Saturday, May 25, 2013

2013 Terres et Vins de Champagne

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(“Les Alliés” from Chartogne-Taillet)

(Vincent Laval)
(Alexandre Chartogne)
(Benôit Lahaye - charming as always)
(Dominique Moreau)
(Tarlant - Benôit Tarlant)
(Olivier Paulet)

The 5th edition of Terres et vins de Champagne took place on Monday the 22nd of April 2013.

It’s my third time there and I can’t help to make some kind of comparison of how the event has evolved over the years.

Some things remain the same, like the location at Goutorbes cosy Hotel Castel Jeanson in Aÿ – and always on a Monday in mid-April.  Of all the years I have participated the weather have also been brilliant with the flowering spring - cool and crisp air…not really hurting your Champagne taste buds. The menu also holds the same friendly and passionate wine makers– even more enthusiastic than ever this year. They present their vins clairs from the latest harvested year (this year 2012) and often their Champagne clones in the current release. Once again also a year where Terres et vins de Champagne adds another producer – and this year two actually with Vincent Laval (Champagne Georges Laval) and Marie-Noëlle Ledru. If this continues the cosy courtyard of Hotel Jeanson will be too small for future events.

The number of attending Champagne lovers have however exploded over the years and grower Champagne are hotter than ever before, especially outside France. Despite these producer are some of the most humble and hospitable people I have met, they have had to limit the event to 400 professionals…so you might ask what the hell this drunken Danish blogger are doing there? I am not even that serious when I am there – compared with people running around with laptops and taking notes on site. What I try to do, is first of all say hello to the producers and just finding out how they are doing. Then ask about their vins clairs to see if I can find a similar pattern or in fact a producer are deviating from consensus are why that is? Then I taste without notes, but when I have tasted everything I scribble a few headlines in my notebook (which is green btw and handmade). After I have tasted, what I can cope with, I fetch my camera. When it comes to shooting images, I am probably the most geeky one there and have a camera, which has the weight of the Eifel Tower. It feels almost ridiculous sometimes compared with better and better phone cameras, which within a split second can tweak images in Instagram and share them online. 

(Alexandre Chartogne - "AMEN")
(Françoise Bedel)
(Elodie Pouillon - wife of Fabrice Pouillon)
(David Léclapart)
(Aline Serva from Au Bon Manger)

But let’s get going.

2012 vins Clairs - overall

A lot of producers had early concerns about 2012 and in general described the year as really particular or extreme.  Cold winter with February hitting minus 17-20 Celsius. Spring followed and it was really wet and even included a deadly hailstorms across the region. Summer was nothing to write about either, before  a 10 day window in August occurred – and once again extreme, with temperatures hitting as high as 40 degrees Celsius. The August window was sent from heaven and seemed to have saved the harvest. Yet the yields are really low in 2012 - everyone will have less to offer - some up to 60% lower production.  Despite I am getting better and better at tasting Vins Clairs it’s not always easy. I do however think the overall quality of 2012 was pretty good – some even outstanding like Agrapart and Laval.

Champagnes…and forgive me for not having everyone included….everyone has something to offer.

I always start with Laherte. It’s a tradition and it just makes me in such a good mood to say hello to Aurélien Laherte. His simple "BdB Brut Nature" are a must in every Champagne lovers collection and it’s often one of those Champagnes I pick whenever I don’t really know what I want to drink, because it delivers a simple, pure and a honest expression of Champagne.  I am also eagerly impressed with his "Les Empreintes", which is a more complex breed, but still holding Laherte trademark of delivering really kicking freshness.

As already mentioned, Pascal Agrapart presented a spectacular set of 2012 vins clairs. His Champagne releases was represented by his traditional Chardonnay-trio of; "Minéral", "Avizoise" and "Vénus" in 2007 vintage. Overall I find the 2007 vintage charming (by the few things I have tasted), fresh and light, but probably a vintage that will end up being sort of in between the intense ’06s and the supernatural ’08s. However Pascal Agrapart level is insanely high and these wines are so pure and precise. Minéral is clean as its name, Avizoise is exotic with pineapple fruit appeal and Vénus is intellectual and tight, but one hell of a chalky and blessed Bdb Chamapagne.

Dominique Moreau (Champagne Marie-Courtin) was next and on paper it might not have been the right choices turning directly from the chalky expression of the Côte des Blancs directly to the Côtes des Bar. Maybe that was the reason why I found her 2012 vins clairs lacking some tallness compared with Agrapart Samurai Sword. Her Champagnes are on the other hand lovely and just a reminder how diverse Champagne are and what the Côtes des Bar has to offer. "Résonance" are a lovely entry level, but "Efflorscence" offers more Pinot Noir raciness and present itself more balanced. The "Eloquence" is a Chardonnay offering (2008 present), which I have tasted 2 times before and I love it for its bright and intense acidity driven appeal. I will however cellar my bottles a couple of years to see if it’s young lime and citrus appeal can attract a some deeper and sensual Chardonnay character.

Raphaël  Bérèche presented his Chardonnay "Les Beaux Regards", "Le Cran" 2006 and a new rosé “Campania Remensis” Extra-Brut. Raphaël makes incredible sensual and delightful Champagne, which had a certain floating a weightless character.  His "Les Beaux Regards" is clean and vivid and really thirst-quenching.  2006 “Le Cran” is really interesting with many bio-driven notes of baby banana and yoghurt and a very playful Champagne, which will be even more complete with a couple of years in the cellar. His new rosé “Campania Remensis”  brings good memories back to his spectacular 2006 rosé Instant No.1 – yet not so graceful and a touch more bold, yet filled with overly  sexy and charming red fruit. A real crowd pleaser and  so easy to drink.

Vincent laval was next and as already flagged his 2012 are indeed promising with enormous depth. Champagne wise Laval presented his "Cumières Brut Nature", which is always a pleasure to drink.  I of course missed the company of this “Les Chênes” and  “Les Hautes-Chévres”, which wasn’t present. Oh well – I guess it’s just another reason for returning next year and maybe I will find them there.

(Olivier Horiot)
(Marie-Noëlle Ledru)

(Peter Liem - Champagneguide)
(Fabrice Pouillon)
(Passionate Dominique Moreau)

(David Léclapart)

David Léclapart is hard for me to say anything negative about, as I find both this person and Champagnes among some of the most personal and energetic. David reminds me to enjoy life and why not do it with one of his Champagnes. David have had a very challenging 2012 and was only able to present a single vins clairs he called “A”, which was an assemblage. Despite it wasn’t at the same level as the best ones there it was soon forgotten when I stuck my nose into a glass of 2008 “L’Artiste”. Unbelievable Champagne, it jumps out of the glass with enormous raw soil intensity and it simply blew me away. “L’Apôtre” was present in 2007, which ones again confirmed a vintage, which is light on its toes, pure and probably will mature a bit faster than other vintages. After two spectacular ’08 in the presence of “L’Amateur” and “L’Artiste” I don’t think I am the only one impatiently waiting for the release of the ’08 L’Apôtre” in 2014. David’s Saignée rosé “L’Alchimiste” was there in 2008 vintage and this is a Champagne, which always splits my mind. Without food it’s not exactly a pleaser with its raw iron and cranberry/Campari tonality and tannic taste. With food and some +6 years in the cellar I can see some potential for it and despite the latest releases are not as aggressive as the first vintages, I fail to really fall in love with this cuvée.

Right next to David was the talented Alexandre Chartogne (Chartogne-Taillet), presenting some of his single vineyard releases (and you have to forgive me, because I am actually not 100% sure whether these were all 2008 vintage as it says on official program) There is big potential and life in these cuvées and they have added another time and place spot in Champagnes diverse landscape. There is however one thing, which keeps me from only doing excited summersaults – and that’s the dosage. Now the Champagnes present at the tasting, had just been disgorged and the dosage had no chance at all to be fully integrated. In such a case the dosage tends to be feel like a sweet round big round bold stuck in the front of the mouth. In addition my assumption could be pure speculation, as I haven’t had the chance to taste these cuvée with zero, 2, 3,5, or 10 g/l for that matter. Still!! – I claim there is conflict vs my personal taste. You see 95% of the time I prefer Champagnes without dosage and when you have already been invited to the holy land with the 2006 Les Barres (it was released without dosage) you can’t help to feel a little bit sorry that it seems like the new vintage will actually have in the neighbourhood of 3 <> 5g/l dosage. Thing is dear readers, the dosage might not be all about sweetness, but it creates this small film running across the wine, taking you just a fraction away from the raw material – enough to leave you with a feeling of only having “seen – not touched”. So please Alexandre – don’t put any dosage in your Champagnes – they are magical without (I’ll bet) or at least let the Danish allocation be without ;-).

Now – back to those three Champagnes present from Alexandre, which are indeed filled with personality. There is the already mentioned "Les Barres" a Pinot Meunier from ungrafted vines holding this remarkable elastic structure and refined spices. The newest addition to the single vineyard portfolio is another Pinot Meunier “Les Alliés”, which might not have the same elastic structure, but it shines with a brighter character and lots of raciness.
"Orizeaux" (Pinot Noir) – and very sophisticated, both refined and intense, but also this weightless style.

("Orizeaux" From Chartogne-Taillet)
(Aurélien Laherte)
(Pascal Doquet)

(David and Vincent swapping hats and having fun)
(David and Vincent with friends)
(Franck Pascal)
(Fabrice Pouillon with Jordi Melendo)
(Pascal Agrapart)
(Cuvée Louis from Tarlant)

Benôit Tarlant is always a treat to say hello to – playful, charming and slowly shaping his philosophy into the cuvées of Tarlant. I have been fortunate to taste "BAM" a couple of times with Benôit and was happy too see it on display, although it’s not officially released yet (but getting closer). It’s a blend of Pinot Blanc, Arbanne and Petit Meslier and I have always been impressed by it’s energy. Benôit presented a base of 2008 and it was singing with confidence. It expressed a unique character and flirted with a lot of soya-based notes, making you think of pairing it together with some Sushi. Not the worst combination if you ask me.
Benôit had also brought another Champagne, which I have tried samples of before – the Pinot Noir based single vineyard Noir called “Mocque Tonneau” and now officially released as “La Vigne Royal Extra Brut” (1 g/l). It’s a rich and concentrated Champagne. Although it’s style is easy to link and mark by the vintage, with it’s deeper baseline and darker Pinot Noir cherry notes it has much more to offer. There is solid soil intensity (terroir is chalk), which of course is adding to the concentration but also supplying some liveliness and freshness keeping the balance intact. A really successful ’03.
The third and last Champagne from Benôit were the traditional Cuvée Louis. “Now it’s finally my wine” Benôit proudly said – as the current release of Cuvée Louis is a typical blend of the usual three vintages, including the 1999, which was the first year Benôit took over. Louis is incredible Charming and classic – a Champagne for both enjoyment and intellect. Great line-up.

Let me also mention Benôit Lahayes sans sufre “Violaine” – present in the second release of 2009 vintage. A very interesting and free Champagne, despite the 2009 seemed bit shyer than 2008. Give it some time.

Françoise Bedel – presented a much better line-up this year and I think you have to recognize the quality she are able to bring forward, given where she is located.  Her style is really bio driven and funky and beautiful with food – especially for the cooler seasons where mushrooms and more dense food are dominating the table.

Last but not least – Pascal Doquet, who have some very lively and precise Champagnes. A good way to get acquainted could very well be his new BdB “Horizon”, which is an honest and really simple drink me quick Champagne. Even better, deeper and really linear are his ’02 Mesnil. In general Pascal brings forward lots of raciness in this Champagnes and they are constantly getting better. 

 (Olivier Horiot - makes one of Champagnes best Coteau Champanois)
 (Raphaël  Bérèche)
(Pascal Agrapart having something to drink after a long day)

Think that was it….I’ll be back next year.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

"Les Vins de Champagne à travers le temps".

(A wooden statue inside the Cathedral)

Since 2011 Terres et vins de Champagne have sent out personal invitations to some of their closest friends and contacts to participate in a dinner one day before the actual event. I am proud to be a part of that group, feel more than welcome and it feels like one big family.

This year’s event started with a two hour guided tour (in French of course – so don’t ask me for a summary) in Reims historical Cathedral and it’s museum. To prevent the guest from thirsting, there were a short stop on the tour, where Vincent Laval served his “Rosé Cumiéres Brut Nature” from Magnum. It’s the best example I have tasted of this rosé and it has a wonderful rhubarb and verbena combination to it.    

(Vincent Laval)

After the guided our we ended in the museum where restaurant A. Lallement had prepared a cascade of small tasty appetizers, with the companionship of all the producers’ wines.

Since the first Terres et vins de Champagne they have handed out the “Terres et vins Prize” and I am proud to say that this year it was given out to Mia & Mads Rudolf from Denmark, who run the Champagne/Bio/Natural wine import company; Pètillant. Besides being close friends of mine – and where I source most of my wines - they are the author couple behind the book “Champagnebibelen” (The Champagne bible). A must for all Champagne lovers – (despite currently only released in Danish).

I couldn’t help to reflect, while I sat in the impressive Cathedral, why these so humble and casual growers had chosen such a pompous setting? In 2011 they marked the event by “Revolt” and claiming their terroir back – a reference to the Champagne revolution in 1911. Maybe they want to remind us, that the big houses don’t own the right to claim monopoly on historical reference. Growers are a vital part of the history in Champagne and these innovative winemakers, are so much more than a short en vogue thing.

Champagne wise this pre-event is to me not a night where you pick up your notebook and write endless long tasting notes. You say hello to the growers, see how they are doing and put pleasure in the front seat. Having said that – you are allowed too geek just a little bit.


Again – let me stress, that “best” is not easy here and even not that important. These growers have all something to offer and diversity is the key word.

I kicked off with some 2009 Marie-Courtin her sans soufre “Concordance”, which I had the pleasure of having tasted 4 times before – and even the week before, when Dominique Moreau visited Copenhagen. I am eagerly impressed with this cuvée, as it’s so free and elastic with even more potential to come with a couple of years of cellaring.

At the same table I tried some of Alexandre Chartogne single Pinot Noir vineyard cuvée Orizeauex, which was present in 2007 vintage. This Champagne, together with the rest of the single vineyard releases, is really interesting and filled with so much life and energy. But there is an issue with the dosage for me. Something I will come back to, when I have finished my report on the primary event.

I was quite enthusiastic to see Pascal Agrapart had brought his 2007 “Expérience” – a Champagne I was fascinated by the one time I was lucky to taste it. Here it was again and it was singing like an angel. This cuvée are a plot combination of L'Avizoise and Minéral, but the real mojo about this cuvée is that it’s made without any chaptalization and only natural yeast in first and second fermentation. This is officially not allowed, but Pascal used 5-6 years to get it right and has convinced INAO that he can do it. It’s seriously one of the best Champagnes I have ever tasted. Such a vinous breed, so precise, refined and delicate. It has a certain reductive tonality, which normally can restrict proper unfolding, but when it’s fuelled by an overload of chalkiness, I am not really feeling any remorse. Magic.

(Lined up and ready - Benoît Tarland and Arnaud Lallement in the background)
Benoît Lahaye served something really funky. A Champagne I have read about before, but never tasted; the 2009 Brut Nature “Jardin de la Grosse Pierre”.  How I understand it it’s a old plot giving birth to this wine and it hold most of the 7 allowed grapes plus “some other stuff”. I am not even sure Benoît knows all of the grapes in this Champagne – how wicked is that? Anyway the Champagne is really something else and has a spice window like nothing I have ever tasted from Champagne. Be sure I will taste it again, when it’s officially released later this year.

I also had the chance to taste Aurélien Laherte very limited (296 bottles) Coteau Champanois “La Troisième Vie” made form 100% Pinot Meunier. It was very Burgundy driven with lovely red touch of raspberries and vanilla, but maybe a too bold and square in its definition. For Aurélien its more a curious experiment and he will keep trying different approaches and he is not completely satisfied yet – “especially the vinification could be better”, he says with a smile.

Another still red wine present were the 2000 “Rosé des Riceys” from Oliviver Horiot. It’s much more fragile breed, compared with the one from Aurélien Laherte. Obviously with some age to it, where the red notes have dried out, shaping notes of autumn leaves and forest floor. 

Last and not least; Pascal Doquet had brought his “Vertus” in 1996 vintage. It was a brilliant Champagne, bring forward overripe apple juice with the spicy soil elements of Vertus. In addition it delivered a vibrant and firm acidity.

…and a lot more.

My evening continued with some friends to L'Epicerie Au Bon Manger, where we had things like Apôtre ’06 and ’06 Les Chênes, but that’s a different story. 

Stay tuned for more on Terres et vins de Champagne 2013