There’s always a lot of fanfare when a vintage champagne is launched because this bubbly is only made in the best years, considered the icons of champagne houses. The recent launch of Dom Ruinart 2010 at ZEST by Konishi was no different, but it also signified a change in the production method.
Most champagne is a blend of three major varieties: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay. Traditionally, black grapes have always been the focus, and this also applied to Ruinart, the world’s oldest champagne house, founded in 1729.
Wars disrupt businesses and prompt change. World War II devastated Ruinart’s cellars, and the house reinvented itself, focusing on Chardonnay instead of black grape varieties. After years of refinement, Ruinart is known as the Blanc de Blancs champagne house, celebrating the aromatic freshness of Chardonnay. It offers “simplexity” to wine lovers – by simply enjoying the wine or savouring its elegance and complexity.
Dom, short for Dominus, is a Latin word that means “master”. Dom Ruinart is the best wine of the house, made only in exceptional years. It pays tribute to its founder, Dom Thierry Ruinart. It’s made from the best Chardonnay grown on Grand Cru sites in Côte de Blancs and Montagne de Reims. The latter is a site famous for Pinot Noir, which gives power and structure to Chardonnay. The wine is aged on lees for 10 years before release.
The bubbles and trademark aromas of champagne are derived from the second fermentation of the base wine in a sealed bottle, with extended ageing on dead yeast cells. Champagne bottles used to be sealed with cork stoppers secured by staples, but for commercial reasons, the method switched to the use of more efficient crown caps around 1960.
In 1998, Ruinart decided to compare the ageing of champagne with crown caps versus traditional cork. Ten years later, the bottles with corks revealed denser, fresher wine with an additional layer of complexity. Cork has a higher initial oxygen intake at the beginning, but it is quickly consumed by yeast during fermentation. Over time, cork remains extremely stable, while a crown cap allows a small amount of oxygen to continually enter the bottle.
We first tasted Dom Ruinart 2009, the last vintage aged under crown cap. It’s intense, with aromas of stone fruits, brioche and nuts and a round structure. It was the perfect match for the dish of Yamaguchi amadai (tilefish), loaded with umami flavour.
Then it was the turn of Dom Ruinart 2010, the first vintage aged in cork. This wine is vibrant, with floral and citrus notes followed by the ageing flavours of brioche and roasted nuts. It’s still a full-bodied wine similar to the 2009 vintage, but it has a more lively and subtle palate. It goes well with more delicate yet complex dishes like the Ezo abalone with seaweed and liver sauce and the Kanagawa tachiuo (beltfish) stuffed with lobster.
The year 2009 was warm and dry, while 2010 was cooler, with more rain. Although we might never know how much the differences are due to the vintages and how much is from the bottle-closure method used, I do appreciate the revival of tradition. Both wines have different expressions but are equally exquisite. The group was split 50-50 in preference of the two vintages. I highly recommend that wine lovers compare both.
If you’re a fan of rosé, you’ll be happy to know that Ruinart was also the first winery to produce rosé champagne, as early as 1764. Its vintage rosé – Dom Ruinart Rosé – is a blend of the Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs of the same vintage and around 20% Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru site in Aÿ, with 12 years of ageing. The 2017 vintage we tasted has attractive rose and lilac aromas and a broader structure that pairs well with rich Chinese dishes.
With the festive season upon us, now is the ideal time to indulge in some bubbly!