This series of articles will focus on the top wines from a number of Champagne Houses. In Champagne these top wines are referred to as that house’s “Tête de cuvée”. The Tête de Cuvée will be made from a strict selection of the best barrels from the best vineyard parcels. The Tête de Cuvée is very limited in production but it is very important to the Champagne house as it represents the best of the best, the crowning achievement that defines what the house is capable of.
The name Taittinger will be well known to Champagne drinkers. It is one of Champagne’s top 5 largest producers and is one of Champagne’s original Grande Marques, a syndicate of 24 of the top houses that includes Bollinger, Krug, Pol Roger, Charles Heidsieck, among others. They are thought of as among the most elite and prestigious producers within Champagne. Taittinger is also known for its extensive vineyard holdings, 700 acres, among the largest in Champagne, that supply about 50% of the grapes Taittinger ferments in a typical year.
Taittinger dates back to 1734 when Jacques Fourneaux founded the Champagne House Forest-Fourneaux. Fourneaux established good relationships with many of the Benedictine Monks who at the time controlled most of the best vineyards within the Champagne region. In the 1930s, Forest-Fourneaux fell upon hard times and in 1932 a French soldier turned wine merchant by the name of Pierre Taittinger acquired the business. This included the beautiful Chateau de Marquetterie which Pierre had spent time convalescing in while it was being used as a French command post during the First World War.
The Chateau de Marquetterie plays an important role in the history of Comtes de Champagne.
The Chateau so impressed Pierre during his stay that he became determined to buy it if ever he had the means and is, in many ways, at the foundation of Champagne Taittinger. It was also the home of Thibaud IV le Chansounier, King of Navarre and a key influence on the politics, arts and economy of Champagne during his reign from 1222 to 1253. Thibaud was the most famous of the Counts of Champagne, or in French, the Comtes de Champagne, known for his abilities as a poet, a singer, a conqueror and for his very fine tastes that defined high class during his time. Thibaud went off to war to prove his worthiness to Blanche de Castille, the woman he would eventually marry. His refined tastes, varied talents and deep romanticism make him a perfect icon for Taittinger’s top Champagne, the Comtes de Champagne.
Comtes de Champagne is only produced in great vintages. The first Comtes de Champagne to be produced was the 1952. Only 35 vintages since have been deemed to be of sufficiently high quality to produce a Comtes de Champagne. Comtes de Champagne is always a “vintage Champagne” meaning it is made from a single harvest as opposed to the more usual practiced followed in Champagne which is to blend several vintages together. In a few vintages a Rosé Comtes de Champagne is made where the blend is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. The regular Comtes de Champagne is always a blanc de blancs meaning a white wine coming from only a white grape. Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs is 100% Chardonnay sourced from the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger, all found in the Champagne department known as the Cotes de Blanc.
Comtes de Champagne is made from grapes that have undergone the first press only which means the juice for this wine comes from pressure created by the weight of the grapes in the tank, no external pressure applied.
This first press gives the purest, most delicate juice, not influenced by broken pips or stems. 5% of the wine will be placed into new oak barrels which adds just a hint of toast and body to the wine. The wine is typically aged for a decade in the House’s several kilometres of underground cellars. The result is an ethereal wine, complex and impeccably balanced with racy acidity as the counterpoint to the deep texture the wine possesses. One of the few Tête de Cuvées that is blanc de blancs, it stands up there in quality alongside Krug and Clos de Mesnil, two other blanc de blancs that sell at several times the cost of Comtes de Champagne. Comtes de Champagne is definitely a splurge wine but as a rare treat for a special occasion, we can highly recommend it.
2004 Taittinger Champagne Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs Brut
Light gold in colour with a fine and persistent bead. Gorgeous aromas of toasted brioche, apple skins and hints of earth, mushroom, minerals bread dough. The balance on this wine is so precise. The texture is full and rich, almost creamy, but the acidity comes in give the wine cut and definition. The combination is almost impossible to describe but an incredible pleasure to drink.