Serious Champagne – If you can buy it at the grocery store, it isn’t

Tim's Wine Market

In the early 1990’s I was one of the lucky few people to see the very first Terry Theise Grower Champagne catalog.  At the time I was running with a few small Champagne houses but his offering was  revelation to me.  Here were Champagnes producers that did not try and homogenize the region and vintage variation, but rather accentuate it.   At that time we made the decision to host a blind tasting of the best known Champagne houses versus the up start, “farmer fizz” examples.  The results were stunning.The big names like the one with the orange label and the other with the white star, they just tasted sweet and clumsy.  The small guys by comparison shows depth, dimension and complexity.  At the time they were cheaper but soon the world discovered them and the prices climbed.  You see, unlike the big boys these estates cannot simply open the tap and make more, they are limited by what their land can produce.  (This is not a problem for the big boys as they don’t grow many grapes, they purchase them.)  After a couple of tastings where the big boys took beating after beating I made the decision.  We would stake our fortune on producers with passion, not mega-corporations looking to make as much money as possible at the expense of their workers.So twelve or thirteen years later here you go, the offering, 2010.  None of these are in big supply so email or call us first so we can make sure you get what you want.  If you have any questions, just ask.New Champagne ArrivalsJacquesson Cuvee 734 Brut                        $67Jacquesson Millesime 2000                       $159Although not well known trivia, the founder of this estate, Memmie Jacquesson and his son Adolphe, were two of the greatest innovators in France for their time (late 1700’s to mid-1800’s.)  Adolphe was the first vigneron to train vines on wires, working directly with Dr. Guyot (whose trellising system is still the most prevalent in Europe to this day), use a measured dosage to prevent bottles from exploding and he patented the muselet , the wire cage still used to this day to hold the cork in the bottle.  The estate left family hands in the late 1800’s and in 1974 was bought by the Chiquet family who have managed it ever since.The current managers, brothers Jean-Herve & Laurent Chiquet, oversee all aspects of production and marketing after working their way up from the cellar.  The family own 31 hectares of vines in Grand Cru and Premier Cru villages and also source from 11 hectares they farm but do not own.  They are unusual in Champagne in that they severely prune at bud break to reduce yield, use no pesticides or herbicides and add only organic fertilizer to their vines.  Although not technically a “grower Champagne” this small house (less than 30,000 cases) is a true standard bearer of quality in the region.At Jacquesson they ferment all their base wine in old foudre and do not block malolactic fermentation.  The result are weighty Champagnes that also show great finesse.  The Cuvée 734 was disgorged in February and released in March, 2010.  This cuvée is based upon the 2006 vintage (73%) with reserve from the 2005 vintage (22%) and the 2004 vintage (5%).  Because of the difficult nature of the 2006 vintage  a severe selection was made, and the final blend resulted in 54% Chardonnay, 26% Pinot Meunier, and 20% Pinot Noir. Cuvee 734 displays a nose of cocoa powder and baked pears, superb concentration on the palate and long, very polished acids into the finish.The extremely rare Vintage (Millesime) 2000 is composed of 50% Chardonnay from Avize “Champ Caȉn” and Pinot Noir from Verzenay (20%), Dizy (20%), and Ay “Vauzelle Terme” (10%). The growing season had the highest average temperature recorded since 1956. June was hot, July wet and cold with hailstorms, while August was hotter but still on the wet side. The end of August saw good weather at last, and this held throughout September. Jacquesson began its harvest on September 18th.  This is big Champagne, broadly textured with finely tuned acids.  The nose shows hints of fresh-from-the-oven brioche, baked apples, juniper berries and lemon grass.Barnaut Grande Reserve                         $55Barnaut Grande Reserve 375 ml           $30This wine has been a staple of our Champagne selections for several years.  Barnaut is one of the oldest Champagne houses located outside of Reims and Epernay, owning 17.5 hectares (43 acres) in the Grand Cru village of Bouzy and in the Marne Valley.  The estate is currently under the direction of Philippe Secondé, a 5th generation descendant of founder Edmond Barnaut, who took over in 1985 and quickly modernized the cellars and the vineyards.  Vineyards are farmed using a lutte raisonnée approach, meaning no herbicides, only organic fertilizers and commercial fungicide only when needed.  At harvest all of the grapes go through a sorting table before going into the fermenter, a very rare process in Champagne.This estate is planted mostly to Pinot Noir (88% of the vineyards) and consequently the wines are softer and easier to enjoy without food.  Fermentation is done in stainless tank and all cuvees undergo malolactic in tank.   Half the wine held as reserve wine each year and their non-vintage wines are aged twenty-four months before disgorgement.For the Grand Reserve cuvee (yellow label) the blend is approximately two-thirds Pinot Noir and the balance Chardonnay.  For the reserve portion of the blend they use the same solera that was begun by Edmond 1874 (roughly half the blend) and the balance is from the current vintage, in this case 2007.  In the nose this wine displays aromas of yellow apple, green apple, green cardamom and juniper berry.  The palate of this wine is rich and generous, with a deep core of fruit that rolls across the palate, framed only at the end by integrated acidity.  This is a very nice drinking Champagne without food but also compliments young cheeses and smoked salmon.Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Cuvee Hugues Coulmet                      $55Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Cuvee Hugues Coulmet 375 ml        $32I intentionally placed this wine after the Barnaut as Moncuit is the yin to their yang.  If Barnaut’s style could be described as soft like a Peter Paul Rubens painting, Moncuit’s is the chiseled definition of Michelangelo’s David.  It is here that you see the precise structure of Grand Cru Chardonnay from the most hallowed site in Champagne,  Les-Mesnil-sur-Oger.  This is the village from which both Krug and Salon produce their celebrated wines and here is a chance to sample a grower version for a fraction of the price.This estate was founded in 1889 by Pierre Moncuit and has been run by his great-grand daughter Nicole since 1977.  They farm 16 hectares (37 acres) all in the Grand Cru village of Les Mesnil-sur-Oger and own the oldest vines in the area.  In a region that rarely lets a vine reach 30 years old, theirs are at least 45 years old and they possess two parcels of vines nearing 100 years of age.At this property all of the wine is fermented in stainless tank for alcoholic and malolactic fermentations.  Also, all wine is from a single vintage even if not designated on the label, with this wine being from the 2007 vintage.  This cuvee also spends thirty-six months on the lees before disgorgement, and three months in bottle prior to release.When you pop this Champagne you see the intensity of Grand Cru Chardonnay immediately in the nose, with notes of celery heart, lemon verbena, coriander and toasted nut shells.  In the mouth this wine is precise and cut, with a firmness to the fruit from beginning to end.  You will want to serve this wine with oysters (best raw but cooked are fine too) or cold shrimp with a lemon herb dressing.Dosnan-Lepage Recolte Blanche                   $66Dosnan-Lepage Recolte Brute                        $66Unlike the other estates of this offering Dosnan-Lepage is only a few years old.  Davy Dosnan and Simon-Charles Lepage grew up together in Champagne and after a few years in other endeavors returned to launch their own label.  They own only two hectares so they buy from other growers in the Aube Valley.  This area, one hour north of the town of Chablis, is unique in that the soils give the wine great minerality but the warmer climate gives them a riper quality than is traditional.All of the wines of D&L are fermented in used barrels from Puligny-Montrachet for alcoholic and malolactic.  Each harvest they hold back a considerable amount of wine for their reserve program and they use virtually no dosage to adjust the wines.The Recolte Blanche is 100% Chardonnay and 40% of the blend is Reserve wine.  The nose is exciting, with notes of nectarine, green apple, coriander and oyster shells exploding from the nose.  In the mouth this wine starts with what appears to be a generous presence of fruit but it is quickly wound up by firm, chalky acidity that runs all the way to the finish.  This is another great sparkling for seafood or soft cheeses.D&L’s more textured Recolte Brute is made from 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, with 40% of the blend coming from reserve wine.   This wine shows a warmth in the nose, with notes of fresh raspberries, green plums and a touch of dried straw.  On the palate this wine is intense but generous, with the broad fruit framed near the finish by some fairly vivid acidity.  The dosage of this wine is an almost completely dry 4 grams per liter and it is completely transparent on the palate.  Serve this wine oil poached salmon with preserved lemons.Tarlant Cuvee Louis                            $115If D&L is the newbie of this offering, Tarlant is the grand, old man.  The estate was founded in 1687 by Pierre Tarlant and it remains in the family today, with the 12th generation ready to assume leadership from current president, Jean-Mary Tarlant, who took over in 1972.  The family farms 14 hectares across four different villages in the Valley of the Marne.Wine making at Tarlant is also different than the other properties of this offering.  All parcels are pressed and vinified separately, in new and used oak barrels with batonnage throughout the winter.  They block the malolactic for all their wines and age all reserve cuvee in oak barrels.The current Cuvee Louis is a blend of the 1996, 1997 and 1998 vintages, blended and bottled in 1999.   The wine kept on the lees for ten years and disgorged this spring.  Because of the incredible time in bottle the dosage of this wine is a minuscule 3 grams per liter.  When you pop a cork of this wine you will see a deep golden color and a profound nose of dried apricots and apples, enoki mushroom and grilled bread.  In the mouth this wine is unbelievably broad and rich, with the deep, earthy/fruit running deep into the palate.  While this is a great wine to drink without food it also works great with roast duck and braised, stuffed veal breast.