The wines of Ruinart with Frédéric Panaïotis
More geeky Champagne talk with the chef de cave of Ruinart

Champagne Dom Ruinart is famous for its Blanc de Blancs, with its distinctive and quite beautiful bottle shape. I caught up with Chef du Cave Frédéric Panaïotis (below) to taste a few vintages, and for a bit of chat. He was quite disclosing, and happy talking technical stuff, which is very refreshing. We began discussing the 2014 vintage.

'2014 was a good non-vintage year,' he says. 'I'm a little bit less enthusiastic than what I have seen in the French press. The big surprise is the northern Montagne de Reims and the Côtes de Bar, with good quantities. It's definitely a better year for Chardonnay than Pinot Noir and Meunier, which suffered from the extra rain in August and September.'


'2014 could have been better, but it could have been way worse. In August we started to be worried, but September was kind of a miracle.'

It hadn't been an entirely straightforward vintage in the region. 'There were problems in 2014 with Drosophila suzukii, which caused sour rot,' he revealed. 'It doesn't see the white grapes, and just attacks the red grapes. This fruit fly can oviposit through the skin, and once the skin is open it leads to sour rot. It has happened before in years where the grapes are growing quickly. When the skins split towards the end of maturation process then fruit flies come and you get sour rot.'


Botrytis was a threat. 'Gluconic acid levels are monitored as an indication of botrytis, and the numbers were pretty high this year. In 2012 we have the lowest ever levels of gluconic acid, but it wasn't a vintage year for us. So numbers are interesting but not everything.'

We also talked about the technical details of the second fermentation in bottle. ‘The slower the fermentation the more oxidative characters you have,’ says Frederic. ‘With bottles lying flat you have the fastest fermentation.’ He uses two crown cap liners with different levels of permeability to oxygen, one for non-vintage and the other for vintage. What about closures for the final wine? ‘DIAM is used for half of the NV bottles, but for 10-25 years ageing it is too much of a bet. I'd rather have 3% cork taint than 100% screwed bottles.’


One thing that has been trialled for the second fermentation is the use of yeasts encapsulated in a material that allows them to ferment, but keeps them in one place. ‘Using encapsulated yeasts we found that the fermentation would take 2 weeks to a month longer.’ He reveals. ‘Another system that has been tried is called a condom, with yeasts trapped in a condom a bit like a long bidule, removing the need to riddle. With this system the fermentation took a month more and all the bottles showed oxidation. When the yeasts struggle to get sugar they produce oxidative compounds.’

The house style at Ruinart avoids oxidative characters. ‘I am looking to make gently reductive style of wines. Reductive wines show more of the terroir and grape variety characteristics. Oxidation tends to hide these. If you ask me to choose between Vin Jaune and German Riesling, I'd go for the Riesling.’


Panaitois is critical of some of the trendy grower Champagnes. 'What worries me is oxidative style, oak, no malo, no dosage, a combination that is not forgiving, not what I want to make. I need a minimum amount of dosage. What is the minimum? 4-5 g/litre. Anything below this can be a challenge for ageing. 5.5 g/l (in the 2004 Blanc de Blancs) is the lowest that we have gone.’

He also has some interesting things to say about acidity.  ‘I don't believe any longer that acidity in Champagne is needed to guarantee ageing potential. Quite a few low acid years have aged well. We tend to have enough acidity anyway. In 2003 the pH was 3.2 which is still quite low.’

Champagne Ruinart Blanc de Blancs NV (magnum)
This is mainly 2012 base wine and was disgorged 6 months ago. Fine pear and white peach nose leads to a lovely citrus palate that's crisp and taut with a bit of spiciness. Very pretty and delicate with some pithy bitterness. 92/100 (02/16)

Champagne Ruinart Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2004
Disgorged June 2013. A fine, well mannered, pure wine that's expressive with lovely balance, showing pure white peach fruit and citrus. Pretty and linear with very subtle toast and nice acidity. Everything in balance. 92/100 (10/14)

Champagne Ruinart Dom Ruinart 2004 France
July 2013 digorgement, 5.5 g/l dosage. Toasty, fine and expressive with some nice nuttiness. Lovely taut lemony character: so expressive and pure. 94/100 (02/16)

‘2004 has similarities to 2014: a big crop saved by a warm September. The Chardonnay was potentially 85-90 hl/ha. Three years ago I was worried: 2002 was so good that 2004 wouldn't look good, but since disgorgement 2004 has come up nicely and developed. I don't think it's a weak year.’

‘We always do malo. We use the work Moët has done with yoghurt producers to understand malolactic fermentation, and have tried to reduce the level of diacetyl, with combinations of yeast and bacteria. It is interesting to the interactions of yeast strains and bacteria.’

‘Dom Ruinart is Burgundian and I'm looking to make it more Burgundian. 2004 is more Chablis in style. 2002 is more Puligny.’

Frederic doesn't just rely on Côtes de Blancs Chardonnay, but also takes some from the Montagne de Reims. 'The Chardonnay from here is a bit punchy,' he says. He usually uses a third to two-thirds from here. 

Champagne Ruinart Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 2002
Disgorged March 2012, 6.5 g/l dosage. Very fine, expressive and complex with lovely toast notes and complex citrus. Powerful, complex and grippy. Very detailed and intense, with finesse and complexity. Nice toastiness, fine citrus notes and a bit of peachy richness, as well as a hint of apricot. 94/100 (10/14)

Champagne Ruinart Dom Ruinart 1998 France (magnum)
Disgorged March 2009, with a dosage of 7.5 g/litre. This is drinking beautifully, with lively, spicy, toasty richness. Savoury, spicy and vivid with lovely acidity under the white peach, pear and lemon fruit. Linear and nutty, this is at its peak now. 95/100 (02/16)

Champagne Ruinart Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs 1993
Disgorged around a decade ago, with a 9 g/l dosage. Full yellow colour. Very rich, fine and toasty with powerful notes of peach and citrus. Very fine and fresh with hints of notes and buscuits, as well as toasted almonds and dried fruit. So lovely. 94/100 (10/14)

Champagne Ruinart Dom Ruinart Rosé 2002
Disgorged September 2012 with 5.5g/l dosage. Pinot Noir comes from Verzenay, where it’s possible to make more delicate red wines. Pale pink in colour. Lovely delicate cherry and plum notes. Tight and pure with fine cherry fruit. Very stylish with elegance and finesse. Lovely. 93/100 (10/14)

See also:

Geeky Champagne talk with Benoit Gouez, Moet et Chandon
Champagne Charles Heidsieck
Taittinger Comtes de Champagne vertical
Focus on Grower Champagnes

Wines tasted as indicated month/year  
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