This estate came to me courtesy of my (former) colleague Gabe Clary, who made the discovery (as did Hiram Simon of Winewise in California a few years earlier), was excited, and brought samples to me. The timing was off; I was about to leave Champagne and head back to Germany, and I wouldn’t be able to visit the property – but after two runs through the wines, I knew I had to do something.
Simply put, this was a fundamentally Meunier property (they feel their terroirs don’t suit Pinot Noir) that was 180º different in style from Cédric Moussé’s estate in Cuisles, and I liked the idea of having Alpha-to-Omega in the Meunier idiom.
I met Jerome Dehours only briefly at a tasting, and had looked forward to a big lengthy visit to him in March 2019. Then came my you-know-what with Skurnik, and it’s quite likely the Covid emergency might have rushed me back to the U.S. from Champagne in any case. So there’s this estate, nominally a part of my portfolio, but also not really.
I remain fascinated in any case. Dehours is artisanal in all the best ways. They perceive the particularity of their Meunier and seek to let it express itself. It plays in a lower octave than Moussé; it’s actually closer to Loriot (the fine estate in Festigny) though quite a bit drier than Loriot – at least when I tasted them last.
There are many single-plot Champagnes, among which the estate sent me two. One you’ll see was superb, and the other was excellent for lovers of woody Champagne. A number of small features stand out; they don’t fine or filter pre-tirage, so tirage is later than usual here.
I will meet Jerome some day. There is a family saga around the ownership of the domain that I’d love him to tell me. Even in my short encounter with him I sensed a unity between his warmth of temperament and that of his wines. I see them begging to be drunk on the first Autumn evening it’s cold enough to have the fireplace going.
Grand Reserve, Brut N.V.
Almost entirely Meunier, with just a little Chardonnay and Pinot Noir: 52% 2017 with the balance a perpetual reserve started in 1998: deg. 3/21
It’s an exceptionally savory Champagne, as much food as wine. In essence there are two faces of Meunier; one is “sweet” and registers as pumpernickel (or other fruitbreads) and the other is toasty, rusky, crusty. I hate saying “toasty,” it’s such a cliché, but if you’re reheating day-old croissants to have for breakfast, your house is gonna smell like this Champagne.
The pumpernickel profile is seen in Gaston Chiquet and also – and perhaps its apogee – in Moussé Fils. Dehours seems to aim for something warmer.
The Champagne is balanced, but it also seems to me like a slice of toast without quite enough butter on it. Yet I can also imagine that sweeter blends might have risked tasting marmalade-y. My own sense of the Goldilocks spot is something not quite as dry as this. But the wine has authority and warmth, albeit not an ingratiating warmth. I really like its length and I also love the finish, which conveys a countrified sort of polish. It’s full of vinosity and an artisan particularity, and I’d have happily offered it as a merchant. My preference for a certain “deliciousness” is just that, and only that – my preference.
I’ve liked this more and more with each passing encounter. Some of that has to do with the incredibly fetching fruit of 2017, which emerges with oxygen, and some has to do with an ease of settling in to this wine’s world. I’d drink it happily, and with just a tiny bit more dosage I’d have drunk it excitedly.
Les Vignes de la Vallée, Brut N.V. +
Again mostly Meunier with bits of CH and PN, this is a much older Champagne, based on 2013 with 30% perpetual reserve started in 1998. Disgorged 5/20
The pronounced tertiary elements convey a sense of sweetness though the wine is quite dry. I would call the clear oxidation appropriate but worth monitoring; it is less than “noble” but a good way from “decadent.” (The cork was a little wizened for its post-disgorgement age.) As often happens with mature wines, oxygen makes them fresher, and this acquires a certain vigor after five minutes.
We’re in the shiitake, brown-butter and 5-spice zone, and I’m thinking of croutons crisped in duck fat or even panko mixed with sesame seeds and warmed in a skillet with the tiniest knob of ghee. As you see, the wine conveys food more than anything else. And more saliently, heated food. And the longer it sits in the glass the finer it becomes. The oxidation retreats in favor of an Amontillado esterization that’s really lovely and dramatic.
Jerome Dehours very helpfully tells us the dosage on his back labels, but my long time readers know I refuse to share it. There are too many doofuses who reject sight-unseen any wine they think is “too sweet,” and I say that to say that this wine tastes about three times sweeter than it actually is.
I’ve had it twice more now, and it remains lovely. What begins feeling like garden variety oxidation becomes really beautiful as it adumbrates and foreshadows an even more complex wine in a few more years.
Brut Nature, N.V.
Described as an “experimental cuvée” by the producer, it’s all Meunier, 70% 2016 and 30% the perpetual reserve started in 1998; the second fermentation is done with home-grown yeast from their vineyards; the disgorgment is 5/20, and of course no dosage (but some RS in the base wine, as always in Champagne).
At first there’s a beery aroma I don’t like. Will it persist?
I have no issue with the dryness: it works, in context.
I like the vigor and saltiness.
The beer fragrance does fade, turning into something a little Pet-Nat-like. This is a reasonably pleasant and certainly interesting beverage that moves a little too far past the frontiers of what “Champagne” ought to taste like. I get that nobody likes the word “ought.” Who TF am I to decree how Champagne should taste? Damn if I know; I just know I’m tasting a good, quirky wine that doesn’t say Champagne to me. I will eat these words if additional evidence tells me to.
But I don’t think it will. My second encounter is 48 hours later, this time from a flûte (in order to suppress the dubious aromas and flavors), but even if that had worked – and it didn’t – the wine feels rustic to me. Even a little dosage would have made it less exposed.
The salient issue is, where is the membrane between “idiosyncratic” and “improper?” If you’re below the age of 35 I’d imagine you would approve of the things I dislike here. (Whether you would actually, honestly like them is, to be polite, conjectural.) I took the flûte outside, on a perfect late Summer afternoon, dry, clement and breezy, and sat in the enveloping euphoria, accompanied by a few black-capped chickadees who checked me (and one another) out, along with the dove we have named “Caroline” and whom you will meet in the Carl Loewen report; she laid claim to an abandoned squirrel’s nest during the days I was immersed in Mosel Riesling. I had every reason to be blissed out and I kept pleading with the wine to stop tasting like Pet-Nat. (An interesting Pet-Nat – just not what I seek in Champagne.)
Côtes En Bosses, Extra Brut 2012 +
A lieu-dit bottling from a site “below the village at the bottom of the slope,” planted with all three varieties; done in cask, no fining nor filtration; disg. 12/20, no dosage.
We haven’t heard the end of 2012; this is a fine, noble aroma, sturdy, upright, feet planted on the ground. It is anti-varietal in the best sense. And it is also really, reallycompelling grower-Champagne. Malt and toasted grains, muscular and yet its power is measured and calibrated. Flavors speak in a gravelly baritone but the finish purrs almost hauntingly; it’s the best part of the wine.
I have agreed not to use “masculine” or “feminine” as descriptors, because these are normative terms and people, especially women, are annoyed by them. I’ll abide by that. What I’m about to say, I say as a kid who was nerdy and the opposite of athletic, and who was then a scrawny rock-guitar guy, and then a person who was engaged in all manner of metrosexual and effete pursuits – you know, I wasn’t breaking bricks with my head, I was tasting wine, and if you look at the illustration next to the dictionary definition of “masculine” it shows someone like Dwayne Johnson and not me. Got it?
And so, I’ll describe this wine as broad shouldered, muscular and weighty. This image-sense is nothing but a descriptor, not a value-judgment nor a prescription of what “male” ought to be. It derives from a subjective paradigm of maleness I have internalized. It’s not meant to be universal. But you’ll know it works the second you taste this Champagne.
Leaving linguistic politics aside, the wine is superb. Old-timers who love baseball will know exactly what I mean if I say “Ted Williams swing.” Exquisite gracefulness, ball in the seats! Power and fluidity and authority.
Brisefer Extra Brut, N.V.
This is entirely a perpetual reserve begun in 2013; disgorged 5/20; old vines Chardonnay from a massale selection planted 1947 and 1992, clay soil; no fining nor filtration, and produced….<gulp>….in barrique.
But that is changing, and will have changed already if you obtain a more recently disgorged cuvée. The impact of wood will be greatly reduced, by aging the perpetual reserve in much larger barrels. This is encouraging, and I think it will suit the wine. What follows are my impressions of the actual bottle I tasted.
Honestly, I wish I could surmount my dismay at oaky Champagnes. With very few exceptions what I receive is “an oaky-tasting beverage, possibly containing Champagne.” Laurent Champs at Vilmart is the only person (I know) who’s consistently figured it out.
I’ll put it this way: this is a really really appealing wine if you’re making Saffron Risotto. It will be the best wine you ever drank, or at the very least the best wine/food pairing you’ve ever had. There are so many ways this wine is good, so many things to appreciate about it, yet for me the oak is blatant. And oak is a big crude flavor, it always tastes the same; take the tiniest false step and it dominates, and then what do you have? (Yet!) another oaky wine.
They say to give them time. Fine, I’ll give this guy the same 5-6 days I give everything I taste. I’ll tell you what I find.
I’m finding what I found the first time. The base wine is markedly silky and refined before it’s buried alive in a wooden box. And if you disregard all of this because you know “Terry has a thing about oak,” that’s fine. I feel a bit abashed myself, truth to tell, because I can see past the reek of barrique to the underlying wine, and what I see is admirable. And it’s an easy matter to whip up a saffron-scallopy meal with some late-season corn and a bunch of Parmesan and then the wine will be seamless.
Oeil de Perdrix, Extra Brut N.V. +
83% Meunier and 17% Chard, all 2018, disg. 11/20, no dosage.
This hails in fact from a single plot of old-vines Meunier called La Croix Joly, and is made by saignée.
Considering there is no dosage, there is a mountain range of charm in this remarkable Rosé; it’s in the cranberry & rhubarb direction we see in Chiquet and sometimes also in Chartogne, but it’s in a seriously exalted form here.
That said, two things. Even with ten months on the cork it still needs time to soften its texture. He wants it to be frisky, but if there are subsequent disgorgements it would be worth exploring them, as I think a bit more creaminess would ameliorate the zero-dosage thing. Two, the “zero-dosage-thing” is completely understandable given this wine’s rampant fruit, but it also clamps off the finish just when you’re waiting for fruit to unfurl. Here is where one goddamn gram of dosage, which nobody would taste, would elevate the wine appreciably.
Still, can’t help loving this insanely attractive creature. Duck breast and pink peppercorns baby! And repeated exposures didn’t change my mind: this is how good a GOOD zero-dosage Champagne can be.