There seems to be a theme surrounding the Champagne Houses and ‘widows’, carrying on the history and philosophy of their founders.
No exception is Devaux Champagne, founded in 1846 by brothers Jules and Auguste Devaux. The House truly developed under the successive management of three widows of character, Claude-Joseph, Augusta-Maria and Marguerite. However, in 1987, in the absence of a family heir, ownership was passed to a united group of winegrower families, known today as the ‘Groupe Vinicole Champagne Devaux’, giving Devaux total control of its grape supply, quite the rarity in Champagne. The House of Devaux is the flagship of the beautiful Côte des Bar, the largest Pinot Noir region in Champagne.
Glass of Bubbly had the privilege of meeting Monsieur Jean-Noel Girard, export Director, at a special pairing dinner. Joined by Laureline Perraudeau, Brand Ambassador for W.G.White, purveyors of Caviar & Fine Food, guests were treated to a meticulously created menu by Shaun Rankin who incorporated the various styles of caviar into each dish, each being carefully paired with a Devaux Champagne.
Devaux Champagne specialises in Pinot Noir, their style is dictated by their location in the sunnier southern part of the region, where Pinot Noir dominates. In the past, Côte des Bar was often overlooked and even regarded with disdain as it did not receive any of Champagne’s top classifications! But as Jean-Noel pointed out, coming from a lesser known area, it permits the winemaker to be more creative, a fact that augments the interest of sommeliers who are now visiting the area with some regularity.
Joen-Noel enlightened me on the philosophy behind Devaux’s method of producing wines that are full, rich and expressive, without losing the finesse of classic Champagne. Devaux only use the initial lightly pressed juice (the cuvée) and age all their wines on the lees for at least three years, giving both complexity of flavour and a fine mousse. However, this evening, we were to taste their “D Collection”, all aged for 5 years, bar the D Millésimé Champagne, which is matured for 7 years!
It goes without saying that the ‘D Collection’ wines are Devaux’s very best. The grapes come from highly select, sustainably farmed parcels across 35 hectares, and Cellar master Michel Parisot, has exquisitely conceived a masterpiece, honouring traditional methods of Champagne-making, something that had its own identity within the hierarchy of Champagne in the past.
A selection of the best Pinot Noir from the “crus” of the Côte des Bar and Chardonnay from the ‘crus’ of the Côte des Blancs are used to make D Collection. No pre-blending takes place and a large amount of reserve wines aged in oak casks are used. Only the first pressing juices called ‘cuvée’ and the ‘cœur de cuvée’, the heart of the first pressing juices are used for the D Collection.
I asked Jean-Noel about the differences in glass selection for tasting Deavuax Champagnes, he wisely encouraged me to taste the collection in large white wine glasses and not in the usual flutes and tulips that are normally used. And soon enough I experienced the concentrated aromas on the nose; rich and intense, with animated acidity bringing balance, freshness and minerality on the palate.
The highlight of the evening was the Sténopé 2009, a collaboration between Michel Parisot from Devaux and Michel Chapoutier, the renowned winemaker from the Rhône Valley. With a shared passion and philosophy about vineyards and their respect for the land, they honed their combined skills to create an exceptional Champagne that takes a snapshot of a particular vintage as a faithful representation of it, hence how the name came about, Sténopé, ‘pinhole camera’ in French. Sténopé will be made every year from a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir carefully selected by Michel Parisot among his preferred plots. Made in very limited quantities, it is already considered as a collector’s wine, with a very limited amount being brought into the UK.
Ultimately, Devaux want to bring pleasure, not just by producing a Champagne, but to present the consumer with a ‘wine’ from Champagne,because of the effort that goes into maintaining the vineyards, the pressing of that first juice, the vinification; a complex and refined Champagne that isn’t just to begin a celebration, but to be enjoyed throughout a meal.