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A visit to Champagne with Yair – Day 1
June 7th 2011, My 58th Birthday is 4 days from today, Decided to treat myself with a visit to Paris and combine a two days trip to Champagne This is something I have been meaning to do for A LONG TIME… for me coming from Tel-Aviv the general direction due west …or as the Beatles say follow the sun…
We set out early morning from Paris its a rainy Day. The mini cooper is quick to gulp the 137Km to the village of Vertus Where we’re suppose to visit Pierre Larmandier, of Larmandier Bernier later this afternoon.
But we took off early and the mini is swift , so we have several hours to “kill” in the area before our meeting for a tasting at Larmandier starts.
Yair is the ultimate Guide in the wine regions of France and there is a structure to his wine Journeys for Pros and Novices alike, it contains much more than just some visits for tasting wines.
There are Visits to the vineyards,a bit of history, and other places of general or particular interest are all included. So we set out into the vineyards of the Côte de Blancs Our destination for the first day with the Men and Legends of the sub region. This is the source of the vines of the Best Chardonnay lots of champagne. We take the vineyards road all the way up to the top of the cote de blanc up to the forest,
we look down the slope of the rows of chardonnay vines to the valley below and the sun comes up The sun rays caressing the vine leaves and the air gets warmer. Now I understand (at least I think I do), why those farmers of champagne installed those giant Ventilators in the entry to the Valley, it gets pretty warm here even though we are on the 49th parallel, in fact this is the northern most wine region on the northern Hemisphere.
We stroll carefully amongst the vines, the grapes are just starting to cluster, we look down the rows, what a sight. I must show you something says Yair we drive into a little village: Mesnil-sur-Oger. Tucked in between the small houses, just off one of the streets is the the renowned Clos du Mesnil vineyard. The small ally leading to it is almost unseen called: Allee clos du Mensil (the S in silent pronounced Menil).
This historic 1.85ha vineyard has been enclosed by a stone wall since 1698 and is set on a southeast-facing slope and is sheltered from the weather by its wall and the Vilaage houses. Purchased by the Krug family in 1971 it was restored to its previous glory by replanting the Chardonnay vines one section at a time. The 1979 vintage finally achieved expected quality by Krug standards and the first vintage of the Krug Clos du Mesnil was produced since than about 12,000 bottles of this wine are made in only the top vintages. We climbed an elevation of the ground which set us just above the wall line, The “Legend” infront of our eyes and the wall separating us humans and wine Royalty. I was not humbled but certainly excited. A sip from a 1985 Clos du Mensil would make this moment perfect, Alas Krug do not have a stall of wine by the glass on site.
Lets pop in to see my friend Pierre Gonet and his sister Chantal says Yair since we’re in Mensil Sur Oger, Only Chantal is there but she gives us a very warm welcome and a proper tasting of ALL their wines The one with the intriguing name: Philippe Gonet EXTRA-BRUT 3210 Blanc de Blancs, means Aged 3 years, 2 terroirs, 1 variety, 0 dosage is the crisp, fresh and the most acidic of them all and they start with higher acidity than your usual blended champagnes here at the Côte de Blancs! It’s a backbone that stretches through all the other different wines, an excellent start to a sunny day in the countryside CAMPAGNE. ..Grandma Gonet (picture above, deceased over a century and a half ago), was overlooking the tasting with her stern posture
We depart and set out the short ride south to VERTUS to our first “booked” visit of the day at Larmandier Bernier. Sophie Larmandier welcomes us to the wonderful tasting room on the ground floor
Pierre ia an artisan producer, he says: “we do disgorge the bottles, we add the dosage, to give the final touch to the champagne. But while most brut Champagnes are dosed at around 12 grams per litre, we never exceed 5 grams for our brut cuvées. For the ‘Terre de Vertus’ Non Dosé’, it’s simple: we add no sugar at all. Generally speaking, there is about 1 gram of residual sugar anyway”.
“We prefer to favour the maturity of the grapes and their natural sugar rather than adding sugar when the bottles are disgorged and running the risk of making the Champagne heavier and losing sight of the terroir”.
First we go down the spiral stairs to the cellars to have some of last vintage wines before bottling. The acidity at the moment is sky rocketing though it will mellow at the end of the process but keep an elegant, tight, dense and fresh, but delicate champagnes of the highest order.
Pierre is so enthusiastic and feels at home amongst the Oak barrels on one hand and the strangely looking egg-shaped concrete tanks. These small tanks assist in oxygenation of the wine. Their shape aids fluid movement for temperature and reduces pressure on the lees. The shape also aids the deposition of the lees across a larger floor area than a barrel and avoids the need for stirring. The material is porous, allowing fermenting wine to breathe without imparting the oaky flavors. Concrete is insulative while stainless is conductive, so concrete acts as a low-tech temperature control.
This is not your everyday champagne these are “terroir-related” champagnes, with very little interference in the essence of the initial wine produced.
” Current trends among these artisan producers include decreasing yields, increasing use of oak for fermenting and ageing the still wines, lower levels of dosage with the likes of Gimmonet, Larmandier-Bernier and Jérôme Prévost offering wines with no dosage at all, and wines that are rather less aggressively fizzy than the champagne norm. Many of these producers also give far more information about make up of the blend and disgorgement dates than the average champagne producer.” Jancis Robinson
We tasted the :
Larmandier-Bernier Tradition Premier Cru NV
Larmandier-Bernier, Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru NV
Larmandier-Bernier, Terre de Vertus Non-Dosé Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru NV
Larmandier-Bernier, Vieille Vigne de Cramant Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 2005 and 2006
Some non disgorged cloudy 2009’s which had the scent and feel of a delicate cloudy fresh apple and grapefruit juice.
And the Brut 1979 Larmandier Bernier Blanc de Blancs
All the above are excellent champagnes each with its own character according to “pedigree” They can be described as very delicate with smooth small bubbles size, delicate to creamy mousse and excellent balance with long and lingering presence of citrus fruit and mineral touch of “Pierre à fusil” (It is the smell of heated flint or burned gun powder), aromas associated with the mineral character of the wine and that of the terroir. They are lighter champagnes when young with perfumes of flowers, slight aromas of grilled bread spread with butter, brioche and hazelnut. When getting older, they gain in smoothness, developing notes of fully ripe white pears and peaches. Wonderful precision!!!
As Pierre was preparing to fly abroad the next morning, we parted with sorrow but fully content and joyous
We are now heading to our final destination of the day to meet champagne’s “High Priest” in Aviz, Anselme Selosse, a good friend of Yair, what a lucky guy I am to have such friends.
It is hard to think of a single winemaker in Champagne today whose work is more influential on the new generation and on the philosophy of champagne production than that of Anselme Selosse. In heart he is a farmer, a wine grower, who happens to have this genius sparkle, which come to him with ease. (He answers to nobody but himself in the vineyard and the cellars…at home he answer to the wife like we all do)
I do not know him well enough but they say that his brilliance he has change the course of wine making in champagne region and that Anselme is the man most responsible for the revolution that’s taking Champagne to a new level. Since he studied oenology in Burgundy, he coined the idea that first you have to produce a great wine and only than make them into a great champagne all produced from grand cru vineyard in Avize, Oger, and Cramant.
In the winery, Selosse uses only indigenous yeasts for fermentations and by minimizing the use of SO2. He ferments his wines in wood barrels on their lees for more than 2 years, and in 1994, Gault-Millau named him France’s best winemaker in every category take that for an achievement. Some describe him as the most original winemaker in France today, and still he goes on with his aspiration and interests and seemed to me utterly unaffected by all the Razzmatazz around him. He is friendly, humble and thank god still eager to improve the small intricacies on the path to perfection. “Chapeau”!!!!
We tasted great (young) chardonnays from the Barrels bursting with fruit and livelihood some almost 2 years old and still expressing youth characteristic of a month old wine from a steel tank rather than a wine in an oak barrel on it’s lees.
The Champagnes: (we did not taste them all, left a few for the next visit)
Blanc de Blancs
Initial. A “classic” Brut. An assemblage of three vintages. Aged 2 years before degorgement.
Version Originale. Anselme’s great multi-vintage cuvée is aged 42 months before degorgement, and bottled with very little (1.2gr) or no dosage.
Millésime. The expression of character of a single vintage year.
Substance. The taste and character Avize’s vineyards.
Exquise. With a slightly higher dosage
Blanc de Noirs & Assemblage
Contraste. Show off with Pinot Noir from Aÿ.
There’s something very correct and precise about these wines on both the wine and the champagne stage, but it also has its “sexy” side. It is voluptuous. elegant with tons of finesse. BRAVO!
I had so many exquisite wines on the day for tasting which seldom went into the spittoon (sheer greed) with nothing to eat since last night , I was beginning to feel a bit weary and tired.
I was thankful that we were invited to spend the night, at the exquisite almost finished new hotel his wife Corinne erected. a nice neoclassical residence linked to the production of wine CHARLES KOCH since 1820 it make you share the soul of champagne in the past with the luxuries and amenities of the present. It is a perfect place to stay rest eat with style and quality
At the moment I leave you only with the details of the Hotel (below)
Hôtel Restaurant Les Avisés – 59, rue de Cramant – 51190 Avize
Tél (33) 326 577 006 – Fax (33) 326 577 007 – Email : email@example.com
Check the dates with reception
A separate post, about the Hotel and Restaurant will be posted in the near future.