Champagne houses used to ferment their base wines in oak barrels, which enhanced age-ability and added richness, creaminess and notes of coconut and vanilla. This practice had all but ended by the 1950s, however. Most producers—with the exception of Krug and Bollinger—abandoned the practice in favor of stainless steel, a lower maintenance option that was easier to clean and decreased evaporation loss.
But just like splayed furniture legs, geometric patterns and other hallmarks of midcentury design, oak-fermented Champagne is in style once again.
“The breath that oak provides leads to a more robust…finished product and contributes to better aging and less variation during reasonable cellar times,” says Amy Troutmiller, wine consultant and founder and CEO of Common Fuel Consulting.
She says if you relish well-aged Burgundy or Sauternes but tend to stick with youthful bubbly, popping open an oak-fermented bottle can be an eye-opening experience with hints of toasted brioche and lemon curd.
“Oak-fermented Champagnes benefit from additional micro-oxidation that gives them additional richness and depth,” says Mathieu Roland-Billecart, CEO of Champagne Billecart-Salmon. Its Brut Sous Bois, entirely vinified in oak, was first released in 2011.
“They appeal to connoisseurs who seek a more gastronomic Champagne to pair with poultry, cheese and mushroom dishes,” he says.
Indeed, the earthy depth and savory quality of these wines give them carte blanche at the table. Troutmiller enjoys sipping hers with smoked chicken, artichoke risotto with Époisses and fried oysters and clams.
As with any barrel-aged wine, this style craves breathing room; using a decanter will allow it to fully express its complexity.
THREE OAK-FERMENTED CHAMPAGNES TO TRY
Vilmart & Cie NV Grande Réserve Premier Cru; $50. This bottle blends 70% Pinot Noir with 30% Chardonnay…SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Billecart-Salmon NV Brut Sous Bois; $83. Made with equal parts of all three Champagne grapes, it’s aged…SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
Lanson 2007 Clos Lanson; $200. Produced with biodynamic Chardonnay, this wine is vinified in oak…SEE SCORE AND FULL REVIEW
This article originally appeared in the December 31, 2021 issue of Wine Enthusiast magazine. Click here to subscribe today!