I discovered a few years ago from the 1901 census records that my house was owned and lived in by one John Nichols. His mother and sister lived with him, and not one but two maids. A quirk of fate, a coincidence, destiny, call it what you will, but Mr Nichols was a wine merchant. His surname was also of interest to me partly because a mere 15 miles from Moseley where I live is Nickolls & Perks Wine Merchants, established 1797. I feel there must be a connection.
So last month, when AWE members were in Bourgogne celebrating the association’s 30 years and I was feeling miserable left behind in Brum owing to work commitments, albeit work presenting a Champagne tasting and another on classic wines, I was delighted and vindicated to be able to accept an invitation to a Nickolls & Perks customer Champagne tasting. They were only showing three different producers and only 4 of each of their wines, the sort of tasting that those of us in the trade go to rarely but which are actually a pretty good way to give time to each wine and then to be able to remember exactly what you thought about each wine tasted. And, and here’s the crucial point, to enjoy it rather than it feel like work.
Champagne Gamet Récoltant Manipulant
Marianne Gamet is now in charge here working with her parents and her brother. Based in Mardeuil, the house has 8 hectares split between this village south of the river Marne and Fleury-la Riviere north of it. Those are the lucky breaks you get when there’s a marriage between two land-owning families, in this case a relatively recent one in 1993. Marianne, the daughter, was keen to point out the benefits of having vineyards in both the Rive Droite and Rive Gauche with different soils and aspect, the first giving freshness to the wines, the other minerality and finesse. Their focus is on Meunier with it even in their ‘Prestige Cuvee’ making up 80% of the blend. This is not the only uncommon thing about the wine; the reserve wines go as far back as 1999 in a solera system and have been kept in barrel, and the wine itself saw some oak before its 5 years sur lattes. The champagne was toasty, unsurprisingly, but unexpected was the firmness and liveliness of the acidity suggesting a good potential for age, something Meunier is not usually known for. It was also creamy yet there is tension and complexity.
Champagne Gamet Caractères Perpetuelle Extra Brut £44.50
Champagne Launois Père et fils Récoltant Manipulant
Champagne Launois wines are easy to spot from the unusual bottle shape, used to ensure there is no confusion with Champagne Leon Launois. Established in 1872 and based in Mesnil-sur-Oger, this family own Grand Cru vineyards in the Côte des Blancs consequently most of their wines are Blanc de Blancs. Despite the ‘Pere et fils’ in the name, the house is now run by sisters Caroline and Séverine, the latter of whom I had the pleasure of meeting last month. The 2013 Special Club Grand Cru was, indeed special, as these wines should be.
There are 28 members of this club set up in 1971. There are several rules to follow if you want to be a member and to produce a Special Club Champagne; the first being that it is only open to growers who make their Champagne from their own vines. The wine can only be made in exceptional vintage years and is subject to a blind tasting both at the still wine stage and after 3 years on the lees. They are generally worth seeking out and this one is no exception. It’s £150 for a magnum from Nickolls & Perks.
A more affordable and arguably more accessible wine in the Launois range is the Veuve Clémence £42 – there seems to always be a widow somewhere in a champagne house, figuratively speaking. It’s a beautifully poised champagne with enough crisp apple acidity to balance the brioche richness, with a smoky, sous-bois note and salinity adding to the layers of flavours. From old vines and with 5 years on the lees, Séverine believes it will age for a good ten years.
Champagne R&L Legras Négociant Manipulant
I first tasted R&L Legras Grand Cru Rosé many years ago at the London Wine Fair. It impressed me. I enjoyed it again this time and their Blanc de Blancs wines even more so. Based in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly, other than the rosé where red wine is sourced from Ambonnay, the wines are all 100% Chardonnay. All four wines showed elegance and power, serious wines with a friendly caress. It’s a good recommendation that Sotheby’s Own Label Champagne is made by R&L Legras and a number of top restaurants use the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru as their house Champagne. From Nickolls & Perks it’s £39.50
The star of the tasting for me was the 2013 Presidence Grand Cru £64.50. My tasting note is truly pathetic: ‘Delicious. Chardonnay character all the way’ but I can still remember the emotional impact and indeed the taste. From old vines, with 4 years sur lattes (definitely felt more than that) and 5gr dosage this was one of those Champagnes that would benefit from being decanted. It opens beautifully, with pineapple and lemongrass leading to honey, caramel and a lingering Danish pastry rich finish. A real joy, and a fantastic foil to my disappointment at missing the AWE Bourgogne trip.
I may not always live in the house where the wine merchant, John Nichols, lived and he may be no relation whatsoever to the Nickolls in Stourbridge but there will always be a connection between Nickolls & Perks and me while they sell Champagnes like these .Tags: champagne RL Legras Gamet Launois Nickolls Perks Chouilly Mesnil Mardeuil meunier chardonnay rose