A fine time was had by all at the Dickie Fitz Restaurant and Dining Room in London W1 the other night. In something of a coup, the Spectator Wine Club had managed to nab Emilien Boutillat, head winemaker, and Sebastien Besson, CEO of Armand de Brignac Champagne on one of their flying visits to London and had cajoled them into hosting an evening for readers. Not only that, we managed also to nab several bottles, magnums and even one treasured double magnum of their sublime fizz with which to refresh ourselves.
Armand de Brignac Champagne is made by the Cattier family – led by Jean-Jacques and his son Alexandre – but the brand, more familiarly known as Ace of Spades thanks to the logo on its striking metallic gold, silver and pewter-coloured bottles, is owned by the rapper Jay Z, formerly the number one fan of Roederer Cristal Champagne.
Jay Z famously transferred his affections to AdeB, however, after having been offended by Frédéric Rouzaud, MD of Louis Roederer Champagne, who, on being asked what he thought about rappers and bling-meisters knocking back Cristal in night clubs, replied in true Gerald Ratner, foot-in-the-mouth style: “What can we do? We can’t forbid people from buying it.”
Anyway, Jay Z’s association with Armand de Brignac has done the brand no harm whatsoever and it is the fizz of choice of many an A-lister. Crucially, though, it has also won plaudits from the critics with the Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs Champagne recently acclaimed best in the world at a blind tasting of 250 cuvées held by FINE Champagne Magazine and tastingbook.com.
Emilien and Sebastien presented the five champagnes in the range over an excellent three course dinner. We started with a jeroboam of Armand de Brignac Gold Brut, its flagship cuvée and the first to be introduced to the portfolio in 2006. A blend of 40 per cent Pinot Noir, 40 per cent Chardonnay and 20 per cent Pinot Meunier, drawn from just the 2009, 2010 and 2012 vintages, it made a perfect aperitif being both citrusy and honeyed with a hint of cream and toast on the finish.
With a first course of cured kingfish, grapefruit, pomelo and crab salad we had the Armand de Brignac Blanc de Blancs served in magnums. 100 per cent Chardonnay, also from the 2009, 2010 and 2012 vintages, it was deliciously rounded with notes of warm pastry and nuts, exotic fruits and vanilla backed by a crisp, mineral finish.
As a surprise entr’acte we had the latest release of the fabled Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs. Only 2,333 bottles of this have been produced, made from 100 per cent Pinot Noir from Grand and Premier Cru vineyards only. Served in a red wine glass, the better to show of its complex flavours, it was marked by its hints of peppermint, spice, pears, mocha and baked brioche. It was a triumph and readers gave it a resounding thumbs up.
With a perfectly pink loin of venison, Bolognese, beetroot and cavolo nero we had the Armand de Brignac Rosé, again in magnum. This Pinot Noir-dominant blend was crafted by adding 15 per cent still red wine to the blend and was notable for its depth of flavour, rich red fruit, finely grained texture and long finish. It matched the gamey meatiness of the dish just so.
Finally, with a glorious medley of apple dishes – sorbet, ice cream, tarte tatin and white chocolate – we had the Armand de Brignac Demi-Sec, a sweet champagne of real style and my favourite of the evening. They use their oldest reserve wines for this little beauty, mainly from 2007, and although it was still noticeably fresh, there was a lovely brioche-like toastiness to it and just enough sweetness the match the pudding perfectly.
It was a great night and Emilien and Sebastien were excellent ambassadors both for champagne in general and for Armand de Brignac in particular, tirelessly answering readers’ questions and pointing out this and that.
It’s fair to say that Armand de Brignac ain’t, erm, cheap (it starts at £250 a pop for the Gold Brut and goes up to £675 for the Blanc de Noirs), but if somebody else is buying I’d happily knock it back again and again.
I must remember to ask Santa for a bottle. Or maybe even a magnum.
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