Louise Pommery - The Greta Garbo of Champagnes
"There are no compromises to quality. This was understood even in the days of Madame Pommery.’ Clément Pierlot."
CHAMPAGNE CLUB by
Champagne’s history is rich with women full of character. Many of them have given names to the companies’ cuvée prestige versions. At Pommery it is the daughter of the widow Pommery; Jeanne-Alexandrine-Louise. It’s really fun to rediscover old love! Recently I had the opportunity to return to the beautiful Louise… in the 2005 vintage! A cuvée prestige that I drank a lot of during the mid & late 90’s, but with which I had lost touch. Pommery then appeared on many wine lists in Stockholm. When Swedish businessman Jan Stenbeck invited Stockholmers to a bubbly party at the millennium, Pommery was the obvious choice.
The History of Pommery
In 1856 Pommery & Greno was founded after having been known as Wibert-Greno for the previous twenty years. The firm established a sales channel to the English as early as mid- nineteenth century and were pioneers with their dry Champagne – quite without dosage. Madame Pommery was one of the first owners, and one of her direct descendants, Prince Alain de Polignac, was for a long time the man in charge of assembling the cuvées. Prince Alain is a fascinating man who, better than any other winemaker, can describe the philosophy behind his winemaking art. In 1990, Pommery became part of the Moët-Hennessy Group, and in 2002 Vranken took over. Thus, Pommery became again a family-owned company.
Under Vranken the house-style has remained intact, thanks to skilful winemaker Clément Pierlot.
Pommery is one of the biggest Grand Cru landowners. The Vranken-Pommery group owns and operates 288 ha of vineyards. They also actively partake in their wine growers vineyard management, accompanying suppliers through new sustainable viticulture practices and by being involved as much as possible during the monitoring of ripeness and in the picking. According to Clément Pierlot it is of importance to support and work closely with the growers to control picking at the optimum time and to get the ripeness levels that always has been a key point of the house style. Their supply comes from throughout Champagne, and they are vinified in modern style. Pommery is undoubtably a great name in historical terms.
The House Style of Pommery
The house-style is made up of dry, restrained, pure Champagnes with young fruit and an unmistakable steeliness that takes many years to round off. The cuvée de prestige, Pommery Cuvée Louise doesn’t fit that description since it is silky and soft with a pure flowery bouquet from Avize and a soft structure from Aÿ. I have been amazed time and again by the greatness of the older vintages from Pommery. Only recently I bought a large number of bottles dating from 1911 to 1979, which have lain untouched since birth in the dark recesses of Champagne. Every bottle that I’ve opened has been fantastic. The modern portfolio is also impressive and aristocratic. The vintage wines are the most fit for cellaring. Some magnums of the fantastic Cuvée Louise 2004 are still around and the Cuvée Louise Rosé is the hidden secret. Each vintage of this delicate and pale nectar is world-class.
The history of Champagne is full of enterprising widows. Louise Pommery (daughter of Mme Pommery) was already a widow at the age of 39 and she probably would have proudly smiled in her grave if she had found out that she was going to give her name to the prestige Champagne that was created in her honour in 1979. Pommery, currently owned by Vranken, was founded in 1856 and is today one of the largest Champagne houses with their 5 million bottles a year. Given that most equivalent Champagne houses launched their prestige Champagnes during the 50s and 60s, it is a bit surprising that they waited until 1979 before the giant in Reims stepped onto the prestige stage. The reason is said to be that the Monegasque Polignac family for a long time was against this novelty, stating that the Pommery Grand Cru vintage wine was already perfect.
But when Pommery changed ownership Prince Alain Polignac was persuaded. He had his philosophy clear from the beginning. To create a cuvée strongly marked by the style of the house but that was even more delicious and mineral-driven, made from grapes from their own vineyards in the prince’s favorite villages; Aÿ for pinot noir, Avize and Cramant for chardonnay, always with 40% pinot noir for structure and depth and 60% chardonnay for elegance, freshness and an aromatic spring-floral profile. Furthermore, they are careful to seek out the coolest space in Pommery’s sacred chalk cellar and let the wine rest for about ten years to give an extra chalky note and create minimal, exciting, small bubbles that accentuates the aromatic elegance to the fullest. The addition of sugar is also remarkably low, all to maintain purity.
Clément Pierlot, the Chef de Cave who makes these noble wines has told me that although it is often so that the grapes come from the oldest vines, that they primarily look at the purity, elegance and where to get the chalkiest minerality. Cuvée Louise must never become too obvious, clumsy, overloaded or too explicit. Warm vintages must be tamed and silenced. After each sublime sip one should be left with an upward smile, a vivid feeling that arouses lust for the next sip and further reflection.
The year after the launch of the white Louise the pink sister was created – Cuvée Louise Pommery Rosé. The wine is as delicate, and has with its romantic light pink color and creamy berry smoothness managed to seduce most of us lucky few who had the pleasure to enjoy this rare world-class wine.
The Solleröd Kro Tasting
Although I have so often enjoyed Louise Pommery’s elusive Garboesque beauty, I had never even heard of a vertical tasting and my tasting notes extend over a number of years. It was therefore extremely welcomed that Danish Champagne collector Bjorn Leissner had chosen Louise Pommery as the theme for the annual orgy of Champagne in the August sun on the magic Solleröd Kro, in the picturesque beech forest north of Copenhagen. As usual, chef Jan Restorff presented world class dishes on a conveyor belt accompanied by almost all vintages made by Louise Pommery.
Based on this tasting and my previous encounters with Louise I have tried to compile how this elusive delicate Champagne has behaved over the years.
One of the things that strikes me most strongly is the uniformity of quality. It actually seems like the perfect bottle (preferably in magnum) is virtually present in every vintage. In one moment I have condemned a vintage on regular bottling just to find out that there is a magnificent recently disgorged beauty opened around the corner. The difference between regular and magnum bottles also appears to be even larger than for most other prestige Champagnes. Perhaps the ultra-elegant mineral embossed style of Louise fits exceptionally well with the reductive roasted coffee note donated by a magnum. I also find it a little difficult to determine at what age you should enjoy this crystal-clear nectar. Given that the first two vintages of ‘79 and ‘80 are still subtly elegant and yet so grand one should not need to rush if you have a good cellar to cherish your Garbo in.
2004 Cuvée Louise Rosé
Tasting note ‘Ohh how happy I was when new winemaker Clément Pierlot served this wine to me and my VIP group in October 2018. I thought Pommery had stopped creating this ruby. Clément confirmed that the management was about to drop the house’s finest Champagne from the range because demand is so small. It was 4 years between the vintages and the production is vanishingly small, but the quality is unmistakable. A superb wine with the palest color imaginable and the most sublime aroma spectrum imaginable. Silky smooth and minute-long seductive aftertaste to enjoy in the world’s most beautiful places during a perfect Champagne Hiking.’
2005 Cuvée Louise
Tasting note ‘Amazing that Pommery is now releasing its prestige cuvée at the age of 16.5! This time with a little more Avize chardonnay than usual to meet the vintage’s richness and low acidity with sublime elegance. Drunk with my son Melker born in 2005 when we were at La Digue in the Seychelles. I was a little worried both in the rainforest and on the sandy beach where we came to taste this beauty that the wine would be too heavy in the heat, but it did not happen at all. A sounding pure and ultra-sophisticated beauty with shy silky features, intense mineral base notes and elegant notes of red fruit from Aÿ, sublime citrus and shyly beautiful florality from Avize and Cramant. Brilliant!’
2006 Cuvée Louise
Tasting note ‘A magnificent deep golden colour with an incomparable brilliance. The first nose is floral, creamy. These delicate notes revolve around aromas of quince paste and candied mirabelle. We are struck by the generosity of the 2006 vintage with its toasted and brioche notes. The attack is perfectly frank. The finish, so particular to Louise Nature, reveals a subtle bitterness with notes of citron zest of an incredible delicacy.’
LES Clos Pompadour
Tasting note ‘The winemaker Clément Pierlot gave me and my VIP group a wonderful privilege, where we had the opportunity to look into the crystal ball of the ‘Clos Pompadour’ and taste nine different vintages on magnum. Six of them ‘pre-release’ disgorged without dosage one hour in advance. All impressed emphatically and showed that ‘Clos Pompadour’ is a world-class wine that is characterized by the austere chalk from the location with pure belemnite chalk and at the same time by the concentration in the fruit from the old vines. Champagne legend – Pommery ‘Les Clos Pompadour’. But that’s another story as they say.’