pinot noir

A new, ultra rare Champagne icon: Armand de Brignac, Blanc de Noirs Assemblage Three

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If you don’t know Armand de Brignac champagne by name, you will certainly know it by sight. With five cuvées (styles) in the range, you’ll spot them a mile off in their iconic, metallic gold, silver, pink, purple and platinum-coloured bottles. Yes, it’s the brand owned by rapper Shawn ‘JAY-Z’ Carter, but it’s worth noting that these ‘ultra-prestige’ champagnes have been crafted by the Cattier family, who have been making wine in and around the Montagne-de-Reims for thirteen generations, so they know a thing or two. 

These champagnes command the highest prices as they are made in tiny quantities, using extremely selective methods and meticulous attention to detail. Without the pressures of creating huge volumes, they say they are free to craft the most ‘perfect’ wines possible. Armand de Brignac only use the first half of the first press of grapes for their cuvées (the best bit). In the case of the Blanc de Noirs however, they use only the first third of the first press, meaning it takes even more grapes to craft a single bottle. 

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Armand de Brignac, Blanc de Noirs ‘A3’

The Blanc de Noirs ‘Assemblage 3’ (A3) is only the third Blanc de Noirs Armand de Brignac have ever produced, the first being released in 2015. Only 3535 bottles of this release were created and each is inscribed with its own number. Like the other four cuvées in the range, A3 is a blend of three vintages: 2009, 2010 and 2012 and as the name ‘Blanc de Noirs’ suggests, is made with only red grapes: 100% Pinot Noir in this case - no Pinot Meunier, the other red grape that would have been permitted. Winemaker Jean-Jaques Cattier says the following of this wine:

“Because of the power that comes from using 100% red fruit, it can be a challenge to achieve a balanced Blanc de Noirs… Using only parcels of only the very best Pinot Noir, we’re able to meticulously balance the acidity and sugar, achieving a Blanc de Noirs style with integrity to the powerful style, but with balance and texture.”

Winemaker Jean-Jacques Cattier with Armand de Brignac CEO Sebastien Besson

Winemaker Jean-Jacques Cattier with Armand de Brignac CEO Sebastien Besson

What does Armand de Brignac Blanc de Noirs A3 taste like?

With an attractive, copper- gold hue, this is a champagne that is understated when first poured, but opens up quickly and changes with every sip, each time offering a new note you hadn’t spotted before. Exceptionally complex, it gives rich brioche notes with crisp, red apple skin and blackcurrant leaf flavours. There’s a subtle vanilla pastry creaminess and a light citrus finish that really lifts the wine and balances the richness and power. A gastronomic wine at its finest and the ‘yin’ to Armand de Brignac’s Blanc de Blanc ‘yang’.

What to eat with A3?

The complexity and power of this extraordinary champagne means it will suit many fine dining dishes, both sweet and savoury. The house suggests foie gras, lamb tagine with apricots, spiced rack of lamb and Clafoutis with fresh, dark fruits. Now we’re hungry!

A3 Fact & Figures

Grapes: 100% Pinot Noir

Villages grapes sourced from: Bouzy, Verzenay, Chigny-les-Roses,Ludes & Rilly-la-Montage.

Multi Vintage: Base of 2012 with 2010 and 2009

Number of bottles produced: Only 3535

Disgorgement date: April 9th, 2019

Dosage: 8g/l

ABV: 12.5%

Sizes available: 750ml only

Drinking window: Drinking now but can be kept until 2030 in the right conditions.

RRP: £1,095 per bottle.

Stockist: Available exclusively from Harrods from Sept 19th until November 16th

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By Helena Nicklin

Spotlight on: Greyfriars Vineyard, Surrey Hills, England

All eyes are on English wine at the moment. Let’s face it; there’s not much else to be proud of about our country right now, so the fact that English wines are soaring in terms of quality and innovation is just what we need. 

A welcome break from the madness of London, we three took a trip down to Greyfriars Vineyard in the sunny, Surrey Hills. You may have whizzed past them on the Hog’s Back at Puttenham on the way out West but we very much suggest you stop in next time. Alternatively, you can jump on a train from Waterloo to Guildford and be there in less than 40 minutes. 

Greyfriars has been part of the English wine scene since 2010 when owners Mike and Hilary Wagstaff took over, having decided to make the move to winemaking from engineering and law respectively. Their aim was to expand the vineyards already there and to grow them from hobby scale to boutique commercial scale. When they took over the vines from the previous owners, they were planted mostly to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which was quite unusual at the time, but rather fortuitous given how well those varieties are now performing. “Most people were growing horrible German hybrids,” says Mike. Luckily for them, the chalky hills had already proved their worth for the vines. All that was left was to smarten up the winemaking and do some planting. “We’ve now gone from 1.5 acres to 40 acres, so 16 hectares,” says Mike. “Big enough to be serious but we’re not a huge conglomerate.”

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The Wines

In the nine years under the Wagstaffs, Greyfriars have made a splash with their distinctive, authentic wines and eye-catching branding. They now boast and impressive range of thirteen  wines, each with a signature style, reflecting the unique local soils and climate.

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The Non Vintage Sparkling Range

Three crisp, refreshing sparklers await you at a seriously impressive price for what they are. The non vintage sparkling cuvée (£18.50) is an elegant blend of the three ‘champagne’ grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and touch of Pinot Meunier. The non vintage rosé (£18.50), made from 100% Pinot Noir is pale and pretty with a red apple skin tang. The unique non vintage sparkling fumé (£18.50) however is certainly one to try. 100% bubbly Sauvignon Blanc, it’s zippy, herbaceous and citrussy. A true point of difference. All three are excellent for the price and happily, relatively low in alcohol at 11.5%! 

The top-end non vintage wine however is the blancs de noirs (made entirely with black grapes). It’s 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and has a moreish, fleshy texture with beautiful red fruit aromatics. £30 and worth every penny. 

The Vintage Sparkling Range

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Seriously special, these vintage wines feel like a big step up. The 2014 Classic Cuvée is fleshy and rich (£23). The limited edition Cuvée Royale 2015 is extraordinary. A blend of 50:50 Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, is has an unctuous mouthfeel with brioche notes and poise from the red fruit. And finally, there’s the 2014 Oaked Blanc de Blancs: a wine made from 100% Chardonnay with a tropical note and vanilla finish. Delicious!

The Still Wines
Greyfriars make a range of still wines too, usually single varietal and grapes you don’t usually associate with England: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and also, a strawberry- scented still rosé. All priced at £13.50, you could try a mixed case and taste them all!

See more about Greyfriars Vineyard on the website here.

Buy the wines here.

Address: Greyfriars Vineyard, The Hogs Back, Puttenham, Surrey, GU31AG, England, UK