Champagne Pierre Gimonnet
It’s a sizable estate, as growers go – 28 hectares at last count – and the assortment of bottlings can seem to sprawl. I’ll try to organize it for you.
There are the non-vintage cuvées, consisting of the following:
A “regular” NV Brut from Cuis. It’s also available in halves and magnums but those assemblages are different from the 750ml.
An NV Extra Brut, also not the same assemblage as the Brut.
Another NV Brut called Belles Années, which is a little more mature (and also a little less complex) than the regular NV Brut
A mono-communal bottling from Oger.
Then we have the vintage-dated wines, to be distinguished from the official Millésime. These consist of:
A lower-pressure wine called Cuvée Gastronome.
A zero-dosage wine, often available in several vintages at a time.
A wine called Paradoxe, with red grapes in the blend.
The standard Millésime, which is called Fleuron. It is available in its current vintage and also in a library release – these are 2014 and 2006, respectively.
Finally the Special Club(s) and Magnums, which currently consist of:
Special Club Chouilly 2014
Special Club Cramant 2014
Special Club Oger 2015
Special Club 2014
MAGNUMS are currently a Cuis NV Brut, and a trio of so-called “Millésime de Collection, Vielle Vignes de Chardonnay,” consisting of 2008, 2009 and 2006
There’s a lot of wine, and it will be three days before I’ve opened them all, during which time I’ll also be retasting the ones already opened.
I had the joy of tasting with Deborah Hansen on the first day. We studied the wines quite calmly together. I’ll refer to a few of her observations, and I encourage you to read our conversation posted here.
Once again I direct you to my last catalogue (2019), available from this site, for details about the man and the estate. I consider him one of the titans of the Côte des Blancs, and among them he is the great classicist. Yet he is also full of surprises of late.
One of his sons has been working at the estate for a year and a half, and he appears to have prompted his Dad to make no fewer than three Coteaux Champenoise from the great 2020 vintage. They’re all from Cramant parcels, two of them done in barrel and one in stainless steel. And this is alongside five Special Clubs. I say this not only to “report the news” but also to indicate that even a classicist can be curious, can be open to experimentation, within the margins of that which is SENSIBLE.
Champagne Gimonnet is successful. So much so, that if there is a common “issue” with the wines it is that they are shipped very soon after disgorgement to feed a robust demand. Whenever I’ve drunk bottles of Gimonnet with sufficient time on the cork, I’ve found them not only different but also markedly better, as if the fresh disgorgements are colicky newborns and then a couple years later they’re happy giggling toddlers. One doesn’t really “know” Gimonnet by tasting the brash young wines.
A lot of this year’s group were 2014s. I never really got a grip on that vintage, other than to infer it would have been good if Chablis and Côte d’Or Chardonnays were any sort of guide, as sometimes they are. I reached out to Peter Liem for elucidation, and Peter said:
“I've been a big fan of 2014 for at least a couple of years now. It's a vintage that passed largely under the radar, falling in between the magnificence of 2012 and 2013 and the weirdness of 2015 and 2016, and I felt that nobody paid much attention to it for a while (including me). Even when asking winemakers about the growing season or the harvest, some would struggle to remember anything defining or significant about it, simply calling it "normal". But the wines just get better and better. Maybe chardonnay has an edge, I don't know. The black grapes are really good too.”
I’d written to Peter…. I love their minerality and sedateness and this kind of introverted articulacy whereby there’s not a ton of fruit but there’s a ton of all the other flavors, in a yielding texture and a lapidary transparency.
And Peter replied:
“ I like the idea of sedateness and introverted articulacy. I think that's apt. I've always felt like it's somehow pointed downward, towards the earth—not flawed earthy like 2005 or 2011, but earth as an element, deriving its power and character from earth forces, as Nicolas Joly might put it, rather than, say, 2004 which seems to me to be elementally of air in its litheness and lift. So far, the trio of '12, '13 and '14 is my favorite that I've ever seen (I liked '88 and '89 but strongly dislike '90), and I love that the three are so different in character while each is so compelling in its own way. And like 2014 Chablis, the wines are delicious now yet they seem like they'll have a lot more to say in the future as well.”
Didier Gimonnet himself has these thoughts about 2014: “2014 is an incredible vintage. I am in love with this vintage because it is exactly what I expect for my wines. It is not a specific minerality.
It is simply the balance we expect . No exuberant wines, but as you always told me ... « I prefer harmony and balance to intensity and concentration ». 2014 is like this, means it is a question of TEXTURE: nuances and salinity …. Sometimes, I am thinking I prefer 2014 to 2012....”
Maybe it’s exactly that non-specific minerality that makes ’14 so satisfying. It is certainly well-spoken and cordial, and rich in all the things other than hedonism.
And with those lovely thoughts to guide me, into the breach I go.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils “Oenophile” non-dosé 2014
Tirage April 2015, deg. 12/2020. This is “showing” very well, and seems to indicate a certain generosity is available among the 2014s . The wine has some of the same elements as Glavier’s Hakamaiah, the discretion of “fruit” as-such in favor of chalk, straw, crust and mineral. And chalk chalk chalk! A markedly successful edition of this wine, with a really fine finish, utterly streamlined but neither stark nor austere, with the angular seductiveness of a perfect meringue.
On day-2 with the mousse a little more sedate, the wine is quite a Gimonnet paradigm, lemon and straw and sea-spray. I’m not a lover of non-dosé but Gimonnet is one of the very few who always seems to get it right. And all it does is improve, day to day, so in the unlikely event you don’t finish it upon opening, your appalling moderation will be rewarded.
Didier reveals a secret. “About the Œnophile brut nature 2014... what I like is that you cannot detect there is no dosage....
And I can imagine why you like it... in fact it is not the ‘Fleuron’ with no dosage , but the ‘Gastronome’ with no dosage. Incroyable!”
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils “Oenophile” non-dosé 2015
(deg. 12/2020) Look, I’m on record as having a massive angry bee in my bonnet over Champagne with aggressive grassiness. 2015 was that kind of vintage, and so I dislike it. From a narrow flûte this wine is acceptable, and it may well broaden and mellow with a year on the cork, and if you’re less persnickety about this grassy thing (bearing in mind it would be hard to be more persnickety than I am) you might find “herbal” what I find pyrazine-y; you might note aromas of pea-vine or mizuna and even soursop, and you’re within your rights to think I’m just a pill.
Didier himself insists the vintage is perfectly okay if you harvested late enough to avoid the “green core” (my phrase, not his) that afflicted most of the wines. I STAND BY WHAT I WRITE, and I also repeat that I might well be oversensitive, and that you should consider that possibility.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils “Oenophile” non-dosé 2008
(Deg 1/2021, RS (without dosage) is 1.5 g/l. Purple-lilac aromas as part of a secondary symphony, ’08 exposed, one could say. Though there are fields-and-forests of flavor here, it is also more naked than the ’14. The MacNeil mitigates this somewhat but also presents a sour finish the Juhlin suppressed. These components are more fascinating than the ‘14’s, but there’s a certain strife in play also. ’08 with its acidity is making some demands. Follow this guy.
I think two things are apparent. One is that non-dosé Champagnes have a shorter shelf-life – this one is tasting like it’s on the down-slope – and the other is that 2008 is a vintage whose entire story is yet to be told, and when it finally is I think it will surprise us. I say that because I liked earlier disgorgements of this wine, and I don’t like this one. The acids are kinda frantic and the fruit is kinda tired. Time on the cork may benefit this irritable critter
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Brut Extra N.V.
2015-base, deg 12/2019, dosage 4, and this one is a misfire, between the vintage’s grassiness and the inadequate RS, but the estate can be forgiven for making a cash-flow wine. Deborah Hansen, with whom as you know I’m tasting, doesn’t taste the pyrazine at all, and she’s a tasters who both receives and loves it. “Gypsum and petrichor” she says. Dear reader, let’s just establish that she’s the one you should believe!
On day-2 the grassy note has retreated to an almost agreeable nuance, and the wine shows the pleasant asperity of sorrel. It’s not my preferred idiom but it avoids being shrill, and I respect it more than I did yesterday.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Brut Extra N.V.
(now 2016-base, reserve wines back to ’12, deg. 12/2020) Oh I do like 2016. The moment it entered the NV blends it improved them. The vintage wines should be lovely. And this wine is lovely too, on entry and much of the way through the palate, and it’s only at the end that the finish is clipped by the dearth of RS. It’s much better from a wider glass; the MacNeil “crisp and fresh” is ideal.
That mirabelle fruit is seriously charming. The length is impressive, as is the tertiary note of iron. This succeeds in a difficult genre.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Cuis 1er Cru Brut, N.V. +(+)
Majority 2017, deg 12/2020, and immediately that ripe almost exotic fragrance of ’17 shows. It’s a Gimonnet classic, jasmine and brine and lemon balm, racy (due to fresh disgorging); this will become more sedate over time, but in any case this is also a master class in the value of the proper dosage.
Just look at the technicolor finish! It’s almost ludicrous to obtain this quality at the basic NV level.
And it’ll spoil you from the MacNeil glass.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Cuis 1er Cru Brut, N.V. MAGNUM ++
(A different blend, 2016 back to 2012, deg. 9/2020)
It has the cerebral approach of the immature magnum, yet it clearly offers another kind of complexity than the bottle. If the bottle is driven by leaf the magnum is driven by steel. In the fullness of time the magnum overtakes the bottle, not by a little but by a lot – but how many of us give them the “fullness of time” these magnums demand?
That said, this wine is…nascent, incipient; it isn’t encased in a carapace of iron, it isshowing itself, and I think it’s about two years from its peak. Yet even today it’s a formidably complex glass of Champagne, and a real Statement of the potentials of Cuis. Plus you will bamboozle your bubblehead friends when you pour it blind for them; “What Tête de Cuvée is this?” they will ask, and you can summon up every bit of smugness you usually need to quash, and tell them “Nope, it’s just a normal NV Brut from a good grower. A really good grower…”
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Seléction Belles Années, N.V.
(50% 2017, the balance is every vintage back to 2010 with the largest proportion being ’14. Deg. 9/2020)
This is in effect an NV of the Cuvée Gastronome (which is between disgorgements and wasn’t included among the samples), which means two things, lower pressure (4.5) and some Grand Cru in the assemblage. It’s always tasted more “ready” than the regular NV, with more of the brioche/saffron/malt flavors than its more aerial sibling. There’s a lot of charm here, in a relatively mainstream, approachable style.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Oger Grand Cru +
(2018 dominant, deg 7/2020 which means a very short tirage)
Okay, so – Oger. Smoky, leathery, more “tans and russets and browns” and fewer “silvers and greens and whites” than the Cuis/Cramant/Chouilly neighborhood. Despite its immaturity it works – and works wonderfully. If Gimonnet in general makes you think of walking into the bakery at 4am and smelling all the yeasts and doughs, then the Oger is like walking into that bakery at 7:15am and most of the breads are done or nearly done, because the doors will open in fifteen minutes and the place better smell gorgeous.
On day-2 it’s like a liquid puff pastry. There won’t be a day-3, cuz’ I’m taking this guy to the dinner table tonight. I was truly sad to see the end of this bottle!
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils “Fleuron” 2014 +(+)
(This is the regular Millésime, named “Flagship”; deg 12/2020, it is the first vintage since 2004 to have no fruit from Oger)
I looked over Didier’s info-doc for this, and the man has buried such a gem of wine wisdom I want to make it more conspicuous. If you love wine, please memorize this: “A great wine is a balance between structure, fruit, elegance and finesse, freshness and minerality.” Note the absence of such terms as “Intensity, power, strength, concentration,” all those words that tell you how much instead of what flavour.
Considering the linear silky language of Champagne Gimonnet as a whole, the Fleuron cuvée is relatively robust. It wears its vineyard boots. I like it best in the cerebral vintages, but I always like it. This is the first wine to really crave more time post-disgorgement, but the quality of the fruit is such that there’s danger in underrating it. Yet it’s another key now, more brown-bread and honey-mushrooms and 5-spice. If Gimonnet in general is silvery, white and green, this wine is russet, Satsuma, not exactly intense but adamant.
But – patience!
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils “Fleuron” 2006 glug-glug-glug and +
(deg 1/2015, held back in bottle, currently on the market)
You have to like a year like 2006. It was relatively “simple” and quick to mature, yet it has a strange staying power at least among the Chardonnays. This wine lets you into the sanctum of mature Champagne ambience without having to wait 40-50 years.
And it’s just a wonderful thing to drink, right now. Like a gelato of satsumas with bubbles. MacNeil’s glass was almost too much for it so I switched back to a flûte, and got to lust over all that cornbread and honey and purring availability. It’s the open-armed embrace of greeting, from a friend you know will make you laugh and laugh before the night is over.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Special Club, Chouilly Grand Cru 2014 ++
(entirely the lieu-dit Mont Aigu, vines planted in 1951 and 1991, deg. 7/2020)
This great believer in the blending art, that the whole of a blend exceeds the sum of its parts, couldn’t help being curious about what-if…? Thus we have mono-communal (and in this case mono-vineyard-site) Special Clubs, “The exceptions that prove the rule, “ as our hero explains.
As a rule I think Chouilly is among the “lesser” Grand Crus, but if there’s great terroir to be found in this commune, it’s in the Mont Aigu lieu-dit. If Cramant is a stirringly intricate mosaic of green, Chouilly is like sweet spring turnips, haricot verts, shiso. You can see its place in the chorus, even as this wine is compellingly expressive and forthright. And it’s good we get to taste it. I don’t find this a “complete” wine so much as a fascinating element and a statement of significant individuality, of self-ness.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Special Club, Oger Grand Cru 2015
I’m a little bit wary on approach; 2015 and all. And I confess it still bothers me. Here’s where a narrow glass does good; my flûte brings out the jasmine and white flower and suppresses the grassiness. (Deborah wrote “tarragon,” which is reasonable, if one wishes to taste that in Champagne….) This is big, concentrated wine, in a sort of mortal combat with the vintage, and at least on this occasion, it’s a draw. With another look two days later I see no reason to change my mind.
I also have to ask whether a vintage like this one is played false by the modern Zeitgeist for ever-drier Champagnes. This one has 4 g/l of dosage, typical for Didier’s Club, and while it would have been truly strange to bottle it with, I don’t know, 7 or even 8 grams, I wonder if it would have taken what is raspingly grassy now, and made it charming in an exotic herbal manner. Yes of course, if the sky fell we’d all catch sparrows, but I think this is a question worth posing.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Special Club Cramant Grand Cru, 2014 +++
Oh wow, this is a beautiful aroma! Should you ever wonder “what’s the big deal about Cramant?” this wine has an answer for you. It has the linear articulacy of Riesling – of outstanding Riesling – as though there was Clos Ste. Hûne in Champagne, somehow. A sylvan, forest-bathing complexity carried on a stream of fluid bliss. No desire is left unfulfilled, and I don’t know how young Blanc de Blancs improves on this.
Didier himself feels that Cramant is one of the (very) few communes in Champagne whose wines can stand alone, adding….” this unique expression (of a village) is a question of Texture. Cramant is delicate, silky and creamy... so deep and complex and in the same time easy to drink.... You are true : archetype.”
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Special Club 2014 +++
An icon wine of the Côte des Blancs, always. This is more inferential and enveloping compared to the more sizzly linear Cramant. More “vinous” one could say. It’s another kind of meaning; one directs itself at you and the other encases and surrounds you. When you get just-overripe mirabelle plums, the kind you have to baby in your hand to keep from crushing them…like that. This wonderful marmalade quality persists into the first finish, which then does a peacock’s tail broadening into even fuller complexity – but then does something even cooler and yields to a whole that’s not only more than the sum of its parts – it runs away from the sum of its parts! It makes camp across a border. Sometimes, with wine, it’s not about the pieces any more, but the thing that emerges from them, and what that thing is, cannot be named, explained or depicted. It’s just a way we can melt into gratefulness.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils, Millésime de Collection 2009 Vielle Vignes de Chardonnay MAGNUM +
(the Club blend from ’09, deg 1/2021)
A brilliant wine in the making; very recent disgorgement is splashing icy waters over it. A grownup wine, showing what I’ve always thought ’09 would do, slim down, show its chalk, all in a matrix of seamless acid-balance – unlike the sexy-pants 2008s, which can assert their acids in challenging ways. I love ’08, but I’m upending the conventional wisdom to say, drink ‘08s while you wait for the ‘09s, which are the classic slow-and-steady-wins-the-race group of Champagnes.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils, Millésime de Collection 2006 Vielle Vignes de Chardonnay MAGNUM
It feels somewhat metallic, the way cooked bottles can feel. The broader glass accelerates the shedding of that note to let the fruit emerge. Not that there’s very much fruit in this particular bottle; Deborah (correctly) says shiitake, cardamom, earthy elements. I don’t think this is an honest showing for a wine I’ve tasted several times before. I’ll revisit, but we’ll see…
Two days later, I’m feeling that this wine is attenuated in some way. I’m certain it isn’t cooked, but mildly cooked wine tastes like this. But another part of me thinks, I’m not catching this on the way down, but actually on the way up, because I’m receiving a truly crazed signal of something like a splash of Chablis and a splash of Arbois Savignin in the same glass. There’s no “fruit” to speak of, just allspice and baies rose and this completely weird vetiver note, as though it were an RD from Gobelsburg – which by the way is a compliment!
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Millésime de Collection 2008, Vielle Vignes de Chardonnay MAGNUM
(deg 1/2020, it’s the same assemblage as the Special Club but vinified exclusively in magnum.)
Alert readers will have sensed a note of skepticism in my view of 2008. Let me explain. It is clearly an outstanding vintage, with loads of truly superb wines, and its final truth is yet to be told. Of course that is true of any collection of wines that can age for decades, and it is true here.
I’m not exactly skeptical, but I’m hedging my bets. Wine people are wont to get excited by young vintages with a lot of action, mojo, dynamism, vigor, and often these elements are driven by acidity – and we like acidity. I was as blissed out as anyone, tasting these wines on first release. Later I started to question; should we really be waiting for these wines, or are they as lovely as they’ll ever be right now, in their youth? Because in my experience, acid-driven vintages often age poorly, even when they seem to have enough concentration. How many so-called great vintages must we withstand – 1990, 1996 as dramatic examples – before we challenge the hypothesis that high acidity confers a long life? Those vintages aged into an unseemly chasm of chaos, with still-steely acids on one side and decadent expiring fruit on the other – not every wine but too damn many of them – and yet we risk repeating the error because we keep chasing the axiom of acid.
I have the 2008 Gimonnet Club in the cellar, and when I open a bottle I am richly fulfilled, and certain that I needn’t be disappointed that it might have gotten even better. That said, if the vintage has a chance at the greatness predicted for it, a Gimonnet Club magnum would seem to be exhibit-A. So – opened and poured, and……turbulent and compelling and in a tantrum of disequilibrium and starting to issue a savagely beautiful yawp in the glass, and it is clear that it’s an importantwine, and for me it’s a coin-toss whether it will become a great wine.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils “Rosé de Blancs” N.V. glug-glug-glug and +
(Based on 2018, deg 12/2020, 95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Noir from Cumières, I surmise from Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy…)
Clearly the idea here is to offer a rosé for people for whom rosé can be too rich or too vinous. Gauzy. And this ridiculously tasty wine succeeds completely, but not in the way its maker may have intended.
First there’s 2018 and its ripe fruit flavors. And then there’s Cumières, which perfumes the living hell out of this wine even with just 5% of the blend. Sleek it certainly is, but there’s nothing ethereal about the fruit! Indeed it shows how to have delicacy without the flavor wisping away at the first suggestion of breeze. There are miracles of searching complexity and miracles of deliciousness that doesn’t pander – complicated bliss versus simple bliss, one might say. And I’ll take my blisses as I find them, danke.