Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2007: 96/100 Now And Set To Improve Over The Next 20 Years
by Ken Gargett
Taittinger’s brilliant Comtes de Champagne is one of the earliest prestige champagnes. Dating back to its first vintage in 1952, it is an astonishing blanc de blancs (a rosé was added to the range in the following decades) even if it does not always drink like one.
Easily recognizable in its squat bottle, in the early days of the book/film franchise Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne was James Bond’s favorite – leading to the impression in the United States that blanc de blancs was the pinnacle of champagne.
And, yet, blanc de blancs often flies under the radar when we speak of the great champagnes.
Until recently, when it has moved to catch up (though certain markets should still find it at must-have prices), blanc de blancs champagne was also one of the great bargains for the region, leading many to the erroneous and bizarre conclusion that it might not be as good as more expensive wines.
Those thinking along those lines have certainly deprived themselves of some fabulous drinking.
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne: short history
The story of this legendary champagne dates back to the days of Count Theobald IV, king of Navarre from 1222 to 1253. The house of Taittinger claims that when he returned from his escapades in the Holy Land and other far-flung regions (otherwise known as the Crusades), he returned with the Damask rose – from which all roses in Europe evolved and an ancestor of the Chardonnay grape (the origins of grapes are a much-debated topic and one for another day).
The name “Comtes de Champagne” has been used by the house of Taittinger for its finest champagne for many years with the authorization of Count Guillaume, the last descendant of the “Counts of Champagne.”
Their former residence was purchased by Taittinger in 1932, the year the house is considered to have been founded, and restored to its former glory.
The first Comtes de Champagne, which was acknowledged as the first prestige blanc de blancs, was from the 1952 vintage. There have been 35 releases since then.
The rosé, which began in the decades following the first Comtes de Champagne, is a much smaller production; the first vintage of it seems to be a matter of some debate with various claims suggesting 1966, 1971, or 1973. I recall seeing several from the 1980s, rarely since, and they are wonderful champagnes. But it is essential to give them the time they need.
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne: technical details
The technical details that so fascinate aficionados of “Comtes” (those same aficionados tend to shorten the name) will vary from vintage to vintage, but certain things don’t change.
The wine is always a vintage release and always blanc de blancs (100 percent Chardonnay), with the grapes coming from vineyards from five Grand Cru villages: Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Oger, and Mesnil-sur-Oger.
It is first-press juice only, and around 5 percent will be aged in new oak barrels for four months to add to the complexity. When I say new, I mean a mix with something like one-third of this small component of oak new each vintage.
Dosage is now under 10 grams/liter, well down from nearly twice that back in the 1970s – the viticultural practices now in place have assisted in riper grapes helping to offset the need for such a high dosage and ensuring better wines.
Production is between 100,000 and 300,000 bottles, vintage dependent (as comparison, although Dom Pérignon does not release figures, estimates for that marque’s production range from three million up to as high as five million bottles).
The wines then age in the magnificent cellars of Taittinger. If surroundings can contribute to what goes on inside a bottle, then Comtes de Champagne was always going to be stellar.
These Gallo-Roman chalk quarries, originally carved in the fourth century before becoming the cellars for the Saint-Nicaise abbey some 900 years later, are 18 meters below ground level and part of the reason the houses and cellars of Champagne are included on the UNESCO World Heritage list.
The Comtes de Champagne Rosé is also all Grand Cru – 30 percent Chardonnay from the Côte des Blancs and 70 percent Pinot Noir of the Montagne de Reims – with 15 percent of the Pinot Noir still-red wine added to the blend, though the early releases were reputedly 100 percent Pinot Noir.
The addition of red is from a single grower in Bouzy, who provides the grapes exclusively for Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne Rosé. Rarely seen, this is a champagne that really does need many years to show at its best (the same can be said of the Comtes de Champagne blanc de blancs).
Iconic ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev allegedly once claimed, “When I drink Comtes de Champagne Rosé I no longer dance, I fly . . . ”
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne 2007: tasting notes
Two thousand seven is not the first year one thinks of when listing the great vintages of Champagne, but that does not mean that there were not some very fine wines released.
Early heat then rain leading into a cold, wet summer contributed to the unevenness that plagued the vintage. Some humidity in places and hail did not help, but a drying wind and better weather in August did allow the houses to make some excellent wines with good acidity.
Chardonnay was considered to be the pick of the varieties for 2007. And confirmation that this was a better year than many suggest can be seen with some of the houses who did release wines from this vintage, including Bollinger, Salon, Louis Roederer with Cristal, Billecart-Salmon, Dom Ruinart, and Gosset and Philipponnat with its Clos des Goisses. An impressive roll call.
Over the years, I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy quite a few of the Comtes de Champagnes. They are invariably exquisite champagnes, though they often belie their blanc de blancs heritage as the richness, concentration, and power they can exude seem far more than what many assume the Chardonnay grape can manage. These are champagnes for the cellar.
One is entitled to think that a 2007 wine must surely be ready for drinking. While it will offer great pleasure to any who do indulge at this stage, it means that they’ll miss the glories to come.
At the moment, the 2007 Comtes is a scintillating champagne, fresh, balanced, crisp, and with great length. Lean with finesse, there are notes of Asian spices, lemons, florals, gingerbread, pears, and crème brûlée with an underlying oystershell minerality.
It really should be put away for the best part of a decade and then drunk over the next 15 to 20 years, when it will start to reveal a much richer, more complex profile. At the moment for me: 96.
It seemed unfair to look at it by itself so we pulled out a 1998 Comtes de Champagne, stunning stuff and a good indicator of how well these wines age. Ripeness and a lovely seductive note here. Much more plushness. Crème brûlée has morphed into lemon meringue. Waves of stonefruit nestle with a gentle toastiness. Again, excellent length and very fine balance.
Showing the benefit of age but be in no rush at all. It has years ahead of it. For me: 98.
Taittinger Comtes de Champagnes: other recent tastings
2005 Comtes de Champagne – Immediate impression of finesse and elegance. The epitome of elegance. Good spices and a lovely salinity. Ethereal – amazingly so for this vintage. Good balance and complexity. Lingers with intent. Citrus and grapefruit with a hint of honey on the finish. Great future. 96.
2005 Comtes de Champagne Rosé – Florals and spices, touch of meat. Has ripeness but no hint of any stewiness at all (something lesser wines from this vintage may exhibit). Quince and red fruits. Very young, it does need time, and despite the balance and length the Blanc wins at the moment. 92.
1996 Comtes de Champagne – Pristine, great balance. This is one of the very finest of all Comtes and really coming into its own now. Great complexity. Notes of lemon cheesecake. Seductively supple texture, fine acidity, and there is a hint of a smoky lemon note on the very long finish. 99.
1989 Comtes de Champagne – Tasted blind at the Helsinki tasting of the great champagnes from the 1980s, where it was mistaken for a few of the greats carrying far higher price tags. Offered freshly baked bread and citrus notes. Complexity, structure, intensity. The nose incredibly seductive. Amazing balance and still life ahead. Wonderful length. This is one of the very best 1989s I’ve seen. 98.