A very rare variety indeed

The three main varieties used to produce Champagne are Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay, with Blanc de Blanc (white of white) champagnes made out of 100% Chardonnay. There are however other grape varieties permitted in the production of Champagne.Champagne Drappier I first came across this when visiting Michel Drappier at his families Champagne house two years ago. Michel introduced me to Drappier Quattuor, a blend of four varieties including some of the historic white grapes from the Champagne region – Petit Meslier, Vrai (Pinot Blanc) and Arbane. Michel recalled a delightful story of presenting the Champagne to some of the regions leaders blind, they loved the wine but the conversation quickly changed when he revealed the grape varieties that he’d made the wine from. Whilst still permitted in Champagne production, these old varieties make up a very small percentage of the varieties grown in the region and are not widely used. I had not seen these varieties outside Quattuor, until we recently started working with Champagne Moutard Diligent, who from what I understand are the only house to produce a 100% Arbane (also spelled Arbanne) Champagne. The bottle we tried was the Moutard Cepage Arbane Vielle Vignes 2006. It was a delight to try it and something quite difficult to explain, you can probably picture the scene though – most of us sat there for more than 10 minutes as we sniffed, swirled and then sniffed again, trying to find words to describe the aromas. It’s a challenge with such an usual variety, you don’t have a memory bank of aroma descriptors tucked away. So here goes my thoughts – it smelled a little like candied banana, there were hints of apples – not crisp green ones, but rather a floury apple that leaves you disappointed. The more I looked at it, the more I got characters similar to old Chenin Blanc and some Pinot Blanc notes. It was noticeably viscous, in fact so much so that the bubbles seemed to hang in the glass. Taste wise, it was also very unusual, a truly unique wine – a great wine to taste and definitely memorable.