What are they thinking?

Gratien Cuvée Paradis 2008, the Prestige Cuvée from one of my favourite Champagne producers, is a great gift to receive. Even better to get a bottle of 2008, a wonderfully fine vintage. I would normally be ageing such a fine wine from a fine vintage, but on the second day of Lockdown 2.0 I thought, “What the hell! I want something good!”.

2008 is also good at Gratien because it is the second vintage that cellarmaster Nicolas Jaeger, the fourth generation of his family to hold that position, has been in charge. We are told there has been a great improvement in quality at Gratien since he took over. I did not think they were too bad before, but there you go! I really should be ageing this…

So, I had better give you the blurb and get popping before I decide not to open this Gratien Cuvée Paradis. It is comprised of two-thirds Chardonnay and the balance Pinot Noir. The first fermentation happens in Chablis barriques a proportion of them new, and there is no malolactic fermentation.

Let us drink!

Cuvee Paradis 2008 from GratienCuvée Paradis millesime 2008, Gratien

Initially this smells very Chardonnay-dominated, with a lot of lemon, apple and the merest hint of warmly ripe, exotic pineapple present. It is very toasty with a strong Digestive biscuit character.

As this Cuvée Paradis is warming up and breathing more Pinot Noir characteristics are showing. Cold cocoa and raspberry fruit show more obviously. The wood also begins to reveal itself. There is a vanillin character to the toastiness and a hint of smoke.

Cuvée Paradis also shows some of the limestone bite that one finds on good Côte de Beaune Chardonnays. There is no denying that is a ripe, fruity, oaky and very complex nose. It is quite a delight to smell and witness its evolution with air contact, but there is more to life than smelling wine.

Wow, what a palate! Cuvée Paradis is an enormous mouthful of powerful, dense, ripe fruit and prodigious acidity. In the best sense possible, this is initially extremely impressive. It is very complex, with mineral and toasty oak flavours adding to that incredibly weighty fruit and it is kept vivacious and filled with life by a very fine mousse and tremendously enlivening acidity.

However, Cuvée Paradis 2008 is also distinctly sweet.

Gratien do not use malolactic fermentation when making their wines, raising the acidity level, and also give them a high dosage with the aim of these two intertwining with age and so making a long-lived, but ultimately balanced wine.

It is true that Gratien vintage usually is a long lived wine and the great vintages can live for year after year in one’s cellar and, up to a point, only improve. This is why one really wants to get good vintages of Gratien and own even a bottle or two to age and enjoy a decade or so, if one is allowed to buy great vintages from the Wine Society.

However, Cuvée Paradis is really rather sweet, so much so that it hides the complexity and the delightful flavours are buried under all that sugar. Indeed, unless one is a real wine pervert who can taste extremely analytically, I imagine most people tasting this wine would say, “Gratien Cuvée Paradis 2008 is just a bit sweet and quite dull.” The latter comment is not true, but this is the obvious impression it will give to people who are not members of the Wine Illuminati.

The sugar will resolve into Cuvée Paradis 2008 mainly thanks to the high acidity but also, in part, due to the sheer scale of the ripe, fruity palate, but it is going to take at least five, probably more like ten, years. Before that integration happens this wine is not going to be a particularly thrilling drink for the average Champagne Prestige Cuvée drinker.

This leaves me scratching my head a little. I think this wine was released in 2019, when it was eleven years old and, in my view, probably ten or so years before it will be an interesting drink that most people would consider worth the money for a top Champagne. I (and a select group of wine obsessives) are perfectly happy to buy eleven year old Prestige Cuvée Champagne with the knowledge that it will be untouchable for a decade.

However, as my friend Bob on Facebook puts it, some people do not buy green bananas. If they have dropped seventy coins on a Prestige Cuvée Champagne they want to deliver those bucks’ worth of bang pretty soon after they buy it. They are perfectly entitled to hold that view. Selling an eleven year old wine that is only half way to its drinking age seems a perverse trick to be playing on most of their customers.

So Cuvée Paradis seems an odd sell to me. Are Gratien really selling their Prestige Cuvée Champagne specifically for people who can be bothered to cellar it for about double the age its been sold at, whilst alienating a large proportion of its buyers because the wine is simply unready before that? This would seem a really kooky strategy to me. Perhaps this is why the wine has languished on the Wine Society’s list well beyond the release date of the following vintage. It is simply an uncommercial strategy.

The solutions to making Gratien Cuvée Paradis a better seller seem simple, if counter to Gratien’s policy and to the detriment of their finances. Firstly, they could sell the wine at double the age on release. I would love this strategy, but for Gratien it would take a serious investment in the wine that would have to be recouped in the cost price. Or, more cheaply, they could lower the dosage. The wine in 2008 has the scale and density to impress and age without it.

As it stands, Gratien Cuvée Paradis seems a queer old bird to me, but if someone gives me another I will gleefully squirrel it away until I am nearly dead.

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