Pop the cork on a vibrant blanc de blancs for the finest bubbles this side of New Year.
Blanc de blancs translates as “white of whites”, a term that’s used to describe Champagne made solely from chardonnay grapes. Blanc de blancs styles are elegant, ultra-fine and so easy to drink – as an apéritif or with summer seafood such as oysters, prawns and crab. Expect scents of citrus blossom, white stone fruit and the bakehouse, with flamboyant and exotic flavours to match.
What sets blanc de blancs apart from a blended Champagne (which incorporates pinot noir and meunier red grapes) is its vibrant palate and zesty finish.
Because of its increasing popularity, blanc de blancs is being adopted outside Champagne. Makers of sparkling wine in other parts of France use the term, as do New World producers, including those in Australia. The key to the quality of these alternative blanc de blancs styles is the source of the chardonnay grapes.
The vast majority of chardonnay grown in Champagne comes from the Côte des Blancs – named after not only the area’s specialty grape but also its pure, chalky soil.
This chalk, together with the Champagne region’s all-important humidity, is what gives the chardonnay fruit its delicate yet flavoursome characteristics and naturally high, mineral-laden acidity.
Australia has virtually no chalk and very little limestone (the associated geology that’s more suited to pinot noir) so the best chardonnay grapes for our premium sparkling wines come from the cool maritime environs of Tasmania or similarly cool mainland regions such as Victoria’s Yarra Valley; elevated sites in the Adelaide Hills and Whitlands (high above the King Valley in Victoria); and vineyards in Orange, NSW, planted above 1000 metres.
The crystal-clear clarity of this cool-grown chardonnay fruit is mirrored by the hallmark transparency of a great blanc de blancs. Keep an eye out for the 2010 Jansz Single Vineyard Chardonnay ($65), 2011 Deviation Road Beltana ($100) and 2011 Gembrook Hill ($55), with the ever-reliable 2012 Chandon Blanc de Blancs ($45) being a well-distributed option.
There are boundless choices from Champagne, ranging from compelling non-vintage wines by small growers Pierre Péters and Veuve Fourny to niche houses Billecart-Salmon and Gosset and chardonnay specialist Delamotte.
Exquisite vintage blanc de blancs include the 2009 Louis Roederer, 2008 Pol Roger and 2007 Ayala, as well as top drops like the Ruinart flagship 2004 Dom Ruinart, the highly revered 2003 Krug Clos du Mesnil and the exclusive 2002 Salon. Be warned: these are astonishing wines at breathtaking prices. The Krug is about $1500 a bottle! ￼
2011 Daosa Blanc de Blancs
Adelaide Hills, SA, $55
The Daosa vineyard dates back 20 years and is owned by the Bizot family of Bollinger fame. Fermentation in older oak casks (à la Bollinger) brings depth and structure to the exuberant chardonnay fruit. Try with a spanner crab omelette.
NV Ruinart Blanc de Blancs
Reims, France, $160
A parcel of deeply flavoured, well-structured chardonnay from the Montagne de Reims (best known for red grapes) builds the power of persistence of this stellar blanc de blancs. Cumquat and grapefruit mingle with warm brioche. Best with oysters au naturel.
2006 Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs
Reims, France, $425
Taittinger is renowned for its delicate, refined Champagnes, with Comtes its most glamorous. White peach, apple blossom and candied almonds carry to a pristine yet explosive palate and a complete, satisfying finish. Sashimi, please.
2007 House of Arras Blanc de Blancs
Arras winemaker Ed Carr is a maestro; his sparklings stand proud alongside the best Champagne. A lively bead lifts the bouquet of nectarine and candied apple, while intense lemon sorbet flavours are carried by a fresh acid tang. Good with smoked salmon (Tasmanian, of course).
2014 Madame Coco Brut Blanc de Blancs
Aude Valley, France, $20
Cheap and cheerful undervalues this easy-drinking gem from near Limoux, an ancient sparkling-wine region. Aromas of pink grapefruit and wild flowers combine with clean-as-a-whistle flavours and a breezy finish. Tuna tartare is a perfect match.
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Image credit: Riedel glasses