Naked Champagne for the New Year!
Jean Francois Clouet is everything the ideal French man should be. Boyishly handsome, full of Gallic shrugs, heart-felt pronouncements, huge smiles, and hilariously witty with a passion for Champagne and fast cars. Also, Jean Francois Clouet likes his Champagne– on a fur rug in front of a fireplace, with the finest caviar, but Champagne with fish is a folly!
Naked Champagne is bare of dosage– the cane sugar and older wine mixture added to most Champagne before it is sealed with a Champagne cork. His preference for Champagne in its purest form began as a rebellion against being bullied.
Clouet’s story came out abruptly during an interview when I inquired about his ‘family’. Mistakenly, he thought I said ‘ farmer’ which ruffled his feathers. Clouet explained, “I have bad memories of being bullied at my village school by children from the big Champagne houses. My family was a small Champagne producer, Andre Clouet. They teased me calling me ‘the farmer’.”
However, Clouet listened carefully to his tormentors, as they boasted about the secret recipes behind their families’ Champagne blend of different vintages of Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier and Chardonnay grapes. Stubbornly, Clouet decided to create a totally unique style, using only the region’s most difficult grape, Pinot Noir. “For me, Pinot Noir is ‘an experience’. It is not easy. Our family vineyard in Bouzy is located extremely well and expresses the purity of Pinot Noir.”
While Clouet’s family may have been called ‘farmers’, their ancestors were wealthy printers for France’s kings. He proudly remarks that his family also printed France’s first wine label.
“My brother and I never had any pocket money, so we had to borrow money for sweets from the Champagne house children,” Clouet says. “But my father never stinted on money for education or sports.” Clouet’s first passion was for to become a footballer (soccer), especially as the Champagne houses sponsored France’s champion team of Reims.
But Clouet’s vision to create a perfect Champagne led to making his first Champagne in 1996. ‘Wine is like an artist building a fantastic building. My life is absolutely nothing compared to a vineyard’s history.” In his opinion, ” In the last 100 years there have been three top vintages in Champagne. In my lifetime of 34 years there may have been only one or two best vintages.”
Clouet’s dream is to be able to make wine from a top vintage, putting his signature on a bottle that people will still be able to drink in 100 years.
Although he worries that with global warming the Champagne region may become too warm to produce Champagne. Already many Champagne houses have bought vineyard land in Southwestern England, on same Kimmeridgian clay soil belt the Champagne region.
Clouet uses an antique wine press, but says, “Organic is a joke. It is impossible to work the same way your ancestors did two hundred years ago. We are not in the same environment. Work with nature, but involve some technology.”
Silver Brut Nature without dosage is Clouet’s work of art. “My Brut Nature is like a car. If you drive a car at 250 kilometers per hour, you can make no mistakes. A wine maker can’t make mistakes with a Brut Nature.”
” The true test when judging the best Champagnes is to taste them at the lowest amount of sugar, when there is no sugar to cover their mistakes. Besides, too much sugar kills a healthy wine,” says Clouet.
Clouet is passionately strict about how to drink Silver Brut Nature. “Pinot Noir is an animal, so when you taste Champagne, no shower! You will be disturbed by the smell of your shampoo, so stay within the same pH as the body.” He continues, “The best environment for enjoying Champagne is a fur rug, a fireplace, a dish of the best caviar and a blonde with the silver blue eyes of the Scandinavian sky.” While a girlfriend introduced him to caviar with Champagne, he declares, “Champagne with fish is a folly.”
Clouet often compares his wines to cars, “I have many cars. Once when I had finished working and I was dirty, the car salesman didn’t wait on me. So I told him I wanted the top BMW in his shop in my courtyard by the next morning. Later when I got home my mother said I would be killed for owing a car like that. Later when I had to fly to Cyprus the car was stolen from my driveway.”
Clouet say his family’s first break was conquering the Scandinavian market. Scandinavians drink more Andre Clouet than any other Champagne. “Our price was perfect and soon we were in 600 shops in Scandinavia without doing any marketing.” Clouet was proud when his family’s Champagne went on the wine list at El Bulli’s in Spain, selected as the best restaurant in the world by Restaurant Magazine.
On his travels, Clouet discovered his Champagne tasted different in different countries. Recently, in while high humidity climates like Japan and Taiwan, He noted his Silver Brut Nature seemed sweeter.
Good news for Clouet is that his Champagnes are even more in demand, but harder for his Japanese importer to get allotments for. Good news for wine lovers in Japan is that the prices tend to be lower for Clouet than abroad.
Star Picks to toast for New Year’s 2011:
Silver Brut Nature
Pale gold with a pinkish tinge, this wine’s tiny bubbles cavort endlessly in the glass. The nose is packed with freshly baked bread, dried fruit, lemons and ripe apples. The blend is Grand Cru vineyard 100% Pinot Noir grapes with no older vintages or cane sugar added. As thrilling as driving a Porsche.
Grande Reserve Brut NV
Basically, Silver Brut, but no longer naked. A slight dosage intensifies the baked apples, lightly toasted honey cake and lemon flavors. It handles like vintage, black Jaguar.
To his beloved Pinot Noir, Clouet has added full-bodied Chardonnay. This style is intensely luscious with pear, nut and brioche flavors. Keep this wine in a cool place until New Year’s Day. Perfect for sipping in a chauffeured Rolls Royce.
(Copyright 2011, Sandra Shoji , サンドラ ショージ)