48 hours in Épernay: Day 1 Besserat de Bellefon

Champagnes Tasted

  1. Besserat de Bellefon, Blanc de Blancs NV
  2. Besserat de Bellefon, Brut Rosé NV
  3. Besserat de Bellefon, Brut NV
  4. Besserat de Bellefon, Extra Brut
  5. Besserat de Bellefon, Brut 2002

Besserat de Bellefon was founded in Aÿ in 1843 by Edmond Besserat and two generations later a grandson of the same name married Yvonne de Méric de Bellefon, thus creating the family crest under which the champagne is known today. In 1971 the company was bought by Pernod-Ricard who, in the 1990s, sold it to what is now known as Lanson BCC and this is where I find myself for the third appointment of my first day in Épernay.

The grapes for Besserat de Bellefon are provided completely via contracts with growers in the region, some of whom hold long standing contracts that have been passed from generation to generation. Where Champagne Lenoble is a smaller business producing 35,000 bottles each year Besserat de Bellefon produce approximately 500,000 bottles each year and it was impressive seeing the technology that works alongside the skill and experience of Chef de cave Cédric Thiebault and his team, to produce each year’s release.

© Simone Madden-Grey

We walked past enormous tanks holding 4,000 hL (hectolitres) of wine as we headed to where the gyropalettes and the mechanical disgorgement machines were and finally on to the endless caves of bottles.

Gyropalettes are large cages that house the bottles where secondary fermentation is occurring. Where a human might riddle or move each bottle at regular intervals to collect the dead yeast cells at the neck of the bottle, these machines enact the same process but in a significantly less amount of time, for example gyropalettes will take approximately 3 days compared to riddling by hand which will take 6 weeks or more .

Nearly all of the larger Champagne Houses will use gyropalettes in one capacity or another as this is the only way to keep up with production demand. Generally gyropalettes are used for the regular 750ml bottle while the larger bottles such as Magnums and Jeroboams may still be riddled by hand.

Chef de Cave Cédric Thiebault © Simone Madden-Grey

As we walked through the caves I asked Cédric his view on how a winemaker comes to understand the art of making champagne. By that I mean how one is able to select still wines suitable for champagne, create a blend drawing from a library of reserve wines, understand how the wine will develop through secondary fermentation and then through development before releasing it to the public. Cédric’s suggested it took 5-7 years of experience of blending and working closely with a mentor before feeling confident to understand these developments.

At the time of my visit in December they were working on blending which involved tasting the wines 3 – 5 times each week individually and classifying them. Following classification potential blends would be created in small batches for assessment before the final blend was selected for each style. A solera process is used for the reserve wines and these will be blended to the base wine for each release. (You can find a good description of how a solera works for champagne by Peter Liem here.)

The liqueur de triage (yeast and sugar) used by Besserat de Bellefon for the secondary fermentation is typically lower in sugar than many producers. The result is less sugar to convert to alcohol and therefore less carbon dioxide captured in the bottle and this creates a style with lower atmospheric pressure and very fine bead, or stream of bubbles.

Chef de Cave Cédric Thiebault with Fabien Henry, CEO Besserat de Bellefon © Simone Madden-Grey

After emerging from the caves we headed to the tasting room where an extensive selection of champagnes was waiting for us – many, many thanks to both Cédric and Fabien Henry, CEO Besserat de Bellefon, for staying back to share these wines with me on a very cold and dark evening in Épernay!

Besserat de Bellefon fall into that small category of champagne producers who prevent or block malolactic fermentation, i.e. the conversion of the malic acid in the wine to less tart, softer lactic acid. Other producers who follow this style include Salon and the majority of cuvées from Gosset. The result is a champagne style that focuses on the flavours associated with malic acid such as green apples, lemon, nectarines and pineapple to name a few.

In all of the wines I tasted the base wine was from 2008 and the Blanc de Blancs had less than 5% of reserve wines in the blend, the Rosé 15% reserve wines and the Brut 25% reserve wines blended with the base wine.

Of the five champagnes we tasted the 2002 Brut was absolutely lovely. It had a nose of buttered toast, honey and white flowers with the softest hint of smoky vanilla. These aromas followed through to the palate and sat alongside plenty of almond and hazelnut flavours. The wine was smooth and round in the mouth yet nicely balanced with a delicate structure that seamlessly linked aroma, flavour and finish.

Despite this being my third appointment of the day I was not quite finished. I left Besserat de Bellefon with the lingering taste of honey and almonds in my mouth to find a taxi and head to Avizé and dinner at Jaque Selosse’s Les Avises restaurant …

Happy Drinking!

Tasting Notes

Besserat de Bellefon tasting
© Simone Madden-Grey

Blanc de Blancs NV

Blend: 100% Chardonnay

Base wine: 2008

Reserve wines: < 5%

Floral, fruit, fresh, lifted aromas, additional flavours of almonds, apples (golden delicious), and citrus (grapefruit). Long finish of mineral and salt notes. Very fine structure, delicate creamy mousse.

Brut Rosé NV

Blend: 40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay

Base wine: 2008

Reserve wines: 15%

Red fruit aromas and flavours such as cherry, raspberry jam and a hint of burnt sugar.

Brut, November 2012 disgorgement

Blend: 45% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir

Base wine: 2008

Reserve wines: 25%

Aromas and flavours of flowers, biscuits, almond and fresh citrus (lemon, grapefruit). Very long finish of minerals and saline notes.

Extra Brut, March 2012 disgorgement

Blend: 45% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir

Base wine: 2008

Dosage: 3.5g/L

Aromas and flavours of brioche, yeast, sweet baking spices, almond blossom, mineral notes. A good finish of grapefruit, chalk and a touch of iodine.

Brut 2002

Blend: 54% Chardonnay, 31% Pinot Meunier, 15% Pinot Noir

Aromas of buttered toast, honey, white flowers and a touch of smoky vanilla. These followed through to the palate and were supplemented by flavours of almonds, marzipan, hazelnuts and honey. A smooth and round mouth feel while retaining an elegant structure.

Related Happy Wine Woman Posts

48 hours in Épernay: Day 1 Perrier-Jouët

48 hours in Épernay: Day 1 Champagne Lenoble

Perrier-Jouët Belle Époque 2006

Champagne Salon 1996

Champagne Gaston Chiquet

Published by Happy Wine Woman

Wine consultant currently based in Melbourne, Australia.

6 thoughts on “48 hours in Épernay: Day 1 Besserat de Bellefon

  1. Loved reading this post! I had the pleasure of meeting Cedric on my trip to the Champagne region 2 years ago, great guy who tolerated my terrible attempt at speaking French! Very nice solid wines they are…

    1. Hi Stanislav – thanks for reading my post! Where I say say there is a base of 2008 and 25% reserve wines I am referring to the Brut NV, not the Brut 2002. I see you have cleverly identified a typo so I have edited the tasting notes accordingly – thanks for letting me know! 🙂

      1. Hi, Simone, thanks for your kind reply.
        I will continue reading your posts – with or without the typos… 🙂 – just keep writing, it is always worth reading.
        By the way, are you going to visit “Grands Jours de Champagne” next week there?

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