Vincent Laval's vineyard of Les Hautes Chevres in Cumières, on the morning of harvest, 9/9/2015. (Picture courtesy of Vincent Laval)

Champagne's Harvests

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Historically, reaching physiological ripeness was a real challenge in Champagne. However, that challenge has greatly diminished in recent years and the well-documented reasons behind that change go beyond the anectdotal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

As average temperatures during Champagne’s growing season have increased so have Champagne’s harvests begun noticeably earlier. These changes should be recognized because they have, among other effects, very real implications for the choices that can be made in Champenois cellars and for the stylistic and qualitative possibilities of their wines.

When those changes are considered alongside organic and biodynamic farming, as practiced by so many of our featured growers, it means that the wines of Champagne can be finely balanced and delicious without the need for adding sugar (chaptalization) to vins clairs (still wines, serving as the base wines for eventual Champagne) and without added sugar (dosage) to bottle fermented, lees-aged Champagne.

A case in point are the wines of Ruppert-Leroy. Champagne’s southernly reaches in the Aube have many talented young growers, but few are as conscientious and meticulous as Bénédicte Ruppert and Emmanuel Leroy (pictured below).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The husband and wife team organically and biodynamically farm less than 5 hectares of vines in mostly northern-facing, chalky sites. Their single vineyard, dosage-free wines such as the Chardonnay based Martin Fontaine or the Pinot Noir based and no-sulfur-added Fosse Grely “Autrement” are finely and expressively aromatic.

Nevertheless, perfectly balanced Brut Nature (no-dosage) Champagnes can be also be found in Champagne’s other sub-regions. As in the villages of Bouzy, Voipreux, and Tauxières (Montagne de Reims), where Benoît Lahaye grows the broad and powerful Naturessence, a 50/50 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay blend. In the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ (Vallée de la Marne), Fabrice Pouillon (pictured below) grows the “Les Blanchiens”, a single-parcel Champagne from a chalky site that yields one of the most aromatically detailed and delicious Brut Natures on our shelves.

Continuing westward in the Marne Valley, we come to the historical vineyards of Vincent Laval in the village of Cumières. Vincent’s vineyards have been organically farmed since 1971 and his grapes give powerfully mineral but finely nuanced and supremely age-worthy Brut Natures. Finally, we come to one of Champagne’s most historical families. From the village of Oeuily, in the Marne Valley, the Tarlants now offer a full and fantastically savory range of Brut Nature Champagnes.

Based on more than passing fashion, a changing climate and good farming have afforded these growers the opportunity for beautifully balanced and aromatically rich Champagnes, free of dosage. We’re proud to offer their following wines.

- David Salinas

Ruppert-Leroy 2012 Champagne Brut Nature "Fosse-Grely" Autrement

We have waited all summer for the no sulfur added Fosse-Grely "Autrement" and it's finally here! Sourced from organically and biodynamically grown grapes in the chalky/clay soils of single, north-west facing, amphitheater-shaped parcel, this wine is 100% Pinot Noir and brilliantly golden in color with a finely beaded mousse. The nose offers aromas of Cortland apples, hazelnuts, anise, toffee, and lime blossom. While the palate is alive with a powerful minerality that carries notes of Jonagold and Granny Smith apples, fenugreek, and linden blossom through to a hazelnut finish. Finely balanced and delicious! (Disgorged 4/2015)

- David Salinas

  • white sparkling
  • 2 in stock
  • no discount
  • $77.99

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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

Lahaye, Benoît NV Champagne Brut Naturessence

Equal parts Chardonnay from Tauxières and Voipreux and Pinot Noir from Ambonnay and Bouzy from 45-60 year old vines, vinified in barrels from biodynamic master Benoît Lahaye?!? Yes, please! Sign us up. This is the kind of Champagne that we love: vinous, complex, and deserving of time to open up as well as ample contemplation. This rendition of Naturessence shows both roundness of texture from barrel maturation and intense cut from low dosage and absence of malo-lactic fermentation. At a loss for our own words, we'll add a brief note from Champagne expert Peter Liem: "This is a wine of uncommonly subtle refinement and expression, and also one that is easily overlooked—spend some time with it and allow it to reveal its full potential." We certainly could not have said it better ourselves. (Disgorged 4/2014) MSB

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  • white sparkling
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  • $82.99

Pouillon, R 2007 Champagne 1er Cru Brut Nature Les Blanchiens

This Champagne makes the case for the exquisite interplay between Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ. Sourced from a single parcel, co-planted with organically farmed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in chalky-clay soils, this wine is pale golden yellow and sports a finely understated mousse. The nose offers aromas of Mirabelle plums, verbena, Gyokuro tea, and Seville oranges. The palate shows the potential of the 2007 vintage. A perfectly balanced opening rises to a crest of minerality in the mid-palate, which carries notes of Greengage plums, fennel, and tamarind through to a wonderfully savory finish. One of our best new Champagnes! (Disgorged : Spring 2014). - David Salinas

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  • white sparkling
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Laval, Georges NV (2011 Base) Champagne Cumières Premier Cru Brut Nature

This is a cautionary tale for those who blindly follow the general consensus on a given vintage for an entire region. Vincent's 2011 base brut nature is vibrant golden yellow in the glass and adorned with his characteristic super-fine mousse. Belying the reputation of the vintage, aromas of peach blossom, apricots, McIntosh apples, mace, and vanilla bean float from the surface. The palate shows all the power, minerality, and cellaring potential of Vincent's wines, but remains juicy and drinkable with notes of brioche, cardamom, and white peaches that carry on to a deliciously salty finish. Vincent does it again! (Disgorged 8/2014).

- David Salinas

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  • white sparkling
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  • $84.99

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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  • white sparkling
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  • $169.99

  • Organic

Tarlant NV Champagne Brut Rosé Zero

Tarlant pulls off smart austerity with enough charm, character and nuanced flavor to make for compelling and food-oriented Champagne. The NV Rosé (in this case based on the superb 2008 vintage) shows off red fruits such as currant and raspberry, which are interestingly contrasted by a spicy note that borders on being peppery. Not overtly creamy, this Rosé is extrememly minerally and elegant. (85% Chardonnay, 15% Pinot Noir -- non-dosé -- disgorged 6/13)

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  • Organic
  • Biodynamic

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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  • $159.99