Photo: Champagne Blin's François Gigandet
seems like an absurd idea because, surely, you would squander bubbles.
François Gigandet, the export
manager of Champagne H. Blin, recommends decanting, or at least letting the
recommend decanting Champagne
in general,” he said in an interview during the recent Vancouver International
Wine Festival. “When you keep it in the cellar for so many years, there is a
lot of carbon dioxide. So when I do a tasting, I let it breathe for five minutes.
Don’t open the bottle and serve it. Let it breathe for five to ten minutes. The
best would be to decant it. There is so much gas inside. If you don’t let it
breathe, the first taste is carbon dioxide.”
objected that one would lose bubbles, which are so critical to the enjoyment of
you know how many millions of bubbles you have in a bottle?” François
replied. “Eighty million.”
was not making that up. His authority is Gérard Liger-Belair, a University
professor of physics who
actually has done a study of Champagne
to come up with that number.
The professor also
calculated that each standard bottle of Champagne
contains an astonishing five litres of carbon dioxide, the product of the
secondary fermentation in the bottle. The gas is compressed under a pressure of
five bars (or five times atmospheric pressure), which is why so much volume can
be squeezed into 80 million bubbles.
“The sudden liberation of this gas by the uncorking the
bottle explains the force of the ejection of the cork,” the professor writes.
“Its speed can reach 50 km/h!”
However, you are unlikely to experience a Champagne
cork as a missile when the bottle is opened by a professional like François. He twists the bottle, easing
out the cork with an almost inaudible pop. When a bottle is opened with what
sounds like an explosion, the wine is likely to foam out – and that
I would still have a hard time decanting Champagne, considering what the professor
has to say about the importance of bubbles.
“The presence of bubbles doesn’t really play a role in the
taste itself, but in the texture, the sensation in the mouth,” he writes. “The mechanical effect [is] when the bubbles
burst on the surface of the tongue. The chemical effect [is] when they release
their gasses with aromas of hazelnut, bitter almond or other honey.
It is highly probable that the sight of the bubbles
increases the marvel that one feels when tasting Champagne
Along with the senses of sight, taste and smell, the sound of the light
crackling as the bubbles explode against the surface of the glass all serve to
drive the pleasure of the experience.”
Just think: a chorus of 80 million.
Champagne H. Blin was one of eight Champagne
producers at the festival. It is a relatively unfamiliar producer to consumers
in western Canada
currently with just one listing in the British Columbia Liquor Distribution
Branch. The wines are top quality but the shelf space for Champagne
is, alas, not unlimited.
Two things set Blin apart.
First of all, it specializes in Champagnes made with a high percentage, even
100%, of Pinot Meunier in the cuvée. The majority of Champagne is built around either Pinot Noir
or Chardonnay with an occasional dash of Pinot Meunier.
Secondly, Blin is a family co-operative, in the sense that
most of its 100 growers are related to the family of Henri Blin, who founded
the winery in 1947 at Vincelles in the Marne Valley
Organizing growers into a cooperative making its own wine was strictly a defensive
measure. The Champagne market had been devastated by two wars, the Russian
had been the biggest market) and the Depression. As a result, the big Champagne
grape purchases from independent growers.
have to understand that Champagne
started to sell in big volumes again only in the 1970s,” François says. “From 1945 to 1970, the
growers were poor … poor to the point that they had to have another job.”
Blin rallied the Vincelles growers into a cooperative just so that they could
survive by making and selling their own Champagne.
Today, his grandson, Simon, heads the company, which produces 600,000 bottles a
identity is the terroir of Vincelles, which is cool and has very good soil,”
François says. “And Pinot
Meunier. Champagne Blin owns 120 hectares of vineyards – 70% in Pinot Meunier,
20% in Chardonnay, and 10% in Pinot Noir.”
the 19th Century most of the vineyards were planted to Pinot
Meunier, a good variety to produce the sweet fruity Champagnes the Russians loved. When drier
palates developed in the British market, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir displaced a
lot of Pinot Meunier.
of 32,000 hectares in Champagne
, 30% is Pinot
Meunier,” François says. “The
rest is divided between Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.” And most of the Pinot Meunier grows in the Marne Valley
Blin’s growers also have modest plantings of the other varieties, usually to
allow the winery to produce blends.
can produce a good quality Chardonnay but our identity is Pinot Meunier”
Francois says. “That is why there is a lot of Pinot Meunier in most of our cuvées.
Pinot Meunier brings a lot of fruitiness and roundness to the Champagne
. The Pinot Noir is the structure
and the power and body, and the Chardonnay is freshness.”
his belief that “Pinot Meunier is becoming very trendy in Champagne
. People start to rediscover Pinot
Meunier because this is a blending variety you find only in Champagne
. You find it almost nowhere else
in the world.”
the Wine Festival, he poured four of his company’s Champagnes and, hopefully, impressed the
trade enough to get orders. The wines, with approximate pricing if listed:
Brut NV ($55). The cuvée is 80% Pinot
Meunier, 20% Chardonnay. The wines in the blend – 73% are from the 2010 vintage
– spent two to three years on the lees. This wine shows classic brioche notes
on the aroma and palate, with a hint of apple on the palate. The lively bubbles
give it a creamy texture. The finish is crisp. 90.
Brut 2005 ($70). This is 50% Pinot
Meunier, 50% Chardonnay. The additional time in bottle has added a nutty note
to the flavours. The finish is crisp and dry. 91.
Blanc de Blancs ($60). This is 100%
Chardonnay, with 80% of the cuvée from the 2010 vintage and the rest from
2008. It is crisp, with flavours of
apples and with a toasty note from time on the lees. 89.
Rosé NV ($60). There is something
especially festive about pink Champagne.
This wine, more than half of which is Pinot Meunier, has fruity aromas and
flavours of strawberries and red berries. Once again, it is crisp and dry, but
with a generous texture. 90.
one currently on the BCLDB list is Blanc
de Blancs Edition Limitée Extra Brut, a
Chardonnay from the 2005 vintage selling for $90. Since there are only four
bottles in the LDB, perhaps the listing is transitioning to another Blin wine.
It should be a Pinot Meunier-based Champagne,
allowing consumers to experience the comparatively characteristics of the