An invitation to taste Jacquart Champagne over lunch at Chrysan, which opened last summer and is rapidly establishing itself as one of London’s leading Japanese restaurants, was pretty irresistible. But we did have to work for our lunch, which was preceded by a very comprehensive tasting, illustrating above all that the quality and style of a Champagne depends upon the talent of the winemaker for blending.
The winemaker at Jacquart is Floriane Eznack, who first took us through five vins clairs. These are the still wines that form the Champagne’s blend before the production of bubbles. Tasting vins clairs is an intriguing and demanding exercise, and it certainly makes you realize just how bubbles can soften what would otherwise be rather severe flavors.
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We had five examples, all from the 2012 vintage. It was not an easy year: There were numerous climatic problems, including severe temperatures in February and prolonged flowering that dragged on for three weeks rather than the usual one, which in turn affected the length of the harvest. Until the end of July, things were not looking good, with mildew and rot, but then hot weather arrived in August and everything came right in September. As we were able to taste, the results in the glass are very satisfactory.
The nuances were intriguing and subtle. There was a Pinot Meunier from the village of Villedommange, a premier cru village on the Montagne de Reims, with a ripe nose and a fruity and rounded palate.
A Pinot Noir from Ville-sur-Arce in the southern Côte des Bar was more structured on the palate. Next came a Pinot Noir from Mailly, on the Montagne de Reims. Eznack talked about the austerity of Mailly as it is a north-facing village, with vineyards protected by the woods on the summit of the hill. There was a touch of pink in the color, with some rounded fruit and quite a full long finish. I did not actually find it that austere.
We finished with a pair of contrasting Chardonnay wines, one from Villers-Marmery, one of the two Chardonnay villages on the Montagne de Reims, with some stony lemony fruit on the palate. Chardonnay from Chouilly on the Côtes des Blancs, was fuller, and more floral.
And then we moved onto Champagne itself, with a vertical tasting of the Blanc de Blancs. Wine from the villages of Villers-Marmery and Chouilly forms the backbone of this wine, as well as Avize and Vertus. Jacquart uses no oak for any of their wines, and so it was fascinating to see how the flavors had developed, with what could almost be described as hint of oaky richness in the more mature wines. I sometimes find the same effect in Chablis as well.
Jacquart Champagne tasting notes
2005: Light golden color. It had quite a rounded nose, quite broad and rich, and on the palate quite ripe and honeyed. The vintage was influenced by some rain in August and September.
2004: I initially liked this a lot, as it was tighter and more structured, with some elegant yeast autolysis. However, Eznack observed a note of reductiveness, and indeed the wine failed to evolve in the glass as the other wines did. Nonetheless it had a dry, nutty palate, but with a tighter structure.
2002: This came from Chouilly and Vertus, as well as Sézanne, a village south of the Côte des Blancs. Light golden. It had a broader richer nose, with ripe brioche on the palate. It also possessed a fuller bodied with a long note of maturity. This was a nicely rounded palate, but with elegance and length.
1999: This was my favorite as it was light golden and had quite a broad, mature nutty nose. There was a beautifully mature palate. It was rounded and nutty, with a concentrated finish, with understated richness. 1999 was the warmest vintage of the four.
Lunch was accompanied by a flight of Jacquart Vintage Brut, a blend of 45% Chardonnay with 55% Pinot Noir. It can be quite challenging tasting wines with a meal. I find myself getting distracted by other flavors, and that was certainly true of the delicious sashimi selection that was our first course.
Our meal included salmon with wasabi tosajyoyo jelly, yellowtail with mooli and horseradish, tuna with egg yolk soy and ginger, Mediterranean shrimp with ponzu jelly, sea bream marinated with sun-dried tomato, and Parmesan and scallop with shaved black truffle. Some of the subtle Japanese flavors were quite new to me, and the Champagnes set them off to perfection.
We enjoyed a 2005 vintage that was quite golden in color, quite rich and honey on the nose, with texture and depth on the palate, and a honeyed finish. You certainly could see the vintage similarity between the 2005s, although the Pinot Noir added structure to the wine.
And with the 2004 we were treated to quite the best sushi that I have ever eaten, namely tuna with saffron and wakame sushi rice, kinoko rolls with mushroom, chestnuts, edamame, inari rice, with beetroot paper, a salmon cake on saffron and beetroot rice, and an Ebi 10 roll, prawn tempura and wakame rice wrapped in carrot paper. The flavors were fabulously subtle and tasty, and suited the 2204 Vintage Jacquart.
The 2004 vintage was similar to the Blanc de Blancs, for this was quite closed with a firm nose and quite a tight structured palate, and still very youthful,
The 2002 was quite rich and nutty and on the palate with some delicious yeast autolysis and brioche notes. This was my favorite of the three.
And then came the 1999 Vintage Rosé. By this time I was running late for my next appointment, so I tasted it without the dessert it was intended to accompany. I think it would have gone well with something sweet, as it was quite a deep pink, with rather a heavy nose, and on the palate, quite rich and sweet, with ripe raspberry fruit.
Top photo: Jacquart Champagne. Credit: Alex Layton