Klein is fijn in de Champagne
Champagneschrijver Michael Edwards bezocht met Winebusiness.nl de jaarlijkse champagnetastings, de zgn. Salons, en vindt opmerkelijke resultaten bij de kleine growers: As elsewhere in France Viticole, Champagne’s growers are making a strong showing to the outside world. Last week, there were no less than four salons in the Marne, where the vignerons showed their wares. ‘We cannot beat the négoce, but united we can make a lot of noise,’ says the laconic Christophe Constant of J-L Vergnon, a rising star in Le Mesnil. Constant looked relaxed, as well he might, for he has made exciting wines in 2011: one of the most challenging vintages – tricky, but fascinating.
In the surest hands of those who were alert enough to change their tactics when the weather changed from a continental to an Atlantic pattern. From July right through the harvest, there was a mercurial sequence of cold, damp, sun, storms, squally showers, finally a run of good weather to September 9. Previously, the downpour on August 26, a few days after the start of the harvest, caused sugar levels in the grapes to drop sharply. Yet in vineyard-sites which had deep roots, particularly those under biodynamic tilling, the sugar levels began to rise again after 24 hours: not so in conventional cultivated parcels, where grape ripeness was delayed for a week and more. This underlines the perennial strength of great domaines, either in the hands of fine récoltants or top maisons, which have a history and track record of excellence and open-mindedness, whatever the heavens may throw at them. In truth, the urge of journalists to champion growers at the expense of the négoce is disingenuous: for great houses with exemplary, extensive vineyards like Louis Roederer, now approaching 40% bio-cultivation, and Veuve Clicquot has much more in common with top growers estates of 15 -25 ha than detractors might think. There are just good and poor producers in both camps.
Klein maar fijn
Now to the best growers at the Salons. Michel Loriot on the majestic slopes of Festigny, Marne Valley has a reputation as a master of Meunier, which I have always wanted to test. Last week I did and I wasn’t disappointed. His Meunier 2011 vins clairs were immaculate, joyfully fruity, yet crisp, precise, delicate and beautifully defined. He has also manage to create a lovely Vintage Cuvée in 011, where the floweriness of Meunier, the sap and incisiveness of Chardonnay, and the surging strength of Pinot Noir sang together in perfect unison – all without a single stave of oak. And if you like a bit of age on your Vintage, go for his supple rich yet fresh 2006 pure Meunier from 70 year old vines. Greatness at a bargain price.
In the Cubry valley on the stony soils of rightly named Pierry, I was struck by the character and depth of the youthful Sélèque family’s fine grippy vins clairs and their splendidly vinous, dark Rosé de Saignée 2008 –perfect for roast tuna. Into the Côte des Blancs, the improving quality of Philippe Gonet’s Extra Brut cheered my palate as did their brother Xavier’s single vineyard Vintages,04 and 06, in Le Mesnil and on the Montagne at Ambonnay.
A civilized interlude at Jacquesson, warm and hospitable, followed with the urbane Jean-Hervé on brilliant form, articulating his bijou house’s unique approach to blending. Also welcome in this week of bread and nibbles was proper food washed down with libations of the heavenly Jacquesson 2002 Vintage. The most remarkable wine of the week was Francis Egly’s 2008 Ambonnay Rouge, generously offered to us by Patrick Michelon. Served blind it tasted like something rich from the south but with a graceful lack of too much alcohol – we dithered between Iroleguy and stylish Rhône, but amazingly it was great still Pinot from Champagne. If this is global warming, bring it on!
© Michael Edwards