Portrait: Champagne Soutiran

In 2021, my book ‘Champagne: The 100 most important maisons, winegrowers and cooperatives’ was published. At the time, I found it extremely difficult to make a selection from the hundreds of first-class Champagne producers. That's why there's a sequel online at Sur-la-pointe! Part 5 is dedicated to a house in the Pinot Noir stronghold of Ambonnay with a very individual portfolio: Champagne Soutiran.

5 mins read

History

The global success of its finest product often makes people forget that the history of Champagne has its darker side. Champagne Soutiran, for example, is literally a child of war, born in the shadow of the First World War. In fact, the Soutiran family comes from a mountain village in the Pyrenees near the border with Spain. It was not until the 1880s that they moved to the east of France. In 1916, the youngest daughter Victorine gave birth to a child in Ambonnay, just behind the Franco-German front. The young Gérard loses his parents at an early age and grows up with the Bouy family of winegrowers in Ambonnay. Shortly after the war, he married Solange Beaufort, who also came from a family of winegrowers, and leased his guardian’s vineyards in 1954. He soon joined the Ambonnay co-operative, which was founded in 1960. Under his presidency, the co-operative began bottling its own champagne in 1973.

New design, different capsules

Alain, the eldest of four children, continues in his father’s footsteps. He first graduated from the viticultural high school in Avize in 1964, followed by an apprenticeship at the Ambonnay wine cooperative (1964-1967). From October 1968, he gained practical experience in the family business. A year later, he founded his own company, which soon took on his wife Roselyne’s maiden name: Champagne Soutiran-Pelletier. After studying economics, daughter Valérie joined the family business in 1989. She takes over the management and expands the trading activities. The name is simplified to Champagne Soutiran, not least because of the important export markets. In 1999, husband Patrick Renaux joins the company, initially taking on commercial duties. After a few years of training by his father-in-law Alain, Patrick Renaux has also been in charge of the production and ageing of the wines since 2005.

Style

Exemplary: the back label.

Like the neighbouring village of Bouzy, Ambonnay is famous for its Pinot Noir. However, its vineyards are slightly more east-facing, which takes away some of the power of the southern slopes of Bouzy. To the north-east, the village adjoins east-facing Trépail. This in turn is famous for its Chardonnays, which, as the saying goes, love the early morning sun. Accordingly, there are surprisingly many plots planted with Chardonnay in the north-east of the Ambonnay district. Soutiran owns 6 hectares of vines on 30 different plots, the majority of which are in the Ambonnay Grand Cru. There are also 1er Cru plots in Trépail, Chigny-les-Roses, Ludes and Chamery. Additional Soutiran purchases grapes from family members and friends. A unique feature of Soutiran is the relatively high proportion of Chardonnay vines, a good 30 per cent. The vineyards are cultivated according to the principle of integrated farming, and only organic fertilisers are used.

Soutiran uses a 4000-kilogram Willmes membrane press for gentle pressing. Fermentation in small containers takes place at a controlled temperature, mainly in stainless steel. But a good 20 per cent is now also fermented in three-year-old oak barrels from Burgundy. Malolactic fermentation is usually complete, but is also blocked once for individual batches depending on the vintage. The base wines are then stored on the lees without racking until blending, with bâtonnage depending on the characteristics of the vintage.

In the past, emphasis was placed on five to eight years of bottle fermentation. Recently, however, the winery has shortened the ageing period. This is because ‘the current trend is more towards tension than oxidation’, as Valérie Soutiran puts it. Of course, the small harvests of recent years and the high demand have also contributed to this rejuvenation. The proportion of reserve wines (created as a réserve perpétuelle), which the house used to be proud of, has also declined. Fortunately, however, the dosage has also reduced. It is now (with the exception of Demi-Sec and Brut Nature) on the borderline between Brut and Extra Brut, i.e. 4.5 to 6.5 grams. The labelling on the back label is exemplary, covering not only the disgorgement date and cuvée information, but also winemaking details.

Portfolio

Soutiran offers a very ‘democratic’ range, with champagnes that differ only slightly in their (very fair!) price. However, this does not mean that the ten different wines are very similar. The Cuvée Alexandre 1er Cru Brut, a cuvée of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier in a 40/40/20 ratio, marks the start. Then follows Signature Grand Cru Brut, the house classic. With 40 per cent Chardonnay, this champagne mailnly from Ambonnay already has its very own accent. The proportion is even higher in the Demi-sec (70 Ch|30 PN). And of course in the Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut with 100 per cent. Its counterpart is the Perle Noire Grand Cru Brut, a Blanc de Noirs with 100 per cent Pinot Noir from Ambonnay. With its deep amber colour, it is already on the threshold of the rosés.

In his day, Alain Soutiran produced a red Coteau Champenois from the Les Crupots parcel. Now the grapes from this top vineyard – which Champagne Mumm includes in the Prestige Cuvée Lalou, for example – go into the two rosés. One is the Rosé Grand Cru Brut, a Rosé d’Assemblage. In this (once again astonishing) 90 per cent Chardonnay is married with 10 per cent red still wine. And then in its counterpart, Rosé de Saignée Brut, which is made exclusively from Pinot Noir grapes after a long maceration. The Cuvées d’Exception begin with the Collection Privée Grand Cru Brut. The latter is a compilation of the Maison’s best batches, blended in a ratio of 56 PN | 44 Ch. The Cuvée Millésime Grand Cru Brut, currently from the 2018 vintage with a ratio of 60 Pinot Noir and 40 Chardonnay, is the final addition.

Tasting

Starting with the Alexandre 1er Cru (Deg 02/2023, base 2020 with 30% reserves from 2019) is a remarkable entry. Apple, pear and brioche on the nose with a lively but fine perlage. Soft texture, but powerful and vivid, yet very balanced (90 P).

The Signature Grand Cru (Deg. 04/2023, base 2019 with 34% from a Réserve peréetuelle since 2012) has already seen some wood. In addition, the malo was stopped on a third of the wines. The result is a champagne that is very ‘contemporary’ in its precise definition. Very clear fruit with some pressure and good length (91 p.). The Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru (Deg 04/2023, only 2019 vintage) shows the typical grapefruit characteristics of Chardonnays from the eastern Montagne de Reims. The malo was also stopped in 30 per cent of the wines here. Very pure and slightly salty, but also less dense and complex (90 p.).

The Brut Nature (deg. 4/2023, base 2015 with reserve wines since 2012, 10% matured in wood) is somewhat ambivalent. Citrus fruits, almonds and dried herbs on the nose, intense and powerful on the palate with a high level of tension. At the same time, however, it is also a little phenolic and austere. The champagne evokes the image of a somewhat lean long-distance runner, but it lacks harmony (88-91 p.). Although it is a Blanc de Noirs, the Perle Noire (deg 9/2023, base 2020, with reserve wines since 2013, at 12% blocked malo) is much more elegant. Unusually dark amber in the glass. Strawberries and rhubarb cake on the nose, lively, pure and straightforward on the palate, with a lovely fruity sweetness. A very nice accompaniment to food (91-92 P.) The Grand Cru Rosé (Deg. 09/2023) appears very delicate thanks to its high proportion of Chardonnay. Initially floral on the nose, with a little air it develops aromas of fresh strawberries and lime zest. Granny Smith apple flavours on the palate with a subtle mousse (89-90 p.).

The Rosé Saignée (deg. 9/2022, only vintage 2008, but Tirage only 7/2011) is certainly a highlight of the portfolio. Ripe figs, rhubarb, raspberries and pastry cream on the nose. In colour like a traditional German Pinot Noir, also very vinous on the palate and with a lush texture despite the present acidity. Some phenolic grip and long-lasting (92 P.). Collection Privée (deg. 9/2022, base 2020 with reserve wines since 2013, one fifth aged in wood) begins with slightly lactic notes, which quickly fade away. Stone fruit, honey and toast follow. Fresh on the palate (malo-blocked with over a third of the base wines), powerful but cultivated, also a good food companion (91 P.). Millésime Grand Cru from 2018 (deg. 11/2023, 10% matured in wood) shows apples, strawberries, lime and ginger on the nose. The palate is hedonistic in a positive sense: fine perlage, opulent texture and soft acidity. But multi-layered and very well composed (93 P.).

Image rights

All photographs: Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images

More on the topic and introductory information:

Stefan Pegatzky: Champagne: The 100 most important maisons, vintners and cooperatives. [only in German]

240 pages, numerous illustrations.

Wiesbaden: Tre Torri Verlag, 2001.

Awarded the German Cookbook Prize in Gold as the best wine book of the year 2021.

Previous Story

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Blog

Inama: Venetian split

“No Pinot Grigio, no Prosecco.” Matteo Inama sets the tone right from the start when presenting…