Blanc De Noirs – A Different Shade Of Champagne

Champagne has traditionally been made by blending white and red grapes to create a harmonious approach or what one might call a house style, so that consumers can recognize this character year in and year out for their favorite Champagne brands.

But often, producers will fashion a Champagne made from only one varietal to focus on a specific style; this option is often linked to where the estate is located within the Champagne region. The best known example of this is Blanc de Blancs Champagne, which can only be made with white grapes; thus most producers in the Côte des Blancs area where Chardonnay dominates local plantings produce a Blanc de Blancs. As Chardonnay is such a well-loved varietal, these cuvées have become loved by consumers and critics alike.

(Note that there a select few examples of Blanc de Blancs Champagne produced that contain other white varietals, such as Blanc Vrai, Fromenteau and Petit Meslier; these are planted in the Côte des Bar in southern Champagne; Drappier is a producer here that makes a Blanc de Blancs with Chardonnay and three other white varietals.)

Lately, Blanc de Noirs has become an important category, especially for lovers of more full-bodied Champagnes (note: this is a generalization, as some examples of Blanc de Blancs are quite powerful). As the name suggests a Blanc de Noirs Champagne – “white from black,” can only be produced from red grapes. This means a 100% Pinot Noir Champagne or one made exclusively from Meunier, a distinctive red varietal that makes up almost one-third of the plantings in the entire region; or a Blanc de Noirs could be a blend of Pinot Noir and Meunier.

As with the Côte des Blancs where many producers source local Chardonnay that dominates plantings, producers in the Montagne de Reims district – planted to 40% Pinot Noir and 36% Meunier, and the Vallée de la Marne, west of Epernay and Reims where Meunier dominates the plantings – often make a Blanc de Noirs. Among the most famous producers in these areas known for Blanc de Noirs are Bollinger, Philipponnat, Egly-Ouriet and Billecart-Salmon. Other famous producers of Blanc de Noirs Champagne include Krug (with its highly limited Clos d’Ambonnay bottling); Cedric Bouchard (from the Côte des Bar) and Petit & Bajan, an artisan producer from Avize in the Côte des Blancs.

As Blanc de Noirs Champagnes contain only red grapes, these cuvées stand up to very rich foods, such as duck breast, spicy chicken Indian style, roast meat, foie gras or terrines.

Notes on current releases of Blanc de Noirs Champagne:

Bollinger PNTX 17 100% Pinot Noir, primarily from the village of Tauxìeres; 50% of the fruit is from 2017; disgorged in February 2022. Medium deep yellow; aromas of apricot, stewed apples, biscuit, toast and a note of honey. Medium-full, there is excellent ripeness, good acidity, wonderful complexity, very good persistence and impressive varietal character. Beautifully made, this is a refined Blanc de Noirs meant for foods such as duck breast, roast chicken or aged gruyere. Enjoy over the next 5-7 years. (92)

Philipponnat Blanc de Noirs 2016 – 100% Pinot Noir. Medium-deep yellow, persistent perlage; rich aromas of pear, plum, biscuit and a hint of orange peel. Medium-full with very good to excellent concentration. Very good acidity, impressive complexity and overall harmony, along with noteworthy persistence. Wonderful Blanc de Noirs that will drink well for another 5-7 years, perhaps longer. Nice sense of finesse. (93)

Leclerc Briant Blanc de Meuniers Millèsime 2015 (Premier Cru) – 100% Meunier. Beautiful deep yellow/copper; very persistent stream of bubbles; aromas of dried apricot, plum, vanilla and dried yellow flowers. Medium-full with notable concentration, good acidity, very good persistence; the finish displays notes of celery, pumpkin seed and orange pith. Highly distinctive and wonderfully complex. Enjoy over the next 5-7 years. (92)

Leclerc Briant Les Basses Prières Brut 2014 100% Pinot Noir from a single plot of 0.17 hectares in the Premier Cru village of Hautvillers; the wine is aged in used barriques for nine months, followed by 36 months aging sur lattes; dosage 2 grams per liter. Medium-deep yellow with a hint of copper; aromas of dried pear, brioche, yellow plum and hints of pepper and clove. Medium-full with excellent concentration. There is noteworthy persistence, outstanding complexity and a powerful finish that combines ripe fruit with well-defined herbal notes. This is a highly distinctive Champagne that is not for everyone, but will please those looking for a one that is original and unique. Pair this with a strongly flavored entrée such as roast chicken with bitter greens or veal medallions with morels. This should drink well for 7-10 years. (94)

Petit & Bajan “Obsidienne” (Brut Grand Cru) – Here is an anamoly, a Côte des Blancs producer that makes a Blanc de Noirs; for this cuvée, the wine is 100% Pinot Noir from Verzenay in the Montagne de Reims. Bright, medium deep yellow; aromas of biscuit, dried pear, toast and dried yellow flowers. Medium-full with excellent concentration, very good acidity and impressive complexity. This is an older cuvée that was disgorged in September 2017; the wine offers notable youthfulness; enjoy over the next 4-6 years. This is rich enough to pair with roast hen with mushrooms or lighter game. (93)

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