Produced only in the very best vintages and in tiny quantities, Gosset Celebris, the house’s top wine, is extraordinary, says Neil Beckett—just don’t call it a prestige cuvée.
I should have known better. I was looking forward to the launch of the latest release of Gosset’s prestige cuvée. But it was even more exciting than that, as Gosset’s brilliant chef de cave Odilon de Varine gently chided and patiently reminded me: “Celebris is not a prestige cuvée—it’s an exceptional wine.” He always chooses his words carefully, and those were certainly appropriate. Exceptional not least because the 2012 Celebris is only the ninth Vintage release in the 35 years since the inaugural 1988, (see WFW 73, pp.84–87, for a review of the seven Vintage blanc, three Vintage rosé, and one Multi-Vintage blanc de blancs released up to that time, and WFW 78, p.60, for a preview of the 2012 Celebris Blanc de Blancs). But Gosset as a house is exceptional, too. It has always liked to do things differently, originally, as it has done ever since it was founded, by 1584 at the latest, making it the oldest wine house in Champagne.
If Gosset is very clear about what Celebris is not, it is, happily, equally clear about what it is: “the quintessence of the Gosset style […] its ultimate expression,” like the best of both Non-Vintage [Grande Réserve] and Vintage [Grand Millésime] together, as global business director Bertrand Verduzier explained, its avowed essential qualities being “freshness, structure, depth, and aging potential.”
The 2012 proves to be a shining example, embodying all four of those qualities. Odilon is keen to acknowledge the special nature of the vintage (always a precondition for a Celebris declaration), which he regards as the best of its decade (hence the first Celebris Blanc de Blancs Vintage also from this year). It certainly wasn’t an easy growing season, with losses first to frost, then to hail, and a difficult flowering period, which made for very variable levels of ripeness across the region, resulting in a harvest that lasted longer than a month. But the average potential alcohol levels (nearly 10%) and average acidity levels (nearly 8g/l) were “very interesting,” in Odilon’s words. And in a pleasing irony, all of the contrasts during the year, and all of the differences in the grapes—with appetizingly saline Chardonnay not only from the normal sources in the Côte des Blancs (Avize, Cramant, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger) but also from the Montagne de Reims (Ambonnay, Bouzy, Louvois, Trépail, Villers-Marmery) and the Vallée de la Marne (Avenay, Aÿ)—made possible a Celebris as beautifully balanced and complete as it is multifaceted.
Odilon regards 2012 as being a particularly successful vintage for Chardonnay, which has almost always been the dominant partner in the Celebris blend (1995 being the only vintage with a slight preponderance of Pinot Noir), and which in the 2012 reaches its highest proportion so far (70 percent). For Odilon, the 30 percent Pinot Noir contributes depth but also “helps the Chardonnay express itself,” while adding Chardonnay lees to the Pinot Noir (a technique first used for the 1990 Celebris) gave it “more freshness and more minerality”—qualities further heightened by the normal Gosset avoidance of malolactic fermentation and reliance on stainless-steel vessels. The blend spent more than nine years maturing (not “aging,” Odilon says; it is far more positive than that) on its lees.
The one aspect of its exceptional nature about which we can have mixed emotions is its scarcity: While average production quantities for Celebris are below 50,000 bottles—very low for a famous Champagne house—the production run for the 2012 is a mere 25,000 bottles. But if it were less exceptional in that respect, it would also be less gloriously exceptional in all other ways.
2012 Gosset Celebris
(70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir; disgorged January 2023; dosage 5.5g/l)
White gold, with a very fine, persistent mousse. Exciting aromatic restraint on first sniff: exquisite, very finely pointed and precise, initially a subtle weave of fleurs blanches and sweetpeas, confit lemon, and light patisserie scents; even a faint whiff of vanilla (though not from any wood). Elegant on entry, finely taut but not tight, the tension of a perfectly tuned violin string, then gradually melting, softening, through an ethereal, flourishing, gracefully scintillating finish of great, gentle persistence. After a little time in the glass, a fragrance pleasingly reminiscent of great white Burgundy, with lime and linden; and after a little longer still, spicier, white-pepper notes. Alongside the very seductive 2012 Celebris Blanc de Blancs, to which we were also treated, this is a little less round: racier, sleeker, slicker, with more focus, tension, and tingle. After a first glass, Odilon transfers the wine into a decanter the same shape as the beautiful bottle in its original 1760 guise—a progression he recommends for the resulting “change of dimension.” Now the nose, not surprisingly, is broader, deeper, more open, the fruit (and even positive vegetal) notes more pronounced, the floral notes more exotic. What’s astonishing and much more surprising is that this expansion entails no loss of focus, intensity, or purity—indeed, the steely core shines even more brightly, revealed as the layers of the surrounding wrapping separate out and unfurl. The wine’s gastronomic potential was showcased by the meticulously prepared food at Ekstedt, and Odilon expects this 2012 Celebris to age as well as the currently spectacular 2002. 97