Champagne Gaston Chiquet

An icon of the central Marne Valley, and the most decent man you could ever meet. Further encomia along these lines can be found in my last catalogue, and Peter Liem writes about Chiquet with his usual precision and insightfulness.

A small note before the bubbles begin.  There was a time a few years ago when I sensed that this was considered something of a fuddy-duddy grower, one whose brilliance had lost some gleam, compared to the sexypants-du-jour and their often strange wines. Today I am hearing of a comeback in regard for these beautiful and admirable Champagnes. Perhaps the market as a whole has grown mature enough to appreciate the durable virtues these wines show? Pretty to think so.

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Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Premier Cru                                      +

(This is the basic NV Brut of the range. It consists of 40% Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir – as usual. The assemblage: 80% 2014, 20% 2013. It hails from Hautvillers, Dizy, Mareuil sur Aÿ, a tirage of 4-5 years  between 4-5 years; This is the 7/2020 disgorgement; there will also be 11/2020 and 2/2021.)

Please note how much more mature this is than most other NV Bruts, from growers and merchants alike. The commonly prevailing base-vintage is 2017!  The pandemic is only partly responsible; Nicolas has long wished to offer a calling-card Champagne that isn’t brutally young. This wine has always squared the circle between deliciousness and focus, with an articulation of flavors that can seem at first cerebral until you’re ambushed delightedly by all that Meunier pumpernickel.  I both like it, and admire the virtues that underline it.

It isn’t “mainstream” and it also isn’t quirky. Its idiosyncrasy is that of the place it hails from – the little slice of the central Marne Valley, whose wines, at their best, happen to taste like this. You know (or ought to know): “terroir” does not equal weirdness.

The choice of glass is important here. A flûte coddles a small reduction for a few minutes, after which it shows the utmost calligraphy of chalk, while downplaying the Meunier fruit. The MacNeil “crisp and fresh” does the opposite; use it if you’re looking for rampant hedonism. Juhlin is the Solomonic judge in the middle.

I used the Juhlin by itself on the second-look. The Champagne is really something of a miracle, a duet of hedonism and articulation, and you can determine which facets to bring forward by your choice of glass. If you want a hoot, avoid the flûte, and if you want to kick ass, use a bigger glass.

I risk laboring the point, forgive me; but do we want to drink Champagne from a grower who is so certain of his own genius that he seeks to “reinvent” it, or would we rather drink Champagne from a mature grower who seeks only to show how a person can love this precious wine, and what that love can taste like?

I opened/tasted/drank the wine four times over four days, and all it did was improve.

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Gaston Chiquet Rosé Premier Cru

(45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Meunier; Assemblage: 89% white wine 2018, 11% red wine 2015 Village:  Hautvillers, Dizy, Mareuil sur Aÿ, Aÿ:  tirage of 15 to 18 months; deg 7/2020 with another in 11/2020.)

I can’t possibly explain why or how, but this wine always tastes like rhubarb to me. If you like rhubarb you’ll love it!  Nicolas finds griotte in it. As a merchant/selector I bypassed this wine for many years, finding it too slight (and not wanting to feed the rosé beast), but Nicolas gave it more heft at one point, and then I realized I had nothing with this combination of gauzy transparency yet powerfully identifiable character. It remains fresh and diaphanous but it has something of the angles of Heidi Schröck’s rosé, not to mention it tastes like something Deirdre Heekin might make at La Garagiste.

 

The flûte gives a silken definition, and the MacNeil is a riot of fruit and extroversion. Juhlin offers a compromise I don’t really like in this case. I’d taste it from the flûte but I’d DRINK it from the MacNeil.

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Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs d’Aÿ  Grand Cru

(This is – ulp – all 2015, deg. 10/2020)

I refer you again to my catalogue, which tells some of the history of this quintessentially farmer-fizz wine, the first-ever all-Chardonnay from the bastion of Pinot Noir that is Aÿ.

 

My first impression is that ’15 is in its proper place. It’s showing as “atypically herbal” but not annoyingly grassy, though the palate is more “expressive” than the aroma. Considering the wine’s customary warmed-straw character, this ’15 is an outlier. I’ll defer judgment pending retasting, but this vintage doesn’t tend to moderate with time.

 

On the following day it was much the same. I am aware the growers think I’m far too fastidious about these “green” flavors, and sometimes I see their point – and sometimes I don’t. All I can do is to tell you, I find a flavor in this vintage I feel is alien to Champagne – or should be – and like the ladybug-infested vintage of 2011, this is no ones fault, but I think you need to know that the flavor is there, and then you can decide. 

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Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs d’Aÿ, 2009, Grand Cru         + 

(10 years of tirage; deg. 11/2020)

 

This is the first release of mature Blanc d’Aÿ in (750ml) bottle that I’m aware of. It’s still available in Magnum, as it has been in the past. In effect a kind of “RD” of this wine. It starts out very toasty; it has less dosage than an earlier disgorgement (a common practice in Champagne, where most producers assume the longer the tirage the less RS the wine “needs.” I’m agnostic on this issue; it seems to often be true but not invariably.)

 

Even with six months post-disgorgement this wine needs time to settle into the glass. It seems to offer every grain possible in a just-barely roasted form. That is its warm generosity, because there isn’t really “fruit” to speak of – but we don’t need to go to Champagne in search of fruit as-such. This wine is cordial and unstinting from all three glasses, like a fresh-woven straw hat left in the sun all day.

 

And yet! It shows one of the signature flavors of Aÿ: blueberries. Malt may soon check in. The wine grows more sinuous as is sits. This wine holds on to its riddles. 

 

Or it did for two days, after which it started to taste like an aspect of the Special Club, richly satisfying without landing on any particular fruit association. I found it to be an admirable and fulfilling Champagne.

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Gaston Chiquet Cuvée de Réserve, 1er Cru         glug-glug, and   +

(40% Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir; 93% 2013, 7% 2009;  Hautvillers, Dizy, Mareuil sur Aÿ, Aÿ deg 10/2020)

This began its conceptual life as an homage to Nicolas’ grandfather, by producing a Champagne as he would have made it, roughly one-third of each variety, and longer aging than is feasible these days. An ancillary idea was to offer tertiary flavors at more affordable prices. I don’t know if this has worked, commercially, but I offered the wine when I could.

 

I’da jumped on this one! It’s really superb, and reminds us of how lamentably immature so many NV Bruts are when first released. The wine is a sunburst of color and savory flavors; brioche, saffron, the greatest apple on earth – the “Cox’s Orange Pippin” – and more than a few nuances of mirabelle and lemon balm. Yet it doesn’t taste antique, it is more modern than burnished, it hasn’t weathered into verdigris; it is properly articulate, but what it’s saying is “Let’s have another dozen croissants!” 

 

I caught myself swallowing, and stopped in the nick of time. It’s that kind of wine. It also somehow started to taste fresher as day followed day, confounding my expectations. Perhaps those brioche-honey-butter aromas are not as inextricably connected to oxidation as we suppose? I need to learn more about the Maillard Reaction.

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Gaston Chiquet “Or Premier Cru,” 2010                                        ++

( 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay from Hautvillers, Dizy, Mareuil sur Aÿ.: Pinot Noir - Mareuil: 30% Charmont and 30% Mutry; Chardonnay - Hautvillers: 7% Colombier - Dizy: 33% Le Haut de Souschienne. Deg 1/2020)

 

Again Nicolas offers a far more mature wine as his Millésime than nearly any other grower and many other merchants. I still have a few bottles of his wonderful 2008 in the cellar. This wine has always been a unique expression of Pinot Noir, and this ’10 is thoroughly lovely. It is a master class in terroir, and a MASTER CLASS IN THE PROPER DOSAGE. 

 

One can ask whether such an individual wine is really what we go to Champagne for, and the only possible response is, we need to widen our reasons for going to Champagne, to encompass a wine this stately, this particular, this delicious.

 

There is an aspect of Pinot Noir that is, let’s say, the opposite of beef. Maybe it’s blueberries, I don’t know. It’s something cool and hidden; it’s shy but when it comes out it’s all melody. This wine and the rosés from Vilmart are the only ones I know that do this ether-of-Burgundy thing, like they awoke an incipient florality from Burgundy and made it into a gleaming ghost.

 

I’ll make a statement – silly me! This wine isn’t always the “best” wine Nicolas Chiquet makes. That is more often the Club. Similarly, the Cuvée Réserve is a “better” wine than the basic “Tradition” NV. But the two wines that answer the question “Why Chiquet?” are that one and this one. And look, I’m just like you, I want to be pleased, and if a wine doesn’t please me I don’t care what its other virtues may be. But assuming a baseline of being-pleased, then I start to think about what is being said. And what I’m hearing now is, “This is something about Pinot Noir that you probably didn’t know.”

It was no surprise to see it dance with our Copper River Sockeye.

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Gaston Chiquet Special Club, 2013                                         ++

(62% Chardonnay, 38% Pinot Noir; 38% Pinot Noir from Dizy 1er Cru (Griboury), 52% Chardonnay from Dizy 1er Cru (30% Cerisières, 22% Crohaut Guillemoinel), 10% Chardonnay Aÿ Grand Cru (Frère & Martin) deg 11/2020 

 

You may not remember a time when Clos de Goisses was unknown and therefore also vaguely affordable – but I do. I even got to drink it semi regularly, but of course those days are gone baby gone. Still, I have a sense-memory of that supernal Champagne, and I have always thought that Chiquet Club showed most of its virtues in a less monumental form. As this one does.

 

It’s superb Champagne by any sane reckoning. It’s an exegesis of chalk, it tastes magnificent from all three glasses I poured it into, and compared to the Millésime it is more buoyant, more obviously complex, more classy, and more convincing that we need to think about 2013. This vintage can be slippery-good. Whispery-good.

 

But Nicolas’ Club has always been anti-varietal, almost anti-analysis if all you want is to identify the puzzle pieces and put them together. The wine won’t let you. It is simply Platonic chalk yet in a form that isn’t forbidding or pedagogical. It is instead a curious sort of elegance. And in this instance, a ceaseless stream of the most ravishing Champagne bliss you could ever imagine.