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Taittinger Comtes de Champagne is the finest expression of the world famous wine from one of the greatest Champagne Houses. First produced in 1952, Comtes is made from 100% Chardonnay grapes from 5 Grand Cru sites in the Côte des Blancs. Showing a pristine pale yellow colour with very light, abundant bubbles which rise uniformly to form a fine mousse. The evocative bouquet opens with notes of pears and fresh cute white flowers. Left in the glass for a time, the nose develops a richness and density of pure character. Once on the palate, Comtes is lively, direct and precise with flavours of candied lemon zest and fresh pineapple. The balance is something to behold. This Champagne's marriage of finesse and aromatic intensity is a promise of further potential, but already offers very pleasurable drinking.
The blend. Produced in the cellars of the former Saint-Nicaise abbey (13th century) in Reims, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs receives all the lavish care and attention it needs to reach its peak. Every bottle of Comtes de Champagne strictly adheres to all of the following to make it such a rare luxury and the connoisseurs choice :
• The Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs is composed exclusively of Chardonnay grown in the five villages of the Côte des Blancs, which are classified as Grands Crus: Avize, Chouilly, Cramant, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oger.
• It is only produced when the harvest is of exceptional quality worthy of a vintage year.
• Only the wine from the first press – the Cuvée – is used: a sure guarantee of finesse.
• 5% of the wines used to make it have been aged for 4 months in new oak barrels (a third of which are renewed every year), enhancing the intrinsic qualities and complexities of the final blend.
• Only after slow and patient ageing for almost 10 years in the Saint-Nicaise chalk pits (Crayères) in 18 metres underground does this cuvée of exceptional quality come out into the light.
Consistently great but from time to time simply divine, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne has consecutively been an apt contender for the title of the best champagne on the market. All recent vintages have been successful; the intense 1996 being one of the finest of the vintage, the 1998 possessing classic Comtes elegance and the 1999 demonstrating a more softer side of Comtes. But in 2000 Taittinger and its reputed cellar master Loïc Dupont hit jackpot. This warm, overt vintage produced many heavy and overly ripe champagnes, but in Comtes the richness given by the year is bound to a velvet-smooth texture and a fine, fresh acidity that creates an exiting tension one wishes to marvel time and again.
Comtes de Champagne possesses a flawless track record all the way down to its inaugural vintage, 1952. It is reputed to be the first prestige cuvée blanc de blancs, if one does not count the then small mono-cru blanc de blancs Salon. Today it rivals for the title of the best blanc de blancs quite level-headedly with Dom Ruinart, Salon and Charles Heidsieck Blanc des Millenaires.
Why blanc de blancs then? It was already Pierre Taittinger who believed in Chardonnay. Following his instinct, he created the light and elegant Chardonnay-dominant floral and perfumed style as Taittinger’s trademark. Consistent with this vision, the house’s prestige cuvée was to be a 100 percent Chardonnay whose emphasis is on Avize and Mesnil fruit.
The wine is produced in a reductionist style in stainless steel vats but since the 1989 vintage a fraction of the wine has been aged in fairly new oak barrels for four months. This gives a boost to the wine’s creamy texture and enhances its hallmark toasty qualities.
After bottling the wines are transported to the ancient Gallo-Roman chalk cellars of Saint-Niçaise to ferment and mature. The St-Niçaise abbey was destroyed in the French Revolution and much later the Taittingers bought the ruins and built their cellars into these monumental historical surroundings. Today, the underground cellar network at St-Niçaise is used entirely for maturing Comtes de Champagne. The rest of production takes place at the modern winery facilities at Rue de la Justice.
Great champagnes are traditionally named after people. Taittinger makes no exception having chosen to honour the region by naming their prestige cuvée Comtes de Champagne – Counts of Champagne. The origins of the Counts of Champagne lie in the 7th century feudal society. Originally, before the 11th century, the Counts of Troyes had had the ruling but during the time of Thibault II the power shifted to the Champagne County whose Count had his residence in Reims. Thibault II was a mighty man ranking only second to the king. However, it was especially during the times of Thibault IV Champagne flourished. He arranged famous 49-day festivities that brought prosperity to the region. The story of the Champagne Counts came to an end finally when the crown and the Champagne County were unites as Louis X rose to power. Taittinger, still owning the historical Comtes de Champagne residence today, named their prestige cuvée to honour this history.
Complex story but complex is the wine, too. The champagne’s smooth, layered character develops over 10 years’ ageing period in the cellars. This, the wine’s attractive 10 g/l dosage and sufficient post-disgorgement rest make Comtes de Champagne such an attractive champagne already upon release.
We toast to congratulate Taittinger. This house that has recently returned back to family hands, has quickly built a strong spirit with Pierre-Emmanuel Taittinger at the helm supported by both of his children Clovis and Vitalie.
By Champagne magazine
Up to this point 1996 has been considered a fantastic vintage which produced classic wines; the best since 1990. A long, dry summer produced grapes of record ripeness with record acidity. Some, including myself, question how the 1996s are aging. The wines are generally characterized by a distinctive rather lemony acidity and very good attack, but some wines now seem terribly austere, while others already seem dangerously short of fruit. None of the subsequent vintages are quite as distinctive as 1996, which in the more successful cases should almost certainly be drunk after the 1999s.