For the better part of two decades, I was a bicycle tour guide in Europe. I only bring this up (again) since one of my favorite trips was Champagne, which I would visit at least once a summer. Reims, the capital of the region, gradually became my favorite city outside of Paris, and I eventually visited most of the major Champagne houses.
There were a few exceptions: Krug, Bollinger, and Gosset.
Krug, producers of perhaps the most revered champagne (once again, for the uninitiated, “champagne” is masculine and in lower case when referring to the beverage, but is feminine and requires capitalization when referring to the region), is notoriously difficult to visit, particularly for those clad in sweaty lycra outfits (even if said lycra is nattily coordinated).
Bollinger, located outside of Epernay in the Grand Cru village of Aÿ (pronounced eye-EEE), is also fairly difficult to visit, and up to this point I have only seen the exterior of the house. Eventually, I hope to change that, so for now, it stays on the bucket list.
Until a few years ago, Gosset was also located in Aÿ and as part of the route from Epernay to Reims, I would ride right through the center of the tiny hamlet and virtually past the front door of Gosset on every trip to Champagne.
Since Gosset Grand Réserve is perhaps my favorite non-vintage Brut, one year I decided I would pay them a visit, unannounced.
In my cycling gear, wearing my cycling shoes, and sweating profusely.
Surprisingly, they did not welcome me in, citing that, as a rule, they did not allow visitors.
Well, almost a decade ago now, the oldest Champagne house bought a property in Epernay and while appointments are required, it is possible for journalists to visit the property (yes, I know, it is odd that anyone considers me a “journalist” but that is an entirely different story). I first took advantage in 2013 to see Philippe Manfredini, whom I had met a few years prior at a tasting in Philadelphia.
My second visit to Gosset was this past summer when I was in Champagne for a few days with my family. Philippe had unfortunately moved on to another house, but I had arranged to meet with Nathalie Dufour, Gosset’s Export Manager, who led me on a tour of the facility and fed me several tidbits about the house.
Up until 1994, the house was owned and run by the Gosset family, but following several untimely deaths and financial issues following the economic downturn associated with the Gulf War, the family sold the business to the Cointreau group. At time of sale Gosset was producing around 400k bottles a year of which 25% were exported.
Today, production is up to a million bottles and 60% goes to the export market. With the new facility, Gosset could produce up to three times its current output, but the winery has limited production so as to maintain quality.
Unlike many of the bigger houses, Gosset typically does not keep much wine in reserve.(For each champagne producer, the largest production is always its Non-Vintage Brut–a wine that is a blend of previous and current vintage wine. The older wines are used to ensure that each new “batch” maintains a consistent style and quality.) Those reserve wines that Gosset does have, are almost all from recent vintages–they rarely keep reserve wines past three years. Thus the flavors of the NV Brut are developed not with aged reserve wines, but sur lie (the dead yeast cells from the second fermentation that stay in the bottle until disgorgement).
The wines at Gosset do not go through malolactic fermentation (a process that would cause creamier textures, but would result in the loss of some acidity), yet another reason for the practice of extended time sur lie. The Grande Réserve has four years of aging, the minimum for vintage wines is 6-7 years, and the top wine, Celebris, rests 10 years on those dead little yeast cells in the cellar before release.
Speaking of Celebris, it is a relatively new wine for Gosset that only came about after the sale of the winery in 1994. Up until that point, the vintage dated wine was Gosset’s top champagne, but the new owners, responding to an increasing demand for prestige champagnes, left a portion of the 1988 vintage that they inherited to age a bit longer, thus launching the Celebris label.
Returning to the tasting room, Nathalie, noting my familiarity with most of Gosset’s line, pulled out a few of the lower production bottles for me to taste. As she started to pour, she mentioned with some sadness that these wines were made by the previous cellar master, Jean-Pierre Mareigner, who had been with the house for 33 years. He had planned to retire at the end of 2016, but sadly died at the age of 60, just a few months prior to his retirement.
NV Gosset Grand Blanc de Blancs: Retail $90. 100% Chardonnay. 2/3 from Côte des Blancs and 1/3 from Montaigne de Reims. From magnum. Opened a day prior. Still a large pop upon reopening and plenty of yeastiness. Fresh and bright. Tart yet luscious. Very long finish with plenty of minerality. Typically, I am not a big fan of the Blanc de Blancs style but this is exceptional. Outstanding. 92-94 Points.
2006 Gosset Grand Millésime: Retail $90. 56% Pinot Noir, 44% Chardonnay. From magnum. Usually mostly Chardonnay but this is 56% Pinot as ’06 was a great year for Pinot. Golden apple, pear, and baking scents lead to a bright, rich, and luscious mouthfeel with focused acidity and a vibrant sparkle. Holy cow. And a whoa. Outstanding. 93-95 Points.
2004 Celebris Extra Brut: Retail $125. 52% Chardonnay, 48% Pinot Noir. Nathalie explained that while the millésime (vintage) is a great photograph of the year, the Celebris is a zoomed in portion of that photo. Whoa. What a nose. Holy cow. This already has older Champagne aromas–baked apple and crust, a veritable tarte tatin, my absolute favorite desert. Even before I taste it, I know this is going to be gangbusters. Big, full, rich, and loaded with flavor, and is still a baby. The tartness is still at the forefront but the depth and finish? Whoa. Outstanding. 94-96 Points.
Gosset Cuvée 15 Ans: Retail $160. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. Brut dosage. 15 years minimum on the lees, which is incredible. A blend from the ’99 and ’98 vintages, which is why there is no vintage. A bit darker than the others. Rich, complex, more than a bit yeasty. On the palate whoa. Tart and beyond toasty, right up to the point where the baked bread almost burns, what the French call un croissant bien cuît (well-done) this is a wine for the champagne connoisseur. If that sounds elitist, well, too bad, but this is well beyond an “every day” champagne. The scary thing is that this could use more time. A lot even. Whoa. Outstanding Plus. 95-97 Points.
NV Gosset Petite Douceur Rosé Extra Dry: Retail $80. 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir (including 7% red wine). 17 grams sugar.The red fruit really pops out of this light salmon color sparkler. Only slightly sweet. Just slightly but it works really well. Fruity and delightful. Great with fresh raspberries no doubt. Outstanding. 90-92 Points.
I could have easily taken up Nathalie’s entire day, but my family was waiting back in town, so I sadly bid her au revoir, vowing to be back soon. “Next time, bring your bike!” Nathalie added in parting.
I wonder if she really meant it.