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TASTING IN CHAMPAGNE, 2024


Sheesh! Did you know there are now 480 RM Champagne growers exporting to the Unites States? That’s a gain of 69 in just the last year. Read that again – four hundred eighty! And that doesn’t count the domaines which are technically negoçiants (because they buy more than 5% of their grapes, or more saliently, for tax reasons). There have to be another forty of those.


But so what? So this – when I made my first offering of farmer fizz in the Fall of 1997, there were only 33 growers selling wine over here. The market share was 0.62%. Now it is 6.2 (neat bit of symmetry, that).  Other market trends you may find interesting: Overall export volume of Champagne to the U.S. was down over 20% in 2023, which may be why everyone’s sitting on uncomfortable levels of inventory. The houses continue to dominate the market (87.7%). The long-anticipated collapse of the Rosé category has arrived, with a drop of 5.8% of market share.


The figures are less ominous than they seem. The volume of exports in fact returned to a sustainable level after being artificially inflated post-pandemic. The NV Brut category continued to dominate (73.4%), followed by Rosé and then, strikingly (at least to naïve little me) the “Prestige” cuvées with 7.7%. The in-between “Millésime” wines, which everyone has said since the beginning of time are the best values in Champagne, represent a pathetic 1.1% of exports to us. This does not portend well for humanity, at least the segment of humanity who buy Champagne.


Apropos of which, the levels of RS in Champagne across the board are falling, based again on consumer demand. This is generally assumed to be good, and sometimes it is. In general, it isn’t. The role of dosage continues to be misconstrued, and it’s far too facile to mount a polemic along drier-is-better lines. But this is funny; in the space of a single day I tasted three masterly zero-dosage wines, and my enthusiasms gave us all a chuckle.


Ah yes – I am just returned from Champagne. I went to see my friends. I had the great good fortune to travel with Peter Liem again. I tasted, but not like at home. I tasted like in the old days, and realized I was a little rusty at that particular skill, which entails tasting quickly, logging impressions before they have a decent chance to form, and simultaneously maintaining conversations. It shows in my notes, which are more basic – which may be welcomed by y’all.




We talked about the 2020 vintage (which is in most of the NV wines now) and about these recent grassy vintages overall. The newest explanation for the repetition of this unsolicited character is drought stress, which seems plausible and which I hope is true. Why? Because then it is nobody’s fault. No one acted in error. This was the fruit they had, and nothing could be done about it. That doesn’t make the wines any more inviting, unless you like Champagne that tastes like fizzy Sancerre, or if you are one of those people insensitive to pyrazine. The thing is ubiquitous; I tasted it in two negoç wines (Moët and Palmer) and generally among the growers.


If this matters at all to you, my advice is to check the disgorgement dates (with 2023 being most likely to “suffer” from the problem) and to be wary of NV Champagnes in general unless you know you’re in the clear. Put it this way; if I’m in a restaurant and they have a grower whose wines I like, I won’t order the NV unless I can inquire about it without making a pill of myself. I’ll drink something else.


Yet there’s a curious element to this 2020 problem. I noticed, not infrequently, that the aroma and flavor were clamorous upon pouring and in the first palate impression, but they often seemed to melt away in the middle and on the finish, leaving a “truer” impression of the actual nature of the wine. It’s not because I wanted to like them, and it’s definitely not because I need to find a way to “sell” them. I simply wished to be fair, and not be shut down by my irritable prejudice. Peter Liem was more skeptical. I need to taste the wines at home where I can leave the bottles open a few days and see how (or if) they change.


Herewith my picaresque adventures on the mousse route, in the order I made my visits.

 

I first went to LALLEMENT. It was fantastic at Lallement. They deserve to find an importer here, as the wines are better than 460 of the 480 RMs actually on the market. Often they were my subjective favorite in my portfolio, at least when the vintages favored them. I know of no other Champagnes – and I must repeat, no other – with such a common denominator of crystalline polish and terroir ferocity.


The basic NV (with the green label) is disgorged 6/27/23 is herbal and perfect, almost coniferous, less mead-like than usual (a typical note for Verzenay Chardonnay) and almost angular, but with crazy length. ++  The “Reserve” (with the blue label) is truly exotic (I wrote “udon and hoisin” of all things), with salty umami and deep vinosity. I’ve often favored the green label, but not this time.


To be fair, the Rosé didn’t wow me. All 2022, it’s too freshly disgorged, which bothered me less than the tic of reduction. But this was followed by a stunning new cuvée, a single-site (Les Perthois) Pinot Noir that is chewy, crusty and elegant; a superb portrait of Verzenay rouge. The production is homeopathic, and the next one will have been made in barrique (this one was in steel) which I think is ill-advised. I hope young Victor Lallement doesn’t hate me, because I shared this opinion somewhat forthrightly.

 

I had a little time and so I drove over to Villers-Marmery to see if anyone was at home at MARGAINE. I didn’t have an appointment but was welcomed as though I had. I was really, really touched, to show up out of the blue and be greeted as a friend. The wines were in my very first offering. Arnaud’s kind and capable daughter Mathilde,  now working alongside him, may not have been born yet.


As it happens, I hadn’t tasted the wines in at least four years. Though they haven’t changed in their basic nature I did notice (with pleasure) the absence of the astringency that would take hold after tasting six of seven of them. I was dehydrated with jet lag and still the wines were juicier than I recalled.


The Extra Brut (an old favorite of mine) is 100% 2020 (!) but amazingly does not suffer from it. Don’t even ask me why. Disg. 07/23 it is the very taste of this terroir, ice-floes of crayères, with verbena, Sencha and hyssop. The basic NV Brut (disg 10/23) is 40% 2021 with a perpetual reserve back to 2012, is agreeably angular, rippling and quivering, freesia and lemon rind and spearmint.


There’s a “Cuvée M” Le Caractére based on a perpetual reserve of 2002-2017, disgorged after five years of tirage and showing a lovely saffron-y maturity, like the crust of a perfect croissant, yet the texture is firmer then the flavors augur. I’m impressed. +


The Special Club is 2016 and I am starting to be ga-ga over this vintage, which can feint toward Chenin Blanc and is often a riot of mirabelles. This is a perfectly balanced wine with a counterpoint of richness and vim. I’d like to own a lot of it. ++


The usually fetching Rosé was disgorged 11/23 and still suffers from it. Base 2021, 76-24 CH/PN with partial malo; it needs only time.


If you visit, don’t be alarmed to see a peacock traipsing around the garden. This was a gift from a friend, but there doesn’t seem to be a pea-hen, which could make for a kinda lonely bird.


 

Then I visited my dear old friend Nicolas CHIQUET. It is always a balm to see Nicolas. One can relax with him.


The regular NV “Tradition” base 2019) deg 10/23 dos. 4g (“which I don’t like but the pH was really high in ’19”) so it’s a bit out-of-the-family, but the wine is on the money, with marked length; the lower RS shows the red-grape profile; generous and articulate. It’s a worthy adjustment to a particular condition, and while neither of us seeks to lower dosage, I’m more impressed with Nicolas’ flexibility and pragmatism.


The Blanc d’Aÿ  is disg 10/23, all 2020 and reeks of it, but like several ‘20s it sheds some of this on the palate, oddly. It’s as if it travels tangibly from green to tan to brown. I was less persuaded by the Rosé,  21-base, deg 5/23, 12% red wine (incl. a little purchased PN from Bouzy); a disjointed wine on several levels – but again, confusingly, the finish is fine and proper.


 

The Cuvée Resérve is still 14-based, deg 10/22, same as last encounter; it’s the Tradition 14-based, just longer tirage. Like Vilmart’s bottle-aged Grand Cellier GC, this is what happens – brioche, saffron, every cliché in the book. +. The Vintage 2018, disg 3/23,  is firm and adamant, 50-50 PN/CH, seems drier than its analysis, but otherwise in-the-family, if a more assertive and less seductive member; super complex finish. +


Club 15, deg 5/23, 6g RS, and it’s 2015, alas. One only hopes time will “heal” it, but I have doubts. I shall console myself with the splendid ’13 and ’14.  But check this out:


Club 2004, deg 2/12, being sold this year (!!!), echoes of the green hyssop flavors remain, astride lovely late-stage oxidative notes (mushroom, sweet poultry stock, toasted lychee). Not “classical” and even idiosyncratic; mandarin and bergamot – cheers for the proper dosage!  Symphony of green in the empty glass, slathered with chestnut and soy. ++  and  hugely joyful.

 

 



I finally saw my friend Cédric MOUSSÉ after missing him two years ago. What he is doing is enormously impressive. And he knows it.


He should know it. What he’s doing is amazing and lovely. And there is a thin line between passion and polemic, and at times people may confuse them. I’ve often wondered at peoples’ antipathy toward those who seem too sure of themselves. Must we enact this facsimile of “humbleness” in order to be accepted? On the other hand, if one is firm in one’s beliefs one does well to present them with a certain charm.


He certainly did this with me. And did it while he was rocking my world.


Look out for a new cuvée called L’esquisse (“sketch”) to be released in late 2025. Meanwhile the basic NV, now simply called Eugéne, is a 2022-base that was struggling to surmount a very fresh disgorgement (3/21/24); it’s a perpetual reserve of 2003-2022. I didn’t like it “on-the-day,” but who knows what will transpire. Zero dosage let a lot of aldehyde show.


But the new edition of Les Vignes de Mon Village, a wine I usually admire more than like, was a masterly bottle of Champagne. A perpetual reserve of 2014-2022 with no dosage, disg (amazingly) 3/20/24, it’s an encompassing portrait of Meunier that absolutely sings. ++  On the other hand, the usually stellar Terres d’Illite cannot escape the “2020 problem.” But things was about to get real….


Les Fortes Terres, still in the Special Club bottle (he’s left the Club, in case you didn’t know) is 2019 now, and it’s shining and generous, a full-throated Meunier with structure and verve. Disg 1/15/24. ++. Next up was a splendid wine and a stirring tale. Cédric’s Chardonnay crop (such as it is!) was decimated in 2021 by frost and hail, so eleven of his friends donated some of their fruit to him so he could make his Blanc de Blancs. It is called L’Orage, and it is a stunning Chardonnay, even disg 2/7/24; wintergreen and balsam with a silvery edge; close to Great.  ++


Eugéne Longue Garde is a perpetual reserve from 2003-2019, and it’s peppery (like Espelette), maybe a bit too strict, but savory; it made me think of grilled swordfish. This was a “zero” that may have been a little too “zero.” But good things were coming – the Eugéne Rosé (formerly “Effusion”) is all rose hips and rhubarb; base 2021, the attack is shimmering and tactile, as though to search-and-destroy every tastebud; borders on steely but with the craziest fruit. I thought I was tasting one of La Garagista’s hybrid wines. ++


Finally a wine called La Confiance de Mon Pére (“my father’s trust”) is a saignée Rosé, all Meunier – and all 2020. Like many of the ‘20s I’m tasting, it gives you glimpses of what it wanted to be but was precluded from being. An open question what will happen over time.

 

 



 

Then followed one of the most rapturous visits I have ever made at a wine estate. Thank you, Laurent and Thomas Champs, my old and new friends at VILMART,who welcomed me lovingly and then melted me completely with a luminous group of wines.


 

Grand  Reserve base 21, rest 20-19. 21 gives this an unusual polish and sprightly contour, and more purity of fruit; combination of salts and smokes. Never had a better edition. I don’t know how or why, but this fits neatly into the “family” of Vilmart, rather than standing off to the side as an outlier, as was often the case.

 

Grand Cellier base 21, rest 20-19, has this ’21 flavor of cucumber Eiswein, esoteric vanilla, quince, markedly salty at the end. Among the best yet. The presence of the ’20 doesn’t diminish it in any way.  +

 

Grand  Cellier d’or 2019,  deg 7/23; rich and round aroma, generous and buttery; this wine is pretty fucking’ nuts, actually. Length, electricity, clinging finish, the brioches of heaven; no excess flesh but an amplitude of middle inside a surprisingly slim form. Perfect dosage gives incomparable charm.  ++

 

Coeur de Cuvée 2016  heart-rending fragrance! This is all this wine can be. It joins the group of supernal vintages, all of which had a certain coolness in their nature, along with intensity abstract from power, complexity aside from force; had dialogue and paradox and almost unbearable beauty. These are the kinds of wines that stimulate thoughts of perfection simply because you can’t conceive a greater bliss. “Great” is a word terribly easy to squander, but it belongs here. +++

 

Both of the new Blanc de Blancs from the site Blanche Voies, 2013 & 2012. Happy tandem; 12 the extrovert, 13 the introvert, each superb, the 13 sublime. An easy +++ for 12 and a searching, obscure +++ for 13. Beauty such as this wraps a kind of silence around it, and Vilmart is walking easily along paths to which few other Champagnes find their ways.

 

Grand Cellier Oenothek, base 2013 and base2012 :  The ‘12 is overt and direct, a fine circus of flavor, about as much fun as one can have but…if there is a “but”….the ‘13 is what? Smarter, more articulate, more grounded. So much so that the beautiful 12 seems plausible. What a luxury to make such a judgment! + for the ‘12, and an uneasy ++ for ‘13, only because it might easily deserve more.

 

Rosé Emotion 2015 is better here than it was a couple months ago at home. I’d drink it contentedly. That said, the vintage wreaks its havoc over what is usually a highlight wine for this estate.

As if we weren’t already wrung out emotionally, a few old wines emerged.

 

2004 Coeur de Cuvée is a +++ wine, with its richesse and its greeny exotic spine.

 

1998 Coeur de Cuvée is more mature tasting, a yielding dream of maturity but not Saturnine; chestnut, salts, some of the old leather recalling old Burgundy. +++

 

??? (poured blind);  a brighter wine, sleeker, more definitely Chard, less middle but more front, a statement of flavor until the sweetly searching finish just on the razor edge of decay but far too brisk for that. Reminds me of osmanthus. It’s the 1991!  ++


Sentiment and loveliness make for an interaction that’s almost hard to endure, and even while I submit to it I wondered if I was rising sufficiently to meet it. One can babble and weep at such times. I tried to do neither (and failed at the latter) and told myself I was unworthy and did each one of the tricks I use to prevent myself from dissolving. I’ll do that in private, sure, but it can make people uncomfortable if you just full-throttle it in a group.


One can be wracked by beauty, in the sense that ecstasy is a curious kind of violence, but something about Vilmart’s wines, their calmly searching luminousness, collects into a sort of tenderness in which I find a primal comfort. When we took our leave I no longer quite knew who or what I was, except that some exaltation had taken place and I was grateful. All we could do was to take a stiff walk in the gathering evening before heading to the restaurant for dinner with a friend.

 

 




The next morning was GIMONNET. Didier welcomes me with more ceremony than I could possibly have earned. But I accepted it with my puny little grace. In the tank cellar we tasted a 2023 still wine from Cuis that could have been mistaken for goodChenin. Upstairs in the tasting room again, the gorgeous decathalon commenced, and it was a remarkably and consistently high level of excellence even for this steadily excellent grower.

 

The ”basic” Cuis 1er Cru Brut NV is based on 2021 (73.5%) with reserve wines from 2020, 2018, 2017, 2015 and 2014. As always the reserve wines are stored not in tank but in BOTTLE, as they have been since 1982, and as is unique in all of Champagne. (It’s blend #234 – I didn’t catch the disg. date though it is very recent.) It's among the best of the nearly 30 editions of this wine I have tasted, racy and animated yet serene in its cool white-tea fragrance and delicate fruit.  +


The Brut Extra is older (about two-thirds 2019 and reserve wines from seven vintages going back to 2010) and spends longer en tirage. That is logical, but this wine is made “for a market” and stands quite a bit below the prevailing standard. Amazingly the difference in RS between the Cuis NV and this is two grams/liter or less, but these infinitesimal distinctions are crucial – as they always are. Because this wine is unsufficiently dosed it tastes sweeter than the seamlessly balanced Brut, in which the RS is absorbed into a balanced mélange that hides it, whereas here it stands out awkwardly. The clueless dweebs who reflexively demand a drier wine are being made fools of.


Better things follow – a markedly drinky edition of the Belles Années, “a non-vintage with more reserve wine.” It has the effect of making a more mainstream Champagne, and nothing wrong with that when the backdrop is so chalky.  There’s also a 55% ration of Grand Cru in the blend, which is about two-thirds 2021 and one third from five vintages between 2020-2014. The ceiling is higher in the Cuis NV, which can transform itself into a gorgeous Champagne with enough bottle age, whereas this one is quaffable at each point in its life.


The Rosé de Blancs can buckle your knees with its deliciousness, and this one does. Over 50% Grand Cru CH and 6.5% Bouzy (GC) Pinot Noir, the flavors are exquisite and the texture is softly chalky. +

While the Gastronome is usually a favorite of mine, this rendering has experimented with oak, with “mixed” results. Call it an unwelcome guest, which is a shame as this was a rare 2020 that the vintage didn’t maim with grassiness.


There followed a superb Oenophile 2018, consistently among the very best zero-dosage Champagnes and an exemplar of How It Should Be Done. 78% Grand Cru (and a substantial portion of Cramant), the wine is detailed and mineral and BALANCED with the peony-like aroma of 2018. Standing ovation for this.  +


Now to the greatest glories, beginning with a Special Club 2018 from CUIS, a first of its kind. 85% Croix Blanche and 15% Les Roualles, it is a wine of gloriously moderate temperament, with great polish of fruit, lucid and complex with a discreet and limpid mineral, not to mention it’s addictively delicious. The dosage (Extra Brut) is perfect. ++


Next the 2019 Fleuron, always rounder and more overt than the Clubs, accented here by the clement warmth of ’19; it’s a spherical wine with a lavishly chalky backdrop, salts and Asian pear.


We continued with a quartet of 2016 Special Clubs (affirming my adoration of this vintage) – first the Chouilly. A pointed terroir in a pointed vintage, it’s a spicy, lithe and firm wine, with its typically restrained “fruit” but it shows a salty character and the “thing” Chouilly seems to do – showing minerality in a great big boulder rather than a crumbling into powder and scree. It is, by the way, 100% Mont Aigu planted in 1951 – he could easily have traded on the ”name” value of the site, but this being Gimonnet, he did not.


Next was the amazing Cramant, a masterly wine of profound terroir, indeed a hyperactive explication of every scintilla of nuance inherent to this great terroir. It may be less fetching than the relatively sedate 2014, but it’s more buzzy and tensile. Didier, who has always taken as Faith the idea that the best Champagnes result from blending, has no choice but to agree that Cramant “is the exception that confirm[s] the rule.”  ++


Indeed the “basic” Special Club 2016 has always been an equal consort to the more fervent Cramant, but this one was just disgorged and involved some peering into the periscope.  +


The Oger Special Club 2016  is fascinating, Oger and ’16 being a paradoxical pair (one warm and smoky, the other cool and bracing), but this was lovely and fun.  +


We proceeded to a few previews.


First of these was the 2017 Oger Special Club, creamier now, really pure Oger with its bergamot and cherry tobacco.  +


Then the Chouilly Special Club 2017 which was exotic and smoky and more forthcoming than the ’16, revealing a more intricate minerality.  +


Then the “special” wines, the foregoing having been, you know, mundane….


The 2014 in Magnum, after a not-unusual “Magnum reduction,” was a wine of 300% minerality and perfect balance. By then I was running short of words. Plus Didier’s son, nephew and brother had entered the room and I was wrapped (and rapt) with the whole family vibe. I managed to scribble ++


Then we tasted a 1979 Special Club, a somewhat atypical ’79 (with perhaps a below-threshold cork) though I appreciated its salted-caramel old-wine joy. ++


To conclude, a rarity (at least for me), the Special Club 1976, a vintage one is rarely shown. After a kind of Ratafia aroma, the palate, for such a freakish (hot) vintage, is bizarrely classic, with candied lemon a lots of (unexpected) mineral brightness. +

 

I can’t answer the question of whether I was worthy of the honor of the welcome and the wines. I suppose I must have been, but at the time I sort of went all bashful. Let’s say that Didier Gimonnet and I are held in a sweet and mutual regard. His work is a kind of home for me. I am at ease in it. Endlessly fascinating, it is also reassuringly familiar. And it was a honor and a joy to represent him.

 



Then we paid a visit to ALEXANDER CHARTOGNE at Chartogne-Taillet in Merfy. It was an odd, wistful visit. Alex had double booked us with his Norwegian importer, so I never got to ask him what prompted his decision to switch American importers earlier this year. The estate was in my very first offering in 1997, with Alex’s folks at the helm, and our hero still a little kid. Now he’s a star among Champagne growers, with his own bliss to follow. We agreed to stay friends and keep in touch.


We tasted, not exactly in a rush but “with dispatch,” and my notes were sketchy. He poured the Couarres 2017 first, a PN/CH cuvée, and I was nonplussed to encounter “natural” aromas along with a bruised fruit lead-in, but this seemed to resolve into a juicy mid palate, with prominent cask notes, yet for all that the wine had a certain elegance. It led to the Couarres 2018,  which I liked less, notwithstanding its greater impact. But it was even more aldehydic and brusque. This wasn’t a Chartogne type I recognized – but that was about to change dramatically.


We tasted a duo of wines blind. They were Blanc de Blancs, one of which I thought was the Avize, but in fact they were two super wines from single plots in Merfy. They hit the palate with a certain electricity I realize is trendy but which I liked this time. The first was Heurtebise and the second Chemin de Reims, both 2019, both disgorged 2/24. Chemin was more detailed and explicative, but I favored the gob-filling richness of its neighbor. + for them both.


The blind thing continued with a totally delicious “Noir” wine that turned out to be the Meunier Les Barres 2019, as elegant and deep as I’d ever tasted it, and with less earthiness and greater polish ++

We kept tasting blind. I’d rather we hadn’t; we didn’t have much time and we wasted some of it trying to “guess” the wine – but this new bottle was quite a feast, with wonderful fruit and great resonance, precision and tenderness. This was rarefied air, and it was tragic only to “taste” it, as it was the kind of wine the body craves to absorb. Amazingly it is the current Ste. Anne, ’21-based, half-half Merfy and (now) Avize. It stands with the very best NV Bruts in all of Champagne - ++


We enjoyed two older wines (thank you Alex!); the first was a lovely young adult, vibrant and energetic and just starting to “get it;” it was probably Chardonnay in its focus and class; citrus rind and chalk in conversation. Wonderfully it was the 2015 Avize. How he made this jewel from that vintage, I’ll never know.


The final wine was a haunting masterpiece, the best iteration of the mushroom profile of old Champagne; it had both mature “sweetness” and actual sweetness (coming from an era where dosage wasn’t public enemy #1), leading to a finish that felt lacquered with soy; a dream of tenderness and evocation, like chestnuts with melted brown butter. It was a 1973, and an exalted experience. +++

 

 


It wasn’t the worst thing to have to circumnavigate Champagne to drive to Avize and visit Valèrie VARNIER. That ’73 needed time to adumbrate and I needed time to mull it over. I also needed time to steady myself for the visit, as her importer had dropped the estate, and she had taken it hard.

The wines themselves were the same cuvées as I’d tasted at home (and reported my impressions on 1/29), but more recently disgorged. No need to repeat here, except to observe this was another instance of a 2020 arriving grassy but departing with typical minerality and richness. Is the ’20 retreating or is the “actual” wine advancing? Hard to say.

But these excellent wines, and this courageous woman, deserve to find an American importer, in a market with 480 growers crashing around – 420 of which are nowhere near this good.

 

 


 RENE GEOFFROY

 

Hugs, catching ups, wonderment that we’d known one another since 1995, meeting two of their now-grown daughters, and tucking in to taste, just like always. And just like always, we encounter the wines of a hyperactively passionate grower who plots his own course.

 

Pureté. Perpetual reserve begun “in the 70s” with freshest year 2018, deg. 10/23; good fragrance and excellent palate – the best Pureté I’ve tasted. Melange of PM/PN/CH inexact proportions because of the very old years in the perp-res.  It’s round and vinous and long – 5 years on the lees is helpful!   An object-lesson to all the others with their sharp-ass nasty zeroes. Here is how it’s done.  +

 

Expression 50-50 2020 and perp-res, deg 11/23, Cumiéres and Hautvillier; a lot of lift in the fragrance, toasted croissants; has some “20” notes but this is becoming, for some reason, less annoying than it was before. It also seems confined to the very first palate entry, after which it retreats somewhat. This has his usual astringency (but it’s just 5 months on the cork.) but its charm is just barely larger than its “issues.”

 

Empreinte 2017  all PN, deg  7/23, all Cumiéres, and a terroir gesture of exceptional character. A burly, meaty BdN but not as dour as a Bouzy would be; a long bacony finish in a wine that’s a le-e-etle too dry, but with “energy, with a pH of 2.87,” he says with delight. A good example of a wine of intention; he wouldn’t have wanted to squander the “beardedness” of this with further dosage, though it would have been tastier. I’d be content to drink it, and would appreciate its character. Hedonism can wait, sometimes.

 

Volupté 2016 This oughta be good. BdB Cumierés, two parcels Tour de Midi & La Montagne,   disg 11/23, vigor and salts and quince and osmanthus and wisteria; tensile yet ripe yet sinewy, vertical and doughy in the middle and on the finish; a lot of impact yet a skipping stone over the palate; good wine in a year that suits it. Highly complex finish. +

 

Les Tiersaudes 2019 all Meunier, zero dosage, deg. 3/24, old vines from 1972 and if this generally austere wine will ever work it would be in a year like ’19 – and it does, in fact. It arrives rather pointedly but quickly billows into a palate like farro cooked in veal stock. Even freshly disgorged there’s a lot of juice and a braised savor. Like a sous-vide of Meunier. The kind of wine you want a piece of bread to “mop up the sauce.” Sure, I’d have preferred it with 2g dosage, but you have to bow toward a Meunier original.

 

Les Houtrants Complantés, bottled in 2016 from a blend 08-15, disg 11/23; it’s compromised by the addition of ’15 (last year’s was a masterpiece) which makes it more “green” and less nutty, but again, if you’re patient enough to follow it through to the finish, you have the particular clinging after-syrup that encompasses the whole palate, including the soft palate that registers umami. The question is whether and how to sweep aside the ’15 veggies. (It does seem that even the best and most passionate growers have their blind spots.)

 

Terres 2012 deg 03/23, what can you say but this wine rawks; a grandly generous ’12 that envelopes you with a “sweetness” having nothing to do with sugar. 9% PN, 74% CH and the rest Meunier. Disg 3/23, it’s a grower Champagne close to the “luxury” profile the big-houses show. ++

 

Les Collinardines 2019 is a BdB from Damery, disg this week (!), not put into tirage until two years in cask as still wine; this is excellent, not terribly woody, with the warmth of the vintage and the contours of the Chardonnay. It’s not the finished wine (which will be disgorged next month). My sense is to reduce the oak and increase the mineral expression, but this is the first vintage.

 

VERTICAL TASTING OF ROSE DE SAIGNEE, 17-16-15, HOUSE-DISGORGED (I.E., NO SUGAR), (OPEN THREE DAYS) -  just sniffing, 16 stands out with its pristine elemental clarity. 15 is dreadful, total moldering salad leaves; 17 is smoky (as usual); it has vinosity but not “fruit.” And that’s okay. 16 is lithe and lovely. It’s essentially perfect. I don’t even want to put the 15 in my mouth. (I did and wished I hadn’t.) We proceeded to 14-13 (this is fun!)  a lot of redux in the 14, while the 13 smells complex and lovely. 14 is bretty to the point of fecal. 13 is dealing with faltering stamina but is basically solid, if completely developed.  Another wine with vinosity, in this case slender, but little “fruit.” Now there’s a bottle of the finished wine in its original (2016) disg; RS 10g, and the wine is wonderful, huge fun.

 

MYSTERY WINE: (original disg.) lovely antique aroma; shrimp stock – we learn it’s a Cuvée Selectionné – orange blossom (and its honey), yet the palate is amazingly firm and bright and tastes 10 years younger than it smells, though the fragrance also gets fresher – we all guessed the 80s but I thought ‘88 and Peter ‘89 – and he was correct. How the wine gets its central core of outline and “structure” I can’t surmise. It’s so pure, and so-not exotic., though it shows nutmeg and Kandy spices (and “mocha” according to JB) and now, a lavish saltiness. A fabulous mature Champagne that won’t taste “old” for twenty more years. +++

 

COTEAU-CHAMPENOISE (REDS) a trio. (Always a trio….) #1 is primary, with pretty fruit and an edge of pepper and thyme, carraway and metal – 2 is odd, a possible flaw I can’t identify, more than quirky - #3 smells like “serious red wine.”  On the PALATE #1 is tasty, juicy, like a basic St-Laurent, it’s a ’21 but what variety isn’t yet determined. I can’t get past the flaw of #2 though I tried. Behind it is a potentially decent wine. #3 is like a good Liter bottle of Zweigelt or an everyday Alto Adige Schiava or even…a young-drinking Corvino. Tannin needs to be absorbed. So – what are these? #1 is PN from a single plot. #2 is 2020, same wine. #3 is 2018 Meunier, also single plot (Moulin a Vent) Oak is used in all three but none tastes “oaky.”


Nursing #2 to see if the flaw is fleeting. Turns out it is. What lies below is an elegant dusty kind of wine with delicate secondary aromas – “claret” like.  A fresh (full) bottle of #3 is both “fruitier” and more reduced. As a group these are less “forced” than they seemed to be. I mean, I trust fruit above all components, and don’t mind if it’s primary and without secondary affects.

 

 


HEBRART

 

A hedonic bomb, as always. And a relief to be able to taste at least quickly, as the samples Jean Paul intended to send me were delayed when an order for the States was cancelled. Hebrart is a reference point for me, as the wines describe, perfectly, how Champagne-Should-Be.


It isn’t that I’m a classicist by intent or ideology; it’s that, when I taste wines like these, I ask myself what more I (or anyone) could want, and also why someone would wish to subvert what is clearly an Ideal form. People will experiment, young people especially, and that is fine, and may even be good for the community. We need serious thinkers to play around the edges of a form. But we also need to remember how close this can come to creating solutions in search of problems.


Tasting even Hebrart’s entry-level wine, I find myself imagining I am sitting with some young grower-hotshot, and asking “Really? You want to improve upon this?? What do you suppose needs to be changed about it? Is perfection not cool enough for you?”

 

 

 

Blanc de Blancs:  Here’s a 20 (60%) without difficulty even disgorged fairly recently (10/23); more sleek and less “fruity” but has it’s highly precise length is, as always, impressive. Mostly GC from Oiry/Chouilly  +

 

NV Cuvée de Reserve Brut. Deg 10/23 – almost absurd how fine this is. The 80% PN registers as an ether of an ether. Is there another NV Brut with this combination of precision, deliciousness, weightless weight, and skipping playfulness? 40% 2021, 30% ’20 and the rest 19-18-16. This is everything and more that an NV-Brut can be.  ++

 

NV Sélection Brut:  barely a veggie in sight here, but also more racy and less yielding than usual, though that may simply be the assemblage. I wonder if it wanted more dosage? Watch and wait here. 40% ’20 and the rest 19-18. Dosage as usual, so it may be a matter of time before this shifts from excellent to superb….   +

 

Rosé Brut:  tensile energy here! Close your eyes and you won’t believe it’s Rosé. The silvery vigor of the 21 – a vintage I begin to cherish – and the finest declension of flavor conceivable for a pink wine. But what’s articulate for me might be too steely for others.  The Chard is all ’21, the PN (49%) is 2019-2020.  Still….  +

 

Mes Favorites 1er Cru, from his favorite parcels in Mareuil, it’s  half-half 20/19, and is an absolute stone classic Champagne, of a type we seldom see any more. The (good) negoç wine has another kind of polished texture, but no grower can make anything as cosmopolitan yet individual as this. There’s a greeny edge leading into a crazily delicious mid palate. Inching toward the summit with this.  Amazing detail and lift for an 80% PN wine.  ++

 

Special Club 19 deg 8/23 has its amazing balance of density and transparency and the kind of floating elegance as though it has completed the swim and is now floating meditatively on the smooth surface of the pool. And yet – these flavors! The clarity, the dialogue, the floating of the fruit and then the chalky grip of the finish….what else other than Champagne can do this…and how many Champagnes can do this???  

It bears repeating, that Champagne is that rarest of wines, one that pleases by its flavors rather than its power or impact. If you want to understand sheer beauty, here you go…  (This is ther first vintage to include new PN vineyards in the Grand Cru Louvois. +++

 

Noces de Craie Grand Cru 2019 The vintage was made for this wine. After the Club it loses – “loses” a little dialogue, but it’s fabulously delicious and purely Aÿ in its malt and blueberry, and it stretches its limbs with air, developing a clarity and nuance it didn’t show at first.  Is there a more graceful and lissome Blanc de Noir anywhere?   ++

 

Rive Gauche-Rive Droite 2016 deg 9/23. “Here are the wines that Terry doesn’t like,” JP teased, because I’ve been known to, ah, comment on the oak and also to observe that the Clubs are an impossible act to follow. But this is the best vintage ever tasted. The oak, while present, quickly absorbs itself into a wine of cool angular limpidity, along with the mirabelles of ’16; extravagantly fruity/savory finish.   +

 

Clos de Léon 1er Cru (Dizy) 2016. It’s how a woody wine should smell. Oak addsto this wine, and not only its clamorous self but also a sequence of flavors that integrate with minerality and variety.  It has vigor and raciness. Will it have these in later vintages? Is it better than the Club??? Would less wood suit its aims? Hard to say. It’s like the stretchy herbs (which makes no sense) and also like properly sauteed shallots and like spearmint and even white pepper. The portrait works as a “whole” but the through line to what might be inherent is, for me, obscured. The next one is 18, a very different critter. There’s a clear Nobility here, only some of which can be discretely “tasted.”  ++   for its pedigree alone. The actual nature of the wine is, for me, a bit more obscure.


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