Champagne

In the late spring I had the opportunity to return from France for a visit through parts of Champagne and Burgundy.  I am now reminded of the trip because upon return from France, New York City was thrust full furnace blast in a heat wave.  I scrambled to install air conditioners, and my internal mindset left behind the life changing experience that is Bourgogne.  Now amidst another scorching week, fiercer than pimientos de pardon, I think back to the idyllic temperature and climate of Beaune, exploring the villages of Meursault, Chablis, and Volnay, as well as the Aube, stepsister to the now more famous Reims and Epernay.

No stranger to intensive food and wine trips, I was looking forward to something extra special.  After all, Champagne is one of my first loves, and Burgundy has become my mature mistress, brimming with magical history and complex allure.  Traveling with my two friends in the biz procured visits to some of the most prominent cellars.

Focusing on small grower producers in a less renowned region (Aube) proved to be satisfying on many levels.  First, most of the little guys are farmers who cultivate their own vines to be used for their own bottling.  This practice is directly opposite from the corporation run houses of the day.  Not that there is anything wrong with the larger houses.  Some of them still produce good wines from outsourced grapes.  It is often the NV offerings that taste industrial and is often confused for good Champagne.   These mass market bruts with heavy dosage are exposed when compared to a vintage cuvee with single vineyard terroirs.

We visited eight producers, and most of the Champagne tasted had an overall artisanal craftsmanship quality due to small batch production and personal handling and care.  Wineries visited:

Salon

Drappier

Denon et Lepage

Marie Courtin

Cedric Bouchard

Charles Dufour

Jacques Lessaigne

Vouette et Sorbee

I was most excited to visit Salon, having never tasted their wines.  They did not disappoint as their wines exuded precise, racy, sophistication with tremendous aging potential.  The memorabilia from Maxim’s was a bonus.

My favorite champagnes of the trip hailed from the small village of Montgueux, the armpit of armpits where Jacques Lassaigne is crafted unceremoniously, but passionately.  Montgueux is the Montrachet of Champagne, an island of old vines limestone soils of chardonnay.

The best rosé of memory was the Saignee de Sorbee 2007, almost smoky and sleek with gobs of minerality.

Here is a list of standouts from three days of tasting:

Vouette et Sorbee 2004, Saignee de Sorbee ‘07

Drappier Brut Nature Blanc de Noir,Carte D’Or Brut,Quattro, Millesime ‘95 & ‘04

Jacques Lassaigne Le Cotet (blend ’02,05,07), Millesime 04, La Colline (blend 06,07)

Dosnon et Lepage NV 2008, Blancs de blancs, Recolte extra brut NV 2008, Recolte Rose, Alliance

Marie Courtin Pilliot Rose 2006, Poillot

Cedric Bouchard Inflourescence 2006, Rose de Jeanne 2008

Salon Le Mesnil 1983, Salon 1997, Delamotte Blancs de Blancs ‘05

It was interesting to taste the chardonnay and pinot noir separately before it is made into champagne, especially the rosés.

Overall, the wines expressed elegant structure, aging potential, racy minerality, and sometimes creaminess in texture.  My favorites exhibited a certain degree of precision with varying aromas of truffle to exotic fruits.

I left with the impression that these small producers had the element of passion in common, and dedication to the vineyards.  The style of winemaking more Burgundian in philosophy, actually cultivating grapes not for sale to the large houses in Epernay and Reims, but rather to create wines of distinct terroir.  What a refreshinging, novel idea.

For the lead, in depth story on this leg of the journey, read Champagnes of the Aube.