Nicolas Feuillatte, Champagne, France

Nicolas Feuillatte is now a man in his eighth decade, and is still an ambassador for this brand, his aristocratic face gazing confidently from countless brochures and images supplied by the company.

xBut all is not as it seems with this house perhaps. Though Nicolas the man certainly exists, Nicolas Feuillatte is now a brand name used by a very large, modern cooperative that sits high on a hill above Epernay, with one of the highest-tech facilities of the region. The Feuillatte Champagne story begins in 1976, when Nicolas Feuillatte established the Feuillatte brand. Born in Paris, Mr Feuillatte has led a full life indeed, having once been the biggest importer of coffee into the USA, serving as a Permanent Representative on the United Nations in Africa (where he golfed with the Kennedys and Aristotle Onassis), before buying 12 hectares of vineyard in 1972.

xThrough the 70s and 80s the Nicolas Feuillatte brand grew, until in 1986 he took the decision to sell up to the Cave Vinicole de la Champagne cooperative, which acquired both his vineyards and his brand. Today Nicolas continues to roam the world representing the Feuillatte brand, and indeed the strapline on Nicolas Feuillatte’s publicity materials – “Epernay – New York – Beyond” – reflects Epernay, for the home of the company; New York, with which Mr Feuillatte has a strong association, and Beyond, reflecting the scores of international markets in which Feuillatte Champagne is sold.

The massive Cave Vinicole de la Champagne coop is producing excellent wines under its flagship marque, and is innovating too. With the 1995 vintage they launched a collection of single-village wines, sourced from some of the best Grand Cru villages of the region including Mesnil, Chouilly and Cramant. Tasting these wines from the same vintage is a fascinating opportunity to delve into the different terroirs of Champagne. Strict like for like comparison may be impossible, as each is a different blend, but the terroir does seem to come through powerfully in the 1997s which I tasted. Their luxuriously packaged Palm d’Or prestige cuvée (right), is a beautiful blend of 40% Chardonnay from Le Mesnil, Chouilly and Cramant with 60% Pinot Noir from Aÿ and Ambonnay, as well as Verzy, Verzenay and Bouzy.

The Champagnes

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Nicolas Feuillatte Brut NV
The standard cuvée, this has pale yellow/straw colour and plenty of miniscule bubbles. Crisp and elegant, though lightly toffeed aromas, with a hint of pear and apple. The palate has very good, slightly toasty weight, with a persistent mousse and nice, ripe fruit. Mouthfilling and generous, this has the Feuillatte house style of crispness, but adds a little more crowd-pleasing softness and weight, with creamy qualities. 88/100.

Nicolas Feuillatte Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1999
Pale straw/yellow colour, with masses of pin-prick bubbles. Crisp, fresh, apple and mineral nose, with a breezy, crisp, ozone character. Lovely on the palate, with crisp, racy mousse and lots of lightness and finesse, crisp apple and lemon zest flavours, with a touch of nettle and shimmering acidity. A more simple wine than the Grands Crus perhaps, but delightful. 90/100.

Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Chouilly 1997
Quite a bright, yellow colour. Very fine, steady stream of bubbles. Oxidised, nutty nose, with plenty of peach kernel and ripe fruit aromas. Lightly toasty. Broad, fruity palate, with lovely fruit; very lively and crisp, with rounded citrus acidity and the sweetness of fruit persisting. 90/100.

Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Cramant 1997
Slightly more golden colour. Steady, small bubbles. Lots of toffee and baked apple fruit, and something waxy and rich. The palate is crisp and racy, with a lovely sour, bruised apple acidity and richness. Racy and fresh, yet has a complex sour preserved lemon savoury quality too. 91/100.

Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Aÿ 1997
100% Pinot Noir. Medium yellow colour, with a sprinkling of tiny bubbles rising steadily across the glass. Lovely bruised apple and pear fruit, with a hint of peach and strawberry, but plenty of oxidised, minerality. Lovely, mouthfilling wine with a fairly rich, but still crisp and racy mousse, and a hint of real ripeness and depth to the fruit. Lovely toffeed edge to the finish, with the crisp mineral and lemon acidity cutting through. 91/100.

Nicolas Feuillatte Grand Cru Ambonnay 1997
100% Pinot Noir. Fairly bold, yellow colour. Very nice saturation of tiny bubbles. Oxidised and not quite so giving as the Ay at this stage. Truffle and herbal notes, and suggestion of finesse. On the palate a rolling, soft mouse fills the mouth with quite fleshy, herbal fruit and some cool, underripe pear. Not so truffly and deep as the Aÿ, and for me lacks a little of the personality, but has finesse and cool, sophisticated length. 90/100.

Nicolas Feuillatte Palmes D’Or 1997
The house’s prestige cuvée (there is a rosé version too), this has a light golden colour and absolutely masses of pin-prick bubbles rising steadily. Very intense nose, that is bready and yeasty, with lovely bruised pear fruit and complex little notes of almond and sour cherry. The palate has a rolling, soft mousse that carries refined, racy fruit. This is clean and appley, though that oxidised, bruised quality comes through and there is a nice, sour blood-orange note. There are herbal and mineral qualities to the acidity in a long and very impressive finish. 93/100.

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