The French term ‘Hors Categorie’ may not be familiar. It was first used to describe special stages in cycle races, the toughest and steepest hill climbs, that were ‘beyond classification’. When Champagne producer Castelnau launched a range of one-off, limited edition wines that would be unique blends of Crus, vintages and ageing regimes, they chose the name to signal that they would be ‘aiming for the top’. This tasting was to celebrate the third release of the range, tasted alongside the second release.
The project began in 2016, Castelnau’s centenary. The first release was CT 2115 released in 2016, followed by CCF 2067 in 2018 and now CM 1993 in 2021. The naming? Each is the initials of a specific Hors Categorie hill climb stage, along with its height in metres.
Unusually, the base wines are barrel-aged in oak for up to one year after fermentation, in barrels from both Burgundy and Champagne’s own Argonne forest. The wines spend a long time on the lees: for the CCF 2067 that was five years, for the newly-released CM 1993 just over six years. Another unusual aspect is that the addition of the liqueur de tirage (the yeast and sugar blend that starts the secondary fermentation) is deliberately lower in sugar to create a lower pressure in the final wine.
Established in 1916, Castelnau was bought in 2003 by CRVC, a cooperative cellar that controls over 800 hectares of Champagne vineyards and is known for its long ageing of wines.Though still subject to final ratification, in 2020 it was announced that CRVC/Castelnau was to merge with another very large co-op, Nicolas Feuillatte, which will form a very major new business with over 6,000 grower shareholders.
Winemaker for these wines was Elisabeth Sarcelet, who joined CVNE in 2002, but who has just handed over to new Chef de Cave, Carine Bailleul, at the time of this tasting. CRVC is also signed-up to sustainability charters that will reduce overall carbon footprint by 15%, and see herbicide free farming across their estate, by 2025.
The wines are distributed in the UK by Castelnau Wine Agencies.