Home France Champagne and Chardonnay, and Wine Review: Pierre Gimonnet NV Blanc de Blanc

Champagne and Chardonnay, and Wine Review: Pierre Gimonnet NV Blanc de Blanc


I can’t remember the first time I had champagne. The first wine that ever really grabbed my attention was a Chianti. I remember its effect on me clearly. It took a few years though before I was really hooked on exploring the wine world. The wine that accomplished that was a high end Barbaresco, and I remember the experience of drinking it clearly as well. So to adore delving into the world of sparkling wines, champagne especially, and yet not remember even a hint of the first time it really pulled me in strikes me as strange.

Chardonnay has a deep history in the world of champagne, and yet its production as a pure blanc-de-blanc (Chardonnay-only champagne) remains controversial. The region of Champagne is in the northern growing areas of France, and as such does well with producing the necessary wine style for making a bubble based drink. That is, to produce wines in the methode champenoise style, the initial still-wine needs to carry high acidity, and for that to happen, the wine growing region needs to rest in a cooler climate. The northern regions of France, then, do well for just this purpose.

Champagne can legally be made of a blend of three possible grapes–chardonnay, pinot noir, and pinot meunier. Connected to this trifecta is an idea that the traditional method of champagne production is all about blending. The chardonnay provides grace or finesse; pinot noir, the structure; and pinot meunier, the fruit character. From this perspective, then, the skill of instilling the proper balance in this style of wine depends on a foundation of well-blended juice. Some have even gone so far as to claim a blanc-de-blanc style champagne doesn’t truly fulfill the history of the category, and as such shouldn’t count.

As the story goes, however, Eugène-Aimé Salon disagreed. He imagined the possibility of producing the sparkling beverage out of devotion to a single grape, and created what still stands as one of the most famous, and coveted wines in the style. His thought was that the elegance, and grace of chardonnay would lend itself to such characteristics in drinkable star light. He began producing the beverage at the turn of the last century, and yet it took around twenty years before he released it commercially, retaining his first two decades of the specialty for friends.

Today, even with the controversial view of blending versus varietal champagne, a number of producers include a blanc-de-blanc style champagne in their offerings. Lovers of the bubbling varietal describe it as the lightest and most refreshing version of the drink. Those descriptors of elegance, and finesse are generally considered consistent to any version of a chardonnay made into champagne. While quality, of course, varies, and some can show stronger characteristics than one might anticipate for a single variety style sparkler, blanc-de-blancs all consistently show chardonnay’s individual grace.

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The Pierre Gimonnet non-vintage blanc-de-blanc is a fresh, crisp, approachable champagne. Thomas Keller has said he celebrates it as the apertif appropriate to open the palate for any meal at his restaurant French Laundry. Indeed, French tradition is to drink such bubbles for precisely this reason–to start a meal. While American views still take bubbly to be a celebratory-only beverage, as a Master Sommelier said to me recently, “I believe successfully making it through another day is always a reason to celebrate.” Bubbles are always appropriate.

Pierre Gimonnet is an easy choice for the apertif. It is also pleasant for drinking on its own, but is clearly perfect for working towards food. This champagne will not blow you away with complexity, or strangeness (something I have to admit I enjoy in many good wines), but this is precisely what’s perfect about it. It’s a wine much like the perfect dinner guest–easy to get along with, and good at facilitating conversation, both without monopolizing everyone’s attention for itself alone.

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