Some Champagne highlights (1)

So four and a bit days in Champagne, many wines tasted, quite a few drunk. Here are just a few of my highlights from a few of the producers I visited.

Champagne Leclerc Briant La Croisette Brut Zéro 2014 France
This is a new producer to me. We had a great visit. It’s a reborn biodynamic domaine (it was one of the pioneers of biodynamic viticulture in the region) and is now making very smart, distinctive wines with Herve Jestin as the winemaker. This is one of their top wines, from a single vineyard (0.5 hectares) in Epernay next to the house. It’s on top of a hill with some clay in the soil. It was planted by Bertrand Leclerc in the 1960s, after he had started his organic farming, so this vineyard has never seen any chemicals. 100% Chardonnay planted 1966. Low yield, vinified 10 months in oak, then three years on lees. 2014 vintage, disgorged summer 2018 with no dosage. Elegant, fine, toasty, mealy nose with some almond and citrus fruit. Structured and savoury on the palate, this is vinous: very much Burgundy in style, with nuts (almond and hazelnut), vanilla, spice and seamless citrus fruit with some pear and white peach richness. Profound stuff. 96/100

Champagne Pol Roger Blanc de Blancs 2012 France
Made only from Grand Cru vineyards, this wine was created by Hubert de Billy’s father in the 1950s to answer the demand for aperitif Champagne. It has six years minimum ageing, but in most cases is disgorged as late as possible, with a dosage of 8 g/litre. Refined subtly floral citrus fruit nose with some nuts and honeysuckle. Lovely precision on the palate with fine, delicate citrus fruit. Very fine toasty notes with some peachy richness, but the dominant theme is pure citrus notes. Incredible delicacy and precision, with just a touch of sweetness on the finish. 95/100

Champagne Fréderic Savart Les Noues Ecueil Premier Cru 2015 France
The grapes for this wine used to go into Ouverture, but it’s now a new cuvée, just 1362 bottles made. 100% Pinot Noir. Fine cherries, herbs and nuts on the nose, with a palate that shows detailed, fine citrus, pear and apple fruit with some lovely red cherry notes. This has incredible precision and detail, with fine savoury nut, almond and liquorice notes. Really detailed and fine. Expressive. 95/100

Champagne Pascal Agrapart Avizoise 2012 France
This comes from a vineyard with clay soils, which Pascal likens to the argile calcaire soils common in Burgundy. His three vintage wines have just 600 metres between the different parcels, and the age of the vines is similar – 50-60 years old – but the wines taste very different because of the soils. Vinification is just in barrel, 3 g/litre dosage. The second fermentation is under cork (as with his cuvée Vénus). This is so different to Vénus and Minerale, with perfumed almond and wax on the nose with apple and pear fruit. There are herbs with some nuts and peach, showing a rounded generosity, but also good acidity and focus. There’s so much complexity here, with richness and depth, but also nice focus. Thrilling. 95/100

Champagne Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée 2007 France
Laurent Champs kindly opened an older bottle of this wine, and it was fabulous. Disgorged May 2014, 8 g/l dosage. This is stunning. It is still fresh and focused, but there are layers of complexity here. Shows subtle toast and spice, with crystalline citrus fruit and a bit of white peach. Very precise with lots of citrus character, and keen acidity. Nervy, chalky and a bit saline. Compact and fine with great concentration. Subtle hints of cabbage and herbs. 96/100

Champagne Louis Roederer Cristal 2008 France
Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon describes this as ‘The Cristal of Cristals’, not because it is the best but because it is the archetype of Cristal. Launched 2009 before this, and this is now the current vintage. 2012 will be the next. 7.75 g/l dosage. 45 parcels, used 37 of them – disqualified eight parcels of Pinot Noir. 25% oak fermentation. ‘We didn’t see 2008 at the beginning.’ he says. Incredible aromatics here: very fine toast and bread notes, some lemon peel, and focused citrus fruit. It’s linear and focused on the palate with fine lemon notes, good acidity, a saline, chalky edge, and fine herbs and spice. There’s a really nice linear quality to this wine. It is brisk and a little austere, but it has harmony and the acidity is well integrated. Lovely mineral freshness and complexity from a long, dry, cool summer, and chalky soils. Light and elegant at the end. A thrilling wine. 96/100

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