The MCC Technical Seminar was held yesterday at the Graham and Rhona Beck Skills Centre, proceedings culminating in a tutored tasting of Champagne Mailly Grand Cru by chef de cave Hervé Dantan.
The Mailly vineyards are situated around the village of Mailly Champagne, one of only 17 villages to hold the highest classification Grand Cru out of 318. Total area under vineyard amounts to 70ha tended by 81 different growers, and annual production is approximately 500 000 bottles. To put this into perspective, there are 32 000ha of vineyard in Champagne altogether and the region sold 293 million bottles in 2009, 61% in France and 39% in the rest of the world.
Mailly Champagne is located between Epernay and Reims in the area of Montagne de Reims, an area renowned for the quality of its Pinot Noir and the vineyards of Mailly are accordingly planted 75% to that variety and 25% to Chardonnay.
Yesterday Dantan showed the following wines (prices of local importer Colmant Cap Classique & Champagne in brackets): Brut Réserve (R320 a bottle); Extra Brut (R350); L’Intemporelle Brut 2005 (R560); Blanc de Noir (not available); Les Échansons 1999 (R740); L’Intemporelle Rosé Brut 2006 (not available) and Brut Rpsé (not available).
The wines were all Pinot Noir dominated but intriguingly did not display as much red fruit as might have been expected. Rather they tended to show flavours of peach, pear and apricot. Why would the wines of fellow Grand Cru village Bouzy not far away to the south be so much more red fruit in character than Mailly? “Our ripening process is more gradual but ultimately it’s impossible to explain,” says Dantan.
Another curious thing about Mailly according to Dantan is that the Pinot Noir typically possesses a Chardonnay elegance and freshness while the Chardonnay has a Pint Noir roundness, making them very compatible blending partners.
The two stand-out wines were L’Intemporelle Brut 2005, a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and Les Échansons 1999, 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay. Ascribing gender designations to wine is often contrived, but here it really did make sense to think of the former as “feminine” and the latter “masculine”. The L’Intemporelle showed great finesse with a very fine, soft mousse and again an acidity that appeared very gentle while Les Échansons was much more rich and powerful.
The difference between Cap Classique and Champagne generally is that the wines have less residual sugar but also less total acidity, the result of the fundamentally different climatic conditions that prevail between here and there. What was striking across just about all the Mailly wines was how despite an awareness that the acidity would be technically high, they presented in a wonderfully unobtrusive, subtle way. In addition, the mousse in each case came across as very fine, soft and creamy.
Earlier in the day, Graham Beck’s Pieter Ferreira had asked rhetorically what more Cap Classique had to do in order to regularly rate 5 Stars. Champagne can provide only a distant point of reference given its particular growing conditions, but tasting the Mailly line-up, I had a sense that local bubbly still has some way to go.