Keeping Mum on Mumm
This is a snippet from a recent column on Mumm Champagne. The language is a bit different to the rest of the articles here on the blog, however the context is interesting (or at least I think so).
‘The wines in the mid 90’s, to be honest, were pretty bad’
What a rare statement that is. A rare statement, made even rarer by the fact that it was uttered by a representative of a major Champagne business.
Yet it is that sort of honesty that makes Champagne G.H. Mumm’s Didier Mariotti such an intriguing character.
As the Mumm Chef de Cave (chief winemaker), Didier is not only the architect of the wines, but also the public face of the brand. A brand that, like all of the famous Champagne houses (Moët & Chandon, Bollinger, Pol Roger etc), has a carefully coiffed image and a reputation for PR perfectionism.
It is such a context, however, which makes Didier’s admission all that much more entertaining. A flash of honesty from the Champenoise (who are the kings of wine marketing subterfuge).
Better still, you can see a flash of the unconventional in the wines too. Witness the freshly released 2006 Mumm vintage, which has to be one of the more peculiar ‘big house’ vintage Champagnes that I’ve had in quite a while.
What sets the 2006 Mumm vintage apart is the slight bitterness – an extra grippiness through the finish that at first seems quite odd for a traditional Champagne. Yet the more you taste, the more you realise that this bitter twist makes this a quality food Champagne – a wine, not just a glass of frothy alcoholic liquid.
Further, Didier is also quite open about how this wine came to be, as he explained recently:
‘1+1 isn’t always 2 when you’re making Champagne’.
‘2004 (the last Mumm vintage released) was a very generous vintage. Yet 2006 was much more difficult as the rain came at the end of the warm summer, followed by more dry winds. This made the grapes lose some acidity (and look a bit broad)’.
To counter this loss of acidity, Didier took some Pinot Noir grapes from the cool, northern part of Champagne, which is an area that can struggle for fruit richness in Pinot Noir, but has great structure. This fruit thus brought power, with a side effect of ‘bitterness without sugar. A wine that is quite straight and fresh’ as Didier notes.
The net result is a Champagne that is nutty, complex and more like a fine dry white than a sparkling wine (and all the better for it)..
Perhaps the only question that remains with the Mumm is whether that bitterness, that winey character, is going to resonate with drinkers? What do you think? Would vintage Champagne drinkers appreciate a little more structure or is it a no-no?
A quick impression of the G.H. Mumm wines
These were drunk (rather than tasted) over dinner with Didier recently, hence the notes are a little halting. Hopefully you get my drift.
G.H. Mumm Cordon Rouge NV
Has a noticeable broadness to it with extra cream. The finish, however is skinny, and the overall impression is of something rather indistinct. Drinkable but not great. 16.5/20, 88/100
G.H. Mumm Millesime 2006
Quite full. A really quite firm sort of a beast. Hello tannins! More like a dry white on the finish, stem tannins too. Intriguing. Perhaps not a classical Champagne but v. Interesting. That nutty extract makes it much more drinkable and interesting than many other vintage Champagne out there. Good. 17.5/20, 91/100
G.H. Mumm Millesime 1985
Disgorged a year and a half. ‘One of the greatest vintage for me’ according to Didier. Light gold in colour. Marzipan and toffee nose with dusty edges. Like a time capsule this is still holding on to some freshness but otherwise its just bottle age and autolysis, the fruit long departed with a dry finish. That finish is still stout and powerful rescuing the wine. Yet its still more of a relic than a good drink (though Didier believes this magnum to be an average example. Curio but not a great drink. 16.8/20, 89/100
G.H. Mumm Cuvee Lalou 1999
No oak used in the production more about long lees ageing. There is a wonderful delicacy on the nose here. More Chardonnay in the blend? Certainly a lightness and prettiness with lees weight. I like how pure it is – a real energy. Much prettier and than the last bottle I think, though I’ve scored them identically. Maybe a little fatty through the middle? Still pretty as pie and an attractive and generous glass of rich bubbles. 18.3/20, 93/100