As Laurent-Perrier EHL Alliance Ambassadors, we recently had the pleasure to conduct a wine tasting with the Oenology Professor Gildas L’Hostis. During our conversation, we discussed the characteristics of Champagne in general and the tasting profile of Laurent-Perrier Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, one of the prestige cuvée of the Maison Laurent-Perrier. Last but not least, we turned our attention to the similarities of wine with music and art. Professor Gildas L’Hostis provided us with some suggestions on how to match wine with the right masterpiece. Read throughout the article to find the answer to all of our questions.
What are the characteristics of Champagne?
Photo credit: Leif Carlsson
Even if the traditional method is not specific to the Champagne, the latter differs from other sparkling wines for multiple and complex reasons. Concerning the terroir, the cold and continental climate will yield grapes characterised by high acidity, leading to the freshness typical of Champagne. Besides, the soil is mainly chalk, which helps to enhance the acidity even further. Finally, the harvest is conducted by hand to avoid wounding the grapes.
Regarding the production, the main peculiarity is the employment of the traditional or champenoise method, which requires a second fermentation directly in the bottle. After the winemaking process it is time for the blending, an essential step for each cuvée. Indeed, in Champagne, three main grape varieties are employed (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier), the other grapes are less prominent. Each grape provides a specific taste to the wine. Moreover, the grapes come from different villages, opening up an infinite range of possibilities when composing the cuvée. Hence, the blending in Champagne is extremely complex. The Maisons’ primary objective is to achieve consistency and develop a distinctive style, similar to the perfume industry.
The step following the blending is the bottling. At this point, the liqueur de tirage is added. The latter is composed of wine, sugar, and yeast and triggers the second fermentation in the bottle. A crown cap will then seal the bottle, laid down during the second fermentation. Afterwards, the Champagne needs to age. A non-vintage Champagne should age at least 15 months, while vintage champagne requires at least 3 years. The sediment of the lees (dead yeast) will be in the bottle, enriching the wines with secondary aromas of brioche, toasted bread and butter. Now comes the moment for riddling, during which the bottles are slowly turned to move the lees to the neck of the bottle. Afterwards, the crown cap will be removed and thanks to the pressure in the bottle the sediments will be ejected. At this point, to substitute the liquid lost, the liqueur de dosage will be added. This is another fundamental step since it will influence the taste of the wine. Indeed, the dosage is composed of a mix of sugar and wine. The sugar is supposed to give a sweeter taste and balance the acidity. However, in my opinion, the main feature of a good champagne is its acidity and freshness. They are good when they are lively and vibrant. An increasing number of wineries are making “brut nature” Champagne (no added sugar) to preserve the freshness in the Champagne.
We mentioned cuvées and non-vintage champagne, what is the difference between the two?
A Cuvée is the result of a blend of wines from different years or different villages. While a Millésime or vintage Champagne is produced using the grapes of one single harvest. Vintage Champagne is typically produced during excellent years. Consequently, they are not produced every year. However, due to global warming, it is increasingly more common for Maisons to produce a Millésime.
Which are the advantages of stainless steel tanks over ageing in oak?
When using stainless steel tanks without ageing in oak, the winemaker does not want to cover the wine's taste with extra aromas. Some wines deserve not to be aged because they should be vibrant, extremely aromatic, and fresh. Using oak is similar to applying makeup. Be aware, I have nothing against makeup, but to keep the wines pure, it is better to use stainless steel or concrete tanks. In conclusion, the main advantage of using steel only is that the purity of the grapes is preserved.
For the cuvée Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature from Laurent-Perrier, you can feel the purity and freshness of the grapes. The main objective was to keep something remarkably pure and natural without any artifice. However, the Champagne still presents a tender and sensual side. Indeed, despite being a brut nature, the cuvée is well-balanced and round.
How can we recognise a Champagne Blanc de Blancs in general?
Blanc de Blancs Champagne is produced only from Chardonnay. Very often the grapes originate from the best villages in Côte des Blancs, where the vignerons are specialised in producing excellent Chardonnay. Usually you can expect Blanc de Blancs to be fresh, tense, and vivid. The grape brings citrus, green apple aromas, and high minerality. Finally, Chardonnay is sensitive to ageing on lees, so sometimes “yeasty” aromas (such as bread, buns…) combine with a fresh and citrusy side.
Which are the characteristics of Laurent-Perrier Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature?
Let’s begin with the technical aspects. For this cuvée, the Maison uses 40% of reserved wine from grapes from Montagne de Reims and Côte des Blancs. The making process and the ageing of the still wines is done in stainless steel tanks. The wine is aged (on lees) in a bottle during 5 years before disgorgement.
The cuvée Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature from Laurent-Perrier is well balanced, you get something fresh but also tender at the same time. What I appreciate about this Champagne is that it is extremely pure and there is no artifice. Indeed, despite the fact that for Brut Nature I was expecting something more acidic, the cuvée is still surprisingly dynamic and fresh.
Image Credit: NZZ Live
When looking at the Champagne, you can see that bubbles are persistent, extremely thin, and refined, which are indicators of high quality. The nose is inviting, welcoming but without showing off too much. You have this aromatic nose with fresh aromas from lemons to citrusy mandarine, with a hint of minerality. It is a happy nose!
In the mouth, the wine is dynamic and well-balanced. The grapes were probably extremely ripe at the moment of the harvest. In the end, you have a long zesty finish which is very pleasant. To sum up, the cuvée Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature from Laurent-Perrier is fresh and sensual with a hint of minerality. Delicate and elegant. I enjoyed it and I think most people would. The Champagne House did a very precise job!
When would you taste a glass of cuvée Blanc de Blancs at home?
According to my mood, that’s it! (laughing) But I would say that it is perfect for an aperitif.
What food would pair well with a glass of Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature from Laurent-Perrier?
First of all, I would say that you can drink it by itself and that is very positive for a wine!
If you want to pair it with food, I would suggest the Chaource, a cheese from the Champagne area since it is not too strong and would be a good match. Otherwise, I would recommend seafood or anything from the ocean, with the exception of oysters. Even sushi would be a great pairing with the Blanc de Blancs. I would also recommend it when eating foie gras. In fact, its acidity will help digest the fatness of the goose liver. However, what I would personally not suggest is to pair Champagne Blanc de Blancs with desserts.
A new tendency is to combine wine and art. Can you explain more how these pairings work and what we could pair with the Blanc de Blancs?
Image credit: Leif Carlsson
The association between food, wine and art is often used by marketers, who use music to influence your perception. The perception of a product is going to change depending on the music used in the background of a commercial. For wine, the same concept applies since multiple senses are simultaneously used to describe it.
It is interesting to note that you can pair wine not only with food but also, with music or paintings. Indeed, we experience cross-modal correspondence, meaning that music, paintings, and wine share some attributes. Firstly, the lexical used for wine and music is surprisingly close. The two languages both use intersensorial metaphors. That means that the lexical used to describe wine is not restricted to one sense only, but different senses collaborate at the same time to provide a comprehensive description of the wine or of the job of art.
Moreover, using anthropomorphism is something extremely common for both of them. For example when saying that a piece of music or a wine are “nervous”, we employ an adjective that usually refers to human beings and their mental status. Whereas, when we say that a wine is light or full-bodied we refer to its body as if it was a person.
It may sound strange, but we know that music or sounds can communicate specific tastes. A very interesting example is the Kiki and bouba effect. The bouba/kiki effect is normally an experience conducted to match shapes and sounds but it is also well adapted for sound and taste. To understand the strong links among the senses, I often ask my students which is the most acidic between Bouba and Kiki. They automatically answer that the most acidic is the last one.
Tasting can also lead to a specific sound. When you are using one sense (e.g. tasting) you are activating more than one sense. It seems that when we taste (food, wine…), we unconsciously make sounds at low or high frequency. The sounds will be different depending on the taste.
For a wine, you go from something acidic to something sweeter but also strong and bitter. For music, it is more or less the same. Some music tends to be more acidic than others. For a music that is considered to be lively (more acidic), the sound is linked to high pitch notes. For example, a soprano voice has an acidic voice and has a high pitch. On the contrary, the bass is louder and provides lower notes. Consequently and to make an analogy, a wine with a high acidity would have a “high pitch”, when a strong and bitter wine would have a low pitch (louder).
What I insist on is that when you are using a sense you are not using it alone. Some people for reasons we still have difficulties understanding involuntary associate one sense with another. This is called synesthesia. Scientific research shows that by intentionally using synesthesia, you become more creative. All the reasons listed above should encourage us to pair art and wine more often.
For the pairing of the Laurent-Perrier Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, we need to consider that the wine displays both acidic and soft aspects. When linking it to music, it is more about high notes. For me this wine has a soft and tender aspect, while remaining bright. For this reason, the first pairing I chose is the soprano voice of Kiri te Kanawa singing “Mi tradì quell’alma ingrata” from the Opéra Don Giovanni, Act 2. This piece of opera is quite aromatic, airy and tender at the same time. The ambitus of her voice tends to be large since she can develop extremely high notes while remaining flexible. It is very expressive! My second choice is less predictable in my opinion. It is the jazz song “Lullaby of Birdlandfrom” by Sarah Vaughan. She is more of a mezzo but she can express both high and low notes.
The third and last music I chose is a mix of jazz and funk, to be more recent! It is called “How can I be sure?” by Durand Jones. It displays the same type of tonality as the previous pieces.
Finally, I will now provide some examples of how to pair the wine with art masterpieces. The painting I selected is “Young Lady with Gloves”, also known as “Young Girl in Green” by Tamara de Lempicka. The painting depicts a young bubbly and lively lady, who is at the same time extremely elegant.
Doesn't it sound familiar with our previous description of Laurent-Perrier as citrusy, fresh, but yet elegant and sensual? The lady wears a green dress conveying freshness and a lively atmosphere. As you can see the folds are pointed, almost edgy. While the beautiful lady is more tender and curvilinear.
Finally, another pairing we could make is with the sculpture “Torso sheaf” by Hans Arp. Here what reminds me of the wine is the minerality and its very sinuous curves. It is extremely pure and like the Blanc de Blancs it presents no artifice.