Last month, I led a bike trip through Champagne. Before I left on the trip, I tried for weeks to arrange several tastings at numerous Champagne houses. The response was less than overwhelming, and I ended up only lining up two appointments, both on the same day:
Moët et Chandon at 9:30 a.m.
Gosset at 10:30 a.m.
I was rather excited about the visit since even though Gosset is the oldest winery in Champagne (established in 1584!) and I had been to Champagne countless times, I had never been to the house that makes my favorite non-vintage brut. Up until 2009, the whole Gosset operation was about 6km outside of Epernay in Aÿ (pronounced EYE-eee) and they did not seem to take kindly to visitors.
Several summers ago, I decided to stop by the house in Aÿ, unannounced. With the temperature in the mid-30’s Celsius (well into the 90’s Fahrenheit), I rolled up to the house and knocked on the door. Despite the short ride to get there, I was a sweaty mess, decked out in lycra, helmet head in full effect. I parked my bike and walked up to the front door in my cycling shoes.
Just trying to keep it classy.
I ring the bell and wait.
I wait a good long while and just as I decide to climb back down the stairs and hit the road, the door creaks open. I turn and explain, in my best French (I have to say it was pretty good), that I am perhaps their biggest fan and I rode all the way from the U.S. (hence my regrettable appearance) to come to Gosset (the silly, self-effacing humor always gets them).
The man who had answered the door looks me over, smiles, and says:
“We do not normally accept visitors.”
He then closes the door.
I stood there for a while, a bit stunned, thinking he might open the door again and say “Except for you, get in here you knucklehead!”
That did not happen. Disappointed, I eventually climbed back on my bike and made my way up to Reims.
Fast forward to this past summer when I emailed Gosset a few weeks prior to my trip and to my surprise (and joy), I got an appointment at their new location in Epernay. Back in 2009, the company, which had been in Aÿ for 425 (!) years, purchased a property in Epernay. The new property had most recently housed Champagne Jeanmaire and previously Champagne Trouillard, but the house was originally built by mass-retailer Félix Potin to supply his stores with its own champagne. The new property gives Gosset much larger production facilities and storage capabilities (the caves on the property can hold up to 2.5 million bottles).
The company will maintain the Aÿ property, but most of the production and day-to-day operations are now in Epernay. It also enables them to welcome visitors in the former Château Malakoff on the grounds.
The day of the tastings, I left Moët a bit early (post HERE), but I was still running late for the Gosset appointment. I had the foresight to bring my bike to Moët and since I only had one flute of champagne there, the only thing slowing me down was the rather large hill in between the two.
I pulled into the Gosset parking lot right about 10:45 where I found two of the clients on my bike tour patiently waiting for me. A few minutes after I arrived, our guide came out to greet us and I instantly recognized him. It was Philippe Manfredini, whom I had met a couple of years prior at a tasting put on by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board (PLCB). He was at the event, pouring Gosset, and we chatted for a good 15 minutes or so (as I kept drinking the champagne, of course).
Hard to imagine, but he was even nicer as he showed us around Gosset–he took us on a full tour of the facility, from the production rooms down into the caves.
As we emerged from the caves, Philippe led us through several of the Gosset wines, explaining that most of the fruit that goes into the champagnes comes almost exclusively from Grand Cru and Premier Cru vineyards (the two highest designations of quality in Champagne). He also pointed out that none of the wines that goes into Gosset champagnes goes through a malolactic fermentation (the transformation of malic acid into lactic acid), so that the champagnes retain their vibrant acidity (malic acid [think apples] is much more acidic than the resulting lactic acid [think milk]).We started with the Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay). Normally, I am not a big fan of the Blanc de Blancs style, but this was certainly an exception. Mineral and floral on the nose, with a bit of apricot, on the palate, this was quite impressive: balanced and well structured with a depth that I normally do not pick up in BdB. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
The 2004 Gosset Grand Millésime (55% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir) followed with lighter nose–more citrus and vanilla than red fruit. On the palate, the wine seems like just a baby with bright acidity and minerality, green apple and even a bit of pineapple. The wine is great now, but could use a bit of time in the cellar to develop some more complexity of flavor since the vibrancy dominates. Outstanding. 91-93 Points (Potentially 94-96 Points).
Next came one of my favorite champagnes, the Gosset Grande Réserve (43% Chardonnay, 42% Pinot Noir, 15% Pinot Meunier), which had a noticeably darker color in the glass than the BdB and the Millésime, with aromas of ripe red fruit and a touch of baked bread. On the palate, I recognized it immediately: those red berries persisted on the palate with great depth. The acidity on the back end held it all together wonderfully and ensured a long finish. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
Last, Philippe poured us the Gosset Grand Rosé (58% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, 7% Red Pinot Noir). A delicate salmon pink in the glass, but a powerful nose of fresh strawberries. On the palate, those strawberries danced on the tongue, noticeable rounder and softer than the others, but I thought this might be the most versatile of the four–this could handle even the most ambitious of meals. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
All in all, it was one of the more memorable visits I had ever had in Champagne. We were there for close to two hours and at the end, Philippe even helped us decide on where to have lunch (and he called to reserve us a table as he drove the two clients back to our hotel).
Philippe mentioned that he might be back in Philly this fall for the PLCB tasting once again and I certainly hope that is the case. Not only does Gosset produce one of the finest champagnes, but Philippe is one of the nicest people you could ever meet.