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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.
Cuvée R. Lalou remains a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, a balanced cuvée being constructed from wines from all or some of the 12 plots. The inaugural 1998 vintage for example was constructed from 7 plots of four were Pinot Noir and three Chardonnay. All wines are vinified separately in small stainless steel vats in controlled 18 ºC temperature. True to the Mumm house style all batches go through malo-lactic fermentation. In March-April the final blend is formed and the wine put to cellar for second fermentation and long bottle aging, 7 years being the minimum.
As opposed to Mumm’s normal recipe of dosage wine, Cuvée R. Lalou receives special treatment. Marriotti fills some 20 one to three year-old Burgundy barrels with Cramant and Bouzy wine. He experiments with different ages and toasts of oak and uses this liquor d’expedition to bring the final touch to the wine. As it is launched mature a minimal dosage at around 6 grams per litre is sufficient. After at least 6 months in the cellar after disgorgement, the wine is ready for shipment.
It is time we taste the new cuvée with Didier Marriotti. He takes out two different glasses, one large, tulip-shaped glass designed for R. Lalou and one Burgundy-shaped wine glass. Also, we taste the wine in two different temperatures, at 8 and 14 degrees. Marriotti explains:
- R. Lalou is foremost a wine, secondarily a champagne. It has an intriguing constant battle going on between the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir components. At the tulip-shaped glass and lower temperatures it is the Chardonnay that dominates. When served in a Burgundy glass and higher temperatures, its vinous Pinot Noir sides get accentuated.
The wine is impressive, concentrated and perfected. The constant, positive evolution in the glass is extraordinary and the wine changes and mutates in the glass endlessly. A Grand Vin but also a highly intellectual wine. This is not the glass one just gulps down without paying attention to its qualities. The wine is developed, impressive and easy to approach already at the time of its launch, separating it from many prestige cuvées that need a decade to show their full glory and complexity. Even though R. Lalou is fantastic now, it is a wine whose development I wish to follow long into the future.
In its approach and quality Cuvée R. Lalou shows us in to which direction Mumm desires to go. The increased resources brought about by the Pernod Ricard acquisition as well as the talent and palate of cellar master Didier Marriotti promise a full comeback for Mumm in the future.