Besserat de BellefonBrowsing
Located in its elegant building in Epernay, Besserat de Bellefon is a small house mostly known for one thing: the lower pressure of its delicious champagnes with smaller than average bubbles and creamier texture that make them great food matches. The house is part of Lanson-BCC, which has been investing to redefine the champagne range, and strengthen and reposition the brand now intimately connected with the French way of living–the “frenchytude” as they call it–and iconic French actress Brigitte Bardot.
Eduard Besserat, a native of Hautvillers where the monk Dom Pérignon lived 200 years earlier, founded his house in 1843 in Aÿ. He acquired great expertise in making champagne that he distributed to leading hotels, restaurants and purveyors of fine wines.
Edouard’s two sons Victor and Edmond took the relay. One a remarkable winemaker and the other a gifted businessman, they worked to increase the success and renown of the house. In 1927, Edmond married Yvonne de Meric de Bellefon, who came from another prestigious Champagne family, and their marriage gave birth to Besserat de Bellefon.
In 1930, under Victor Besserat, the third generation in line, the house created a lightly sparkling champagne intended to be drunk throughout a meal. This special cuvée resulted from the challenge issued by the owner of La Samaritaine de Luxe–a then-famous department store in Paris–to offer his patrons a champagne with a light sparkle, fine froth, great finesse, and specially made to drink through a meal. To meet the request, Victor produced a crémant, the way low-pressure champagne was called in the past. Not only Victor won the business, but from that moment this champagne, dubbed Cuvée des Moines (Monk’s Cuvée) in honor of the early Benedictine monks who were instrumental in developing the Champagne Method, became the jewel of the house. It quickly made its appearance on the greatest tables of Paris, including Maxim’s, Lucas-Carton, La Méditerranée, and Prunier.
In the 1960s, Besserat de Bellefon was served in the most famous cabarets of Paris like Moulin Rouge and Crazy Horse and in the 1970s it became the champagne served on board of the Air France Concorde flights.
The Pernod-Ricard group acquired the house in 1971, and in 2006 sold it to the Lanson-BCC group that has since relaunched the brand. Under Philippe Baijot, president until 2019, the house has reinforced its image linked to gastronomy, focusing the distribution only “on-trade,” in the best bars, hotels, restaurants and wine merchants. It has lately revived its strong French identity by associating its brand with iconic actress Brigitte Bardot and launching an exclusive cuvée in her name.
Vineyard and Production
The house owns 25 ha in the Marne Valley mostly planted with pinot meunier, and purchases grapes from 110 villages, among which grands crus like Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, Cramant and Verzenay, to produce approximately 800,000 bottles annually. Their winemaking presents some peculiarities. Most of the first fermentations take place in stainless steel vats, although some wines used in the prestige cuvée are fermented in wood or aged in wood. They avoid malolactic fermentation and leave the wines on their lees for extra complexity, and for a bit longer than usual as they bottle the blends in summer as opposed to spring for most of the houses. They practice no centrifugation or filtration before the assemblage and use less sugar in the liqueur de tirage to obtain less gas hence less pressure (4.5 bar versus 6 bar) and smaller bubbles in the champagnes.
Besides carrying lighter pressure, the blends are characterized by a significant proportion of pinot meunier. The resulting champagnes are, using the words of Chef de Cave Cédric Thiebault, “elegant, with fine depth, always fresh and never with a marked evolution of oxidized notes, and great minerality, with a very saline, marine character.”
The non-vintage range in very comprehensive, with brut, extra brut, rosé, blanc de blancs, and bancs de noirs. Higher-end champagnes include vintage, and prestige cuvée BB 1843, which replaced the former B2B, and the intimate Cuvée Brigitte Bardot made in tribute to the French iconic actress. They recently launched an organic champagne dubbed Triple B. I am a fan of all their wines, very easy to drink and, in particular, their blanc de blancs and rosé.