Wednesday, 26 April 2023

Champagne tour 2023 - Nicolas Feuillatte

If you’ve been following my last posts on my champagne trip you’ll have seen us visit two very old, prestigious Champagne houses, steeped in history and tradition. My third post sees us visiting a very different kind of producer - a co-operative that is very young in the context of Champagne - but has quickly risen to play a very important role in the modern landscape of French wine.

A co-operative taking on the champagne establishment


The winery we feature today is Nicolas Feuillatte, which was founded in 1976 by the eponymous Nicolas Feuillatte who was originally a coffee importer (interesting fact: despite coming from a family that was involved in the wine and spirits trades he made his fortune by setting up imports of African coffee to America). In 1986 Feuillatte merged his brand with a wine co-operative founded by Henri Macquart - the Centre Vinicole de la Champagne. The co-operative model is based on a system where the co-operative buys fruit from farmers with sites of varying sizes and provides them with the winery facilities needed to turn their fruit to wine. Today the co-operative work with over 5,000 different producers! The results are incredibly impressive when you consider how relatively recently they started - Nicolas Feuillatte is the most drunk brand of champagne in the whole of France and number three world-wide, producing more than 20 million bottles per year. In 2022 Nicolas Feuillatte joined up with Terroirs Vignerons de Champagne, which includes other champagne houses such as Champagne Castelnau. This super group now comprises more than one-third of all the growers in the champagne area.

Clearly production on this scale requires a significant operation and we were treated to a tour of the facilities when we visited. I loved watching the dance of the bottles as they went through the production line (see video above). The thing that struck me as we moved around was both how massive the facilities were (it did feel almost industrial in size) but how much care and attention had gone into the operation - and some times in surprising ways. Just one example of this was that they had different music playing in different areas of the winery depending on what was happening to the wine at the different stages - from soothing classical being pumped into the areas where the wine was maturing, to ambient electronic music being played where the grapes were being processed. Another interesting point to note was that throughout the facilities a real effort had been made to incorporate art pieces into the winery - a good example being shown in the picture on the right where you can see that they have a gold printed piece mounted on the ceiling showing the bubbles in champagne at play next to some of the wine tanks - almost like they are trying to inspire the wines in the tank!   

Tasting the wines

So, having finished our tour of the winery it was time to taste the wines! We were taken a rather splendid looking tasing room on the mezzanine of the main entrance. Our fabulous guide Ghislain (who was dressed immaculately in a Nicolas Feuillatte gilet, which I desperately want one of!, see right) guided us through a flight of five wines which showed us the range of wines that Nicolas Feuillatte carries.

We started with a Reserve Exclusive Brut which is their most produced wine and the one that you’re most likely to find on the shelves (available from Waitrose for £29.99/bottle). This wine has 40% of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, with 20% of Chardonnay to make up the blend. This is a thoroughly decent wine - a touch of bready yeatiness on the nose to go with some lighter fruit and floral notes; on the palate it has a fine perlage and just a hint of richness from the slightly higher dosage. Next up was the Exclusive Reserve Rosé, which has a little more of both Pinot grapes (45% of each) and just 10% Chardonnay (currently on offer at Waitrose Cellar, down from £35.99 to £27.99, an absolute bargain!). This was no shrinking violet of a rose champagne - it had a very strong and vibrant colour. The predominant flavours as you would expect were red fruit notes (red cherry and cranberry), it was a very pure, fresh and fruity wine. Time for something a little different now - with the Collection Organic Extra Brut (60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay). As you would expect you immediately felt that this wine was a lot drier and racier than the previous two. I also found there was a slight salinity to this wine. Extra Brut and Zero dosage champagnes are very en vogue at the moment and particularly from a gastronomic perspective - this wine would be a great match for seafood (particularly shell-fish).


It was time now to move up a notch on the quality levels. Our next wine was a vintage, the 2017 Collection Vintage Blanc des Blancs (available from Vinatis for £40.65/bottle). This has obviously had a bit of ageing on it, but is still quite young for a vintage BdB champagne. I noted that the perlage on this wine was very fine, with elegant little bubbles evident. On the nose and the palate there was plenty of fruit going on, mainly soft, citrus notes and some crisp green apple bite. It felt very elegant and refined already, which given its relative youth surprised me. This was an excellent wine. Our last wine was a bit of a blockbuster - the 2008 Palme D’Or Brut, which is the premier cuvée from Feuillatte (available from Vinatis for £122/bottle). Made of a blend of 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir selected from their best locations (95% of which are from Grand Crus classified sites). This wine was intensely aromatic in the glass, it really sang! On the palate it was certainly the most complex of the wines that we tried, which is no surprise as this is a step up in terms of price from the others. It felt as if it evolved over time as you tasted it, I noted that about 20 seconds after having an initially quite fruity presence, the wine started presenting deeper and richer notes which gave it a very pleasant, mellow feel that lasted for well over a minute. 


This was a very different tour and tasting to the two previous ones that I have covered in the series. These were old, prestigious houses that can trade off their tradition and reputation - they focus on top-end, boutique production and their products are priced accordingly. For many people they are the very epitome of Champagne. On the other hand, Nicolas Feuillatte felt young and ambitious, the parvenu looking to take on the establishment. When you look at the volumes they produce and their evident esteem that they are held in they have to be considered a huge success. They are producing good quality wine at a price point that many people can afford.

I would like to thank Belinda for organising this tour for our group. In addition, I would very much like to thank the team at Nicolas Feuillatte for looking after us so well - particularly Ghislain who gave us a wonderful tour and tasting. If you want to book your own tour you can do so by following this link.

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