Sherwin Lao | Oct 24, 2019
Anthony Rocher of Thienot Bordeaux-Champagnes Group
CHAMPAGNE has always been the gold standard of sparkling wines, and I still cannot think of a better celebratory beverage than champagne. Champagne consumption in Philippines is, however, almost invisible, making up less than 0.5% of total wine imports. Sparkling wine as a wine category is also extremely low, accounting for less than 2% of present wine business by volume.
The main culprit of course is that our country taxed sparkling wine ridiculously at either 833% or 2,333% higher than still wine — depending on Net Retail Price (NRP). This year the excise tax per bottle of a still wine is P28.47 per standard 750ml bottle, while a sparkling wine at NRP of P500/bottle or less is being levied an excise of P237.25/bottle, and for NRP of above P500, an excise of P664.29/bottle. Champagne obviously falls under the above P500 NRP. To start with, Champagne has never been cheap, and with our excise tax discrimination, it is made even more prohibitive. But regardless of price, Champagne will always be Champagne, and to those who are financially capable, there is simply no substitute.
RELATIVELY NEW BRAND
Champagne had a long illustrious history, with of course Dom Pérignon, the late 17th century Benedictine monk, being the most recognized figure in Champagne’s discovery and evolution. Champagne makers are called Champagne houses, and not wineries or chateaux. The oldest champagne houses that are still around include: the Champagne house of Gosset (though it was founded as a still wine producer in 1584 before Champagne was even created); Ruinart, founded in 1729; Chanoine Frères in 1730; Taittinger in 1734; Moët et Chandon in 1743; Veuve Clicquot in 1772; and Louis Roederer in 1776. Ruinart, Moët et Chandon, and Veuve Clicquot are now under French luxury goods conglomerate Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH). With over 100 Champagne houses and close to 20,000 smaller vine-growing producers in the region of Champagne, it is hard to imagine seeing a relatively new brand like Champagne Thienot make it work in the mainstream. But Champagne Thienot is definitely no greenhorn in the Champagne business.
Champagne Thienot is the eponymous Champagne house created just around 35 years ago by founder Alain Thienot. Mr. Thienot was originally from Reims, Champagne and had been working there for 20 years already as perhaps the most important Champagne broker in the region prior to embarking on setting up his own Champagne brand.
I met with the newly married visiting Asia-Pacific Export Manager of the Thienot Bordeaux-Champagnes Group, Anthony Rocher (he got married less than a week before coming to Manila), at the Wine Story BGC branch during a Champagne & Bordeaux Dinner, and he shared more insights about their founder Alain Thienot.
“Alain Thienot was a very important figure in Champagne. Being a top broker in the region that oversees up to the 20% of the whole Champagne volume, Alain acquired incredible knowledge and expertise before embarking on his own Champagne endeavor. In Champagne, roughly 70% of the vineyards are owned by vine growers, and being the broker means being the middleman between the Champagne houses and the vine growers. The job entails being in the vineyards every day, and talking to every single vine grower. Alain Thienot would negotiate volumes, quality, and price with the vine growers in behalf of the Champagne houses.” Anthony further elaborated: “At some point, Alain had an opportunity to take over a parcel of vineyard in Ay Grand Cru and that is how Champagne Thienot started. Thienot now owns 30 hectares of vineyards, 50% of which are classified as either Grand Cru or Premier Cru, and still has good access and leverage with vine growers.”
Because of this depth of experience and unparalleled understanding of the quality of the Champagne region, it is no surprise that despite being a baby in the industry compared to the old Champagne houses, Champagne Thienot is making quite a good impression with their quality and reputation.
At the Champagne & Bordeaux Wine Dinner, five incredible Champagnes from Thienot were served, together with some Bordeaux wines. The Thienot Group has major stakes too in the Bordeaux region, including Château Belgrave, a classified fifth growth from the Haut-Médoc appellation. Below are my customary tasting notes:
• Thienot Brut NV (non-Vintage): “biscuity, hints of green apple, very fresh, round in texture and effervescence, crisp and fresh from entry to finish; a real good Champagne treat for its most basic NV.”
• Thienot Blanc de Blancs NV: newest Champagne release from Thienot; made from 100% Chardonnay grapes; blanc de blancs meaning “white from whites” are normally vintage dated and can fetch really premium prices, but there are now several big Champagne houses like Ruinart, Billecart-Salmon, Louis Roederer, and Gosset doing blanc de blancs NV — which means a blend of Chardonnays from different vintages; “expressive, with lime and lemon flavors, nice flintiness, good length on the palate, very long on the finish”
• Thienot Rosé Brut NV: “nice salmon pink color, lovely fresh strawberries on the nose, resonating sour cherries on the palate, nice and tangy, mouthwatering finish — impossible not to like this one”
• Thienot Cuvée Stanislas Blanc de Blancs 2007: named after Alain’s son Stanislas, who is also working for the Thienot Group; “complex nose, creamy, chrysanthemum, peppercorn, white petal, green apple, minerally, good body, racy mouthfeel, with round dry finish; this was my favorite among all the lovely champagnes poured during the dinner”
• Thienot Cuvée Garance Blanc de Rouges 2008: named after Alain’s daughter Garance, who, like her brother Stanislas, is also working in the company; blanc de rouges means “white from reds” and this one is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes; “grapefruit nose, orange marmalade, more richness, citrusy and long and persistent at the end; this makes a great dinner champagne”
With this showcase of their Champagne range, Champagne Thienot has won me over.
Finally, do not be surprised to see the Champagne Thienot brand side by side with Australia’s most famous wine brand, Penfolds. Champagne Thienot collaborated with Treasury Wine Estates through their chief Penfolds winemaker, the renowned Peter Gago, to create the very first “literal” Australian Champagne, the Champagne Thienot x Penfolds — starting with vintage 2012. These French-import Champagnes of Penfolds were released in domestic Australia just last June. The first three variants are the: Champagne Thienot x Penfolds Chardonnay Pinot Noir Cuvée 2012, Champagne Thienot x Penfolds Blanc de Blancs 2012 and Champagne Thienot x Penfolds Blanc de Noirs 2012.
Prices of Thienot champagnes range from P3,100 for the Brut NV to P7,850.00 for the Cuvee Stanislas Blanc de Blancs. Champagne Thienot is available at Wine Story. Visit Wine Story’s new store at the One Uptown BGC. You can also visit their website at www.winestory.com.ph.
The author is a member of the UK-based Circle of Wine Writers (CWW). For comments, inquiries, wine event coverage, and other wine-related concerns, e-mail the author at email@example.com. He is also on Twitter at twitter.com/sherwinlao.