera epidemic that destroyed most of Europe’s vines. Since 2005, the grapes have only been sourced from the vineyards of Clos Saint-Jacques and Chaudes Terres in Ay. The other plot in Bouzy succumbed to phylloxera in 2004, resulting in an even smaller production today. If phylloxera were to strike these remaining two plots, it would be the end of the Vieilles Vignes Francaises!
Piper-Heidsieck Rare 2002
This cuvée is extremely refreshing and elegant. With a low production of around 2,000 bottles (depending on the vintage), this is a rare find, as only nine vintages have been released since its first vintage in 1976.
The Rare is a blend of 70 per cent chardonnay and 30 per cent pinot noir, and will be enjoyed by those who prefer the traditional flavours that champagne offers. To boot, wine magazine Fine this year rated the Piper-Heidsieck Rare 2002 the champagne of the decade.
Vincent Tan, Head Sommelier of Odette
Roses de Jeanne Champagne by Cédric Bouchard
Based in Celles-sur-Ource in the Côte des Bar region, Bouchard only started producing wines in 2000, yet has firmly established his reputation as one of the best in Champagne. He focuses on different varietals from single vineyards. Furthermore, he reduces his yields to a mere fourth of an average producer’s output—and if one considers that he started with only 1.37 hectares (he has since added 1.47 hectares from his father’s holdings), the quantities are extremely scarce. Interestingly, he bottles all his champagnes at a lower pressure as he believes that the bubbles only serve to obstruct the flavours. Of course, he recommends his champagnes served in a wine glass. I would recommend any of his cuvées, from the basic Val Vilaine to his Creux de l’Enfer rosé, but if there’s one to seek out, it would be the Presle—a new cuvée planted in 2007 to 10 different rootstocks of pinot noir and from a mere 15 rows. It offers layers of red berries, apples and sweet spices. Barely 100 bottles of Presle are produced annually, so it’ll take a touch of luck to secure one.
This would be my pick for texture. Now managed by brothers Pascal and Fabrice, Agrapart has been producing grower champagnes since 1894. While they are very much blanc de blancs specialists, the wines are fresh and tart, yet never too sharp or aggressive. Agrapart manages to seamlessly meld freshness and roundness, perhaps due to its mastery in the use of oak. It leans towards old 600-litre barrels as opposed to the more common 205-litre barrels, as it eschews the influence of oak. The oxidative nature of barrel ageing does allow the wines to mellow out. Among the cuvées of Agrapart, the two standouts would be L’Avizoise and Venus—two different parcels of vines from Avize, where the winemaking is kept identical to showcase the terroir’s diversity. My preference would be Venus, named after the horse which continues to till the 0.3 hectare La Fosse vineyard today (it was first planted in 1959). The richer of the two cuvées, Venus displays riper notes and concentration of flavours while maintaining the salinity that is almost a signature of the house. A textbook blanc de blancs, it’s also textural and weighty on the palate to the point that it almost feels chewable.
Shamini Krishnan, Sommelier of 1880
Georges Laval Cumières Brut Nature NV
Only 5,000 bottles per year are produced and one of the world’s best restaurants, Noma, selected Georges Laval as their favourite champagne. This bright green-gold bubbly has aromas of quince compote, white peach, Williams pear, brioche, wild grasses and beautiful minerality. On the palate, it has good minerality, a nutty flavour and a creamy elegance, with excellent balance and persistence. The tiny, impeccably run estate in Cumières is known only to a select few connoisseurs of champagne. The deep- rooted family-owned property dates back to 1694. Vincent Laval took over from his father, Georges, and still makes the champagne in the exact same way.
All his wines are unchaptalised (no sugar added) and vinified in cask. Every year, he makes only 10,000 bottles. Since 1971, the family has farmed organically, so the earth on his plot has lots of live worms and insects—organic farming at its best. Vincent also claims that no compost has been used for years and that winemakers should grow grapes to what the terrain has been blessed with; this reflects heavily in his champagne.
Mason Ng, Head Sommelier of Park90
Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millénaires 1995
In the past, Charles Heidsieck used to be one of the greatest and most established champagne houses. Many would agree that in 1985, when Rémy Cointreau bought the house, it lost its former glory days, as quantity was prioritised over quality. In 2011, the EPI Group took over ownership and really made a huge difference by reviving the house’s potential. In terms of rarity, Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Millénaires is only produced in five vintages: 1983, 1985, 1990, 1995 and, more recently, 2004. (In comparison, Dom Pérignon has produced 17 vintages since 1983.) If you were to compare with all the Grandes Marques in the market, this is the underdog—or the prodigal son, to be more exact. The 1995 vintage, in particular, through personal preference and experience, could easily triumph over most prestige champagnes in the market. This is due to its freshness—one that defies all logic and seems to be able to stop time within the bottle. The fresh acidity, followed by a lean yet intense mouthfeel, is an absolutely sensational experience, given a champagne of 23 years.
(Related: Champagne Charles Heidsieck: The Gastronome’s Bubbly)
- Images Vineyard, grapes and champagne flute courtesy of Champagne Jacquart