Top chardonnay champagnes: Péters & Vergnon
Door Michael Edwards
Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is the most prestigious grand cru of Champagne’s Côte des Blancs, thanks to the fame of two stellar names – Krug Clos du Mesnil and Salon. Certainly the village produces the most long lived and mineral -touched chardonnays of the Côte, earning it the nickname ‘Corton-Charlemagne of Champagne’. But as so often in the most famous villages growers can become complacent as the prestige of their cru makes for easy sales, and lazy winemaking goes unnoticed. But thank God it cannot be said of Le Mesnil’s two best growers – Rodolphe Péters of Domaine Pierre Péters and Christophe Constant of J L Vergnon, who express the greatness of Le Mesnil more convincingly.
Also more often than anyone else in the village. Their techniques and backgrounds are very different.
Two styles, two masters
Rodolphe was born with a silver tastevin in his mouth.As the six generation heir to his family estate of 18 hectares in four grands crus, Rodolphe went off to do his own thing before returning home in 2007. Much of the groundwork of establishing a great vineyard had been done by his forebears in choosing and nursing the best plants. So it’s fair to say that Rodolphe is more a cellar man, who sees himself as interpreter of his great terroirs, in which he has implicit faith- just as they are. He shuns oak, believing it to be sacrilege to affect in any way the taste of his great terrain. His is a classical and conservative approach, admirably strict -but perhaps a touch safe and blind to the benefit that a good barrel may sometimes bring to great champagne &inspire the curious winemaker to greater heights.
Christophe is the most curious and adventurous winemaker I know. As manager of the small Vergnon estate, his great advantage is that he has old vines to work with, allowing the most daring approach to vinification on the Côte. His willingness to take risks is rooted in the self-confidence which comes from his own achievements. The son of Epernay’s best café owner, Christophe was a bright oeno student at the faculty in Reims and cut his teeth at Pol Roger. Since 2002, he has never used the ‘malo’ to soften his crus: because of the rich fruit of his old vines, he doesn’t need to. Nor is he afraid of oak, using the minerality of the terroir to tame any woodiness. He is also a tireless worker in his vines using cover crop to encourage predators. Here are my three favourites for now tasted sur place (July).
Rosé pour Albane , Pierre Péters – Rodolpe’s first-ever pink, named for his daughter. 60 percent Mesnil Chardonnay, 40 percent Pinot Meunier from the sunny less mineral slopes of Cumières & Damery. Colour of orange peel, flavours a beguiling mix of little red fruits & pink graprefruit. Refreshing, vital. ***
Les Chétillons, Pierre Péters, 2005 – the best single vineyard in Le Mesnil, though from a difficult vintage. White flowers & acacia honey; broad-shouldered, just keeps its poise thanks to this special terroir. Excellent. ***(*)
Confidence, Jean-Louis Vergnon, 2006 – I prefer this vintage, supple, rich, a crowd pleaser yet serious. A blend of mineral Mesnil & opulent Oger. Optimal ripeness (11.4◦ natural abv), a real fine wine of volume and roundness yet supremely elegant – the 100 percent oak magically integrated. Bordering on greatness. ****(*)