The Pommery "Cuvée Louise" 1999 is a great and exceptionally food-friendly Champagne. Dry, but full-bodied and smooth on the palate. Just like Madame Louise would have wanted it.
Today I will tell you about a Champagne that pays tribute to madame Louise Pommery, one of the great widows who marked the history of Champagne in the eighteen hundreds.
The most famous of them is probably madame Clicquot Ponsardin, who gave a huge impulse to the image of Champagne making it the favorite wine in the noble ballrooms of czarist Russia.
But madame Pommery played an essential role in the development of modern Champagne as we know it.
Today we are used to thinking of Champagne as a dry sparkling wine. The “brut” category, with a maximum sugar level of twelve grams per liter, is the most popular style.
But it wasn't always that way. For much of its history, Champagne was sweet. Very sweet, with sugar levels that could even reach three hundred grams per liter.
Until madame Pommery realized that the English market, which was always one of the most important for Champagne, was developing a preference for drier wines.
And so, in 1874, she instructed her cellar master to produce a champagne that broke away from the conventional wisdom of the times.
Because Pommery Nature, as it was called, not only had less sugar than any other Champagne made until then. It was also a vintage wine, which is to say it showed the harvest year.
Making a Champagne like that was a high-risk venture because it meant doing away with the chance of masking with sugar frequent wine defects - like an excessive acidity.
It proved to be a winning bet. A book on the Champagne trade written about thirty years later, records that the 1874 vintage brut fetched the highest prices ever paid in London for Champagne.
Besides the brut style - which is no small heritage - madame Pommery left us one of the most fascinating cellars in the whole region.
Around here, in the north of France, the soil has a high chalk content, and the underground is a maze of tunnels excavated since Roman times in order to extract the precious building material.
Those ancient quarries are often as deep as a hundred feet below the surface. Madame Pommery was not the first to think of using them as wine cellars. But with a total length of some seven and a half miles, the Pommery ones are among the vastest of all.
They were redeveloped in the same years in which, thanks to madame Louise's entrepreneurial courage and ability, Pommery Champagne was conquering an ever increasing market share around the world.
And so, as tunnels and niches were opened in the cellars, madame Louise had them proudly decorated with plaques proclaiming the names of the cities that in the meantime were being added to the list of shipping destinations for her Champagne.
Madame Pommery was one of the women who made the history of Champagne, and today her name is honored on the top label of the marque, the “Cuvée Louise”.
The Cuvée Louise 1999 is a traditional blend of Chardonnay and Pinot noir, with grapes picked in selected “grand cru” vineyards.
As she would have wanted it, it is dry but full-bodied and round on the palate. It's an exceptionally food-friendly Champagne, perfect pairing for the sophisticated simplicity of dishes like a tasty grilled swordfish steak.
But you will also enjoy it greatly with something even simpler like freshly sliced Parma Ham.