WINE NOT BUBBLES

By Rose Murray Brown MW   Published in The Scotsman 27 August 2016

“Wine, not bubbles”.  This is how Anne Malassagne likes to describe her family’s Champagne, which she recommends serving in Burgundy wine glasses, rather than Champagne flutes. 

Her fizz is as effervescent as any Champagne, but Malassagne wants you to think of her cuvees of Champagne AR Lenoble as individual ‘wines’.  “We focus on vinous rich rounded creamy styles, full of character – but with bubbles in them”, she says.

AR Lenoble is a very unusual Champagne house in many ways.  It is one of the last remaining consistently family-owned and entirely independently-run houses left in the region, run by great-granddaughter of the original owner, Anne Malassagne, assisted by her younger brother Antoine.

Champagne A R LenobleAnne was just 28 when she took over at AR Lenoble in 1993.  A young woman running a Champagne house was nothing new, from famous widows Barbe-Nicole Ponsardin Clicquot and Lily Bollinger to modern-day Carol Duval and Evelyne Boizel who all took over following a husband, brother or father’s death.  Anne Malassagne was different; she made a conscious decision to give up her career and run her family house, but like all these women she had to prove she was capable of doing the job.

“My father worked day and night as a gynaecologist”, she says.  “Back in the 1950’s, poor harvests and harsh winters had made it hard to make a living just running a Champagne house.  But in 1990 he was, like many in Champagne, finding it tough and informed his children of his decision to sell”. 

“My older brother was a surgeon and my younger brother, a student. I worked in finance at Oreal; but told myself that if I didn’t try to save the family house I would regret it all my life”, she says.

Being a woman in a man’s world put her in a difficult position.  “I had to learn everything and build everything. I could not allow myself to make any mistakes”, she says.

Thanks to her hard work with younger brother Antoine alongside her, AR Lenoble is flourishing and approaching its centenary, producing 300,000 bottles annually (about half the size of Krug and one third the size of Charles Hiedsieck) – now considered, notably by La Revue du Vin de France, as one of Champagne’s rising stars today.

One curiosity is that it does not bear the family name; a conscious decision made by founder Armand-Raphael Graser in 1920.  Graser arrived from Alsace during WWI and did not want to use his German-sounding surname, so used ‘Lenoble’ as Champagne was the most noble of wines, attaching his initials ‘AR’.  Sadly he met his end in 1947, falling into a fermenting tank mid-harvest, an appropriate way to go for a man who spent his whole life making Champagne.  His son Joseph and grandson Jean Marie ran the Damery-based house prior to Anne taking over in 1993. 

The cream of their 18 hectare vineyard today is in Grand Cru village Chouilly in the Cote des Blancs, which gives buttery fleshy Chardonnay – and their six hectares in Premier cru villages Bisseuil and Damery supply Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes.  They focus on low yields, zero chemicals, no ‘sur latte’, low dosage and bottling in black glass, rather than normal green glass in Champagne, to guarantee that it is made by them only – and not re-labelled or commercialized..

In keeping with their aim of making individual ‘wines’, AR Lenoble keep reserve wines in a perpetual blending system or ‘solera-type’ using a mix of 225 Burgundy barrels and 5000 litre foudres.

“We are not looking to make the same wine every year – we want to make better and better ‘wines’ reflecting their terroir”, says Malassagne.  This is demonstrated by their latest release, new single vineyard ‘wine’, Les Aventures from 2002 and 2006 in Chouilly, from the slope right below Moet & Chandon’s famous Chateau de Saran. 


CHAMPAGNE TASTE TEST:


NON-VINTAGE

A R LENOBLE INTENSE NV
(£30.95 Cork & Cask, Edinburgh www.corkandcask.co.uk; by the glass in Angela Harnett’s Murano, Marcus Wareing’s Gilbert Scott, Bronte on The Strand and Picture in Fitzrovia)
Fruit-focused, creamy, citric with long flavours; three grape blend with high level of reserve wines, low dosage and touch of oak.


A R LENOBLE GRAND CRU BLANC DE BLANCS CHOUILLY NV    ****STAR BUY****
(£35 Luvians, Cupar & St Andrews www.luvians.com; Aitken Wines, Dundee www.aitkenwines.com; Bon Vivant, Edinburgh www.bonvivantedinburgh.co.uk)
Rich buttery notes of Chouilly shine through in this 2012-based Chardonnay cuvee; fleshy, ripe citric fruits with rich complexity.


A R LENOBLE ROSE TERROIRS CHOUILLY-BISSEUIL NV
(£42 Stannary Wine www.stannarywine.com; Fine & Rare Wines www.frwines.co.uk; by the glass in La Trompette)
Unusually high Chardonnay (88%) with Pinot Noir in this rich intense rose; raspberry and acacia scents, very wine-like, creamy and rounded.


VINTAGE                       

Champagne A R LenobleA R LENOBLE GRAND CRU BLANC DE BLANCS VINTAGE 2008   **** STAR BUY ****
(£52.50 Stannary Wine; Fine & Rare; Xavier Rousset’s Blandford Comptoir and Gordon Ramsay Royal Hospital Road, London)
Outstanding wine in Lenoble’s range; gloriously decadent 100% Chardonnay from pure Chouilly fruit: elegant long honeyed and intense.
                                                                                                        

A R LENOBLE GENTILHOMME GRAND CRU BLANC DE BLANCS VINTAGE 2009
(£78 Stannary Wine; Fine & Rare)
Lighter fresher Chardonnay cuvee, rich aromas from oak maturation; not as good as their 2008.


Join Rose’s Champagne & Sparkling wine tastings: Edinburgh 11 November, St Andrews 18 November & Glasgow 15 December from £42pp www.rosemurraybrown.com

 

wine tastings

The perfect gift for the wine enthusiast in the family. Rose does In-person tastings too.

cellar advice

Rose does cellar valuations for private clients, valuations for insurers & bespoke portfolio management.

Related stories

  • January 13, 2024

    2024 will be a year in which winemakers will be aiming to achieve increased sustainability in every aspect from planting to packaging and it will also be a year in which drought issues will be top priority as water becomes scarce in key wine regions. Alternative packaging is now a key topic when it comes to sustainability with wine

  • January 6, 2024

    My pick of progressive wineries to watch in 2024: Georgia: ORI MARANI www.orimarani.com An impressive newcomer to the Georgian wine scene .  This small artisan winery in Kartli region was set up seven years ago by French-born Bastien Warskotte (pictured above) and his Georgian wife Nina Gvantseladze.  Warskotte was brought up in Champagne – and is now making premium

  • December 2, 2023

    For those who like a wine book with a difference, the new Vintage Crime by Rebecca Gibb MW (£25 University of California Press) with its potted history of wine fraud certainly fits the bill.   Author Gibb gives us a fun romp through the ages highlighting high profile wine scams and lesser-known duplicitous behaviour that has plagued wine over the