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Champagne Varnier-Fannière

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Varnier Fannière Grand Gru, Brut Zero, N.V.

Deg June 27, 2023, Avize-Oger-Cramant. 

A little spiky from disgorgement (but hey, at least I’m up to date for once…), but behind that is her customarily precise aroma and graphite sharpness – a sharpness that’s leavened with surprising warm depth. The grassiness of the ’20 vintage is nowhere to be seen. And like last year, I like this and am surprised how much.

I’ll seek to learn whether this is the same assemblage as the regular Brut. I’ll be surprised if so, because lurking somewhere in these severe chalky depths is a mid-palate suggestive of greater age or older vines or something that greets you with a genial note.

I often question why a wine like this is needed, and having so often done that, I won’t do it again here. (Last year’s Varnier report goes into detail on the matter.) Clearly there’s a demand, clearly the demand is one I find deeply suspect, and clearly when a wine is as nice as this one is, one is reassured that anyone could prevail over the limitation of the genre, (which I call “sourpuss wines.”)

The etching of terroir flavors is filigree and deft, and the wine will soften with more time on the cork, and that will be good for it. But respect where it is due; it’s not easy to make a tasty “zero” Champagne, and Valérie has done so – again.

Second tasting, two days later – there’s a swell of richness that was hidden behind the disgorgement trauma, and the wine is admirably expressive in the particular key in which it happens to play. It much prefers the larger Juhlin and is actually a good argument for the “serve Champagnes in white-wine glasses” school of thought.

It's naked if you like it and stark if you don’t.

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Varnier Fannière “Cuvée Jean Fannière,” Origine, Extra Brut, N.V.

Deg. Feb 22, 2023, from the site “Clos du Grand Père” which straddles Avize and Oger.

In the old days the Cuvée St Denis came from this site, until a fan-leaf virus required many of the vines to be pulled out. Nice to see it again!

There’s a side of Avize that’s doughier than others – perhaps proximity to Oger brings this about. Some of Agrapart’s wines show it. This one shows it, and it also shows the “influence” of 2020. To refresh your memory, this vintage showed the grassiness we recall from 2015, and opinions will diverge about the results. Tasters insensitive to pyrazine won’t discern it, and tasters who enjoy pyrazine but find it an alien flavor in Champagne will be nonplussed. I’m one of them.

It's on the discreet side in this otherwise attractive wine. You could say it has the “sharply herbal notes of some Cramants” except there’s no Cramant in it. The herbaciousness belongs to the vintage, and it struggles to ascend atop the rich veins of resin and graphite lurking just out of view.

Some drinkers will find it charming! I also think there’s a seriously good Champagne waiting in the wings, as augured by an excellent finish. But you have to baby it along at the moment. If you own it, I suggest indulging a tolerance for a circumspect grassiness, and then waiting another year to drink it. But if you do drink it now, pay heed to that remarkable finish, which is both a paradigm of “minerality” and also of the particular expressions of the Côte des Blancs.

The finish is the predictor of a wine. It’s never played me false. It’s why I made up the proverb “The aroma is the overture, but the finish is the truth.” And this Champagne improved dramatically in the glass. Even the grassiness transmogrified into a fetching herbality I found myself almost craving. That said, give it time, if for no other reason than to remove the scraping phenolics of freshly disgorged fizz.

My next look, again after two days, is a more extreme version of my first impression. The good elements are extremely good, and I’d like to see them prevail, and I don’t know if they will. The smaller Juhlin 2.0 presents a highly polished rendition of its mineral-saturated fruit. As a “taster” I can’t predict how its internal strife might resolve, but as a drinker I’d easily forget all that and enjoy the really excellent features of this potentially thrilling Champagne. 

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Varnier Fannière Grand Cru Brut, N.V.

Same disgorgement date as the zero. 

 

It’s more turbulent, as there’s sweetness to integrate. It’s the same level as the wine has always been, and I’m really glad she didn’t change it. Again, I refer you to last year’s report for a passionate argument for dosage in general and this dosage in particular. Here I’ll just observe that every argument in favor of German Riesling feinherb applies again here.

What you taste conveys an image “It was precisely intended thus.” Or so, obviously, it registers with me. Mind you, I’ll defend my taste, but it’s also just “my taste.”

This is going to be entirely marvelous NV Champagne, when it calms down. When one uses the word cidery it too often denotes either bruised-apple or annoying “farmy” aldehydes, but I’d use it here to refer to a lovely explication of the spicy varieties of heirloom apple. But again, this needs time to become seamless. 

I know well what this will be, and what that is is a wine I have always loved and approved of. Today it is brash. A year or two from today, it will be irresistible.

With a second sampling, and in contrast to its “brother” Brut Zero, this remains blustery and screechy. If you own it, hang on to it; you’ll be glad you did.

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Varnier Fannière Cuvée St. Denis, Brut N.V.

Disg (again) June 26, 2023, all Avize (and I’ll try to learn the sites). 

We have the ’20 grassies to contend with again. 

And I have to say this: Vintage variation is one thing, and this is not that thing. We understand that some vintages are great, some are good, and some are just okay. We like it that way! This, though is different; what we see now is that some vintages are true and some are false, and this, I think, is not acceptable.

But I’m frustrated that one of my perennial favorite Champagnes is suffering under a problem that ought to have been solved by now.

Let’s allow for post-disgorgement tantrums. Most of these wines have blossomed in the glass. The being that is Cuvée S-D is visible, if faintly, beneath the concussion of disgorgement, but he’s wearing a hideous green suit that no one would look good in.

It’s better in the smaller “2.0” Juhlin glass, only because it shows more fruit. But I’m sorry – I’m torn. Maybe subsequent tastings will encourage me, but I doubt it. What’s so irritating is that this is no one’s fault because it is everyone’s fault. Writers ignore it so we can keep getting samples and merchants ignore it so they can keep getting allocations (and maintain market share), but at some point we have to dig in our heels, because this will not do. 

We sipped a glass in the kitchen during prep. It was delicious and intensely frustrating. You can see into what this wine might be, and that is what it has always been – a magnificent Grand Cru from the Côte des Blancs. But you have to pierce through that membrane of grassiness to get there. You can, you shouldn’t have to, and there are rewards on the far side.

What I hope will happen is the wine’s nearly titanic minerality and its tightly bound profundity of fruit will in time surpass the herbal notes. But what are the chances? I can’t say – I can only hope.

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Varnier Fannière “Grand Vintage” 2014, Brut                              ++

Disg. On Valentine’s Day 2023. This wine blew me away at the domain in May 2022.

 

Now, among other impressions, I’m just relieved that it smells like it should.

This is a fabulously sophisticated Champagne. It’s also wonderfully indistinct, in the manner of the 14 Côte des Blancs, and to a lesser extent the whole of Champagne. It’s signature, if you will, is to have no signature, except perhaps for its feverish minerality. This wine is a quivering gorgeous shudder of Chardonnay depth; if you really dig around in it you’ll find flavors a bit more mature than you expected – I wouldn’t urge you to keep it for ten years – but you’ll also find an expression so vehemently chalky, so ardently un-fruity, that all you can do is laugh; it’s like some weird Finnish bread made out of birch bark.

Seriously, how many developments in the world of wine have been better than to enjoy the existence of Champagnes with an almost deranged fidelity to the most obscure depths of terroir?

But to be perfectly fair, when this was opened a third time (having been tasted once and sipped once) a small reduction was apparent. This isn’t unusual inn Champagne, but what’s interesting is that oxygen should “heal” it, not reveal it.

So pop it and drink it empty! Trust me, that won’t be hard to do.

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Varnier Fannière Rosé Brut, N.V.                                                        +

Disg July 3rd 2023, 94% CH (Avize, Cramant) and 6% PN (Ambonnay) 

 

So, a classic CdB Chardonnay-based Rosé, harkening back to a time when this white-wine region thought “We’d better make Rosé too, since everyone wants it.” One could snicker, except that one tastes (many of) the results, and one is persuaded – here is an ethereal gesture of Rosé that we might not have known could exist.

Is it beautiful, or is it just infinitely pretty? Does it matter? The wine is like one of those bisquits de Reims you see throughout the region, as if you’d dipped one into a chalk mixture or eaten it with a meringue du crayères, if such a thing existed. The wine is slight, or “evanescent” if you prefer – it has no great length – but while it’s on the palate it’s the most fetching thing you could imagine.

How? In this case the pieces add up literally. The special PN fruit of Ambonnay is front-and-center but it rides over a crackly spine of minerality as though it were inescapable, becoming more and more grippy and leaving this fruit-driven wine with a chalk-driven finish. Meanwhile you have a flavor that’s like chewing lilacs. How encouraging it is to see the beauty of these wines under Valèrie’s guidance, once we get out from under the “20 thing.”

Later tastings did nothing to change my mind.

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