Single-Vineyard Champagne

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Once, the vineyards of Champagne were simply divided into the wines of the mountain and the wines of the river.  During the winters of the Little Ice Age (16c-19c), these wines, particularly those of the river, would often experience stuck fermentations. Spring’s warmth would restart those fermentations, creating slightly sparkling wines, a natural product of terroir.

 While the monks of the Abbey d’Hautvillers are often credited for “discovering” bubbly wine, they should be remembered for refining the grape pressing and multi-vineyard blending practices that were already traditional in the region. The art of blending still wines or vins clairs is and will remain an important expression of the Champenois terroir.

 However, blending requires a granular and masterful knowledge of individual vineyards and their individual wines.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Above: 1940s Champagne Vineyard Map)

Following in the historical tradition of single-vineyard Champagne (Clos des Goisses, Clos du Mesnil, Clos du Moulin) each one of the following wines is a bold and delicious affirmation that great Champagne can be the expression of a single, delineated plot.

Most of these single vineyards are farmed organically and many are truly world-class sites. Beginning with the wines of the Montagne de Reims, Emmanuel Brochet’s Le Mont Benoît is a study in precision and exquisite tension. From the northern Montagne de Reims, Hugues Godmé takes great care in the farming of three masterful Champagnes, Les Champs Saint Martin (Pinot Noir), Les Alouettes Saint Bets (Chardonnay), Les Romaines (Meunier). Finally, Les Crayères, a world-beater of a vineyard where Benoït Marguet grows a pure and tingling, majority Chardonnay Champagne.

Next, the wines of La Grande Vallée, where the great house of Jacquesson grows a beautifully vinous Rosé Champagne from a pinpoint corner of the Les Terres Rouges lieu-dit. In the best years, Georges Laval’s Les Chênes (100% Chardonnay) has enough ephemerally allied grace and power to be counted among the world’s great wines. Based on the historical varietals of Petit Meslier, Arbane, and Pinot Blanc, Benoît and Melanie Tarlant’s BAM! is Champagne recast in a more floral and refreshingly mineral mold.

Finally, from Champagne’s most southern borders, two of our favorite growers understatedly show what love of vines and of place can mean. Olivier Horiot’s En Barmont is a deliciously fun rosé that is perfect for warmer weather outings. Gerard Ruppert and his daughter, Benedicte Leroy are a study in commitment to organic viticulture and their aromatically beguiling blanc des blancs, Martin-Fontaine is a just reward.

The Champenois have long understood the varying vinous expressions of individual vineyards and to growing fanfare the region is finally focusing on the single-vineyard. I believe in each these growers and their vineyards. Without caveat or reservation, they are truly exceptional. I hope you enjoy them! David Salinas

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Brochet, Emmanuel NV Champagne 1er Cru Le Mont Benoit Extra-Brut (10/

Organic vigneron Emanuel Brochet farms makes one of our favorite Champagnes from a meticulously farmed 2.5 hectare plot called 'Le Mont Benoit' in the village of Villers-aux-Noeuds. All three major Champagne grapes are grown in the chalky-clay soils over Cretaceous chalk of the mid-slope vineyard. The 2010/09 base Le Mont Benoit extra-brut  is composed of 50% Pinot Meunier, 25% Pinot Noir, 25%Chardonnay and spent 47 months aging sur lie (Dosage 4g, Disgorged 1/2014). Brochet's Champagnes always show an overt minerality, which expresses itself in a broader earthy character. This is at once nervy, and resonant. The ripeness of the 2009 fruit balances the leaner nature of the 2010 vintage. The tension between the fruit and savory mineral notes is intriguing. The aromatic profile is cool-toned with pear, citrus peel and seashell dominating. The palate is medium-bodied, deep, and rich with a salty dry, savory, lingering finish. This would pair beautifully with crudo or Belon oysters. -John McIlwain

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  • white sparkling
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  • $74.99

  • Organic
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Godmé 2006 Champagne Brut Grand Cru Les Champs Saint Martin

Perhaps the most contemplative cuvée from Hugues Godmé, the Champs Saint Martin is a single vineyard, 100% Grand Cru Pinot Noir from the 2006 vintage. Champagne aficionados might be interested to know that the Champs Saint Martin was singled out as being highly prized by the most prominent Champagne Houses, in viticultural maps dating back to the 1940s.

Pale Golden with platinum edges, the aromatics are quite complex beginning with fresh strawberries, graham crackers, and hops that transition into spearmint, tarragon, spiced pear, Seville orange marmalade, and gingerbread. The palate is fairly broad, structured, and stately with aromas of lemon sorbet, blood orange, black cherries in dark chocolate, and black tea that reach a mouth-watering finish. At 2 grams of dosage this is a savory treat, which will reward the patient drinkers, who let this brooding beauty reveal itself in the glass. Disgorged 9/2013. David Salinas

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  • white sparkling
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Godmé 2006 Champagne Brut 1er Cru Les Alouettes Saint Bets

Godmé Père et Fils 2006 Les Alouettes Saint Bets Brut is a single vineyard blanc de blancs from Villers-Marmery near the border with Verzy. The soils of this climat are very chalky with little topsoil. The grapes are farmed biodynamically, vinified in neutral oak with native yeasts, with no malolactic fermentation, and bottled with low sulfur.

There is an electric sense of chalky minerality to this Champagne. While there is a degree of richness to the wine that hints at Verzy, and a silken quality on the palate derived from its time in wood, ultimately a cool, deft sense of fruit and chalkiness defines the nose and palate. Still a bit taut, there are floral and citrus oil notes on the nose, followed by Meyer Lemon and a subtle salinity on the palate. The mousse is fine and the finish long, complex, and supple. This should shine brightly with a bit more time in the bottle. These wines were a pleasure to taste months ago and we've been eagerly awaiting their arrival. -John McIlwain

Pale straw yellow and glowing with a superfine bead, Les Alouettes Saints Bets has really come into its own over the last couple of months. A nose that is at the beginning of a beautiful bloom with understated hints of peppermint, holly, quince, candied ginger, rosebuds, lemon blossom, and sea air. The refined, fresh, and lithe palate dances to notes  of lime sorbet and lemon curd with a shortbread finish. A Champagne that will set the tone for a boat party or a special Sunday afternoon. Dosage 2g/L, Disgorged 9/2013. David Salinas

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  • white sparkling
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  • $124.99

  • Organic
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Godmé 2006 Champagne Brut Premier Cru Les Romaines Pinot Meunier

I have a not-so-secret love for Champagnes made from Pinot Meunier. Godmé's single vineyard expression, Les Romaines 1er cru, is an especially stunning example. The biodynamically farmed vineyard located in Villedommange has calcerous soils which lend a particularly savory minerality to the wine, offsetting the sometimes over-generous nature of the variety. There is impeccable balance here; ripe fruit framed by the nearly pointillistic earthiness, the 2 grams of dosage is barely perceptible. This is classy, harmonious, and long, speaking vividly of place. -John McIlwain

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  • white sparkling
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  • Organic
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Marguet 2009 Champagne Brut Ambonnay Grand Cru Les Crayères

Someday soon the Ambonnay Grand Cru lieu-dit of Les Crayères will be spoken of in the same reverential tones as Hermitage’s Les Bessards or Alsace’s Clos Sainte Hune.  Similarly, Benoît Marguet will be heralded for having preserved and defended the health of his soils and his vineyard workers. These valuations form a positive feedback loop, where greater care and attention to finely delimited vineyards will help these great terroirs shine. Marguet’s Les Crayères is a blend of 62% Chardonnay and 38% Pinot Noir from an airy, mid-slope vineyard. Light golden in color and starred by a finely beaded mousse, the aromas begin with acacia, ripe raspberries, and honeysuckle before transitioning to Red Delicious and violets. The zero-dosage palate is broad and gripping with notes of dark chocolate, Meyer lemon, and fresh peppermint with a vanilla macaroon and ripe cantaloupe finish. An expressive and uncompromising Champagne of terroir! Disgorged 3/2014. David Salinas

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  • Organic

Jacquesson 2008 Champagne Brut Dizy Terres Rouges Rosé

Progress has long been the hallmark of this most storied of Champagne growers. Over the last 35 years, Jean Hervé and Laurent Chiquet have kept the flame of innovation understatedly burning at Jacquesson. Today, the focus is on the vintage-varying expressions of some of Champagne’s most highly prized lieux-dits. Quietly, but with purpose, Jacquesson is leading Champagne into the era of the single vineyard.

Les Terres Rouges is a 3.3 acre pinot noir site in the northwestern corner of the eponymous lieu-dit. Set on eastern facing, lower slopes of the Montagne de Reims, the topsoil is brownish-red clay and limestone overlying chalk silts. Following a rigorously selective harvest and destemming, half the grapes are macerated for 25 hours in stainless steel, while the other half are slow pressed for 4 hours in a traditional vertical press. 5 years of lees aging have not been in vain, as this is a seriously complex and vinous Champagne. Dusky pink and adorned by a finely beaded mousse, the nose reveals notes of dried roses, strawberries and cream, cardamom, and spearmint. The palate is powerful, concentrated, high-toned, and slightly earthy with hints of pomegranate and hickory on a sustained and refined finish. Dosage 3.5gr/L, Disgorged 2/2014. David Salinas

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Laval, Georges 2008 Champagne Cumières Premier Cru Les Chênes

Some wines are simply expressions of great terroir. If there’s a case to be made for particular Champagne vineyards being counted world class then Laval’s Les Chênes will be a part of that conversation. 100% Chardonnay, the 2008 Brut Nature keeps airy lightness and mineral power with an understated and graceful tension that morphs with time in a glass.

 

Micro-bubbles star an opulent golden color and carry up aromas of spearmint, honeysuckle, lemon blossom, sage, vanilla bean, black tea, and molasses. The palate floats and shifts effortlessly to offer tart Macintosh apple, Seville orange marmalade, and Graham crackers towards a caraway seed, all spice, and lemon mint finish. A gift for the contemplative sipper. David Salinas

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  • $164.99

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Laval, Georges 2009 Champagne Cumières Premier Cru Les Chênes

If ever there were an argument that portions of Cumières merit Grand Cru status, Laval's Les  Chênes makes a convincing case. Made up of 100% organically farmed Chardonnay from the eponymous lieu-dit on the eastern side of the village down by the river where the soils are chalky rather than the clays of other portions of the village, this is 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

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Tarlant NV BAM! Brut Nature Blanc Arbanne Meslier

Few wines are truly historical, but BAM! has the potential of being a harbinger cuvée for Champagne. Before Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Meunier came to represent 95% of grape varietals planted in the region, other, lesser known and often lesser valued grapes had a foothold. Over a century ago grapes like Petit Meslier and Arbane were set aside by the Champenois for being too acidic, too raw or too difficult to grow. As Climate Change alters the average temperature of Champagne’s growing season, bold and innovative growers like Benoît & Melanie Tarlant are offering delicious solutions.

 

Hailing from the Four à Chaux vineyard in Oeuilly and based on the 2007 and 2008 vintages, BAM! (aka Benoît and Melanie) is Brut Nature Champagne reimagined and recast. The blend breakdown is 64% Petit Meslier, 18% Arbane, and 18% Pinot Blanc (aka BAM!). Full of life and verve, but a marked departure from a classical Champenois aromatic profile, the nose is expressive and floral with notes of passionflower, jasmine, and white peach blossom. Not for the meek, the palate is electric, gripping, and bursting with lime sorbet, honeyed green tea, rhubarb, papaya, and starfruit with a golden kiwi and sweet watermelon finish. Disgorged 2/2014. David Salinas

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Horiot, Olivier NV Champagne Rosé Sève "En Barmont"

Unencumbered by the history and tradition of the Marne, Olivier Horiot has set out to make simple, intimate, and vinous Champagne that showcase the terroir of Les Riceys. The Sève is a Rosé de Saignée, from the warm, single vineyard site of en Barmont, where pinot noir can reach a robust ripeness that is balanced by firmly controlled yields.  Four days of semi-carbonic maceration add both complexity and lightness to this joyful Champagne. Based exclusively on the 2008 vintage and disgorged in May 2013, the Sève’s drinkability is cresting, but there’s enough acidity and structure for this fruit-filled wave to flow for some time to come. Copper pink with ruby edges, the aromas cascade with ripe strawberries, rhubarb, watermelon, black cherries, fresh madeleines, and graham crackers. The palate has exuberant depth, but is framed by a sleek freshness, and starred with cranberries, ripe nectarines, and a touch of mocha on the finish. As the long-awaited warmer weather arrives this is the ultimate picnic Champagne with enough pairing range to accompany goat cheeses, gently grilled tuna, or steak tartare. David Salinas

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  • rosé sparkling
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  • $51.99

  • Organic
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  • Low Sulfur

Ruppert-Leroy NV Champagne Brut Nature Martin Fontaine

Emmanuel Leroy and Bénédicte Ruppert are guiding a second generation, field of dreams estate in the southern Champagne village of Essoyes, seven kilometers from the Burgundian border. I cannot overemphasize the detail-oriented commitment of these young growers to releasing pristine wines.  A commitment that reaches the altruistic heights of setting aside the juice from the first three rows of their vineyards that border conventionally farmed vines.

The delicious fruits of Ruppert-Leroy’s efforts are on full display in the Martin Fontaine, an unctuous single vineyard Blanc de blancs with zero dosage. Vinified in ex-Chassagne Montrachet casks this pale, straw yellow cuvée has strikingly expressive aromatics, starting with peppermint, candied lemon, and ginger, before moving to cayenne pepper, honeycomb, and hazelnut. The palate is finely balanced and inviting with Golden Delicious, warm caramel, lemon curd, and white tea with a coda of quince. This will make a masterful pairing to a generously buttered mushroom risotto. (Disgorged 4/2014) David Salinas

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  • white sparkling
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  • $79.99