Thursday, July 16, 2015

Claude Thibault of Thibault Janisson – an Ultra-premium Sparkling Wine Producer in Virginia, USA - at American Wine Society (Northern Virginia Chapter)

Picture: Claude Thibault and Christian Schiller at American Wine Society (Northern Virginia Chapter)

A few years ago, when I met Claude Thibault for the first time, I wrote that the sparkling wine the native of the Champagne Region Claude Thibault produces in Virginia, USA, “is arguably the best sparkler produced in the US East Coast and is as close as you can get to (French) Champagne outside of France (in terms of quality).”

This assessment was fully confirmed a few days ago, when the American Wine Society (Northern Virginia Chapter) had the honor and pleasure to receive Claude Thibault for a tasting of 2 of his sparklers as well as other American sparklers and 1 (French) Champagne (made by Claude’s partner Manuel Janisson).

See also:
As Close as You Can Get to Champagne – Claude Thibaut and his Virginia Thibaut Janisson Sparklers at screwtop Wine Bar, USA
American Wines with French Roots: The Wines President Obama Served at the State Dinner for President Hollande, USA/France


Thibaut-Janisson is a French-French joint venture of the production of ultra-premium sparkling wine in Virginia, owned by Claude Thibaut and Manuel Janisson. Claude Thibaut is the winemaker and runs the company, while Manuel Janisson’s, a producer of Grower-Champagne in France, role is that of an investor. Output currently is around 5000 cases.

Picture: Claude Thibault at American Wine Society (Northern Virginia Chapter)

Born and raised in the Champagne, this worldly winemaker, after having studied oenology in Reims, left his family’s vineyard in France to spend years creating well-known sparklers in Australia (3 years) and California (7 years). Claude Thibaut worked at the Kendall-Jackson, Jordan and Iron Horse wineries in California as well as Champagne Veuve Devaux, Bar sur Seine, France and Yarra Bank, Victoria, Australia. Claude is the original winemaker for the popular J sparkling wine from California.

In 2003, Claude moved to Charlottesville, Virginia, joining the Kluge Estate (which was recently bought by Donald Trump) as a consultant to spearhead the creation of a sparkling wine. Two years later, in 2005, he left Kluge and started his own label – Thibaut-Janisson - in partnership with Frenchman and friend Manuel Janisson, producer of the Champagne Janisson & Fils. Right from the beginning the objective was to produce ultra-premium sparkling wines from Virginia grapes.

Picture: Christian G.E.Schiller and Claude Thibaut at Srewtop Wine Bar

The first sparkler was released in November 2007. Since then, the Thibaut-Janisson sparklers have gained the reputation for being American sparklers that are as close as you can get to their cousins from Champagne. In particular, the Thibaut-Janisson sparklers have been served at various dinners at the White House, including several State Dinners.

What Claude Thibaut Poured

We had 8 sparklers, all from the US, except for 1, which was a Champagne. In addition to 2 Thibaut-Janisson sparklers from Virginia and a Janisson et Fils Champagne, Claude poured 2 Virginia sparklers made by Veritas, 1 Iron Horse sparkler from California and 2 J sparklers from California.

Picture: The Line-up

Thibaut-Janisson Xtra Brut (see below)

Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay (see below)

Veritas Scintilla, Blanc des Blancs

Picture: Veritas Scintilla, Blanc des Blancs

J Cuvee 20

Champagne Janisson et Fils Tradition

Champagne Janisson et Fils Tradition is Grower Champagne, i.e. the grapes are grown and the Champagne made by Janisson et Fils. Janisson et Fils started in the 1920’s with Manuel Janisson’s grandfather. He was one of the first to stop delivering his grapes to one of the big Champagne Houses and to start making is own (Grower) Champagne. Manuel grew up within the winery and was tutored in all facets of the operation, from vineyard management, winemaking, negotiating for grapes, to selling and delivering of the Champagnes the winery produced. In 2005, he ventured out to produce ultra-premium sparklers in Virginia, while he continues to produce Champagne in France.

Picture: Champagne Janisson et Fils Tradition

Iron Horse Blanc des Noirs

J Rose

Veritas Mousseux

Picture: Veritas Mousseux

The Thibaut-Janisson Portfolio

Thibaut Janisson Xtra Brut

This 100% Chardonnay blend is made from the Tête de Cuvée, or first pressing of the grapes, considered superior in quality, with a high percentage of reserve wines for extra complexity, depth and richness, and a low added dosage to preserve purity and freshness.

“Why is it 100% Chardonnay and not a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier” I asked Claude. “Because of the Virginia terroir and climate, there is no Pinot Noir produced here” said Claude.

Picture: Thibaut Janisson Xtra Brut

Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay from the Monticello Appellation, aged for 3 years. The nose is apples, pears, and mushrooms; the palate is citrus, green apples, pears and nectarines, with a belt of tangy acidity and a convincing finish.

Picture: Thibaut-Janisson Blanc de Chardonnay

Thibaut Janisson Fizz (we did not taste this sparkler)

The Virginia Fizz is a 100% Chardonnay sparkler that aged for only about 1.5 years. It is fruitier, creamier, less yeasty than the Thibaut-Janisson, Blanc de Chardonnay. It is also slightly sweeter.

“I choose grapes that are little riper and have a little bit less acid than the grapes I choose for Thibaut-Janisson,” Claude said, when I tasted the Fizz with him. Also, the pressure of the Fizz is a bit lower. “I put less sugar in the bottles for the second fermentation, so less pressure develops” Claude said. Fully sparkling wines are generally sold with 5 to 6 atmospheres of pressure in the bottle. Semi-sparkling wines are defined as those with between 1 and 2.5 atmospheres of pressures and include Italian frizzante and French pétillant wines. The amount of pressure in the wine is determined by the amount of sugar added for the secondary fermentation with more sugar producing increased amount of carbon dioxide gas and thus pressure in the wine.

Picture: Thibaut Janisson Fizz

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