Happy New Year from all at l’Art du Vin.
You may be one of the many hardy souls welcoming in 2019 by diving into the icy waters of the River Forth near our headquarters as part of the Loony Dook. If so, congratulations on being part of an event that, over the past three decades, has become a New Year tradition. And, after being exposed to those chilly temperatures, it’s only fair to reward yourself with a glass of fizz to celebrate, possibly with some seafood to make the occasion special.
It’s not unusual to match crustaceans and champagne. After all, the freshness and citrus flavours of a well-structured bubbly are the perfect partner for oysters, mussels, clams and many other types of fish. The search for champagne perfection has resulted in an unusual collaboration in France, where that process of linking land and sea has resulted in the much lauded Abyss cuvée from Leclerc Briant.
Based in Epernay, in the heartland of champagne country, the Leclerc Briant house was founded in 1872. The estate is no stranger to being a bit different, having been biodynamic since the 1980s, long before the trend for bio and organic gathered momentum. But the method of producing Abyss is taking innovation to a new level. The champagne is made in conjunction with Amphoris, a company that specialises in underwater marine activities.
The partnership was launched in 2012. The idea was to assess the effects of ageing the champagne underwater. The bottles were placed in a cage and lowered to a depth of around 60 metres off the coast of Brittany – below the level of free diving so it is safe from theft by any passers by, although the odd barnacle managed to attach itself. The cage was also placed in an area where no other marine activity takes place.
The grapes used were grown in chalky soil. They were an ideal match for the underwater conditions in which the champagne was matured before being brought back to the surface. The bottles were cleaned, relabelled and sold. So successful was the experiment that it has subsequently been repeated.
The sub-surface environment is considered better than the conditions on land for producing a top notch wine. Complete darkness, a temperature of 12 degrees and the constant movement of the water all work together to help the process.
The downside is that the Abyss cuvée can be made only in limited numbers, so it is rare and expensive. The good news, however, is that Leclerc Briant also produces several other outstanding champagnes. The same biodynamic techniques create a product that is fresh, citrusy and with a great flavour on the palate. And, while it has many of the same characteristics, it is more affordable than the Abyss. We are big fans of it, so we are excited to announce that we have added Leclerc Briant to our list of champagne suppliers.
We have no plans to visit the underwater site where Abyss is made, and you probably won’t see the L’Art du Vin team become Loony Dookers any time soon. But we are full of admiration for those who take the plunge – whether it is to welcome in the new year or to create a delicious wine – especially if the end result is a celebratory flute of excellent champagne.
Have a great 2019!
You can see the Amphoris process in action in a video lasting 2 minutes 20 seconds just here.