(Get ready to revolt)
(Sorry to disturb - Pascal Agrapart)
(Les Barres and Le Heurtebises from Chartogne-Taillet)
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It’s the morning after "Les ateliers Mets et Vins de Champagne" and the official Terre et vins de Champagne day. From my hotel window @ Hotel Castel Jeanson I could already observe buzzing activity as the growers started to line up the bottles. The background music was a mixture of on sight disgorged Champagne popping, blending in with bird singing. The visual scene offered blue skies, crisp spring air and all together it was not exactly lowering my appetite for Champagne, even though it’s only 09:30 in the morning.
When I signed in and got my booklet for the 2011 event, I could already feel that the 2011 would be far more packed compared to 2010, where Icelandic Volcano Eyjafjallajökull had an unfortunate lead role. It’s impressive to see how each Grower makes the same passionate speech about their wines, not matter if’s a professional or amateur person - and that’s from early morning to 17:00 where the event closes down.
For me Terre et vins de Champagne is not so much about going from one producer to another and write bulletproof tasting notes. That’s not what I do – there are so many other people, which are better than that – eg. Peter Liem and Brad Baker, which also attended the event. I find it difficult to absorb so many tasting samples under such circumstances. I see Terre et vins de Champagne as a tipping-my-toes-event of what I need to examine a bit closer when I return.
It works like this. I try to get a feel of the overall quality of the current vintages presented in vins clairs (2010 this year) and to take the temperature of how the different growers have evolved since last year. The latter is not always easy, as a producer might present a vintage, which is far more difficult than what he served last year. That was eg. The case with Agrapart, which presented his 2005’s, which is not on the same level as his staggering 2004 range. As these producers aren’t exactly known for complacency, there might be brand new cuvee’s to taste. So there is a lot of things to notice in order to get the impression right. Later on the day, I sporadic re-visit again. It might be something that I wish to compare – confirm and in most cases how a single Champagne stand out after having tasted so much.
With lunch, I always try 2-3 different Champagne.
I can’t go through all the producers, but no one should really be left out as all have something interesting to offer.
(Hotel Castel Jeanson in Aÿ)
(Aÿ is hometown of Champagne Goutorbe)
Here are my overall impressions.
If to judge from Peter Liem’s article on the 2010 vintage and speaking to the producers and tasting their vins clairs, it seem quit clear that the 2010 vintage was a pretty challenging one. Benoît Tarlant told me how his Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier was ripped open as someone had whipped them. It was impossible to prevent botrytis from entering. The horror story can unfortunately be heard by many of the other producers and it’s the result of very dry spring and a devastating amount of rainfall between August 15 <> 17th, which amounted close to 85mm rain in 3 days (normal for the whole month is around 60mm).
Chardonnay is however a different story and was in general saved by millerandage and I found many vins clairs from Chardonnay pretty intense and promising.
One of my first stop was exactly about Chardonnay; Pascal Agrapart. His 2010 vins clairs are singing with confidence and it’s a journey I am used to, where you get the trio-treat of; Mineral, Avizoise first, then on of my darlings of the côte des blancs; “Venus”. All vins clairs are very linear – Avizoise takes in tropical fruits such as pineapple and mango and Venus is a soil driven beauty.
Another Pascal was next – namely Pascal Doquet. Once again a grower which is constantly smiling and there is an aura of friendliness around this guy. His 2010’s vins clairs are all Champagnes with strong personalities and from this harvest he is full blown certified organic Champagne producer. In vins clairs his rosé is the most wild one of them. I liked the perfumes better than the structure of this wine. The Vertus and Mesnil (both BdB) are both beautiful. In Champagne he presented the 2004 “Vertus” and 2002 "Le Mesnil-sur-Oger". Both are strong terroir specimens, where the Vertus show the spicy component of the clay soil and the Mesnil are a very vertical chalk driven Champagne. I preferred the “Mesnil”, however the “Vertus” is a gift to the “table” with its great structure and spice-box.
Already at the 2010 Terre et vins de Champagne, I was fascinated by the Champagnes of Chartogne-Taillet. Luckily we now have a Danish importer and I can’t wait to explore his Champagnes even more. Young Alexandre Chartogne was once again present. His 3 single vineyard Champagnes, which all hasn’t been released yet, where some of the most exiting Champagnes of the event. The 2007 Orizeaux (100% Pinot Noir) is sophisticated stuff and a Champagne filled with energy. It has this vivid and floating style, which is a trademark of Taillet, yet it’s poised with a strong soil footprint. "Le Heurtebises" is the name of the second single vineyard Champagne. It’s 100% Chardonnay from 43 year old vines and even though the 2007 served at this event is still awful young with plenty of lemon zest and mineral overload you once again sense the magnificent potential the Champagne which had lots of warm soil energy. The third one, which is the only one who has been released, (yet Taillet had concerns about it’s evolvement and have actually stopped selling it for a while) is called “Les Barres”. It’s the first release in 2006 vintage; 100% Pinot Meunier from 55+ old ungrafted vines (sandy soils like Tarlant’s Vigne d’Antan) - or vieilles vignes Françaises, if you prefer. Like Jérôme Prévost “Les Béguines” it’s taken Pinot Meunier to higher grounds with sophisticated spices, sleek structure and despite Les Barres feels somewhat shy I am always intrigued with Champagnes which uses very low volumes to impress. Les Barres was one of my lunch Champagnes. It did exceptional well with some cheese and ham.
(Emmanuel Brochet stopped by)
Sadly David Léclapart wasn’t personally present at this event. David is one of the kindest wine producers I have ever met, so it wasn’t the same tasting his wines without him there. David’s 2010 are all very promising. In Champagne I found 2007 “L’Amateur” a bit weird. It feels very “steely” and cold and it’s almost like the fruit is frozen and it’s resulting in a very short and slim finish. However, I have learned that David’s wines are very “emotional” things and tend to find themselves in very weird and awkward phases, so it’s too early too dismiss 2007 “L’Amateur”.
It’s making me proud to see how Aurélien Laherte is making progress. This young, friendly and incredible humble winemaker has since the birth of “Les Clos” (now called “Les 7”) demonstrated that he belongs among the very best. But it doesn’t stop there – there are improvements all across the Laherte Land and even his bargain “NV Brut Nature” offering is constantly delivering simple authentic drinking pleasure. After I had visited almost all of the producers I returned to Laherte to have a glass of “Brut Nature” and I delivered as it always do. Aurélien presented the newest release of "Vigne d'Autrefois" in 2007 vintage. It’s a very interesting Champagne which plays a game of spices and minerals being blended together. 2007 seems like a delicate and feminine vintage, but there is a lack of structure in those Champagnes I have tasted so far. Even better was the 2007 “Les Empreintes”. A biodynamic farmed Champagne from 40% Chardonnay (1/3 is Chardonnay muscaté) planted in 1957, 40% Pinot Noir planted in 1983 and 20 % Pinot Meunier planted in 1965. It shows exactly Laherte ability to balance a rather rich Champagne, yet preserve sophisticated Asian spices and a balanced sleek mineral finish.
Olivier Horiot is not new to me, yet I have only tasted his Rosé and red wine before. Olivier seems like a very playful person, yet his intense look tells you the guy means serious business when it comes to his wines. They are all very bio-driven and maybe it’s not so political correct Champagnes, but I really like this urban and wildness they have. I see it like this – the more diversity the better. The 2004 Sevé (100% Pinot Noir) has some rather funky aromas of wild cherries. However it’s a bit too nutty and waxy in profile. Having said that I would like to taste it again. The 2006 “5 Sens” (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc and Arbanne – 0 g/l dosage) was probably one of the most floral wines of the event. Incredible funky Champagne, waxy style, yet with poised citrus fruits. I will have to taste it again some day.
Raphäel Bérèche, another young Champagne producer, which is always smiling like life is just a big playground. You can only be in a good mood when you are around him and his Champagnes are constantly getting better. It’s the result of more and more purity with ballerina weightlessness and it’s simply brilliant. Extra Brut Réserve and Beaux Regards prove my case, with juicy, light and crystal clear flavours. His new Pinot Meunier “Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche” (4 g/l dosage) is pretty irresistible with a very seductive creamy approach with very subtle tones of citrus and spices.
One of the worst things about being a poor consumer is that you will always miss out on some of the many great Champagens growers. I feel like that with Benoît Lahaye, which wines are even so fair priced. He really impressed me this year by kicking off with a new cuvée called “Violaine” (50% Chardonnay / 50% Pinot Noir) made entirely without sulfur. The 2008 present at this event demonstrated incredible vivid pure fruit composition and with a singing energy both in fruit core and palate nerve. His 2006 vintage is also worth looking out for. It’s vivid bright fruit with remarkable clarity and a real seductive Champagne.
And how can one forget Benoît Tarlant – so kind, fun and generous. I also visited him a few days after and I am really into his BAM (Pinot Blanc, Arbanne, Petit Meslier), which he also presented in vins clairs at Terre et vins. I have a thing for these very bright flavoured Champagnes, which might be categorized as particular when they go a bit too high pitched. However, when BAM here, knocks over the barometer of energy, I am sold. Benoît might blend the first release of BAM with some reserve wines; to smoothen out those “particular” notes somewhat (don’t do it Benoît….or save a mono-vintage case for me ;-) ). But let’s see. The 2010 Vigne d’Artan in vins clairs seem to have survived the rough weather of 2010 and it’s such a great wine. I also like the Pinot Noir “Mocque Tonneau”, which is very aristocratic. In Champagne he presented a later disgorged version of “Cuvee Louis” (still 1996, 1997 and 1998 vintage). A bit more autolysis has infected this Champagne, but overall it’s still the same great stuff. The 2002 Vigne d’or was also there. It’s a rollercoaster of a Champagne, but I would seriously give it another 2-3 years of cellaring as it seems to have some waxy baby fat components stuck on it’s structure.
I am already looking forward to Terre et vins de Champagne 2012.