Most Champagne lovers know the name Dom Pérignon, but there is another Dom—one, in which I have stated in a past blog, that deserves more attention. Nicolas Ruinart, who founded the Champagne house Ruinart in 1729, was a nephew of Dom Thierry Ruinart. Dom Ruinart was a contemporary of Dom Pérignon.
So it was with much anticipation that I made my way down to Cru in New York this past week on a blustery October night, to taste 20 vintages of Champagne Ruinart’s Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Rosé.
The tasting was organized by Giovanni Carestia, representing Ruinart in the United States and Robert Schagrin, managing partner of Crush Wine and Spirits in New York. Joining us was Frédéric Panaiotis, the chef de cave at Ruinart since March, 2007. All the wines were tasted non-blind.
After an aperitif of Ruinart’s non-vintage blanc de blancs and rosé, the main event began, accompanied by a six-course menu by chef Shea Gallante.
Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs is a blend of grand cru Chardonnay vineyards based on six villages in the Côte des Blancs and Montagne de Reims. The house owns 42 acres of vineyards and purchases additional grapes through contracts with growers. Panaiotis wouldn’t divulge numbers, but I estimate Dom Ruinart’s production at 6,000 cases for each vintage made.
The first flight consisted of the 1998, 1996 and 1993. The '98 is the current release, a wine evoking peach and honey flavors and rich texture, but also a minerally, chalky feel on the finish. My official review will appear in an upcoming issue of Wine Spectator.
The 1996 featured exotic, tropical fruit, toast and graphite aromas, along with touches of mint and fresh herb. On the palate it was all mineral and a hint of iodine, allied to a tightly wound structure (95 points, non-blind). We agreed that the 1993 tasted more advanced for its age yet was delicious to drink now. It offered plenty of toast, roasted nut and slightly oxidized aromas, with a fresher palate whose bright acidity focused the brown spice, coffee and bouillon notes (93 points, non-blind).
In the next flight, showcasing the 1990, 1988, 1985 and 1981, my favorite was the racy, elegant ’88, with its nose of fresh chanterelle, oyster shell and baking spices. The flavors exuded toffee and mineral, defined by the firm structure. Overall, it exhibited great harmony and length (97 points, non-blind).
Glazed fruit, almond and ginger notes in the 1990 (95 points, non-blind) matched its big frame and creamy texture, while the 1981, disgorged September 2008, was powerful and assertive, with Asian spice, seashore and coffee flavors, but drier and bracing (89 points, non-blind). The 1985 was an off bottle, oxidized and not rated.
There were a few disappointing bottles among the flight from the 1970s and '60s, but even more of a surprise was the exceptional quality of the 1973 and 1969.
The 1973 featured a complex bouquet of the seashore mixed with coffee and toffee. In the mouth, there was a roasted character, with spices and grilled nuts backed by a powerful frame, firm structure and excellent length (95 points, non-blind). Mature Riesling aromas of beeswax, honey and mineral introduced the 1969, while the palate was rich, balanced and focused. It had mellowed beautifully (98 points, non-blind).
Next up were the rosés. The 1976 (from magnum) was corked unfortunately, but the 1979 (also from magnum) smelled of mushroom and berries. It was rich and lively, still very fresh, showing that magnums age very slowly (95 points, non-blind).
The 1985 and 1986 (both from magnum) were outstanding, with the star turn reserved for the pure, elegant 1988, with its kirsch bouquet, focused flavor of macerated cherry and fine aftertaste (95 points). The 1990 (from magnum) showed fresh, youthful strawberry and watermelon aromas and wild strawberry flavor. Concentrated and racy, it still needs time.
Though the wines were in the spotlight, chef Gallante’s menu was a great foil for the Champagnes, with flavorful, harmonious dishes. A preparation of Carolina sea bass with matsutake, Romanesco and cider vinaigrette paired seamlessy with the older blanc de blancs.
Most of all the tasting illustrated that the two cuvées of Dom Ruinart age beautifully. These are Champagnes that deserve to be better known.
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