Ruinart is the best Champagne you don't know about.
Distribution in the United States was limited from 2000 to 2005, but with a new importer, the brand was relaunched in 2006. Until then, I hadn’t tasted Ruinart Champagne since 2003. That’s a shame, because this house makes excellent Chardonnay-based bubbly in an elegant style. In particular, the vintage Dom Ruinart bottlings show plenty of finesse, yet are intense and develop well in the bottle.
With a new U.S. importer, Ruinart released its Brut Blanc de Blancs NV (90 points, $60) and Brut Rosé NV (90, $60) in time for the 2006 holiday season. Then last month, cellar master Jean-Philippe Moulin was in New York to kick off the launch of two vintage Champagnes: Brut Rosé Dom Ruinart and Brut Blanc de Blancs Dom Ruinart, both from the 1996 harvest. I tasted both non-blind (look for official reviews from blind tastings in an upcoming issue).
The blanc de blancs, which should retail for about $170, is delicate and fresh, with citrus and candied berry flavors. It reveals a firm, linear structure, courtesy of the '96 vintage’s high acidity, that is offset by a creamy texture. The long finish leaves an impression of graphite and mineral accents.
The rosé, about $400, offers subtle berry and strawberry aromas and flavors. It too is very fresh and elegant, but I detected some tannins in the texture, then the long, refined finish takes over.
What differentiates the vintage wines from the non-vintage cuvées is that all the fruit comes from estate vineyards rated grand cru in the Champagne system of village classification.
Though the blanc de blancs is 100 percent Chardonnay, 40 percent of the grapes come from the Montagne de Reims. These components of the blend add structure and longevity.
The rosé is about 85 percent Chardonnay, with roughly 15 percent still Pinot Noir added for color. Moulin credits the high percentage of Chardonnay for the house style: finesse, elegance and purity.
Moulin also believes Chardonnay is behind the aging potential of Ruinart’s top wines, but notes that it needs eight to 10 years aging on the lees before it is ready for disgorging. The long maturation period allows for a low dosage, of 6 grams to 9 grams per liter of residual sugar, depending on the year.
To prove the aging potential of the vintage Champagnes, Moulin brought a few older vintages. Of the blanc de blancs, we tasted the 1993, 1990 and 1988; the rosés consisted of 1990 and 1988.
The Brut Blanc de Blancs Dom Ruinart 1990 is beginning to show some tertiary aromas of leather and coffee. It is rich and creamy, with coffee, toast and mineral notes and a terrific finish. I also love the Brut Rosé Dom Ruinart 1990 and 1988. The ’90 reveals an exceptional bouquet of preserved berries, grilled almonds and ground coffee beans. It has power and intensity, balanced by lively acidity. The ’88 is fresh, with a coffee and toffee bouquet, candied red fruits and mineral flavors. All are drinking beautifully now.
These Champagnes also pair well with food. At least one of the seven different vintage cuvées worked beautifully with each course during a multicourse dinner at Per Se.