Champagne Gaston Chiquet
Gaston Chiquet “Tradition” Premier Cru, Brut N.V. ++
Deg. 6/2022. This is usually about 40% Meunier, and it’s a portrait of the variety from this sub-section of the Marne Valley. Meunier has several “types,” from the rye-cracker (Aubry and Dehours) to the sorghum-and-pumpernickel (here especially and also to some degree at Moussé) and when it’s treated respectfully it gives forthrightly lovely results.
This cuvée is not only impeccable; when the contributing vintages are ripe it is exceptionally fine. It shows more varietality from the smaller Juhlin and more down-the-middle chalkiness from the original (and larger) one, but either way it is nearly all of the things we have any right to demand from an NV-Brut.
Nicolas Chiquet was the first grower I visited when I was seriously prospecting for (what would be) my Champagne portfolio. That was 27 years ago, and it makes me indecently happy to say that this wine has improved steadily without changing its basic nature. It’s more mature now, at least when market conditions allow Nicolas to release it when he thinks it’s ready. If you’re reading my Chiquet text for the first time, what this wine gives you is a very high common denominator of precision, detail and sensuality.
Believe me, this is uncommon, perhaps even extraordinary. Those three elements tend to cancel one another out, but here they play nice, and none of them prevails. Dosage is calibrated ideally. The wine can age, and should.
Antonio Galloni recently wrote that the good-guy bad-guy dyad of grower versus negoçiant was dated now, and he is largely correct. With that in mind, I profess my respect for the Brut Imperial from Moët & Chandon, because to make a wine that good in that quantity is a testament to what is possible with industrial craftsmanship. And with that said, Chiquet’s NV Brut is what you wish the big guy’s wine could possibly taste like. Have them côte-a-côte some time – you’ll see.
The second time through, the wine is a little less suave and a lot more chalky. That’s fine with me; I like it both ways. I’m also aware we have sudden-onset summer outside today – two days ago it was in the high 60s and today we have low 90s, which may be why the wine’s more brash and salty. Silly as it may sound, I believe in somatic ambience because it influences both ourselves and the wines we taste.
Gaston Chiquet Cuvée de Réserve, Brut N.V. +
Deg 4/2022. Its origin is as a tribute to Nicolas’ grandfather, a wine as he would have made it, one third of each variety and with six years or longer on the lees. (In fact it is 40-35-25 PM/CH/PN, and 5 years on the lees today.) It has morphed somewhat over time, and when there wasn’t enough juice to produce it the wine was “suspended,” to the point that Nicolas wondered aloud whether he should discontinue it. I am very glad he didn’t.
This doesn’t seek to be polished. In fact the basic NV is more refined. But what you have here are the stirrings of tertiary flavors, and this is rare in an “NV.” Brioche, mandarin, saffron, these are available directly from the bottle without you needing to spend a fortune or age a wine for years in your cellar.
This is earthy compared to the basic NV. Its Pinot Noir component is aging faster than the Chard (no surprise) and the Meunier (big surprise), resulting in a pleasing rusticity. Yet my own experience is the wine becomes more compact and intricate with a few years on the cork, and while I cannot explain this, I have often been taken aback by the counterintuitive development.
This particular disgorgement is a survey of the orange family, satsumas, a hint of bergamot, a whole lot of the “honey-mushroom” type, alongside nuances of chestnut and even cassis, and an entire platter of toasted brioche. The little Juhlin 2.0 is such a perfect glass for this wine, they should really get a room. Indeed the wine blossoms in both glasses, and once it shakes away the sleepys it is seriously lovely.
It’s also a convincing lesson on the proper use of dosage, which does everything to elevate this wine toward beauty and deliciousness and animation, and which will be deemed excessive by persons unable to wriggle free of the zeitgeist and its distorted tastes. Someone like, I don’t know, me, will delight in the wine’s perfectly dry finish.
It finds a pleasant sumptuousness the second time I taste it, and I am seriously tempted to drink it with the first fresh wild Copper River Sockeye of the season, which I just brought home today.
Gaston Chiquet Rosé Premier Cru Brut, N.V.
Deg 5/2022. The color is darker than before, total cranberry now. People who live in MASS know from cranberry, even if they don’t enjoy them. (I sometimes wonder that anyone enjoys them, oh horror…)
For a long time I resisted this wine, finding it too assertively rose-hippy and vegetal. Apropos of which, this particular wine is influenced by one of the “green” vintages, which adds a curious note to the already available funk. I doubt if it’s ’15, so it has to be ’20, and is (sadly) another argument for approaching this year with great caution.
Nicolas won’t be surprised; he knows I dislike the “green” vintages, but with all the regard and affection in the world, there’s no denying that this wine’s a dud.
Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs D’Aÿ, Grand Cru, Brut, N.V. +
Deg 7/2022. Usually in fact a single vintage (and the magnum releases are vintage dated), and while a wine like this is commonplace now, when I first saw it in 1996 it was highly radical – an all-Chardonnay wine from the grand terroir for Pinot Noir. He gave it to me to taste blind, and I said it “made me think of an ethereal Bollinger whose mid-section had been removed.”
As I write, I don’t know the vintage(s) here – I’ll tell you as soon as he tells me – but my guess is ’18, and conceivably ’19. In any case, ripe, and in any case, outstanding. I know this wine very well, and this is among the best editions of it I have ever tasted. It’s bread-y and markedly mineral, rather on the dry side, racy and zingy, with an exquisite saltiness. It’s exactly the perfect aperitif Nicolas claims it to be, and yet there is more to it, and after all these years it remains beautifully strange to taste the malt and blueberry of Aÿ abstracted from Pinot Noir.
I discussion could be had regarding the dosage here, but I wouldn’t insist on more, except to say it would add a useful nuance and contribute to the wine’s longevity. But with the wine’s ripeness and tensile strength, I respect Nicolas’ preference for a certain vigor.
Gaston Chiquet Or Premier Cru 2016 Brut ++
Deg 12/2021 – the winery is already into the 2018 vintage.
Clearly the estate’s great wine is its Special Club. That is obvious. And yet, this is probably the wine I love most – for two reasons. One, it is a gesture of Pinot Noir with no equivalent I have ever tasted in Champagne, and two, it’s a ridiculous value.
Sometimes a wine is so good it almost pisses me off to write about it. Like now. Can I just tell you it smells like irises and quetsch? Is it okay if I describe its lovely equipoise of vigor and fruit, clarity and seductiveness?
It’s not 100% PN but it may as well be, as it has the most polished reek of PN you could ever fathom. It’s cool, detailed, and delicious, and in effect it is a Champagne that is all fruit, but rather than being “fruity” it offers the sweetness of perfectly roasted red beets. And then there’s the sweetly herbal flavor that shows up in those twenty shimmering seconds of finish right after you….swallow (which I wish I could!) or spit (which, alas, I must).
This is superb Champagne, which could only have come from a grower and which is a radical acting within classical perimeters. It’s both fascinating and drinky. It is also a miracle of conciliation between force and class, between directness and nuance.
What a wine.
Gaston Chiquet Special Club, 2014 Brut ++
Deg 4/2022. In recent years Nicolas’ Club wines have been more and more remarkable. He might say it began with 2008, but I’d argue for 2009 – though ’08 is probably the greater wine. 2009 had a tendency, at its worst, to be clunky, but Chiquet’s was deft and generous and while it appeared a little ungainly after the laser-light show of ’08, I saw the stirrings of a new degree of polish.
2014 isn’t much discussed. The ones I’ve had have been hard to encapsulate. They seem to have what they need of everything while not thrusting any single thing to our urgent attention.
This is riper and earthier than the ’13. Pinot Noir shows more, notwithstanding its mere 35%. The wine is more adamant, and feels like it has either lower pH or higher acidity. (My sample is colder, because the bottle won’t fit into any of my devices for keeping bottles cold, grrrrr…) You have “exquisite” ones and you have “expressive” ones, and this ’14 entails a kind of force. Indeed it’s like a finer version of the ’09.
If I were still “the Importer” I’d be quick to suggest a vertical tasting of Chiquet Clubs going back as far as possible, because this would demolish the boneheaded assumption that these wines are somehow fuddy-duddy geezer wines. I see the wines as shining examples of superb, un-fussy beauty, albeit this ’14 is a fist of flavor.
Both times I’ve tasted it right after the ’16 Millésime, and I wonder if this has prompted me to a certain obtuseness, because that ’16 is a hard act to follow. This wine is, clearly, more refined, more intricate, and more elegant, more blatantly chalky. The question of whether I happen to “like” it more doesn’t really apply. I’m more emotional over the ’16 and more pensive over this one, and if there’s a contest between knowing and feeling, it comes to a draw.
While I don’t read my earlier notes I do fear repeating them. Some things I remember; I know I’ve described this wine as “anti-varietal” and also like “a miniature Clos de Goisses.” I wouldn’t shrink from those comments but you don’t need to read them again. I am not a birder, but I think of Chiquet Champagnes with much of the same rare pleasure as when I think about living in a world of birds.
There are all kinds of ways to be in the world with wines. One way, and it is quite vivid here, is to realize when a wine, or a winery, has become your friend. You don’t have a crush on it any more; you aren’t examining it and wondering at its virtues or beauties, or both. You’re just friends. It comforts you, reassures you, and makes you want to help and to offer yourself. When I arrive at the threshold of these wines I always feel welcomed. To the extent I retain a conscious thought, it would be I do love your company.