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Cuvee R. Lalou is named for Rene Lalou, a former president of G.H. Mumm, a house that prides itself on using grapes from the oldest and most distinguished vineyards in France's Champagne region. While G.H. Mumm made its first fine champagne in 1827, Cuvee R. Lalou is only released in the very best years; there have been just nine vintages since Lalou first produced it in 1966. The 1985 Cuvee R. Lalou is ranked as one of the top 20 vintages of all time, but to the chagrin of today's champagne connoisseurs no bottles remain available.
The Cuvee Rene Lalou is the offspring of the Cuvee Rene Lalou, originally launched in 1966 and last released in 1985. A mere nine vintages punctuate the Champagne’s 25-year history, yet it is still ranked among the greatest Champagne cuvees ever conceived. To the delight of chefs and Champagne connoisseurs worldwide, the celebrated Champagne has been released in an evolved blend, which represents the dream of master winemaker Rene Lalou to bottle the true essence of G.H. Mumm.
As chairman of G.H. Mumm for more than half a century, Rene Lalou was a true visionary with unending passion and instinctive understanding of terroir. He took upon himself the grand task of selecting the optimum Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes from the twelve finest grand cru villages and combining them into a single, complex blend. The result was the original Cuvee Rene Lalou, which successfully captured the smell, touch and taste of G.H. Mumm.
Lalou’s ultimate goal was to protect the integrity of the grapes by identifying and isolating the individual parcels, the very building blocks that define the character of terroir, from grape picking through vinification. Successive Chef de Caves of G.H. Mumm strived to recreate the essence of the Cuvee Rene Lalou while fulfilling the goal of the original creator. Rene Lalou’s copious notes were carefully passed down through the generations and samples of consecutive blends were guarded so that they could one day serve as the base for a new blend.
Mariotti tirelessly sampled hand-selected grapes from each of the twelve vineyards, carefully choosing the best of the individual parcels for inclusion in the final blend. The grapes from each vineyard were crushed separately in traditional presses and then vinified one at a time. These painstaking and time-intensive methods are integral to the final result, as Didier explains, “When one reaches a certain level of perfection, as the grand crus allow us to do, one then seeks to go further and perfect that perfection.”
Cuvée R. Lalou is produced in very small quantities, and only in the best years. It is a vintage blend of grapes sourced from up to twelve of the very best parcels, ‘Lieux Dits’, within the G.H. Mumm vineyards. These are situated within the Grand Cru villages of Verzy (Les Houles), Verzenay (Les Rochelles and Les Perthois), Aÿ (Valnon), Mailly (Les Villiers), Bouzy (Les Hannepés), Ambonnay (Les Crupots), Cramant (Les Bionnes, La Croix de Valmont and Les Perthes) and Avize (Les Briquettes and Les Maladries du Midi).
For each vintage the cellar master Didier Mariotti will only select those ‘Lieux Dits’ that he considers to have produced the most outstanding grapes. For the 1998, only seven ‘Lieux Dits’ were used. The blend is 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir which is aged on the lees for eight years before disgorging.
A difficult start to the year led to early budbreak. There were some damaging hailstorms in early May, but the frost ultimately stayed away. The summer was overall warm and thanks to the hot and dry August, the grapes looked promising for the harvest. However, a damp September challenged producers and dilution was an issue for some. The 1999 harvest that started on September 15th produced a large yield (12,989 kg/ha) of sweet grapes that resulted in soft wines, low in acidity, which produced Champagnes that, in many cases, miss linearity and structure. Voluptuous and enjoyable with ripe, fruity, even exotic characters but in most cases for the medium-term only, even if the best seem to be maturing better than initially expected. The red wines of the year were exceptional and resulted in some outstanding prestige cuvée rosés, such as Louis Roederer Cristal Rosé, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Rosé and Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé.