Crafting personalized Champagne at Duval-Leroy

Champagne before it becomes Champagne – and making it your own

19 June 2016

By Panos Kakaviatos for Wine-Chronicles.com

One of the most unique things about Duval-Leroy Champagne is that the domain permits individuals – usually wealthy businessmen and their mistresses, as I was told at the estate – to craft their personalized bubbly blend. It costs between $30,000 (for non-vintage blends) to $50,000 for vintage blends. In return, private clients get 600 personalized bottles of Champagne that they themselves crafted, based on tastings of still wines from various lieu dits with varying levels of residual sugars and different vintages.

A recent visit to Duval Leroy with several fellow wine writers included this fascinating experience, with directeur de caves Sandrine Logette-Jardin, who has been with the estate since 1991. A trained enologist, she specializes in blending and takes the time to guide private clients to blend their own Champagnes, dubbed cuvee sur mesure. So we amused ourselves pretending to be millionaires who can afford the pricey fee for our own crafted blends. It was fascinating for example to try the same 2010 vintage, but with different levels of residual sugar. Initially sampled with five grams of residual sugar, we tried it again with six – and opinions varied. While some preferred the liveliness of the former, I almost preferred the richer style of 6 grams, as it lent more body while not losing verve. You can see a bit of this experience in the video below. 

What drew me to this Vertus based estate in the first place was having enjoyed the NV Brut on several while flying business class with Lufthansa (as you can see below, albeit briefly) to my hometown of Washington D.C. and once to Hong Kong.

So when I met Guillaume Jourdan, who promotes Duval-Leroy among other brands for his company VitaBella, I jumped at an invitation to visit the domain and vineyards, sample the wines, and enjoy lunch with owner Carol Duval-Leroy.

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Prime Champagne real estate

The Duval Leroy family has held this estate since 1859. Vineyards comprise 200 hectares today, including the prime 3.5-hectare Clos des Bouveries terroir, ideally situated on a mid-slope facing East, yielding a 100% Chardonnay cuvee vintaged every year and vinified partly in oak barrels. As you can see in the video, we also tasted several samples from oak – and for a second there I thought I was in Bordeaux, as you can see in part of the video to the visit, below.

Owner Carol Duval-Leroy was the first woman to be nominated for the presidency of the Association of Champagne Wine Producers from 2007-2010, and she is a globetrotter, having opened no less than six international offices reflecting the fact that export markets (including Lufthansa flights) represent about 60% of all sales – well over the average for Champagne as a whole.

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Good times with Carol Duval-Leroy, at left, and Laura Di Cosimo

She is also passionate about food and wine and over lunch, we enjoyed a terrific meal that included a tender, flavorful and wonderfully fresh tasting red mullet, rouget barbet de roche, inspired by Michelin chef Christophe Bacquié, was perhaps the highlight, especially since his own Cuvee Sur Mesure Blanc de Blancs was surprisingly precise for a 2005 vintage Champagne, its 5.5 grams of residual sugar very well integrated.

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A great lunch, with excellent food and wine!

But I also adored a serving of young pigeon or pigeonneau with a millefeuille de legumes inspired by another Michelin chef Fabien Lefebvre, paired with the Brut Reserve.

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A match made in heaven: fresh red mullet and excellent Champagne!

Perhaps my wine preference throughout lunch was the 2002 – what a great vintage – Cuvee Sur Mesure Eric Frechon – another Michelin chef – Brut Nature Vintage, as the most precise and freshest of all the Champagnes.

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2002: a superlative vintage!

Earlier in the lab, we played some more, tasting various still wines including the premier cru village Chardonnay 2015, which displayed lovely balance with white flower and green apple flavors and aromatics. The Clos de Bouveries was more precise albeit more reticent too, a bit reductive, which makes sense as the soils there have less nitrogen. The third, from the Cote de Blancs in Oger, dubbed Terre de Noël, was particularly refined, with notes of white pear and white flowers.

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Assessing still wines, in the blending lab

Then two Pinot Noirs: the first from Bouzy was rather full bodied, with ripe notes of raspberry and a very mature aspect, as it had undergone malolactic fermentation (all wines at Duval Leroy do). The second, from Ambonnay, seemed more precise but also more steely, lacking the more vinous and opulent nature of the Bouzy. We later got a chance to taste the two in a blend from the 2007 vintage, which was quite lovely in its complexity

Then a series of Blanc de Blancs from different terroirs, including a 2010 blend of terroirs from Avize, Oger, Vertus, and Mesnil s/Oger and 30% aged in barrel. It was quite tangy yet full in body, with notes of tangerine, red apple and white pear. Lovely. Then came a 2005, with nearly the same blend, same villages, but only 7% barrel aging. It was fleshier (no doubt the vintage character?). The third was the least interesting for me: a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir from 2012, that came across as somewhat overripe and somewhat flat. But a similar blend from 2004 revealed just how nice that vintage was, including notes of tisane, tilleul, and honeysuckle but still quite fresh and lively, too.

After the visit, Carol Duval-Leroy invited me to become an official Champagne Ambassador or Chevalier, in a ceremony that was later held along with many others who enjoyed that honor, invited by other Champagne houses, in Hong Kong during Vinexpo 2016. I will write about that wonderful experience very soon. Thank you very much to Carol for stressing just how important the art of wine and food is for a happy life.

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