It’s been a well-established champagne house for centuries – since 1760 to be precise. But when you note Lanson’s unusually wide range of styles and are told by Chef de Caves Hervé Dantan that the house sells 4.5 million bottles annually, the winemaker’s very 21st-century yet unassuming influence on the house’s popularity soon becomes obvious.
Several big-marque champagnes that are readily available in Hong Kong’s top-tier bottle shops are uncomfortable talking production figures, as many a wine insider will know. But at Lanson, according to Dantan, transparency appears to be high on the list.
Dantan ought to know, having assumed his duties at Lanson in 2013 – assisting 25-year-veteran winemaker Jean-Paul Gandon – after a career in other premium French wine regions, as well as California. He took charge two years later.
The just-launched Noble Cuveé 2002 that arrives in Hong Kong this year sees Dantan maintain the house’s tradition of not offering vintages until it deems them good and ready. “This is something special – the ’02 is a mythical vintage, and we’re proud to say that we’re maybe the last big brand to sell it,” he says.
“For each vintage of Noble Cuveé, we always wait 13, 14 or even 15 years to age it, so its full maturity is balanced with its freshness.” As larger bottles take longer to mature, 2002 Magnums of this delicate prestige label – which debuted in the late 1980s with the 1979 vintage – will only be released in two to three years’ time.
Rarer still – as this is only the second vintage – Clos Lanson 2007 is launched this month. This blanc de blancs is much richer than the effervescent Noble Cuvée, and produced from a single walled vineyard of Chardonnay in the centre of Reims.
Dantan released some 8,000 bottles of the debut vintage last year, which were eagerly snapped up by those serious about bubbles. “The 2007 was a great early harvest, and it expresses the ripe Chardonnay and the minerality of the plot,” he says.
Lanson owns 120 hectares of vineyards in Champagne and buys fruit from 350 hectares more. Some growers of quality grapes in Champagne have become proactive in the past decade or so in producing their own bottles, with a fair amount of support from drinkers and critics. Dantan says he’s all for this: “Many families that have historically grown for us and other champagne houses really know the terroir, and some of their releases are interesting for all of us.”
Lanson also offers a demi-sec, the sweetest champagne variety that used to be popularly paired with desserts. Asked if the popularity of sweet bubbly has waned, he says, “Yes, people liked it until the 1980s, but consumers’ tastes have changed; the trend is for drier champagne – it’s drunk more for an aperitif or a food pairing. But demi-sec is good with foie gras or some salty and sweet dishes.”
He suggests that this is why Lanson’s sec has piqued the public’s taste buds more readily in recent years, and its appeal, with its contemporary full-bottle white sleeve, seems to be towards a younger drinker. “The White Label [as it’s officially known] works well with young people in clubs and at celebrations,” says Dantan. Lanson’s classic Brut Rosé – Pink Label – also has a contemporary sleeve version – aimed at a more aesthetically minded, often younger demographic.
The most popular of all Lanson champagnes, both globally and in Hong Kong, is its Black Label non-vintage. Splitting the champagne trinity into 50 percent Pinot Noir, 35 percent Chardonnay and with Pinot Meunier making up the remainder, its honeyed floral notes continuously see it awarded medals; in 2016 it was scored at 91 points by Wine Spectator.
The premium non-vintage Père et Fils Brut – basically Black Label that’s been aged a little longer – was introduced two years ago. Designed for food pairing, it’s only available at restaurants but worth seeking out. Lanson’s Extra Age Brut, Blanc de Blancs and Rosé, which are blends of 2004-2006 vintages, aged at least five years in bottle for extra finesse, can be bought over the counter, however.
Green Label, a certified organic champagne from Lanson’s own vineyards in Marne, joined the product line-up last year. “This is something very special and new,” says Dantan. “Lanson bought the vineyard in 2010. It used to be organic but needed a lot of replanting.” It’s now producing about 50,000 bottles annually, and the producer notes sustainable elements within the process that might be applied to the house’s other styles. “It’s up to larger champagne houses like Lanson to lead the way in this area,” he says. “Clos Lanson has also been completely organic since 2015.”
This agreeably humble chef de caves plays down his part in the marque’s growing reputation among a wider audience. The year he joined, Lanson increased its use of small tanks for separate vinification from each plot and invested in a new stock of oak casks for maturation. “After that we were able to make more complex blends than before,” he explains. “When people visit the winery or taste Lanson today, compared to five years ago, they’re amazed at the improvements. We’re changing in the right direction.”