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While much of the art of Champagne is in blending wines, there's much to be said for the individual village character, and to be even more granular, the distinctive character of single-parcel plots. And if you believe each village has its particular shading of terroir expression (and we do), these plots offer another level still of nuance and interest. For example, the Champagnes of Ambonnay are known for their power and richness, due to their clay and limestone dominant soils, and the south-facing orientation of the vineyards. While Les Bermonts, an Ambonnay blanc de blancs from Benoît Marguet, is compelling for the combination of broadness and mineral precision imbued by the plot. Likewise, the contrasts between Ulysse Collin's Les Pierrières (Chardonnay) and Les Maillons (Pinot Noir) extend beyond different grape varieties, with a flinty smokiness in Les Pierrières, to a broader, suppler, muscularity in Les Maillons, exhibiting the differences between chalk and silex, versus chalk and clays. We hope the wines below will inspire you to explore the terroirs of Champagne. Further, we'd also heartily recommend Peter Liem's excellent Champagne: The Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers, and Terroir of the Iconic Region. It is an invaluable resource for Champagne lovers in addition to being a great read. John McIlwain
Made from 100% Pinot Noir planted in 1971 in Les Maillons, a lieu-dit located in Barbonne-Fayel, whose soils are made up of chalk and heavy red clays. From his cellars in Congy, located to the southwest of the Côte des Blancs, Olivier Collin produces serious, vinous, Champagnes of terroir. His "Les Maillons" bottling is one such wine. The 2013 is ripe, dense, rich, and complex. With a faint copper hue, and fine bead; the nose is redolent of ripe red fruits, such as sour cherry, pomegranate, and wild raspberry. The palate is concentrated, stony, and bracingly dry. The power and poise of this wine are impeccably balanced, and this should knit beautifully with 5-10 years in the cellar. John McIlwain
If ever there were an argument that portions of Cumières merit Grand Cru status, Laval's Les Chênes makes a convincing case. The amphitheater-shaped vineyard is something of a sun trap and produces Champagnes of power and precision in Vincent's able hands. Made up of 100% organically farmed Chardonnay from the eponymous lieu-dit on the eastern side of the village (near the bottom of the slope down by the river), where the soils are chalk rather than the clays of other portions of the village. This is a particularly powerful blanc de blancs. While the nose offers tropical fruit and citrus aromas, the midweight, sinewy, and broad palate is pungently mineral, displaying notes of salt, green tea, and quinine on a driving, powerful, persistent finish. This is certainly delicious now, but tastings of previous vintages of Les Chênes lead one to believe there is plenty ahead for the patient. John McIlwain
Benoit Marguet is a true believer in the power of biodynamics to change not only wine but the vineyard and life for the better. He is passionate about the relationship between the vigneron, the vines, and his wines. His vineyards are plowed by horse, fermentation is with native yeasts, his wines see little to no sulfur, and his viticulture shows clearly in the finished wines. Les Bermonts is a blanc de blancs from vines planted in 1952 in the grand cru Ambonnay, unusual as the village is more notable for Pinot Noir. Les Bermonts is deeply chalky and mineral, displaying the characteristic power of Ambonnay, while also showing an incisive minerality, which drives the wines. The 2012 is deeply pitched with pungent quinine, lemon rind, salt, and iodine notes on a full-bodied, tightly-coiled palate. This shows citrus blossom and chalk on the nose, while the broad palate is saline, textured, and savory. With air, nearly kaleidoscopic layers of citrus and green apple fruit and chalk flavors reveal themselves on a long, elegant, precise and vibrant finish. The 2012 will benefit from time in the cellar and is a compelling expression of the terroir of the Montagne de Reims. John McIlwain
You can count the number of truly useful Champagne books on one hand and few are as compellingly written and well-considered as Peter Liem's Champagne: An Essential Guide to the Wines, Producers and Terroir of the Iconic Region. Not only is the book filled with profiles of our favorite growers and useful discussions about the terroirs of the different villages, but it also includes reproductions of the long out-of-print Larmat maps of the region, originally printed in the 1940s and included to help get a detailed sense of the geographic nuances of the region. This is essential reading for Champagne lovers and a great read for those with even a passing interest. John McIlwain
For lovers of extravagant Champagne and terroir, Ulysse Collin, from Congy in the Coteaux du Morin just southwest of the Côte des Blancs is a grower worth exploring. The wines are all from single parcels, farming is organic (though not certified), fermentation is in used barrels with native yeasts, and the wines are neither fined nor filtered. The Pierrières bottling is from a plot in the nearby village of Vert-Toulon, where the soils are chalk mixed with black silex, which gives the wines a broad, spicy, smoky character. The 2013 edition offers aromas of orange oil, lemon curd, and ginger. The ample palate combines ripe fruit, a deeply mineral core, and suave, supple richness with a broad, chalky, delicious finish. This has the stuffing to age effortlessly. John McIlwain
An organically-farmed Blanc de Noirs from the eponymous lieu-dit in the premier cru village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. The wine is a notable expression of this terroir, as Fabrice Pouillon reveals by vinifying with only the natural sugars from perfectly ripe Pinot Noir, in addition to only utilizing the indigenous yeasts present in the must. He accomplishes this by chilling unsulfured grape must in tank to a temperature low enough to prevent spoilage or fermentation. This must is then used for the secondary fermentation, as well as for the dosage after disgorgement, rather than cane sugars or MCR. The resulting wine is layered and supple with a fine bead, displaying red fruits, blood orange peel, and spices, expressing the vinous character of Pinot Noir grown in the clays of the Grande Vallée de la Marne. John McIlwain
Côte de Béchalin (formerly known as La Parcelle when part of the Inflorescence lineup) comes from a meticulously farmed .73 hectare parcel in Celles-sur-Ource. Where previously Bouchard sold wines made by the former owner,he later vinified the wines in those cellars. 2007 was the first vintage where the wines were made completely in Bouchard's cellars. While these champagnes have seemed to have a broader palate with more exotic fruit, they maintain poise with pinpoint acidity. One can certainly enjoy this now, but some time in the cellar to further knit the elements of structure and fruit should pay off handsomely. -John McIlwain