CHAMPAGNE RENE GEOFFROY – Aÿ
“Pureté,” Brut Nature, Premier Cru
Zero dosage, 50% 2016 and 50% perpetual reserve, all Meunier, deg. 3/2022.
In effect this is the Meunier that goes into the “Expression” cuvée, here in its naked form. As a sans-dosage skeptic, into the breach I go….
….and in this luckless genre, this wine is actually reasonably good. It’s starkly exposed at the very end, but what precedes it is toasty and generous in a pleasantly rural way, showing the warmth of Cumières, from which it hails. Incidentally, some cask aging, no malo – typical for the house.
Meunier can show a charming “sweet” profile, like sorghum or pumpernickel; (Chiquet, for example), or it can show a drier more toasty element, such as I’d find in Dehours and Aubry. It’s an attribute of certain Meuniers; in fact rye-bread toast is what I find most often, and it gets crackery in certain vintages, so you have one of those Kavli rye-crisps in liquid form – except you’re eating it plain. The wine shows a pleasant saltiness, and if it sounds like I’m damning with faint praise, I’d reply that this is a fine example of a genre that I’m not convinced should exist.
There is much to appreciate here, regardless of whether I happen to “like” it, and other tasters might well relish the vinosity and crunch.
“Expression,” Brut, Premier Cru N.V.
50-50 2017 and perpetual reserve started in 1970; it hails from Cumières and Hautvillers and uses all three of the main varieties, in ever-shifting proportions. Deg. 3/2022
The focus, quality of fruit and saltiness are impressive, and all are straining at the leash for more charm, delight, pleasure. It nearly gets there in the Juhlin 2.0 (the smaller one) because that glass is about fruit. The wine wants to split the difference between firmness and generosity, but I think a greater generosity would do no harm to the grip and focus here – rather the opposite.
That said, I know of tasters who found previous editions of this wine to be too extravagant. I don’t agree, but I can sympathize. A buxom wine wouldn’t be apropos for a domain that wishes (and deserves) to be taken seriously. But I tend not to think that way. I care less about what “point” a wine might be making than about how it tastes.
Yet as it sits in the glass(es) it grows quite noire, and as it does that it makes greater sense. You know, among all the wines I encounter, Champagne is perhaps the most fleeting from bottle to bottle. Jean Baptiste could easily have stood in his tasting room and thought This wine has such depth it doesn’t need to be hedonistic.
“Empreinte,” Millésime 2015, Extra Brut, Premier Cru, Blanc de Noirs
deg 3/2022, 100% PN, from three early ripening plots above Cumières (Barrements, Demoiselle, Houtrants), all Cuvée, no malo as always.
The green ’15 fragrance is present even in the ripest Pinot Noir. On the palate, though, it provides an odd sort of lift.
We’re not talking about ladybug nastiness, nor about the stingy underripeness of a year like 2010. This is like a note of yuzu hovering around the edges of otherwise typical PN. “Yuzu” and “Pinot Noir” are rarely exhaled in a single breath, yet this works in a quirky sort of way. I’ve seen tasting notes for PN that include terms like “herbs” and even “artichokes” and this lime/woodruff thing actually seems to affix to this Champagne in an unlikely way. Jazz players talk about the “good wrong note,” and that’s what’s happening here.
Yes, the dosage is overly abstemious, but this wine makes a case for its oddly compelling character, and I kind of love its lispy little self.
“Volupté,” Millésime 2014, Extra Brut, Premier Cru, Blanc de Blancs +
Deg. 1/2022 – the estate has moved on to the 2015, but I imagine this one’s on the Stateside market now.
The stated goal is to express Chardonnay from Cumières. Typically coming from three steep and especially chalky lieu dits, the wine has morphed from the “upscale” cuvée it was when I first tasted it, into an admirable gesture of CH from a terroir not usually associated with that variety.
The wine is fascinating, if only (bit not only) as a herald of terroir. It has elements of – odd as it sounds – seeds, teff and amaranth and einkorn and wheatberry. Chalk, obviously; chervil, less obviously. I doff my cap to a wine that might have been more delicious but wouldn’t have been as interesting – and this time one can appreciate the rather strict view of dosage. If you’re a student of Champagne, or if you’re just coming inside from a clammy schvitzy day, this will pick you right up.
If you like Chablis but have been tempted to fuss that “It’s too damn ripe these days,” this might be your wine.
Les Houtrants, complantés, Brut Nature, Premier Cru ++
If you don’t know this wine, you should. To my knowledge it’s the first true “Gemischte Satz” in Champagne; the site was co-planted with CH/PN/PM plus Arbanne and Petit Meslier back in 2004; it’s farmed biodynamically since 2018, sees no wood, is a coeur de cuvée, no malo, fining nor filtering,; it’s also a sponti, and during tirage it’s agrafé (under cork, not crown cap), and it went into bottle in 2014, consisting of vintages 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013.
Every time I’ve tasted this I’ve thought of the very best Swiss Chasselas – like one of the Dezelay Grand Crus – in sparkling form. If it refers to the Champagne paradigm in any way, it is only obliquely. I don’t suppose Jean Baptiste had any vision of what this thing would eventually taste like; he just wanted to find out. Is he surprised? Ask him!
It’s like a cream of barley, both incredibly sophisticated and also baby’s first solid food. It’s like refined walnut oil, the kind you get from the Perigord. The nutty depth is actually unfathomable. I don’t know how it tastes so solid and ancient. Whatever it is, however it happened, it is a great moment in wine. It made me think of a hypothetical Krug, as if it had never left the farm (so to speak) and seen the big city.
The residue in the empty glass smells like Montrachet!
THE VINTAGE SERIES
These are a range of vintages, each theoretically available in minute quantities except for the most recent (2010), where the volume is higher. They’re in effect the domain’s “RD” wines, and it is a privilege to taste them calmly at home without haste or distraction. I list them in the sequence I tasted them, which doesn’t appear logical, but actually is.
Does ‘5 survive? The vintage was marked by what we think was a geosmin infection, giving the (young) wines a rotten potato aroma that stuck around for a few years. (It almost cost me the rights to represent a key agency, who objected to my refusal to offer his ’05 vintage wine for fear it would diminish his reputation as well as mine.)
That aroma is present here, a small peep of what once was a noisy yelp, and while the wine is clearly both “acceptable” and quite good, you have to choose to ignore it. At this point ’05 smells like a Pinot Blanc that smells in turn like a piece of fish you should have eaten yesterday. But, this story isn’t finished being told….
The wine, from both glasses, grows less “moldy” and more sweetly fresh with oxygen (especially from the smaller stem), and I find my certitudes are teetering. A carrot-y richness is now present. A brioche-y sweetness comes on.
While you still have to look the other way, the wine gives you ever more reason to. Am I being too fussy? We shall see.
My second look is two days later, using the same two glasses (both of the Juhlins), and the low-tide aroma is stronger in the smaller glass – yet the flavors are less outré and actually not intolerable. Still, vintage-2005 was nobody’s finest hour in Champagne, and it’s rare to find a wine toward which you are drawn by the promise of pleasure.
Terre, Millésime 2006, Extra Brut Premier Cru
Deg 5/2021, and we have an embossed bottle (saying “2006” as does the cap.
The color is rich straw; any darker and it would be tawny. Apart from a few interesting Chardonnays, the vintages tended to be a big bland blob, as if everything had been made from Pinot Gris.
Yet again, our hero defies the odds, and has produced a juicy and fleshy wine that would have been “rich” with a higher dosage – which I’m glad it doesn’t have. As comfy as your favorite bathrobe, this is a consoling creature, with the bare beginnings of mature Champagne flavors. Saying that, I suspect this will lapse into oxidation before those esters have a chance to develop fully, but no one is making grand claims for a Pinot-based ’06.
In fact the grandest claim one can make is, this is a lavish kind of beast for this grower – who typically likes extremely firm and starchy Champagnes - that offers a right-this-minute sort of sensual pleasure, along lines of leather, bruised apricot and the noir of Cumières. If you have a narrow flûte, use it, to suppress the oxidative flavors – though I make too much of these.
Put it this way: This evening we’re going to cook up some local monkfish along with crispy diced pancetta and sautéed trumpet mushrooms, and this wine encapsulates those flavors and will wash them down quite joyfully.
Millesime 2004, Extra Brut ++
A favorite vintage. Most of it was mundane and best forgotten, but the tip of the pyramid were as thrilling as Champagne can be – and they’ve held up.
They always had a greeny tint, both in actual color and metaphorical fragrance, and here it is quite improbable, all the grilled beef of Cumières PN with a weird side of yuzu. In the smaller (2.0) Juhlin glass one could argue it is a masterpiece.
It’s also a rare example of a Geoffroy wine with no limit of energy but also no hint of asperity. Rampantly salty and brilliantly herbal (verbena, vetiver), it’s a wine to drink today, for its rapture of complexity and seemingly indefatigable vim. But why do I say that?
There is a corollary channel in the wine leading towards oxidation, at least in this disgorgement. It isn’t here yet, but it’s come into view over the horizon. As curious as I am to see what happens to all these buzzing limey sizzles, I have an intuition that these are the wine’s best days. I mean, can we demand more minerality than the larger Juhlin glass shows? More intricate tertiary fruit than the 2.0 presents? I know apex when I see it, or so I very much hope, and I think this is the Moment for our great beauty.
It’s also an object lesson in the proper judging of dosage. There is very little, but just the perfect amount, such that the wine tastes culminated and also as if it has no sugar at all.
Terre, Millésime 2009, Extra Brut, Premier Cru ++
I shall risk foolishness by repeating my decidedly minority opinion that, in the long run, 2009 will outstrip 2008. That in turn is because I trust fruit and balance more than I trust acidity and concentration. To put it another way, wines are like people; as they develop they undergo periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium, and those high-acid years we so adore (90, 96, 08) sometimes get stuck in their disequilibrium and don’t emerge. If indeed they do, then I must ask whether I’ll live long enough to see that day. On the other hand, vintages like 09 are the cooperative child, and when we encounter them we can make a fatal error. Just because they’re easy doesn’t mean they’re shallow. Just because they’re attractive doesn’t mean they can’t possibly have a brain in their heads. All things being equal, fruit is a better harbinger for long aging than acidity or any structural component.
This wine is elegant, refined, even tempered and classical. I do not believe it is “simple” compared to the 2008 I well remember (and very much admired); it is accommodating. It needn’t assert what a hot-shot it is. It is also the least “rustic” wine in the range of five. (“Rustic”, by the way, is not a pejorative term for me unless I explicitly make it so, e.g., rustic and dirty…) And if this wine is polite, let’s remember: Polite isn’t always stiff and silly; sometimes it’s thoughtful and considerate.
Blanc de Rosé, Rosé de Saignée, Premier Cru, Extra Brut, NV
Deg 10/2022, 50-50 CH/PN, all 2013
The guiding idea is to do a co-maceration of CH/PN and bleed the skins off from that. Jean Baptiste believes he is the first to have done this. I believe it is amazing to have a 2013 Rosé with 8 years of tirage (under cork, no less). I must add, though I am no longer in the mercantile arena, that it is very expensive. The current vintage is 2014, by the way.
I have liked and even loved earlier vintages of this, but I wish I liked this one more. For all its long tirage, it has emerged not creamy but astringent. It is too dry. It has a hint of napthaline. Possibly I am spoiled by the quality of the vintage wines I just tasted, but this has a year on the cork and ought to have made peace with its querulous components.
Still, there are murmurs of something emerging slowly from the glass(es), and while I won’t censor what I just wrote, I will append as the evidence compels.
I’m also aware that writing opinions, even (I hope) humane ones, makes me sound like some little tin god. I can’t imagine Jean Baptitse sitting (or standing) in his tasting lab, tasting exactly what I’m tasting here and now, and thinking “Yup, this is acceptable.” Rather, I see him tasting (from the Zalto Universals he prefers to use) and being satisfied. He could read this and think “I wonder what went wrong with that bottle Terry tasted…” I say this because, after twelve long-g-g minutes, the wine started to emerge from its snarling funk. That in itself is a problem for the consumer who’s paid the (significant!) price, and can be forgiven for asking why the wine doesn’t taste good until awhile after he’s poured it. (This situation was more, not less acute on day-2.)
But if we are patient, a lovely wine indeed is waiting for us. No more doubtful aromas – it smells like fresh roses. What do we make of this? What can we make of it? The “eventual” wine is superb, with a high-wire act between fruit and chalk, but must it take so long to get here? On the other hand, it answers the question What was he tasting when he approved the wine? Because clearly he was tasting this – what the wine revealed. Maybe I just had a weird-ass bottle. And next time I’ll pour it into a MacNeil Fresh & Crisp glass (which purports to be useful for sparkling wine).
And this I have done. This is still a wine I would describe as aphasic (in other words, confused), stumbling around trying to find the path. Just trying to form a sentence, really. It’s like a basket of ripe raspberries one of which, on the bottom, has rotted and you can’t not smell it. But then you find and toss the runty one and tumble the others into a bowl and put the bowl on a sunny ledge and then it smells divine.
Rosé de Saignée, Brut, Premier Cru
Deg 3/2022, all 2017
This is the current release, at least on the estate’s website. Without going into detail, it’s a lot drier than previous years have been. Zeitgeist, or the nature of ’17?
The wine has always been explosive. “Restaurant” wine: A blast of personality in a noisy room. Here, now, there’s a melding of fruit and funk – inherent funk, not the gout de lumière. As the funk fades the charred smoky PN emerges, with its rose hips and rhubarb and a not-displeasing feral note. This eventually retreats to give way to six baskets of blackberries.
I return to my ever-present question: What is this wine for? What does it intend to do? Here I find the affects of earnestness (viz low dosage) is at odds with the volley of fruit, but someone else could say “The volley of fruit is why it doesn’t require much dosage,” and then I could only wonder, yet again, at how the function of dosage remains so misunderstood.
Meanwhile, if you’ve ever cooked bacon, there’s a moment when the raw pieces start to blister over the heat, and the fragrance they release at precisely that point is the smokiness to be gleaned here.