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A visit to Champagne Ayala

I don’t really have a good reason why I haven’t tried more Champagne Ayala sooner. I have tried their NV when it’s been the offering by the glass or bottle in a bar or restaurant but I guess I’ve never really known enough about the house and the style to take my relationship with Ayala a step further. So when I was in Champagne in June and July and I was offered the chance to tour the house on my day trip with Isabelle from Aÿ Champagne Experiences (Aÿ local and now good friend), I jumped at it!

And I’m so glad I did. You know I love a ‘top five’ so I have a super-quick ‘top 5 reasons I am glad I visited Ayala’. My top 5 should suck you in enough to keep reading to the end of the post (I know you all skim read!) but please at least read the Ayala story… it’s really cool AND there is a link at the bottom of the post to book your own tour with them!

Top 5 reasons I am glad I visited Champagne Ayala 

  1. Firstly, Isabelle and I had a delightful tour with our Champagne Ayala guide, Constance, who was passionate, energetic, knowledgeable, and fun!
  2. I discovered that I LOVE the fresh, modern house style … high chardie and low dosage = perfect for the Australian summer.
  3. I have a new rosé champagne to rave about (well two actually, but one is limited edition so get in quick – more below).
  4. I was lucky enough to have a brief intro to the houses’ female cellar master Caroline Latrive… female cellar masters are rare but I think they always add something very special to the wines they produce and the brand of the house.
  5. I got hear the story of the house which helps explain why my interaction with Ayala has been limited up until now.
  6. And there is actually a 6th reason… I got the scoop that they are launching a roof top champagne bar for next summer #reasontogoback

Let’s get a quick history lesson to set the scene

It quite ‘trendy’ at the moment to make low dosage champagne. I’ve noticed the availability and the popularity go up in Australia in the last twelve months. And the house style at Ayala is low dosage but what was particularly interesting, was that it’s not because it’s a trend they are following …. they kind of started the trend 100 years ago.

Champagne Ayala was created in 1860. Its founder, Edmond de Ayala, was born in Paris but from a Spanish family who were originally from near Bilbao.

Edmond was always interested in champagne and eventually moved to Champagne and worked for a champagne house, where his talents were quickly recognised.

He worked his way up the company and – the clever man! – also married the daughter of the wine maker he worked for. For his wedding gift he was given the castle of Aÿ (which was destroyed along with almost everything else in Aÿ during the 1911 winegrowers’ revolt) and some vineyards in Aÿ and nearby Mareuil-sur-Aÿ.

Edmond officially took over in 1860 and Champagne Ayala was born. Edmond was a man with a plan and he employed his brother, Ferdinand, to move to England where he became acquainted with the British royal family and aristocracy, who all fell in love with the Ayala house style.

It wasn’t just the British royal family won over by Ayala. The Spanish royal family also favoured the champagne (which makes sense as the Ayala family was originally Spanish), with the King of Spain promoting that he started each day with a glass of Ayala champagne.

Ayala’s champagnes were unique because they were one of the first houses to create a dry style. At the end of the 19th century and start of the 20th century, champagne was very sweet and was traditionally drunk with dessert. The Russians drank champagne that was about 200-300 grams of sugar, so Ayala’s style of about 20-25g/l, was dramatically drier. Still sweet by today’s standards, where Ayala uses 6/7 g/l in its cuvées.

So with Ayala, champagne began to emerge as an aperitif making Champagne Ayala one of the largest champagne houses at the start of the 20th century, selling one million bottles a year. Not much by today’s standards, but a lot for the time.

But from these lofty heights of popularity, things took a bit of a turn and the house fell on harder times… After its founder Edmond died, the house was sold several times and production dropped to 300,000 bottles.

My guide described it like the house decided to go to sleep for a few decades, until 2005 when Bollinger bought Ayala and just last year, Ayala returned to its peak production of 1 million bottles. Which is probably why I haven’t noticed Ayala until now… they have been rebuilding and renewing. And they have done a cracking job.

Ayala today 

So Bollinger may have been Ayala’s saviour, but don’t make the mistake of thinking Champagne Ayala is the struggling little sister of Bollinger.

Ayala is now an independent, thriving business and house with a clear style and their own winemaker, vineyards, and marketing. The only real ‘sharing’ they do with Bollinger is in the grape buying. Ayala is a negociant (like Bollinger) so it buys grapes to make its champagnes, and the association with Bollinger is certainly an advantage in buying power and access to quality grapes. And there is no competition with Bollinger over the same grapes because the house styles are almost total opposites – Bollinger is know for its traditional style and rich, oak-fermented, pinot noir dominant cuvées which is almost a masculine style of champagne (I really don’t love stereotypes but even I call Bollinger ‘blokey’ and put it on my man-champs list!) whereas Ayala is ruled by chardonnay (at least 40% chardonnay in all cuvees), stainless steel to give it a dry, fresh, modern, elegant style.

Caroline Latrive has been the cellar master since 2011 (and one of the few female cellar masters in Champagne) and you can recognise her style in the champagne, and in the marketing and positioning. I think this print below (which I bought from Ayala and will soon adorn a wall in my champagne wing… just kidding I don’t actually have a champagne wing, a girl can dream, right?) sums it up well and it’s used as a symbol throughout the house.

Does all this make you want to book your flights and tour Ayala?

I did say they have a rooftop tasting bar opening next summer, didn’t I? And you can visit Ayala.. just contact the house to make an appointment – more here.

The Champagne Ayala Cuvées

I guess it’s time to take a look at the actual wines right?

The line-up from my tasting is below…

The detailed technical tasting notes are all taken from (because who could know their wines better???) but for the wines I tasted, I have written my own little intro with my thoughts for each cuvee.

I know you can find the range in Dan Murphy’s and Vintage Cellars but looking online today, both seem to be out of stock. The good news is all the houses have just finished their bottling for the year so we can expect to see more in the lead up to Christmas so when yo do see it, try it!

Did I have a favourite? They are all different but the two rosés (Rosé Majeur and Rosé N°8and the Brut Nature wowed me for everyday drinking and the Perle d’Ayala for a special occasion is a real treat.

Have you tried Ayala wines? If you do, don’t forget to tell me about it in comments below or post a pic and tag @bubbleandflute #bubbleandflute #happychampers on Facebook and Instagram.

Read more about Champagne Ayala

Bubble & Flute promotes the responsible consumption of alcohol for individuals of legal drinking age in their country. Prices and links correct at time of publication 


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