Saturday the 6th of June I participated in an interesting Champagne tasting @ Skål (Danish for cheers) in Copenhagen. The owner of Skål, Mads Rudolf carefully guided us through the landscape of Champagne and once again it was a revelation to discover the diversity of Champagne.
We started with 9 Rosé Champagnes and the first in line was the light NV Rosé de Montgueux from Jacques Lassaigne. This Champagne is based on Chardonnay and defined in the light section. Despite the fact that it's an easy going Champagne with strawberries, peach and some apricot scents it's rather delicious to drink. I could definitely find the time and place for such a Champagne.
The next two Champagnes where both from Oliver Horiot. First the 2006 Séve Rosé. I have tasted this Champagne before and it's still rather mysterious on opening with a rustic, metallic, iron and iodine note. I have to say that one glass didn't do that much for me and in general I feel I am on unfamiliar territory here, meaning - it's not something that I fancy, but clearly with cellaring the wine will evolve. Next the 2004 Vintage which could be a good indication on how the 2006 might turn out. I had a tough time with this wine - maybe showing itself friendlier with notes of popcorn and in general a more evolved wine. But there was something unresolved here, which took some balance away. I remained puzzled.
The next Champagne was once again interesting and a lesson on how you can be seduced and the gradually loose interest.
A sweet delicious biscuit notes was oozing from the glass and in addition; toast, butter and salted apricot comes forward. I have to say that I initially found this wine to be really nice. The wine in the glass was the 2004 Saignée et Sorbée from Vouette et Sorbée. Though, after first sight seduction the oaky flavors get's a bit too cheerful and gradually pulls purity and backbone structure away from the wine. I re-tasted the wine later, where it was a fraction better. Maybe the oaky flavors can tone themselves down with cellaring?
The next Rosé Champagne was the very rare 2004 Creux d'Enfer from Cédric Bouchard/Roses de Jeanne only produced in ridiculous 420 bottles. The nose is something else and like Cédric Bouchard "Les Ursules" and "Inflorescence", this wine is more a feeling than a traditional TN which well tells you about the aromatic fragments of the wine. Why? - Because Cédric Bouchard makes some wines of very strong personality, which I find to be more a feeling than pick a note here and there (did that make sense at all?). But there was definitely one note, which was rather different than you tend to come across in Rosé Champagnes. That note was liquorices. Not the kind I sometimes find in Syrah-based wines, but a very delicate note which almost turns into herbs and spices with air. The Champagne is incredible sleek, bone dry and still tightly wounded by its young age and in need of 3-4 years of cellaring (I guess). I liked it a lot, not so much flavor wise, but merely for this pronounced sleek and graceful style. Will I ever taste it again?
More Rosé Champagnes to come. Next the 2004 Les Beaudiers from Laherte et Fréres. Comes across sweeter compared to the bone dry Creux d'Enfer. But sweetness is not all you get - here is also a spicy touch, even some apricot scents. It's not in the same league as Creux d'Enfer as it get's a bit rustic on the finish line, but it's still a wine of great personality and quality.
2004 Alchimiste fra David Léclapart was next. I still have some problems with this wine. It's the cranberry scents and the iron/iodine and sherry profile it has - it's simply not my style. On top of that - it's rather aggressive on its fruit approach, structure and almost tannin-like taste. But let's just stop there for a moment and taste the next two wines, because it will challenge my judgment.
2005 Alchimiste - not a complete transformation from the 2004 vintage - but a different wine. Like most of the 2005's I have tasted its rounder and in this case it feel more right, as the aggressive '04 cranberry notes, takes a step back. For sure it looses some of the 2004's linearity, but it's actually a plus as it's simply a friendlier wine now. The 2005 still feels rather rustic, but having tasted so many Rosé Champagnes I have to say that it's not that "scary" anymore. Maybe I am getting used to it...
..But now things gets really interesting....the 2001 Alchimiste was next. Now - 2001 is a very difficult vintage in Champagne, but this is not a bad wine - in fact, it's a great wine. If it's possible to make such quality in such a bad year - well, then I might have to change the way I have been judging the 2004 and 2005 so far. What is interesting here is the balance between secondary aromas and fruit. You might have noticed that I have praised a Rosé Champagne, where the red fruit is a dried perfumed element of the wine and not where you have the feeling of drinking red wines with bubbles. This is exactly what has happened here, and in detail it means that the aggressive sherry/cranberry style has now settle down and has integrated as a perfume, not as an overpowering floral element. To conclude, and if the 2004 & 2005 could follow the same path, well then I have completely misjudged Alchimiste and cellaring is what it takes to make magic appear. Almost forgot about the 2001...what can I say about it...popcorn, red fruits, dried apricot and above all lightness and balance in both nose and taste. What a surprise.
So that was it for the Rosé stuff. But let's move on to part 2 of this tasting.Part 2 started were kicked off with NV Jacques Selosse "Initiale" - disgorgement date from 15/11-2008. The wine is indeed charming, baby banana, apples, peach and vanilla from the oak flavors. We had a discussion about the level of barrique towards fruit here, which people
in general found fairly balanced. To some degree I would have to agree, and Initiale is a wine I drink and enjoy rather often. But when in the comparison game (which is not always the right way to judge) I will have to say that the oak flavors are on the verge of becoming a bit too cheerful. Anyway, standing here alone, this day - it was a great bottle of Initiale.
Next up, the very interesting" Les Clos" from Laherte. A wine I tasted in Champagne in late April. Tasted exactly like I remember it and its most pronounced trademark is the incredible high acidity it brings. But it's also a very young wine, sleek, minerals, citrus, pure and with the acidity making it's way all to the nose, it offers great tallness. At this stage, I will have to repeat, that the wine is incredible young with and entire set of reserved components. You could say that the wine is in need of some juiciness, but I remain confident, if I listening to the style of the wine and what it has to offer in it's secondary layers. Patience and cellaring is required here.
Next was 2006 Les Béguines from Jérôme Prévost. I tasted this Champagne about a month ago and I have to say that this bottle was rather shy in comparison and showed signs of a wine starting to close down. The normal sophisticated nose, where spices and flowers meet was now herbal dominated. The taste was rather nice though, but it takes 2 to tango.
The next was a joker. I haven't written many notes on my paper on this wine, other than "mostly flowers mixed with some spices". Initially I found the wine dropping a bit awkward on the palate, but with air both nose and taste opened up rather nicely. The wine was really light, delicate and sophisticated. In the glass we had a 100% Pinot Meunier Champagne; the 2006 Georges Laval "Meunier de la Butte" which will be release sometime in late 2010 or early 2011. Very interesting, but I hope to taste it again someday, even if there is only 600 bottles available.
The next Champagne was the first sight of classic autolysis notes. The wine was the 2002 "Avizoise" from Agrapart. The nose has a slightly oxidation style, with nutty flavors, toast and melon. When I taste Champagnes like this I can't help to go back in time and reflect a little about what reference sheet I would have judged Champagne upon, just two years back. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this wine, in fact it did really well - I will just say, that on the emotional scale it didn't do that much for me. Having said that - I sensed that the panel this day was rather pleased with this Champagne.
The next Champagne was incredible exotic. I don't think I have ever smelled a Champagne of this character; 2002 "Les Chénes" from George Laval. Exotic - or in fact, almost tropical with mango, passion fruit and lavender. Sounds funky - but there is one thing that makes balance here and this is an utterly divine bio driven purity and despite the fruit composition it's rather light on its toes. When the official tasting ended - I sneaked a glass more of this stuff, and it was even more tropical, but still a pleasure to drink. I will have to buy some bottles to follow up over the years, because I would like to see how this one could evolve.
2004 L'Artiste from David Léclapart was next. Also a wine I have recently tasted. In my opinion this wine has closed down. Though, you can still get some of it's personality out, as it has this crystal clear and linear style, typical for the 2004 Vintage. But mostly you will find these reference points when tasting it - the nose is still rather muted.
1999 L'Artste was next and I can't help to reflect somewhat on the expectations I had about this wine. I had hoped to get some clues on how Artiste could evolve with cellaring, but the 1999 is still incredible young. For sure some smoothness has emerged with a buttery note, but it still has this energizing pure fruit with "bio-baby banana" and this almost raw mineral/slate expression, which I find pretty intimidating. I would have thought that the wine would be a lot rounder with cellaring, but it's still a graceful Champagne and I guess that's just the characteristic of L'Artste. Overall the 1999 is really a convincing example on how well this wine will cellar.
The last flight was a bomb....first up;
2004 La Haute-Lemblée from Cédric Bouchard. Again a very rare and sought after wine with a production number in the low range of 5-600 btls. Let's make on thing clear - this wine is way toooooo young. But it's also a fantastic wine with a highly vinous style, chalky overload, diamond cut precision, elegance and I couldn't help thinking Chablis here. The acidity is also Chablis-style, clear cut - and with a really long aftertaste. A seriously impressive wine even if I am not in favor of ranking and comparing everything, it might have been the best Champagne so far.
But that was about to change.
Listen. It's not easy for me to write about the next wine. I feel I am biased and when knowing what's coming and not tasting blind I can still see myself smiling before I have even tasted the wine. Ladies and gentlemen, here comes 2004 L'Apôtre from David Léclapart. It's funny because this is the only wine I haven't written any notes about. I simply just put on the hedonist sunglasses here and was lucky to have a second fill, when the official tasting came to an end. Why is this Champagne just better? It's difficult to explain - but if someone knew how to get a reading of my emotional barometer, then the case would be solved - but does anyone know how to do that? I think it comes down to some specific characters. Like La Haute-Lemblée - L'Apôtre is equal vinous, but the level of complex layers is just a fraction deeper with L'Apôtre. But that's one thing - the most important plus for L'Apôtre is its ability to give the taster a majestic feeling of noble authenticity and its weapon is the incredible energy it has. I know of no other Champagne, nor wine - which can make me as a taster feel that alive and close to the liquid in glass. Magic - pure magic.
As 2004 L'Apôtre has just hit the shelves in Denmark, I will taste again (soon) and make a more "official" TN....if possible ;-).
More pictures here