When it comes to the art of creating champagne, there is an extra requirement for elegance and flair and The House of Ruinart has this in spades. There are many reasons for this: an enviable location with stately vineyards undulating across the Montagne de Reims in the heart of Champagne; the awe-inspiring crayères – ancient chalk quarries which have been home to the all-important Maison Ruinart cellars for centuries (they’ve also been a UNESCO World Heritage site since 1931) – and not to mention an immense and quite remarkable heritage of wine making which dates back to 1729. Ruinart is in fact the oldest established champagne house in existence.
Ruinart owes its existence to Dom Thierry Ruinart, a Benedictine monk and brilliant theologian who travelled to Paris and learned of an extraordinary new ‘wine with bubbles’, the latest fashion amongst the French aristocracy. Dom Thierry passed down this knowledge to his nephew Nicholas Ruinart, who in 1729 drafted the founding charter of Maison Ruinart and so created the world’s first champagne company. The Ruinart legacy is one of innovation, inspiration and creation which has thrived into the 21st century. The maison is operated by the Ruinart family to this day, upholding the centuries of tradition which mean that this champagne is widely acknowledged as one of the absolute best.
Think Pink: The First Champagne House to Create a Rosé
This year, the spotlight is very much focused on all things pink, thanks to the release of Ruinart’s latest vintage rosé (and the last one we can expect to see for some time): the Dom Ruinart Rosé 2004. This event is particularly significant when you consider that Ruinart was the very first house to create Rosé champagne, selling their very first bottles in 1764. The first Ruinart rosés reached the UK in 1776, where they became enormously popular with aristocrats, artists and even royalty including the Prince of Wales and the Duke of Marlborough.
Although it was undeniably the inimitable Madame Clicquot who mastered the production method used today, in which small quantities of still red wine are added during the blending process, Ruinart’s initial discovery of rosé was actually accidental; the skins of the Pinot Noir grape were macerated a little too much in the production process, leaving the wine with a pink hue. At the time, the wine was referred to as l’Œil de Perdrix, or ‘eye of the partridge’. This French term was a reference to the pale coppery-pink colour of a just-shot partridge’s eye (sorry, readers, I never said this bit was romantic) and you can still occasionally find rosé champagnes labelled in this way today. The ‘rozet’ colour became extremely sought-after and winemakers used many techniques to add colour including dyeing the wine with elderberries, although this practise was banned in the 19th Century.
2018 saw the release of Ruinart’s 2004 vintage rosé… and oh, what a rosé it is. We were lucky enough to spend a sunny July afternoon tasting in the company of Caroline Fiot, one of the Ruinart winemakers responsible for overseeing the creation of every beautiful blend. Here is what we discovered…
Ruinart Rosé NV
First up, the classic non-vintage rosé blend. One of Ruinart’s hallmarks is their high inclusion of the Chardonnay grape in all their wines (all are at least 40% Chardonnay), a technique which lends extraordinary refinement and elegance to the Ruinart portfolio. This rosé, a blend of 45% Chardonnay and 55% Pinot Noir grapes, is no exception.
A short maceration process gives a warm and rather beautiful rose petal pink colour, whilst the nose is clear, crisp and aromatic, with red berries, some bold tropical fruits and tempting floral hints of blossom and rose. It’s a young wine, so that fruity freshness is particularly evident, while energetic notes of guava, lychee and pomegranate promise great things.
As expected, this wine bursts onto the palate in full-bodied and fabulous style, with those complex berry fruits coming through loud and clear, and just a touch of mint on the finish. It’s a seductive, well-rounded and expertly balanced champagne which works perfectly as the ultimate aperitif.
RRP £48.53, www.masterofmalt.com
Ruinart Rosé NV Magnum
Now, in the most basic of terms, the Ruinart Rosé NV Magnum is the same wine as the rosé we’ve just discussed. Except it’s not. At all.
Fun fact alert: The Ruinart magnums spend at least a year longer ageing on the lees than their standard-sized sisters. There’s another interesting fact here, too: the necks of Ruinart Champagne bottles are 26mm in diameter – 3 millimetres narrower than the 29mm which is standard on most Champagne bottles. This applies to all bottles, whether standard or magnum, so the same amount of oxygen enters both sizes of bottle. In the magnum, there is therefore a significantly larger volume of liquid interacting with the oxygen, which creates a totally different taste profile.
Those classic autolytic champagne flavours are more evident here thanks to the longer ageing, with butter and brioche adding to a delightfully complex nose that delivers cherry, tangerine, wild strawberry and pink blossom. The mouthfeel is deeper, rounder, more sophisticated, with those red fruits intensifying in flavour and accompanied by subtle touches of cinnamon and nutmeg.
RRP £150, www.clos19.com
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Dom Ruinart Rosé 2004 Vintage
Last, but in absolutely no way least, the one you’ve been waiting for: the 2004 Vintage. Based on the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs of the same year, this rosé showcases the wonders of what a perfect year can do. 2004 was hot and dry, with an exceptional September enabling a dream harvest and some of the most delicious vintage champagne I’ve ever tasted.
This champagne seems to radiate a seductive golden pink glow as it gazes out from the glass, with effervescent, finer-than-fine bubbles tempting the drinker from the moment it’s poured. The nose is pleasantly aromatic – peach, blood orange and mandarin are accompanied by classic red berry fruits, with red cherry and pomegranate shining particularly evidently.
The palate is nothing short of audacious, with a surprising Oriental twist which delivers notes of spice, dried flowers, tobacco and even a pleasant twist of potpourri. There’s a chocolatey richness there too, with velvety bubbles dancing on the tongue adding a sumptuous depth to a long and indulgent finish. The freshness and energy of a younger wine remains, however, thanks to a low dosage and an 81% Chardonnay inclusion which allow the characteristic purity and freshness of Ruinart Champagne to remain centre stage. It’s utterly decadent, utterly delicious and leaves the drinker in no doubt as to why Maison Ruinart is one of the most exceptional Champagne producers on the planet.
RRP £260, www.harrods.com
Fan of fizz? if you want to know more about the key styles of champagne, check out Will Protheroe’s article on that. If Prosecco is more your style however, then here are 6 Things You Should Know about Prosecco. For those of you who wish to earn all about the UK’s rival to champagne however, here’s what you need to know about English Sparkling Wine. Cheers!