Gosset Celebris 2008 Champagne: History And Tasting Notes
by Ken Gargett
Gosset is one of those champagne houses that I find endlessly fascinating for many reasons.
Gosset was the first champagne house, although not the first to actually make champagne. Gosset was founded in 1584 by Pierre Gosset, a local alderman and wine grower. In the early days, the focus was red wine was the order of the day, although likely a much lighter style than we enjoy today. The local reds competed with those of Beaune for the King’s table, from which flowed attention and sales. Gosset has copies of documentation from the days of the King of France obviously enjoying their products.
Ruinart, founded in 1729, is considered to be the earliest of the champagne (as we know it) producers.
The original Gosset winery was established in the village of Aÿ. A little over a decade ago, they expanded into Epernay. Gosset currently sells a little over a million bottles a year (not nearly as much as it might sound).
The style of Gosset champagnes tends to complex, richly flavored wines. Powerful Pinot components and the steel and elegance of fine Chardonnay. In recent years, their style has become a little more gentle and there has been some experimentation with malo. Previously, they were very much a no-malo house.
Gosset was responsible for the first ‘prestige’ champagnes I ever purchased. Len Evans’s amazing Rothbury Estate in the Hunter Valley, as well as making some terrific wines and especially cracking Semillon, occasionally offered members special deals on wines. There was literally no one as well connected in the wine world as Evans and he took full advantage of it.
Evans convinced Gosset to send over a small offering of old wines that were then offered to Rothbury Estate members (one of the first things I had done when I became interested in wine was to join). And so, at some stage in the 1980s, a young a, very inexperienced but rather obsessed winelover found himself with a four pack. I remember it well. For AUD$100 I received three bottles of the 1973 Gosset Grand Millésimé and one of the 1961 Gosset Integral. Not bad for twenty-five bucks a bottle, even in those days.
For the record, they drank beautifully and were a large part of the reason I ended up going down the mature champagne road. Those bottles may have been great value at the time, but in the long run, they have cost me thousands! I am pretty sure that I still have one bottle of the 1973 left, somewhere at the bottom of a box deep in the cellar. One day…
Many question older champagnes in general and these specifically, but is a house that does not use malolactic fermentation – another reason I like the brand. Great champagnes are made by houses that use full malo, partial malo and no malo, but those which eschew malo altogether have a fine acidity, length and structure which appeals. Lanson is another such house.
Before we go further, some might be wondering about the Gosset Integral champagne. Not a wine you’ve come across? As far as I can work out, and I have researched this far and wide, it seems that the 1961 was the only vintage of ‘Integral’ that they made. I have found only two mentions of it on the internet.
The first was that a bottle was part of a mixed lot of Gosset champagnes sold at Christies in 1999 – the others being half a dozen Celebris 1990, a magnum of 1976 and another magnum of their Grand Rose from 1988. The lot went for US$805.
The second mention was an article around the same time from the USA that talked about a long line of tastings and dinners held back in the 1970s. One dinner, dubbed the ‘1959 Dinner’, kicked off with a bottle of the ’61 Integral (so the ‘1959 or thereabouts’ dinner might have been closer to the mark). The dinner cost US$125 and included the 1972 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Montrachet, 1959 Chateau Pontet-Canet, 1959 Carruades de Lafite, 1959 Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache and 1959 Chateau Suduiraut. I guess, if nothing else, it suggests that the wine was held in high regard, having been included with this crowd.
Gosset has a track record of the occasional one-off release. Many years ago, when I would spend any spare minute pouring over any wine book I could find, I came across a paragraph in one, I think from Serena Sutcliffe, which I have never forgotten. Sutcliffe mentioned that one of the greatest champagnes she’d ever enjoyed was a bottle of Gosset Cuvée Quatrième Centenaire. Never saw another reference to it anywhere.
This was a non-vintage prestige cuvee released in 1984 to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the foundation of the Gosset. Non-vintage, the blend incorporated years back to 1971. It has been described as a blend of 36% Pinot noir and 63% Chardonnay (unless that information came from someone mathematically challenged, one assumes also 1% of Meunier). Small quantities only for this gem. It was one of those wines I assumed would never come my way. And then, in an old Sydney auction catalogue, there was a bottle. Cost me about $35 at the time – fortunately, it seemed no one else had any idea about it. I can only say that I can see why Ms. Sutcliffe was so enamored. Glorious.
A final reason I am fascinated by Gosset champagne is that they are one of the houses which, for me, produces wines of fair, average quality amongst their more basic offerings, but reach stellar heights when it comes to their top cuvees. Pierre Peters is another. I am not convinced that their basic stuff is quite what it was, but I’d crawl over broken glass for their top wines, with both houses. Piper Heidsieck was another, though I think their basic wines are very much on the up.
Gosset remained in family hands for more than 400 years before it was sold to today’s owners, the Renaud Cointreau family, owners of not only Cointreau but also Cognac Frapin. Odilon de Varine has been the chef de cave for many years and continues to impress. He replaced the former cellarmaster, Jean-Pierre Mareigner, who died in 2016, at the age of 60, after an impressive 33 years at the helm. Jean-Pierre was in charge when I visited many years ago.
Gosset has steadily expanded production and premises and exports widely, though in rather smaller quantities than many of the champagne houses. I remember that there was a solid amount of their 1996 Grand Millésime (a superb wine) available downunder, but since then the flow seems more a trickle. Hopefully, other markets are doing better. Their top wines from 2008 seem to have been restricted to little more than a few cases in our market.
Naturally, it is their top wines to which we turn today, those 2008s. Their vintage, which I have always thought is one of the most beautifully packaged of all champagnes, is called Grand Millésime. These days, though this really does seem a bit of a movable feast, their prestige is the Celebris, also superbly presented. As well as the ‘standard’ Celebris, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, there is a Celebris Rose and a Celebris Blanc de Blancs, though I am yet to encounter the latter.
2008 Celebris – The wine is a blend of 54% Chardonnay from the villages of Vertus, Avize, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Verzy and Trépail, and 46% Pinot Noir from Cumières, Avenay, Aÿ, Bouzy and Ambonnay. While Chardonnay dominant, the percentage for the 2008 is actually less than with other vintages of Celebris. The wine is not made to any set recipe, just what gives them their very best options each vintage.
Dosage is just three grams/liter (or 4.8 according to some sources) and the wine spent well over a decade on lees – 12 years. First offered with the great 1988 vintage, this is just the 8th release of Celebris. It is no secret that I am a huge fan of the wonderful 2008 vintage. The only issue is that a wine like this really will show even more class in years to come. Terrific now, it will be better in time. They made 15,000 bottles (they’ll confess to 20,000, but point out they have already drunk some and no doubt some have been cellared for release down the track-they have a late-disgorging program).
For me, intense with notes of stonefruits, peaches and hazelnuts. Vibrant, crisp and clean acidity. No malo here. The palate exhibits traces of limes, with the merest hint of honey on the finish. The wine exhibits the ethereal nature of Chardonnay blended with the imposing might of Pinot Noir. Exceptional length, this is fresh and bright, with the intensity maintained throughout. The texture is an intriguing mix of cream and steel. A complex wine, without any question, it has a very long and exciting life ahead of it. There is grace and finesse here. 97.
Celebris Rose 2008 – Eleven years on lees here, this is a blend of 72% Chardonnay and 28% Pinot Noir, with 8% being red wine. The dominant villages are Avize, Aÿ, Ambonnay and Cramant, with Ambonnay, Cumières and Bouzy providing the Pinot. Dosage is 6.5 grams/liter. This is only the fourth release of a Celebris Rose, which included, a little surprisingly, one from 2003. What is worth mentioning is that both versions of Celebris released wines from 2007, confirming what a fine year this underrated vintage is. It is also the first time that either wine, let alone both, has been released in consecutive vintages.
Lovely pale pink hue, this is a wine exuding fresh strawberries at every turn. Subtle and complex, this is fresh and lingering. Strawberries with hints of bergamot and florals. Some spice notes and soft black cherries. A little softer than expected, but none the worse for that. Has the focused ’08 acidity. Now for half a dozen years, this is all about subtle flavors. 95.
For more information, please visit https://www.champagne-gosset.com/en/nos-vins/celebris-vintage-2008-2/
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