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Champagne Vilmart & Cie

Tasting Year

It has been a lovely seven days tasting and sampling these wines in many and varied ways. Indeed it’s an opportunity I never really had; to do a deep dive into Vilmart, and for nearly a week I tasted/drank very little else. The estate remains a benchmark among growers, even as they continue to plot a course that is nearly theirs alone. If you’re a fan, (and why wouldn’t you be?) here’s what to expect from the wines on the market now.

If you didn't read the Blog entry introducing these wines - then you should, I think it will help you appreciate these notes even more.



Grand Reserve, Brut, NV.

Disg. 10/2019, 70-30 PN/CH, 30-year vines, 10 months in foudres.

The entry to the range wasn’t usually my choice, as I tended to feel the jump to the Grand Cellier was greater in quality than in price. I offered this as a special exclusive for selected buyers.

Then the wine improved.

As a juicy and Pinot-driven Champagne it’s atypical for Laurent Champs’ wines. Even with two years on the cork it’s youthfully aggressive. Based on 2018 (usually 50%) with reserve wines from 16/17, the dosage is integrated perfectly. As it is such a juice-bomb I’m liking it best from a relatively wide flûte; in effect it doesn’t “need” the Juhlin. Regardless of glass, the length is impressive.

The faint-praise is mostly to do with a lack of synch between me and the wine. That is, I have my “vision” of Vilmart and this stands outside it. Also, my sense of Rilly’s terroir seems to be associated with Chardonnay. As a non-vintage brut the wine is perfectly good but not especially good, and if Vilmart is anything, they are at the very least….especially good.

Laurent won’t be surprised to read this. His is a tolerant nature, it would appear, and we have agreed to differ about this bottling. Finally, it really is best from a flûte; a compact sort of sheath is good for it. 

One can appreciate a certain PN smokiness, but that emerges more “nobly” in the Rosés.



Grand Cellier, Brut NV                                                                   +

Disg 12/2018, flips the varietal proportions to 70/30 CH/PN, 30-year vines, 10 months in foudre. Base vintage is 2017, with 50% being 16/15, so a year older now. FWIW this cork didn’t expand upon opening.

Okay, now this smells like Vilmart. And really, it is a new and wonderful world.

It’s a persuasively delicious mélange of mineral, florality and exotics, with the littlest hint of langoustine sweetness from the casks. Compact, sleek and focused, it has the ethereal glide of fine Champagne, the sense of hovering just above gravity even while it bestows a world of flavors to you. And all that with a silken grace that seems to glaze your palate.

I happen to love this almost sub-aural music, into which I fall in a way that makes it hard for me to finish tasting notes that begin “I taste…” or “I’m getting…”  I mean, what I’m getting is Tilda Swinton minus the edge of creepiness. I’m getting whiteness, white teas, white flowers, and yet there’s also a swell of passion fruit in the center of it all. Laurent’s own notes refer to grapefruit, but he must be eating way better grapefruit than I’ve ever encountered.

I think a wine like this makes us more graceful. We walk to the tasting table but we dance away from it.

Grand Cellier was often a wine that, when young, seemed not quite aligned, as if its pieces were cut improperly and didn’t quite fit together. Time brought about the fondue, the melting together of elements into a gracious and tasty entirety. The new era of this cuvée, with its two years on the cork, starts to show what the wine is capable of. Even so, if you can stand to wait another 3-5 years for it, you’ll get twice the quality you paid for.

An aerial Champagne with minerality and a gingery grip. I love it.

I love it less from the flûte, where a celeriac note emerges (probably from the 2015), but this is an essence-in-miniature of this marvelous grower.


Grand Cellier Brut NV                                                                    ++

This is fun. My friend Diana brought this bottle over; it’s a 01/2017 disgorgement, and it’s on the way to being the gorgeous Champagne that bottle-aged GC always are.

Fragrance is little attenuated, as (too) many wines are that go through the vagaries of trade channels – but the palate is rocking good. Dried peach and orange blossom lead into the starting surmise of tertiary sweetness, a mass of salts, a euphoria of sweet hay, a swooning length; honestly it approaches the Coeur de Cuvée in the pleasure it delivers. Like a farm butter freshly churned, slowly melted with a few flecks of Meyer lemon rind sprinkled in. The yielding into the finish is enormously seductive and delicious, stretching upward even as it glides downward.

Sure, the palate shows all kinds of ginger, lemon grass, apple, but that jazz is less compelling than the sheer integration of elements leading to this bright and affectionate loveliness. And all you have to do, dear reader, is buy some and wait a few years.


Granc Cellier d’Or 2016                                                                 ++

Disg. 7/2020, 80/20 CH/PN, 50-year vines, 10 months in barrique.

When ’16 entered the NV blends I was ga-ga over it, but the….let’s call it “interruption” of my professional activities prevented me from tasting many of the vintage-wines from that year.

The at-first reticent fragrance slowly opens to the quince and plum I expected, and then to the complex “mineral” vanilla one often tastes with Vilmart. Wood is more prominent now, but not obtrusively so. The wine seems much drier but actually isn’t; Laurent has never been puritanical about dosage, bless him.

It’s less a question of greater intensity vis-à-vis the foregoing; it’s more a basic alteration of personality. This is more consciously serious. And two other firsts; this is the first wine with a tangible link to white Burgundy, and also the first to really shine in the MacNeil Fresh & Crisp. It’s grippier and more cerebral from Juhlin.

I find it a glorious Champagne, albeit one must allow for (well integrated) oak flavors, which have to do with the rather lean bodies of the ‘16s. It’s a transparent vintage, and this wine shows both dark-bread crustiness and mirabelle jelly – tasting from a flûte could make one wonder whether a mirabelle eau-de-vie was involved – and in any case the wine suggests a compelling arc of development ahead.

Finally it has the limpidity of a calm cold pond, where the reflection of each leaf is outlined in the water as if it were etched there. It’s a wine for introverts, interior and delicate but also fervently expressive in its own quiet way.


Coeur de Cuvée 2013                                                                   ++

Disg. 12/2020, 80/20 CH/PN, only the free-run juice with the first and last few hundred liters removed, 60-year vines, 10 months in barrique.

Usually an icon of Champagne, albeit one with a particularity that says “grower.”

This is complex to a point of adamance. Again, ’13, being a delicate sort of being, lets the oak show more than usual, but the whole register is an octave lower, and the volume’s turned up markedly. The first impression is of old-vines Puligny, the apricot notes, but also the grip and saltiness. It seems to be one of the more earthbound vintages of this wine – not a criticism, just an observation – and it feels more infantile than usual.

But there’s a smoky power playing here, and a compelling explicitness. A strong, lingering wine, even though much of what lingers – at least today – is wood. Again, and to my great surprise, the wine is best in the flûte, which suppresses the oak and places the vinosity in the center. Just use the least narrow flûte you can find. And bear in mind, the narrower the glass the more minerality expressed, so be sure that’s what you desire from this very high-energy wine.


Coeur de Cuvée 2012                                                                  +++

Disg. 03/2019, same varietal proportions and wood aging as above.

This feels like a great (if muscular) vintage of CdC. They can’t all be ethereal! Whew…I surrender; this is great Champagne. Especially from the flûte, damn it – now I have to reconsider much of what I thought I “knew.”

All the pieces are seamlessly assembled. The strength of the cuvée allies with the strength of the vintage; the wood is more subsumed, the wine is a glorious hot mess of saltiness and spices, and while you may not be elevated into mystic orbit, you’re actually pretty bloody happy to remain on this ground.

The finish is like the fragrance of someone baking a cake, while on the palate an improbably bright solidity grips you and won’t let go. I would be extremely greedy if I were you, when the Magnum of this wine is released.

I confess I am amazed. ’13 is more my type of vintage, but this ’12 needs a certain homage, to its balance, its power, and its grand harmonies.


2012 Blanc de Blancs Les Blanches Voies

Disg 03/2017, 60-year vines, 10 months in barriques.

A new-ish program of a highly limited BdB, introduced with the  really outstanding vintage 2009.

The proper tasting sequence would be to taste this between the Grand Cellier d’Or and the Coeur de Cuvée. It’s drier than either, and there’s a certain palate-recoil from the feeling of a dosage deficit. An untrue feeling, but you know, just sayin’.

What I’m feeling is a study-in-Chardonnay, a kind of absorption I tend to appreciate. The wine is by far the leesiest in the range, which does all manner of good. We have lees, mineral, and a chalky brightness. It isn’t just the extracted upper register of Coeur de Cuvée; it justifies its unique existence. The low dosage confers a certain earnestness one likes or does not.  We have higher tones, an herbal element (unusual for Vilmart), a blatant chalkiness, and…a certain imbalance?

I do like the scents of really fresh oyster mushrooms, but I like less the phenolic touch – though this could be a palate thing from having tasted all these wines in a row.

I’ll jiggle the sequence tomorrow when I retaste, and we’ll see. I may even put this first.

I did put it first. Tasting tabula rasa, the leesy fluff persists, along with a certain force that was obscured yesterday. I still find this an atypical wine for Laurent, which I think he scooped out from the Grand Cellier d’Or in order to make a BdB again (he did it years ago when I first worked with him)….but you know? I think this has a below-threshhold cork, the kind you get a micro-flash of on the mid palate. It would explain the sense of suppression of fruit. So, finally, hmmmmm.


Cuvée Rubis                                                                                   +

The basic Rosé, disg. 10/2019, 90/10 PN/CH, 30-year vines, 10 months in foudre, base vintage 2018, reserve wines 17/16. The cork expands dramatically; the most so far.


Always one of Champagne’s most attractive expressions of Pinot Noir, this wine can offer a gossamer lightness with a  decidedly expressive parfait of PN. I’ve often written such fancies as “an ether of Chambolle” when tasting this remarkable Rosé. I’d write it again now.

What do you respond first to? The ultra-refined fruit, the succulent generosity that never feels heavy, the ludicrous deliciousness? The wood, by the way, is invisible here, except as a surmise of vinosity and echo, that chestnutty burning-leaf thing we think of with Burgundy.

I’m fascinated with a flash of association; this reminds me of Carline Diel’s gorgeous Rosé, as though the two wines were separated at birth. Freshness, class, substance, it’s a rose less of rhubarb or earthiness than of a sort of celestial tomato, or even tomato-water – any chefs reading? You know what I mean…

For me one of Champagne’s most distinctive and precious Rosés.

I tasted it four times over three days, finally from a combo of my wide-ish flûte and the MacNeil Fresh & Crisp, which is designed, among other things, for Champagne. I wanted both to suppress the fruit and to highlight it. Finally, I tasted the three rosés by themselves, as I’d started wondering whether my having placed them at the end of a flight-of-9 was truly fair to them. And sure enough, this time was different.

It’s obvious to put the rosé at the end; that’s how they do it in Champagne, and it makes sensual sense. But if an “issue” arises it’s because of what happens to a palate after hyper-tasting seven wines beforehand. I’m also an in-deep sort of taster, taking 4-5 sips of every wine – so by the time I reached the rosés I’d had 25 or so mouthsful of fizz.

I’m glad I did this! It’s a dignified wine with fruit from the narrow glass, and a rampantly fruity wine with dignity from the MacNeil. The same components, differently arranged. It’s still delicate, as this wine goes, but the overtones of vinosity are more vivid today. And with this clarity, we might well ask: How is it even possible to have a pink Champagne with this much fruit yet this much delicacy, this much complexity with this much limpidity? In its un-showy way, I think this is rosé royalty in Champagne.


“Emotion” 2013 (Rosé)                                                                ++

Disg 04/2020, 60/40 PN/CH, 60-year vines, Saignée method, ten months in barrique.

It used to be called “Grand Cellier Rubis” and was as scarce as 4-leaf clovers. I like “Emotion,” and I like even more that y’all can actually find it if you look around a little.

It is at its frequent best one of the most seriously gorgeous Rosés in all of Champagne. It has power, fruit-“sweetness”, endless echo on the finish, the dream-feeling of Vilmart at their best, and with this ’13 the seamless blending of mid-tones (especially savory tones of butter dough and puff pastry and phyllo) with high tones (rhubarb and plum-blossom) and higher tones of tomatoes and herbs, all with the obdurate grip of the best cuvées – and this from ’13!

I’m noticing my (unusual) brevity. I’m sure it’s a quality I’d do well to cultivate. But I think I was word-weary, so best to approach it fresh and thirsty. So, tasting #4….and the wine has the implosive qualities of many Grand Celliers, not only depth, but obscure and esoteric depth. Except! From MacNeil’s (wider) glass, it’s orgastically vivid and generous, albeit it will certainly keep unfurling. It’s more intense and concentrated than the “basic” Rubis; you could imagine a Burgundy grower saying “It’s the bleed-off from our Bonnes Mares, so we could give the Grand Cru even more concentration…”

If you’re lucky enough to find this, please keep it for two years, and you’ll own an incomparable beauty.


“Emotion” 2012 (Rosé)                                                             +

Disg.  01/2018, 60/40 PN/CH, 45-year vines, 10 months in “pieces” (and I’m not sure how these differ from foudres)

2012 being a grand vintage for PN, I’m not alarmed to encounter a  lavish PN aroma….deep, almost powerful, ethereal like certain Burgundies. It’s more of-a-piece than the ’13, but what a piece!

The vinous mass is translucent, almost (but not quite) opaque, so that you taste “vinosity” more than any of the elements that contribute to it.  From the MacNeil it smells like the freshest possible early-season wild Sockeye salmon. The narrower the vessel the fruitier the tones.

We’re into cranberry and rhubarb now, with more brute force than the more articulate ’13. I’d reach for it in a more distracting environment, out to dinner or even entertaining friends at home; it will hold its own with cooking smells and conversation. It would be fascinating to have this as a prelude to a bottle of Burgundy, two octaves of the same chord.



Vilmart & Cie “Grand Réserve” Brut Premier Cru, N.V.

Deg. Dec 2022, and as always 70-30 PN-CH. His website shows a majority 2020 base, with (typically) 30% reserve wines from 2018/19, but it does not ID a particular disgorgement.

The “basic” NV has been improving in recent years. The fragrances are comely, fruit-driven, and inviting, with Pinot Noir expressing its smoky side. The palate shows a symmetrical pivot between plumpness and lift.

Minerality isn’t the point here; nor is the wine made to be “racy.” When it works, as it almost does here, it offers a creamy and generous texture and a balance of fruit, earth, and dosage. (Laurent Champs is no puritan where dosage is concerned, in case you’d forgotten.)


It's at the very end where a little scrape of coarseness arrives. This is less prominent than it used to be, but I think it’s inherent to the cuvée in some basic way. In a platonically perfect world this would have another two grams per liter of RS and another 2-3 years on the lees, but we do not live in that world.

Yet what we see in this world is appealing, especially when the wine’s in the glass for ten minutes, and even more when I taste it outdoors (dry, sunny, about 43º). It’s the outlier in the Vilmart range, but as a study in PN, you can easily see the dialogue of fruits, herbs and that “artichoke” thing PN sometimes shows.


Vilmart & Cie “Grand Cellier” Premier Cru Brut, N.V.

Deg January 2023

For me the “true” entry to Vilmart. It’s a very fresh disgorgement by their standards, especially if it actually is based on 2020 (as per the website), but there are many things to observe happily.

It’s still ten months in large casks, yet the whole business of “oak” is really nowhere to be seen here, except as a little sleeve of nuance from the smaller Juhlin stem (the one I call his “2.0”).

For all its class and richness, this wine is vigorous, chattery and jumpy. Considering its “animated” approach it is remarkably poised and balanced for a young Grand Cellier. If you’re new to Vilmart – in which case you have a lot to look forward to – this cuvée used to be one of a host of impressive pieces that weren’t fitted terribly well together until the wine had 4-5 years on the cork. Considering this wine’s youthful brashness, it actually delivers a harmonious whole.

I’m guessing the reserve wines (from two warm vintages) provide the adumbrated and almost syrupy richness on the mid palate, a striking umami that offers a delicious counterpoint of vim and richness.

The cork was shrunken on the bottom, which might have favored the development of those rich tertiary notes, but I’d much rather give Champs the benefit of the doubt and rejoice in the twitchy yet refined energy of this young but promising Grand Cellier. It’s especially yummy from the smaller Juhlin.


Vilmart & Cie “Grand Cellier” Oenothèke T-15                              ++

A late-release consisting of a 2014 base with reserve wines from ’12-’13, deg Feb. 2017 and aged four years in bottle. 900 bottles were made.

Laurent knew of my opinion that his Grand Cellier needed several years post-disgorgement to knit into the wine we knew it could be. (He knew it because I’m Mr Blabby-pants, but maybe others made similar observations? I’m sure I’m not responsible for this excellent development, but y’know, you’re welcome….)

A zillion years ago I read in some wine book somewhere that if you cellared your NV Champagne for five-or-so years, you’d obtain “at least twice the wine you paid for.” The truth of that assertion is on gaudy and gorgeous display here, in this fabulous bottle of Champagne as-it-should-be. In fact when you taste it you may well wonder “What’s the point of making all these “top” cuvées when you can get this from the “regular” one with a few years on the cork?”

Because this is simply beautiful wine! And it makes a number of… let’s call them observations….that we do well to consider. One is the amazing benefit of time on the cork for Champagne, and possibly for most sparkling wines. Another is the expression of “perfection” without recourse to exceptional material; that is, ancient vines or special selection or anything that ostensibly elevates a wine beyond the estate’s prevailing norm.

To be clear, I love Champagne from particular material, whether vintage or vine age or terroir, where you can easily taste the results in the glass, all the “extra” flavor you paid “extra” money for. But here is at least a plausible surmise of those elements in a “normal” setting, and we’re reminded that wines can be superb by their quality of flavor alone. They/we do not require “intensity,” which is not the same as rejecting intensity, but is a useful notice to taste the taste and not the degree of the taste.

Meanwhile, here it is a couple weeks from Christmas, and I have a Champagne that tastes like the best gingerbread I could ever imagine. What a multitude of gifts live within these 900 bottles of wisdom and bliss.


Vilmart & Cie “Grand Cellier D’Or” 2018 Premier Cru                    +

Deg July 2022, 80-20 CH-PN, 50-year old vines. In the interim the estate has moved in to a 2019, but this is what’s available to me.

It has that pan-2018 aroma that’s beginning to emerge throughout northern Europe (as I smelled in Ziereisen’s Pinot Noirs just last week) and which I quite like.

A long-time fave of mine, this one is almost a non-Champagne Champagne, coming on the heels of the archetypal bottle-aged Grand Cellier. For whatever reason, we’re replete in mirabelles here, a whole basket of nearly overripe ones that sit in a sunny corner and perfume your entire kitchen.


The wine is absurdly delicious, and also a blatant example of what I’ll call “the wisdom of dosage,” because you absolutely could not obtain the hypnotically beautiful salty finish without such a perfectly judged and poised dosage.

But that’s “politics.” 

I’ve written rapturously about Laurent Champ’s wines many times over the years. I do not disavow a single scintilla of feeling and if my prose was maladroit or mawkish, well I ain’t perfect. But this wine seems to subdue the impulse toward description. I’ll meet you at jasmine-and-mirabelle, but beyond that I’m finding the wine expresses a seamless grace in its own skin that asks me to write less and love more.

I have a lucid dream of a few friends sitting around a bottle of this, the kinds of friends who like to talk about a wine, but when this Champagne is tasted all they can do is nod affirmatively to one another – yup, here it is, no discussion needed – it’s All This.


Vilmrt & Cie “Coeur de Cuvée 2015 Premier Cru                          ++

Deg March 2022, as always 80-20 CH-PN, very old vines, only free-run juice used, with the first and last portions removed, thus the “heart” of the cuvée.

I am wary of the 2015s, and approach this wine with an attitude of “what will this be?”

It is, in some ways, a typically “green” 2015, and also a typically lush Coeur de Cuvée, and one of those things has to prevail and in this case it’s the wine, so much so that the grassiness of ’15 becomes a pleasant nuance in an otherwise classic vintage of this iconic Champagne. I am delighted and surprised, and reassured.

Having tasted this wine in every vintage since 1990, it has, with a single exception (2011, with its insurmountable problems) been a triumph – even the difficult 2005 was viable. I’ve loved it best in the “little” years –  ’97, ’01, ’07, ’10 – when it added a crack-the-whip of stinging intensity to its prevailing concentration. But the great years were regal and commanding and gorgeous, and so this is a true ideal of Champagne, an exemplar of the thing at its most uniquely beautiful.

It bears mentioning, again, that “oak” as-such is no longer a prominent element of discussion for Vilmart. It’s there, in among the panoply of materials from which these wines are fashioned, but at this point a micro-focus on wood is no more pertinent than a micro-focus on dosage.

The smaller Juhlin glass just adores this wine. Quince, ginger, sea-salt caramel, toasted brioche, chanterelles, fresh-churned butter…and all with a sensible degree of intensity. How lovely to reside in the world that contains this wine, and the man who presents it to us.


Vilmart & Cie Blanc de Blancs 2013 Les Blanches Voies             +++

Deg April 2021; the second vintage of this wine (as far as I know), from 60-year old vines from this single parcel.

A jumble of impressions, in no particular order….one cognate for this masterpiece may be the Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Millenaires….I am partial to ’13, yet that doesn’t matter….it’s less blatantly great than its predecessor (2012) but it’s got the sinews of a long distance runner….it’s the “French toast” of your dreams in liquid form….the degree of chalky refinement here is off the charts….the wine only seems “light” at the beginning, because it ambushes you with a stunning richness and intensity at the end….

…and finally it appears that the shape of a wine is as important as its discrete flavors, because it’s the contour and the arrangement of energy that makes this wine dance and soar. The flavors are amazing but we’ve tasted them before. (Chiquet’s Blanc d’Aÿ comes to mind). What’s amazing here is the gingery precision, the forward-rushing momentum of diction, the very meticulous 2013-ness of fruit….

Yet it is Champagne of a special nature, thrilling but not (yet) seductive, complex but not (yet) transfixing, and while I deeply approve of it – of wines like it in general – I do wonder how much of its potential I’m seeing today.

I’ll tell you tomorrow!

Ha! It wasn’t much. This is simply great wine, the best Champagne I’ve tasted in several years.


Vilmart & Cie “Emotion” 2015

Deg Feb 2022, 40-60 CH-PN, and only in small print on the back label does this indicate that it is, in fact, a Rosé

It smells like ’15 and like serious Pinot Noir (in its ethereal Champagne voice) and its inscrutable Champagne-ness. 2015 is registering brusquely at the moment. I am also spoiled by what I’ve been tasting.

(Has any taster ever done that in print? Or must we all affect this simulacrum of perfect professional accuracy whereby “my palate is always 100% amazing regardless of the circumstances, ergo 94 points…” Right now my palate is pretty good and I’m allowing for its distorted condition, but I’m not the receiver to which the transmitter of this wine is broadcasting, so when I taste again, as I will, I’ll taste this wine first.)

I did that, and also had a glass with dinner, where I wondered if food would file away the rough edges. It didn’t, actually, and so this wine, usually so compelling, is rather an enigma at the moment.

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