The Curious Philosophy of the Oldest Champagne House
Gosset is arguably the oldest house in Champagne. Based in the Grand Cru village of Ay, the Maison was founded in 1584. That’s five centuries of winemaking tradition that have leant incredible insights into the nuances of making fine Champagne, and have formed the subtle and precise style of Gosset.
Recently, our Champagne buyer Gary Westby and I were invited to attend a special tasting with Hermine de Clermont Tonnerre, the assistant winemaker for the Maison, and the export director Bertrand Verduzier. The tasting focused on their main bottling, the NV Grande Reserve, with a retrospective vertical of these wines going back to the 80’s. We also tasted single varietal Champagnes—not released on the market, but made solely for the benefit of the winemakers to aid them in visualizing and selecting blends. As Hermine explained to us, tasting the single varietal wines, as well as a vertical with older vintages is a great way to explore the Gosset repertoire.
Gosset believes that good Champagne starts with soil, then varietal, and finally with a careful hand in the cellar. Their endeavor is to translate the character of their grapes as directly as possible into a wine expressive of its roots. In pursuit of this vision, Gosset wines never go through malolactic fermentation, in order to maintain a purity of expression. Allowing wine to go through malolactic fermentation is a simple way to add creamy, soft texture, and tends to increase the ease of drinkability. However, the Gosset house would rather add richness and weight to their wines by extended lees ageing, which is a much more expensive and involved process, but produces incredibly rewarding results.
Tasting through the single varietal wines, I was struck by the candor and precise nature of each. All of the samples were from the 2007 vintage, and showed incredibly pure varietal character. Hermine explained the contributions of each grape: Chardonnay creates a backbone of chalky minerality and pretty, elegant aromas, pinot noir fills out the mid-palate, and adds further fruit and complexity to bouquet, while the pinot meunier (used in smaller quantities) contributes weight and richness.
Finally, we continued on to the flight of the NV Grande Reserve, beginning with the current wine, disgorged in 2015, and based primarily on 2010. The wine showed very clear, perfumed aromas of pear, white blossoms, and a small note of pie crust. On the palate, the wine held bright, clean tangerine fruit, with plenty of cut, drive, and high-toned acidity.
Next we tasted the Grand Reserve disgorged in 2007, but based on 2002. Still quite vibrant and fresh, the main difference in this wine was a more pronounced weight on the palate, and very slight nutty aromas, adding to the complexity of the bouquet.
Finally we tasted two wines from the 80’s. The first was disgorged in 1990, and based primarily on 1985. I drink a lot of Champagne, and taste more, but I would be hard pressed to find a wine half this age with so much poise and elegant integration. The red fruit of the pinot noir was more dominant at this point and the age characteristics were showing with lightly toasted hazelnut and cola notes. The texture, too, was much richer and creamier, though still lifted by the classic vibrant acidity in the base. Overall, the wine was seamlessly integrated, and drinking much younger than its age.
The final wine in the flight was disgorged in 1987, and based on 1982. Only at this age was the wine showing primarily autolytic characteristics, with plenty of nutty and bready aromas. The texture was incredibly soft with a honeyed taste on the palate, and intensely long finish.
With this tasting, I will now argue that Gosset wines are some of the best candidates for long-term aging. If even the classic wine of the Maison, the Grande Reserve, can age seamlessly for 30 + years, the potential of the other wines in the portfolio is vast. The 2006 Vintage Champagne, elegant and poised as it is with soft fruit, should be another great cellar candidate, much more the 2002 “Celebris”, whose extra-brut style and extended lees-aging, gives the wine plenty of structure for the long term.
-Heather Gowen (formerly Heather Vander Wall)