The very first Champagne of them all

in Wine by

By Celia Strong

Well, the month of December and the holiday season are upon us. For better or worse. The one really good thing about this time of year is that most of us get to have a really good bottle of Champagne. At some point. Thank goodness! For this year, we’ve have a particularly good one. Unique in many ways. So way more special. Unlike most weeks, I have to reveal the wine’s name earlier than usual. If I don’t, all the special and unique things about it don’t get to be discussed. And what kind of a lesson would that be? Our wine is the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs.

Maison Ruinart is the oldest winery to make Champagne, established on September 1, 1729, by Nicholas Ruinart. Sure, there were wineries all over the region, but Ruinart was the first to produce Champagne as we know it today. (In 1728, King Louis XV passed an edict that authorized the transportation of wine in bottles. Before this, wine had always been shipped in barrels. And, as we should know, leaky barrels were no way to ship “wine with bubbles!” Nicholas had good timing, for sure.) Backing up a bit, before the house was established, we need to “meet” Dom Thierry Ruinart. A Benedictine monk in the city of Reims who lived from 1657 to 1709 when Louis XIV was King of France. When he was 23 years old, Ruinart left Champagne and went to live in Paris. There, he was exposed to a much more worldly way of life. Specifically, wine with bubbles from his home region. Even though he was at the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Ruinart was a great scholar and had a keen sense of business, as well. On visits home, to see his brother and nephew, he told them how successful he thought Champagne wine with its bubbles could be. It was his nephew, Nicholas Ruinart, who opened Maison Ruinart. Twenty years after Dom Ruinart died.

Once it was open, the first delivery of “wines with bubbles” from Ruinart was sent in January, 1730. The first deliveries were business gifts to cloth merchants, the original business that Nicholas and his father were in. Champagne was a second business, with no guarantees. In just six years, the Ruinarts stopped all their cloth selling. After Nicholas, the next generations of Ruinarts continued to expand their Champagne business. They were the first company to use the old Roman chalk galleries that had been dug under the city of Reims as aging cellars for their wines. These cellars are 125 feet below the ground and just less than five miles long. With an average temperature of under 52 degrees Fahrenheit. They sent their first shipment to the United States in 1831.

Today, at Maison Ruinart, they concentrate on very few wines. They are a Chardonnay based house, making their style very elegant and pure. A non-vintage Blanc de Blancs is their flagship wine. Completely Chardonnay. There is also a non-vintage Rosé, made from Chardonnay and only about 16% Pinot Noir. And there are two vintage wines – Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs, first made in 1962, and Dom Ruinart Rosé. All Ruinart wines come in a traditional bottle, dating back to the 18th century. Like the first Champagnes.

Now, let’s see about our wine. The Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is a blend, cuvée, of Chardonnay wines from various years and vineyards. About a quarter of the wines come from the previous two years. Many of them grow in from Premier Cru vineyards located in the Côte de Blancs and Montagne de Reims areas of the Champagne region. Then, too, some come from the northern Vesle valley. Together, these vineyards give aromatic refinement, maturity, lightness and freshness. All the grapes are hand-picked and fermented separately in stainless steel tanks. One hundred percent malolatic fermentation is done. (About now, hopefully, some of us are tasting this wine?) This Champagne is pale golden yellow in color. With slight tinges of green. It is very effervescent with bubbles that last and last. (This is because they extend the legal minimum aging of their wines in those cold, cold chalk galleries.) The aromas start with citrus notes, lemons and limes, followed by white flowers, white peaches and pineapple. Its texture is round and balanced. Extremely appealing in your mouth. And, the finish shows minerality and more citrus notes and lasts and lasts. A spectacular Champagne!

When should we drink this one? “Anytime we can!” Seems like a good answer. If, though, you’d like to try it with food think seafood. Sea bass, lobster, scallops, clams, and other shellfish. Cold, poached, dipped in butter. But remember pâté. Mild cheeses. And, my favorite, a cold bottle under the Christmas tree for when you open presents. (You should know, I’ve been practicing with this Champagne for months. Just so I am completely ready for the “under the tree cold bottle.”) Usually, this Champagne sells for anywhere from $80 to $100 a bottle. For us, it’s $62.99. Happy Holidays. Enjoy.