Grower Champagne’s niche in Delhi’s Aman Resorts

In India’s still-nascent wine market, the established hotel chains default to the well-known brands to fill their wine lists. As a result, well-known names like Möet and Chandon have become ubiquitous. Ubiquity though is just another word for boring.

It is significant then that Aman Resorts in Delhi has a treasure trove of exclusively imported grower Champagne that is not available elsewhere in the country – either on wine lists or in retail. Aman has one thing behind its wine list that most hotels in India do not – a philosophy. That philosophy is to seek out wines that reflect their terroir and are made by small growers and family-owned firms. Grower Champagnes fit nicely into this philosophy. Artisnal and made to reflect their terroir, grower Champagnes are different in personality from the mainstream ‘house styles’ of the large Champagne houses.

Rajiv Singhal, India Representative for Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC)

Rajiv Singhal, CIVC’s representative in India, organized a Dinner at the Aman in New Delhi on February 2, 2011 to showcase these grower Champagnes. The audience was a small group of about 10 people – mostly sommeliers, consultants and writers. All the Champagnes served (with the exception of the last one) were Blanc de Blancs. The service was overseen by Aman’s Bejing-based, globe-trotting sommelier Krishna Hathaway. Krishna oozes enthusiasm for his wine list and is a great ambassador for Aman – always at pains to explain and represent the philosophy.

The first Champagne for the evening was Tarlant, La Vigne d’Antan 2000. A special wine that comes from one of the only plots of land in Champagne (or France) that can grow ungrafted Chardonnay vines. La Vigne d’Antan stands for the vines of the yesteryear. The flavours of this wine are in part supposed to reflect the pre-phylloxera flavours of Chardonnay on its own rootstock. So what was the wine like? The nose was restrained, with floral hints and gentle green-apple fruitiness. The real appeal of the wine though was in the abundant minerality with the flavours of flint and chalk reaching all the way to the back of the mouth. For a non-malolactic wine the Tarlant had an almost unexpected gentleness, partly because of the six years spent on its lees – which softened the wine. So was it a great wine? It certainly had its fans that evening. But it was more interesting than great: visceral, and mineral with subtle appeal and just one dimension short of being fully satisfying.

The dinner menu creatively presented

The second Champagne of the evening was the Non Dosage 1er Cru Vertus NV by Larmandier Bernier. This grower champagne is from organic and biodynamic vineyards, vinified in a non-interventionist style with the fermentation being done in neutral oak barrels. The contrast with the first wine could not have been more apparent. The nose was alive with abundant fruitiness interwoven with flint, nuttiness, brioche and caramel flavours – together adding up to nice complexity. The non-dosage style was tempered by the abundant sweet fruit and the wine was round rather than severe. Served with an excellent Amaretto cured blue fin tuna, it was the perfect match – the flavours of the liquer infused tuna meshing elegantly with the nutty, caramel roundness of the Champagne. I was asked if I liked this wine better than the Tarlant. The Larmandier certainly had more immediate and apparent appeal, but they both had personality – the very thing that Grower Champagne aims to achieve.

The next course of pan fried foie gras and spiced figs (again, excellent) was served with a vintage champagne – “Cuvée Gastronome” by Champagne Pierre Gimonnet 2004. A youthful wine with a subtle, tightly-wound nose – it had more opulence in the mouth with rich baked apple fruit. Despite the sophistication and the richness, the wine was a tad dry and austere for the foie gras.

The wine we tried next would have been the perfect match for the Foie Gras. Another Vintage Champagne, the Delamotte 1999 Grand Cru was, for me, the star of the evening. With a wonderful golden colour and an evolved nose, this Champagne was nuanced and complex. It had sweetness of tropical fruit, layered with smoke, flint and honey. An evocative wine – wonderfully demonstrative of the ageing potential of Chardonnay from the best terroirs. That it was a ‘bubbly’ seemed almost incidental – first and foremost it was an excellent wine. As I told Krishna, seated to my left that evening – the wine reminded me of a very good 10+ year old Mersault.

Krishna Hathaway, Cellar Master at Aman Resorts speaks to the audience

Another fine Vintage Champagne, Lassalle 2000, came next. It seemed younger in comparison to the Delamotte 1999. The nose, though shy, was clearly sophisticated: flinty, smoky and showing power. Clearly this wine will develop further. Maybe Rajiv will invite us to try it again at the Aman a few years from now?

A dessert of Wild Berry Millefuille was served with the strawberry scented Rosé de Saignée from Duval Leroy. A soft, sweet and perfect end to a fine Champagne evening.

How can you enjoy the same Champagne? Simply head to the Aman in Delhi and order it off the menu. Below is the current pricing in Indian rupees:

“La Vigne D’Antan – Non Graffe” 1er Cru “Oueilly”

by Champagne Tarlant 2000

Non Dosage – 1er Cru “ Vertus” by Champagne Larmandier Bernier  NV 10,000
“Cuvée Gastronome” by Champagne Pierre Gimonnet 2004 7,800
Grand Cru “Oger” by Champagne Delamotte 1999 11,800
“Cuvée Angeline” by J. Lasalle 2000 7,900
‘‘Rosé de Saignée”  by Duval Leroy NV 7,900

About Gaurav Anand

Certified Sommelier Gaurav Anand is an India based wine writer, consultant, educator and founder of Wine Forays. He earned his Sommelier certification from the Court of Master Sommeliers and holds the WSET Advanced certification in Wines & Spirits. Above all, he is a wine lover on a full-time mission to taste and discover the best wines in the world.
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