Fabulous Champagne From the Other Dom

Last summer, I sat down for an advance tasting of the latest wine of the week, the Champagne Dom Ruinart 2002 ($130) with Chef du Caves Frédéric Panaiotis. Now that it’s finally in the market, I can talk about what a fabulous champagne it is.

Ruinart is owned by French luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton (MC:FP) and it sometimes seems lost in the shadows of the company’s higher-profile sparklers such as Veuve Clicquot and the other Dom, Pérignon. This is fine with champagne aficionados because it means rap stars aren’t guzzling it by the caseload and sports teams aren’t drenching locker rooms with the stuff, so there’s more of it to go around.

Dom Ruinart, the house’s tête de cuvee (a term that means it is the first pressing of the grape, indicating superior quality) , is special in two ways: It is a blanc des blancs, meaning it is 100 percent Chardonnay, and the grapes all come from grand cru vineyards. In addition, because of its small production, Ruinart can afford to focus on making champagnes of true subtlety and elegance—champagnes that appeal to the connoisseur, rather than the mass market.

This is gloriously apparent in the 2002, albeit in embryonic form. That was a great vintage and this may be why the wine is only just showing its true potential, despite its advancing age.

As Panaiotis explains: “After eight years on the lees, the wine is still very young. On the color, it’s still on the green side—the nose not totally open yet—but you can feel the potential, very mineral, very flinty like. There’s some fresh fruit character as well, which is quite typical of our way of aging the wine. There’s no oak at all. It’s all stainless steel fermented, so that preserves that primary, very clean aroma. There’s a spicy character as well … with well-integrated acidity, there’s no sharpness, which sometimes grand cru can have. Great length, still fairly young … easily 5 to 10 years’ aging potential, at least.”

It’s obvious to me that there’s a lot going on in this wine, even if it’s still a bit shy and constrained at this stage. It’s beautifully focused and streamlined, very harmonious, with not a jarring note to upset the balance.

Initially all I got was a sense of the minerality, but after half an hour, it began to open up. Panaiotis agreed, remarking that, “at first it was quite closed. It was difficult to put names on any particular flavor. You could feel the minerality. Now you have pear, yellow plums. I even find a little bit of that Viennoiserie-like biscuity, fresh coconut, fresh hazelnut character, which brings a nice note … and I have a bit of fresh mint.”

What I am going to do is buy a case of this champagne and drink one bottle a year for the next twelve years, just to see if Panaiotis is right in his predictions. I rather suspect he is.

Next week’s column features a brand-new luxury champagne from a famous wine name—but not a famous champagne name. Stay tuned.

When to Drink: Now and for the next 15 years
Breathing/Decanting: 30 minutes
Food Pairing: Lighter fish and shellfish
Grapes: 100 percent Chardonnay
Appellation: Champagne
Region: Champagne
Country: France
Price: $130
Availability: Moderate
Web Site: www.ruinart.com/

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