Champagne Taittinger Comtes Blanc de Blancs 2012: Not Just a Great Champagne, it’s a Great Wine!
by Ken Gargett
Stunning champagnes from the amazing 2012 vintage continue to hit the shelves, but beware, there are not many more to come. And while there are some decent vintages to follow, before we hit the next potentially great year in 2018, stocking the cellar with whatever you can find from 2012 would be wise and will be rewarded.
There are very few champagnes from this great year that can match the magical Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 2012.
Taittinger was certainly not late to the party when it came to releasing a prestige champagne, but it would be fair to say that for many vintages, theirs lagged well behind when it came to pricing. Those in the know regularly stocked their cellar with Comtes – it was fabulous buying. These days, the price has certainly caught up (expect to pay around $220 to $300 per bottle for the 2012), but it would be most unfair to suggest that it does not deserve to sit at that level.
Taittinger’s Blanc de Blancs gained early fame thanks to 007, James Bond. Yes, today the House of Bollinger is inextricably linked with the famous spy but, in the early days, it was Taittinger which held his favor. Recent articles have suggested that Bollinger pay £10 million for the rights to appear – friends from Bollinger assure me that this is not true and their contribution is little more than several cases of the relevant champagne. This was because the family behind the Bond films liked working with family businesses when they could and a lunch between the two established the relationship. But who really knows.
That said, the source also claims that the deal was made with Madame Bollinger. Bollinger first appeared in Moonraker, released in 1979. Madame Bollinger stepped aside from the business in 1971 and passed away in 1977 (the year of The Spy who Loved Me), so that seems rather unlikely.
In the Ian Fleming books, Bond drank even more champagne than he did martinis, but drink he did and he shared his love around several champagne houses. In the books, he drinks champagne on 65 occasions, bourbon 57 times, the famous vodka martinis 42 times and, surprisingly, Sake on 37 occasions. Gin, cognac and red wine around two dozen times each. Fleming is known to have seen Taittinger as 007’s favorite champagne. On the screen, Taittinger appeared briefly in the early days, but then the rights were sold by Cubby Broccoli, who arranged a sponsorship deal with Dom Perignon.
Bollinger followed, though whether this was by way of sponsorship or a handshake deal between friends is one of those things we shall probably never fully know.
It is said that Claude Taittinger and Fleming met on the set at one stage and the two became friends. Given that the first film was Dr No and it was released in 1962, the famous letter written by Fleming to M Taittinger confirms that it cannot have been during that first film (the letter is dated 1963).
Fleming was only with us for one more film, so presumably they met on the set of ‘From Russia with Love’. In any event, that first film featured Dom Perignon, and the only film in which Taittinger appeared was ‘From Russia with Love’, which was released in 1963 (other than the 1967 spoof of Casino Royale, where Peter Sellers as Bond is served a ‘rain-cooled Taittinger’).
Taittinger does fare rather better in the novels.
It is a bit hard to see just which Taittinger is enjoyed in ‘From Russia…’, but as the first release of the Comtes, their prestige champagne, was the 1952, it seems likely that was it. It is referred to as the ‘Riserva Comtes de Champagne’’ early in the film and then, later when on the train, 007 asks for a bottle of the ‘Blanc de Blancs’, the shape of the bottle certainly suggests it was the Comtes.
In the first novel, ‘Casino Royale’, Bond orders both the Taittinger 1945 and a Blanc de Blancs Brut 1943 – time of writing was too early for the first Comtes to have been released. Bond actually says, “Give me a Taittinger Blanc de Blancs… It isn’t very well known, but it is the best champagne in the world”. Taittinger was not just 007’s first literary champagne, but also his last, appearing in the short story ‘007 in New York’, which was part of the collection titled ‘Octopussy and the Living Daylights’, published in 1966. Bond served the Taittinger Rose with his own special recipe for scrambled eggs.
There is one further Bond-Taittinger connection. Justin Llewelyn, the son of Desmond Llewelyn, who played the much-loved Q so many times, was Taittinger’s British brand ambassador for several decades.
No matter and unsurprisingly, we have digressed.
We have looked at Taittinger and its history on a couple of occasions already.
Suffice to say, Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs was created with the 1952 in honour of the Comtes de Champagne – the Counts of the Champagne region – and most especially, Thibaud IV. Whether truth or legend, Count Thibaud IV, the King of Navarre, headed for the Crusades in 1239. The residence of Thibaud IV has belonged to the Taittinger family since 1932 and they have undertaken considerable renovations. When Thibaud eventually returned from the Crusades, he brought back two “treasures”, as tokens of his love for Blanche de Castille.
The first was the Damask rose. I am advised that apparently this rose was then grafted on to the Gallica rose, common throughout Europe, and apparently all roses now grown in Europe come from this crossing.
The second treasure was a new grape variety. This grape turned out to be the ancestor of the Chardonnay grape. How fitting that the wine that honors him should then be a blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay). Use of the name for their prestige champagne was authorized by Count Guillaume, the last descendant of the ‘Comtes de Champagne’.
The wine is made from various Grand Cru villages of the Cotes des Blancs – well known as home to the greatest Chardonnay in all Champagne – including Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger, Chouilly, Cramant and Avize. First press juice only and 5% of it will spend four months in oak, one-third of which is refreshed every year. It is part of the process of ensuring maximum complexity. The wine then spends around ten years on lees in the famous Gallo-Roman chalk quarries (crayeres) below the Saint-Nicaise Abbey in Reims. These crayeres were carved out in the 4th century and have been listed by UNESCO as a World Heritage site.
Dosage will vary – in the 1970s, it sat around the 15-16 grams/litre – but is now under 10 grams/litre – 9, to be specific, for the 2012. Production varies also, but expect it to be between 150,000 and 300,000 bottles, a fraction of what we see from some houses with their prestige releases. While the exact figures are not available, 2012 is considered a smaller vintage.
2012 is the 39th release of this great wine since its first appearance.
2012, as I have noted several times, is a stunning vintage in Champagne. Whether it tops 2008 is a matter for personal preference. For me, 2008 is the greatest vintage I have tasted since the scintillating 1988s, though many come close. If pushed, I’d have the 2008 Comtes the proverbial whisker ahead, but I will most happily drink either, any day of the week. They will both excite winelovers and engender debate for the next couple of decades. There are some who have suggested that 2012 is ‘a Pinot year’. Possibly, but there was also some glorious Chardonnay grown that vintage as well.
First enticement is the gleaming pale gold hue. The nose then suggests that this is the perfect representation of great Chardonnay from the Cotes des Blancs from 2012. Richly flavored, with hazelnuts, white peaches, lemon rind, hints of apricot, fig and quince. Imagine freshly churned butter on straight-from-the-oven croissants. A touch of almond on the finish. Already wonderfully complex, enticing and ever-so-finely balanced.
A line of salinity runs through it, perhaps not quite to the extent we saw with the 2008, but there, nonetheless. A champagne with bite and balance, finesse and class. Stunning length and a seductively creamy, satiny texture. There is a fine minerality that supports the wine. It is fully approachable at this early stage, but do not let that deter you from stocking the cellar. Well cellared, it will provide immense pleasure for the next 15 to 25 years. As for serving with food, for me, this champagne is a meal in itself.
As mentioned, for me, this is the merest whisker behind the glorious 2008, but no matter. Wonderful stuff. This is not just a great blanc de blancs, nor a great champagne: it is a great wine. 98.
For more information, please visit www.taittinger.com/en/comtes-de-champagne#la-legende-thibaud-iv
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