Dec 04: Clovis Taittinger, the 4th generation family member of the family-owned Champagne House and working as the General Manager looking after the export market in 150 countries, was in India last week when the guests enjoyed Taittinger Brut and Rose Brut with streaming snacks from The China Kitchen (TCK) over endless chats with Clovis, writes Subhash Arora who loved the evening, especially the surprise, Comte de Champagne 2006 served generously to the guests towards the later part of the evening
I was invited to the Launch of Canard Duchêne champagnes organised at Hotel Hyatt Regency on August 30, 2007 by the now-defunct importer Finewinesnmore at one of the banquet rooms where I was privileged to be seated beside the affable General Manager of the hotel, Roger Dienhard. As I was enjoying the last champagne-the Grand Cuvee Rose Brut, I received a call from my friend Sourish Bhattacharyya and the then EAM of the Hotel Prasanjit Singh asking me to join them for the Tasting of the authentic Sichuan Cuisine at The China Kitchen which had been opened a couple of weeks earlier.
Several delectable, exquisite dishes were being served, but with a pedestrian white wine. When I told Prasanjit that I had been having an excellent Grand Cuvee Rosé bubbly as compared to the quaff, he used his managerial discretion and sent a waiting staff to the banquet room where the champagnes were being launched, to pick up a couple of bottles of the Rosé-to see how it matched with the Sichuan food! As I recall from my Tasting Notes, ‘CD Grand Cuvee Brut Rosé, stood its ground when paired with crab, salmon and fish dishes. Even the gentle and polite fried rice did not flinch going down with this beauty.’
Prasanjit was so impressed with my positive suggestion and comments that he decided to offer Rosé Champagne with the Sunday champagne brunches that were to be launched, with immediate effect.
Fast Forward Ten Years
When the invite came from the importer, Prestige Wines and Spirits for a dinner at the China Kitchen for a Taittinger evening with Clovis Taittinger, the Export Manager from the family, I pencilled in the date immediately. I had missed meeting him during his visit in September 2016 as I was travelling overseas and again when I visited the Champagne House in April 2015, he had not been in town.
The venue was the area outside TCK, at the nice veranda, that offers an Alfresco experience with beautiful vista around. We were to learn later that the dinner would be pass-around only but from the Restaurant, giving everyone an opportunity to mingle and meet him. The two variants- Brut and Rose Brut were excellent friends to enjoy during the evening, with Clovis Taittinger being the protagonist.
He said that although the Taittinger Brut had all the 3 major grapes of Champagne- Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and to a lesser extent Pinto Meunier , the lighter house style was recognisable by the extra Chardonnay-40%, making it crisper, fresh and elegant. He also stressed that over 20% of the grapes used in the base wine were Grand Cru quality (the best quality and most expensive grapes), adding to the character and elegance. Rosé Brut has 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay (higher than used by most other houses). When I asked him which one of the two he preferred personally, he refused to take sides and said both were equally good. Personally, I prefer Brut to start an evening with but Rosé Brut with food-especially the food at TCK as I had discovered during my experience ten years earlier and still so fondly remember.
Production and Sales
With an annual production of 6 million bottles, they are tiny compared to Moet Chandon which produces 40- 50 million bottles. ‘But we are not in the numbers game and don’t want to go for big volumes but we like to aim for the best Champagne at reasonable price. ‘It is a testimonial to their quality that though their biggest market is still Paris, they export it to 150 countries. They own 300hA of their own vineyards-half of which are Grand Cru, he says.
His father is still very actively involved in the business though the 39 year old Clovis who looks after export market and his 38-year old sister looks after Market and Communications are involved fully. Blending is always the key aspect of champagne making and the family tastes the wines regularly and decides on the blend along with their two cellar masters and a team of 8-9 people.
Champagne vs. Prosecco
Half expecting the answer already, I asked Clovis what he thought about the current onslaught of Prosecco on their market. ‘We don’t have any problems with Prosecco although I don’t care for it-our market is growing steadily,’ he says with a smile that has a touch of sarcasm, saying, ‘if a couple drinks, it is as if they are divorcing!’ Clovis drinks a bottle of champagne everyday when I ask him how much champagne he drinks. But he also drinks still wines but feels one can have complete meal with the bubbly.
Flutes, Tulips and Saucers
Interestingly Clovis prefers flute for champagne-particularly theirs and as he says, his sister also still prefers flutes. In fact he is a great fan of even Coupes-the saucer type glasses which most champagne drinkers discarded many years ago as they supposedly let bubbles leave the glass faster. ‘I think it is a lot of hogwash about bubbles leaving fast. We have lighter styled champagne and we believe flutes (he feels tulips are the same family as flutes) are the best glasses at least for our Champagne. Of course if you make heavy/full bodies champagne you might want to use white wine glasses to make them feel lighter on the palate,’ he insists.
Spurning Vijay Mallya
Is it true that the Champenoise did not like the Champagne House to be bought over by a non- French? ‘Our family had sold the whole business including some hotel properties to Starwood due to differences in the family members in 2005. They decided to sell back the wine division in 2006 when my father Pierre Emanuel bid for it to buy back. Our bid was highest among the 10 bidders including Mr Mallya and so it was again back with us.’ Mallya had reportedly bid Rs. 1,000 crores which was less than the € 660 million by Taittinger. In reality, Starwood seemed to have had opted to buy the total assets earlier but they were interested only in the hospitality business and not the wine business, hived off the Champagne House which was bought back by Pierre Emmanuel Taittinger.
Taittinger Champagne is exported to 150 countries though Paris is the biggest market, showing the solid acceptance by the local market and an export market getting constantly bigger; it is Clovis’ aim to still increase the export share. ‘We are neither after numbers nor the money but would like our consumers to be a happy lot,’ he adds.
Hyatt the biggest hotel client
Over the years, Taittinger seems to have nurtured the Hyatt account rather well through their distributors, Prestige. The Hyatt Regency F & B Director Shaji Paul, an astute buyer with keen knowledge about wines and spirits and who knows how to sell them to his customers, has been a vocal supporter of Taittinger because of the quality and the decent negotiated prices. ‘Earlier we used to buy another brand because it is very popular but this time I decided to go for the liquid in the glass. Result- It is almost sold exclusively sold across all the restaurants-including Sunday brunches-both the Brut and Rosé Brut variants are available.
Hyatt was as participative as Aspri to ensure the evening was a success- the steamy snacks were streaming and every glass served was at perfect temperature and available in unlimited quantity.
And just I have always envisioned, Taittinger Rose Brut was enjoyable with all the snacks served-especially my favourite from TCK, the Peking Duck.
Comtes de Champagne 2006
In a legendary quote, when Clovis’ father Pierre Emanuel who worked hard for a year to buy back the company from Starwood Private Equity firm, received a phone call one night in May 2006 that his bid had been accepted, he was overwhelmed with joy and popped open a bottle of Taittinger Comtes de Champagne to celebrate the fabulous news.
It was truly a magical moment when more than a couple of bottles of Comtes 2006 were opened for us to celebrate the evening and the visit of Clovis. An exquisite champagne, it really mesmerises your palate and makes it somewhat severe the contact with the brain, and make you sing:
I could have drank all night,
And still have asked for more!
The evening could have gone forever, where I discussed with Clovis subjects as varied as Prosecco, Politics and Poverty. And a Powerful India in the making!!
One hopes powerful enough so many of us would be able to open a bottle of the vintage Comtes de Champagne (it is made only in the exceptional years) and not only Taittinger Brut/Rose Brut or any other Grande Marque champagne like Taittinger to celebrate life -and not just any NV champagne!
For Earlier Articles, visit:
Blog : Don't Discard your Champagne Flutes- Yet
Canard Duchêne Comes to Delhi
Restaurant Review: The China Kitchen at Hyatt
Taittinger Champagne returns to the Family