I rather like it when my views on wines are proved wrong, only of course if they change from being a bit negative to very positive as has happened following another look at the champagnes of Ayala.
Ayala’s reputation has been somewhat up and down since its beginning in 1860, but, after having been languishing in a trough of producing forgettable almost dilute wines a few years ago, it is definitely hitting a peak right now. Bollinger, a neighbour in the village of Aÿ, bought Ayala in 2005 and what a turnaround has been made in the quality of the wines since then. Although much of the expertise comes from the Bollinger team, the wines are made very differently maintaining their identity of youthful, vibrant and ultimately very dry champagnes.
A tasting of most of their range at The Drinks Emporium, expertly hosted by brand ambassador Jon Franklin, proved that the current winemaker, Caroline Latrive, is managing the house style well. Rejuvenated and refreshed, Ayala well deserves its Grande Marque status.
Brut Nature – 40% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier , 4 years on lees £32.50
Ayala is a pioneer of zero dosage, ultra-brut, basically very dry with no added sugar champagnes and while it isn’t my favourite style theirs is one of the best. Bracing grapefruity acidity with a slightly nutty drying finish, this might be ok as an aperitif but, for me, I’d need food to balance out the steely character. Sushi and ceviche are recommended matches. 88/100
Brut Majeur £29.50
This is exactly the same as the wine above in terms of grape blend but has one year less on its lees and of course there is some dosage but only 7gr. More expressive on the nose, the aromas are of white flowers, peach and green apples. On the palate, that green apple crispness comes through but is beautifully balanced by crystalline fruit. A good value non-vintage, great as an aperitif or with white fish and poultry. 90/100
Blanc de Blancs 2008 100% Chardonnay, 6 years on lees £55
I’m nothing if not consistent, Blanc de Blancs is my favourite style of champagne and this impressed me. Complex on both the nose and palate, there was a lovely floral beginning opening up to some pain d’épice and yellow plum aromas. It was elegant, long, lively and citrusy yet with a soft creaminess filling the mouth. Scrumptious. It deserves to be paired with something a bit special – how about lobster or goose? 94/100
Perle d’Ayala 2005 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, 8 years on lees £90.00
Made only in good years, using grapes solely from Grand Cru vineyards this is Ayala’s special cuvée. Production is obviously small which allows for everything to be done by hand – riddling and disgorgement – and the wine is stoppered by cork while on the lees. It is an opulent almost broad wine, layered, long and firm. It feels still quite tight and young, with a pastry and brioche palate, it’s yeasty, toasty and nutty too with a mouth-watering acidity. Foie gras, veal and chicken in a mushroom sauce would cope well with these powerful flavours. 94/100
Rosé Majeur 50% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir (inc 6% still red wine) 10% Pinot Meunier, 3 years on lees £35
Rosé champagnes can sometimes be a bit one dimensional, disappointing and clumsy. Not this one. This is well done in a light red fruit, dry savoury style. Very refreshing, nicely balanced, ideal to pair with a grilled salmon fillet. 89/100
Rosé No.8 51% Chardonnay, 49% Pinot Noir (inc 5% still red wine), 8 years on lees £50
I suspect that most of the 14700 bottles that were produced might be destined for China where the number 8 is hugely significant. The significance in this wine is that the grapes all derive from the 2008 vintage from Premier and Grand Cru vineyards, the time spent on lees was 8 years and the dosage is 8gr. It struck me as quite an unusual style. The house leaning towards dry champagnes was still there, it was vibrant and fresh; it had typical pink champagne notes of red fruits but there was also a pear and sherbet character, it was slightly salty and finally, after a winey-ness on the finish, I was reminded of Chewits. The strawberry ones. Odd, but I liked it. And I think it would be good with Asian foods with its sweet and salty twist. 90/100
Prices are the RRP from The Drinks Emporium.