Ayala Champagnes offer elegance along with a whole lot of history

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      A hectic schedule of meetings, gigs, and appointments a few weeks ago resulted in an earlier than usual tasting through a winery’s offerings. Ms. Laurence Alamanos, the export manager of Champagne Ayala, was at the tail end of a brief swing through Western Canada, and the only time we could coordinate to meet was at 9:30 a.m. As far as I’m concerned, Champagne is the epitome of an ideal breakfast wine, so as we settled into our spot at Provence Marinaside and perused the menu brimming with various Benedicts, waffles, frittatas, and scrambles, it all seemed to be a fitting setting.

      Founded in 1860 by Edmond de Ayala in Aÿ, in the heart of France’s Champagne region, the house found success with a Champagne style slightly drier than what was fashionable at the time. De Ayala’s brother Fernand lived and hobnobbed with aristocrats in London, perpetually a huge market for Champagne, so their wines got into the right hands and onto the right palates just a few short years into the new venture.

      With the Roaring Twenties’ economic prosperity and fancy-dress parties, Ayala became one of France’s top Champagne houses—the official Champagne of English and Spanish royalty—and employed more than 100 people.

      Things would have continued to be just fine if it hadn’t been for the stock market crash of 1929, the Great Depression that followed, and the Second World War. Not exactly an era when many were prone to popping corks.

      Things went from full throttle to a low hum at the house until 2005, when it was purchased by Champagne powerhouse Bollinger. Rather than have Ayala as just another cog in the machine, however, the place was revamped and revitalized as a stand-alone brand, now a medium-sized enterprise employing about a dozen.

      The winemaking, currently with Caroline Latrive (one of only a handful of female winemakers in the region) at the helm, continues to be of a fresh and elegant style and quite dry, due to a low percentage of dosage being added after disgorgement.

      Here are a trio of my favourites, listed with stores that currently have product in stock. Because Alamanos visited Vancouver quite recently to share her wines, we can expect their wines to begin appearing on an increasing number of private-store shelves around town. For more information on where to find them, visit their importer’s website.


      Champagne Ayala Brut Majeur N/V

      $75.98, Everything Wine

      This blend of 40 percent Chardonnay, 40 percent Pinot Noir, and 20 percent Pinot Meunier has so much fresh brioche and honey in the aromatics (three years on the lees will do that), it’s rather intoxicating and pretty off the bat. That’s before we even get to a palate awash with Honeycrisp apple, Asian pears, and ultraripe peaches. A hint of residual sugar gives it a slight richness that will dovetail well with French toast, Belgian waffles, and toasty baguette slathered with marmalade.


      Champagne Ayala Brut Nature n/v

      $99.91, Marquis Wine Cellars

      The driest of the trio, this same blend as the previous wine spends four years on the lees before disgorgement, with no dosage added, making the mouthwatering acidity nice and juicy, carrying plenty of citrus fruit, Granny Smith apple, and a flinty, peppery finish that has a hint of salinity, too. This will cut through the richness of medium-poached eggs and hollandaise with ease.


      Champagne Ayala Le Blanc de Blancs 2012

      $134.69, Marquis Wine Cellars

      One hundred percent Grand Cru Chardonnay, 100 percent delicious. This wine spends six years on the lees, so all that toasty and creamy business we love about Champagne is here in fine form. On the nose, plenty of lemon zest and lime leaf mingles with white flowers like jasmine and gardenia, while the palate enjoys mineral-laden yellow grapefruit, yellow plums, and a wide array of apples. Any seafood-oriented brunch (or lunch or dinner) would come up a treat with this one.

      Of course, I get it. The times we reach for premium Champagnes are usually few and far between, so I’ve got an any-day-of-the-week wine for you, too.

      My wife and I recently crushed a bottle of Montagu Rosé 2018 (Okanagan Valley, B.C.; $23 to $27, private wine stores), a joint venture between local sommelier and Stile wine agency representative Tom Doughty and lauded B.C. winemaker Michael Bartier. A quirky blend of Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay, Merlot, and Muscat Ottonel, the wine sings with many pink things—like grapefruit, watermelon, and fresh-cracked pink peppercorns—and a tiny kiss of sweetness—on the finish. A light, bright, exuberant style of wine that will keep summer going through these next few months. Find it at various Liberty Wine Merchants locations, Legacy Liquor Store, Firefly Fine Wines and Ales, and beyond.