Sometimes the difference between good farming and industrial farming is black and white (or brown and green). To the right are the vines of Alexandre Filaine in Damery.

A Selection of Champagnes for a New Year

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As 2016 draws to a close and we look toward 2017, we should take time to reflect on the year’s events, those we’ve met, and anticipate what’s to come in the New Year. And while customarily we raise a glass to celebrate, there’s far more in that glass than mere bubbles; contained within are hope, memories, and aspirations, but also tradition, history, diligent work in the vines, and the taste of terroir. 2016 was certainly eventful: times of turbulence and change, pain and loss, but also a year of birth, growth, and persistence. In 2016, growers in Champagne (and many other regions of France) experienced the worst frosts in decades, devastating hail, and torrential downpours. Yet in the face of these challenges they persevered, tending to their vines.

Simple to say, perhaps, but this is what farmers do. And while we a truly blessed to work with such a wonderful array of growers (not only in Champagne) and to visit their cellars, walk their vineyards, and taste their wines, we also take a bit of inspiration from their sense of purpose, as they continue the work of their parents, and grandparents, and beyond. So we raise a glass to this New Year and the unknown, and with respect to Samuel Beckett, “The end is in the beginning and yet you go on.”

Below are some Champagnes from our favorite growers which, in addition to being delicious, display the interplay between tradition and terroir. It’s no accident most of the wines we love best are farmed organically or biodynamically. Whether it’s the resolutely classic wines of Beaufort, the majestically mineral Champagne of Laval, the brightly expressive and pure Chardonnays of Suenen, or the shockingly savory single vineyard Pinot Noir from Ruppert-Leroy, all are individual, inspiring, and distinctive. John McIlwain

In the cellars of Georges Laval we see the difference in roots of a similar age pulled up when the vineyard needed replanting. The roots on the left were farmed conventionally, while those on the right were farmed organically.    

 

Beaufort, André 2008 Champagne Grand Cru Ambonnay Brut

"Really superb, subtle, long. Quiet nose. Winy. Seems like old school white Burgundy. Very serious..." Anonymous notes from Beaufort dinner, Jan 2017 (Disgorged April, 2017)

  • white sparkling
  • 9 in stock
  • no discount
  • $79.99

  • Organic
  • Low Sulfur

Beaufort, André 2010 Champagne Polisy Rosé Brut

For its striking blood orange/copper color and for its vinous character, Beaufort's 2010 Rosé is one of the most compelling Champagnes on our shelves. 100% Pinot Noir from Beaufort's Polisy vineyards, there are geographic and stylistic similarities to great Rosé des Riceys. Aromas of cherry compote, cinnamon, spearmint, and butterscotch give way to gingerbread and herbal notes. The palate is broad and balanced with a juicy core of cherries, tangerines, and red plums before a lengthy mocha and mulberry finish. One of Beaufort's best rosés to date!  Tasting notes  Jan 2017 "Absolutely super, in the end the wine of the night. Transparent, super light but dense and complex, long and unfolding in waves..." (Current stock disgorged June, 2017)

  • rosé sparkling
  • 3 in stock
  • no discount
  • $54.99

  • Organic
  • No Sulfur

Beaufort, André NV Champagne Grand Cru Brut Rosé (Disg 10/16)

This full-bodied and robust Rosé Champagne is expressive of Pinot Noir character as well as natural and chemical-free winemaking, a rare combination, especially in Champagne. The nose offers ripe sour cherry, cherry pit, quinine, almost Burgundian earthiness, and an ever so slight note of bitter herbs reminiscent of amaro. Cherry fruit carries through the mid-palate to the finish, which is downright tannic, in the best possible way. There is some dosage here, giving the wine a compelling balance of acid and sweetness. It's a fairly serious Rosé Champagne, one that could accompany a meal, but it doesn't present itself as austere in any way. Unique within our selection of Rosé Champagnes and well-worth trying. (Lot 11A. Disgorged 10/2016.)

  • rosé sparkling
  • 1 in stock
  • no discount
  • $57.99

  • Organic

Piollot NV Extra-Brut Come des Tallants No Dosage

Sourced from less than a hectare parcel of old-vine Pinot Noir, the Come des Tallants is the jewel of Roland's range. Beginning with a crystalline clear and brilliant golden yellow in the glass and very finely beaded mousse, the nose shows aromas of Greengage, lillies, spearmint, toffee, guava, and some musky tones. The palate is finely chiseled with a nervy minerality, buoyed by a weighty concentration and a full aromatic range of wild flowers, which continues through to a finely pointed finish. A fantastic effort and Champagne from Roland Piollot! (Dosage : Zero, Disgorged : 7/2015). This beautiful Champagne is a superb value and a great way to start, or enjoy during your holiday feast!

  • white sparkling
  • 9 in stock
  • no discount
  • $41.99

  • Organic

Pouillon, R 2008 Champagne 1er Cru Brut Chemin du Bois

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 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 Vallee de la Marne. John McIlwain

  • white sparkling
  • 24 in stock
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  • $127.99

  • Organic

Ruppert-Leroy 2011 Champagne Brut Nature Martin Fontaine (2011)

Located in the hills above Essoyes, Ruppert-Leroy's vines are a study of polyculture, in contrast to most of the vineyards of Champagne. All are adjacent to forest, with dozens of herbs, wildflowers, grasses growing between the rows. In the Spring, there is a riot of color between the vines. Martin-Fontaine is 100% Chardonnay, fermented with native yeasts, bottled without dosage as of the 2013 vintage sees no addition of sulfur. We are lucky to be able to revisit the 2011, which is in a beautiful place at the moment, with a nose redolent of shortbread, lemon curd, and wet stone. The palate is stony, saline, and quite savory  with umami notes vying for attention with pure flavors of ripe white orchard fruits. Quite pretty and detailed, this shows the potential of the terroir in this part of the Aube. John McIlwain

  • white sparkling
  • 1 in stock
  • no discount
  • $69.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic

Ruppert-Leroy 2013 Champagne Brut Nature Pinot Noir "Les Cognaux"

While today we tend to think of most wines in terms of fruit or mineral descriptors, some transcend those notes with profoundly savory character. Ruppert-Leroy's 100% Pinot Noir Champagne Les Cognaux hits this sweet spot with loads of minerality, pure fruit, and a rich sapid character which makes it a natural for the table. Here's a wine that will stand up to  all manner of savory dishes, while leaving the palate refreshed. A visit to the vines with Bénédicte Ruppert of Ruppert-Leroy is an illuminating experience. There’s a world of difference between the Aube and the Vallée de la Marne. Not only are the soils different, (Kimmeridgean limestone vs. chalk), but the undulating landscape itself is wilder and less manicured. Often the vineyards abut forest rather than village, which in the case of biodynamic growers is especially desirable to insure a biodiversity according to Bénédicte. Between the vines is a riot of vegetation and flowers, as Ruppert-Leroy has 30 different plants and flowers sown in the vineyard.  One such vineyard is the Les Cognaux whose grey marl soils are planted to Pinot Noir and when we visited in the Spring was aglow with yellow flowers. (These flowers are made into a tissane by Bénédicte to treat the vines for mildew.) The wildness of the countryside is reflected in the wines which are energetic, exuberant, and vibrantly mineral. The 2013 Les Cognaux shows red fruit, peach skin, orange peel, and see spray aromas with notes of daishi and fond. The palate balances lush, ripe flavors of apricot, peach, and Rainier cherry with crunchy acidity, compelling umami character and a pungent sense of minerality. The finish is vibrant and luminous. As of 2013 Ruppert-Leroy vinifies and bottles without SO2. John McIlwain

  • white sparkling
  • 19 in stock
  • no discount
  • $67.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • No Sulfur
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Bérêche, Raphael NV (2012 Base) Champagne Extra Brut Beaux Regards Chardonnay

Les Beaux Regards is a blend of two parcels of Chardonnay in Ludes on the northern slope of the Montagne de Reims planted in 1964 and 1970. The loamy clay soils produce a Champagne more vinous in character, rather than exclusively taut and chalky. The 2012 displays floral and orchard fruit aromas,  with delicate notes of spice and Meyer lemon following. The palate is distinctly mineral and racy, with overtly stony notes, cool notes of mint and lemon balm and a long tangy, expressive finish. Great energy and volume here. (Dosage 3g/l.) John McIlwain

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $69.99

  • Organic

Bérêche, Raphael 2012 Champagne 1er Cru Les Monts Fournois

A blanc de blancs with luxurious weight and depth from "Les Monts Fournois," a parcel with the premier cru of Ludes in the Montagne de Reims. With an extremely fine bead, there are intensely rich flavors of lemon drop meringue and candied red fruits (strawberry, cherry) that finish with subtle wisps of dried ginger and dried tarragon. Disgorged 11/15. Jonas Mendoza 2012 is the inaugural vintage of Les Monts Fournois from Bérêche. Sourced from a lieu-dit on the northern end of Ludes with particularly thin soils over pure chalk, and a southern exposure planted with massale-selected Chardonnay in 1961. Fermented in barrel with native yeast and aged under cork, Les Monts Fournois deftly combines power and precision in this blanc de blancs. The nose displays citrus peel, white flowers and wet stone, while the old vines, sunny exposure, and chalky soils lend a distinctly mineral core to the wine on the vigorous, verging on sinewy, palate while not sacrificing elegance. For lovers of chalky, powerful Champagnes, Les Monts Fournois is a delight. Bottled with 3g/L dosage. John McIlwain

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $94.99

  • Organic

Bérêche, Raphael NV (2012 Base) Champagne Extra Brut Rive Gauche

100% old-vine Pinot Meunier sourced from the lieu-dit Le Misy, located in Port à Binson on the southern bank of the Marne river. Fermented with native yeasts in barrel and aged under cork, Bérêche's 2012 base edition of Rive Gauche makes a convincing case for Champagnes made from the oft-underestimated Pinot Meunier grape. The old vines restrict the sometimes overly exuberant quality of the variety, and while the wine shows lovely ripeness, there is a fine, almost briny minerality framing the generous fruit. The nose shows lovely aromas of stone and orchard fruits: white peaches, Rainier cherry, and golden apple, along with baking spice and dried orange peel. Similar fruit notes appear on the medium-bodied palate, with a layered mineral complexity lending structure and energy, not to mention a fine umami quality to the long driving finish. With some time in the cellar, the effusiveness of the fruit should integrate with the structure and make for even more compelling drinking. (disgorged 11/2015, 4g/l dosage)  John McIlwain

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  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
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  • $69.99

  • Organic

Bérêche, Raphael NV Champagne Brut Reflets d'Antan Base 11

For holiday celebrations, Champagne is a must. Not just for the festive association of bubbles, but also because it is truly one of the most versatile wines to grace one's table. The inherent acidity of the wine cuts through the richness of the foods, while the bubbles and moderate alcohol invigorate the palate rather than tire it. One of my favorite Champagnes for the table (not just Thanksgiving or Christmas) is Bérêche's Reflets d'Antan. Based on a perpetual cuvée dating from the 1980's, the wine combines the vivid, nervy fruit of a recent vintage with the burnished, textural and aromatic complexity of the aged wines which make up the 'solera.' The secondary fermentation under cork rather than crown cap adds an additional layer of finesse with a delicate bead and soft mousse. This will pair beautifully with most of the foods on your holiday table (skip the marshmallows, please). Better served in a white wine glass to allow  the aromas to develop.  John McIlwain

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  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
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  • $104.99

  • Organic

Bourgeois-Diaz NV Base 2013 Champagne Extra-Brut 3C (disg. 2/6/16)

Bio Champagne grower Bourgeois-Diaz is located in  Crouttes sur Marne on the western edge of the Marne River Valley, where much of the terroir is perfectly suited for the Pinot Meunier grape. Their vines are near those of noted biodynamic grower and Meunier-specialist, Francoise Bedel. Their non-vintage extra-brut cuvee '3C' is named after the three cepages that make up the blend. The current disgorgement, based on the  2013 vintage,  is red fruited on the nose and bright, briny, then broad on palate. There is a soft mousse and a rich, not zaftig texture with good cut and freshness. There is a nice sense of harmony on nose and palate. The finish is stony, persistent, with good detail, rising at the end. A fine aperitif and better still with sushi or sashimi (toro spoken here). This offers a great deal of complexity at an attractive price.  (Disgorged 2/16/2016, 3g/l dosage.) John McIlwain

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  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $42.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic

Bourgeois-Diaz NV Champagne Extra-Brut 3C Magnum 1.5 L

Bio Champagne grower Bourgeois-Diaz is located in  Crouttes sur Marne on the western edge of the Marne River Valley, where much of the terroir is perfectly suited for the Pinot Meunier grape. Their vines are near those of noted biodynamic grower and Meunier-specialist, Francoise Bedel. Their non-vintage extra-brut cuvee '3C' is named after the three cepages that make up the blend. The current disgorgement, based on the  2013 vintage,  is red fruited on the nose and bright, briny, then broad on palate. There is a soft mousse and a rich, not zaftig texture with good cut and freshness. There is a nice sense of harmony on nose and palate. The finish is stony, persistent, with good detail, rising at the end. A fine aperitif and better still with sushi or sashimi (toro spoken here). This offers a great deal of complexity at an attractive price.  (Disgorged 2/16/2016, 3g/l dosage.) John McIlwain 

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • $99.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic

Bourgeois-Diaz NV Champagne Brut Nature Cuvée N Blanc de Noirs

If '3C' denotes the 3 cepages, 'N' represents the Noirs. This edition of cuvee 'N' is based on the 2010 and is singing more basso profundo. The are lovely rounder cherry blossom aromas on the nose. Plum skin, red fruit and sea shells on the palate. Pungent soil notes underneath, the ripe fruit lends dimension. Quite mineral on the mid-palate, taut, and deeper umami-wise. Longer still and more articulate on finish than the '3C' This is deep-toned Blanc de Noirs,  serious, sapid, and lovely. I'd love this with roasted wild salmon, but certainly this has the character and richness to pair beautifully with duck or squab. John McIlwain

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  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $53.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $64.99

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

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $124.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

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

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $169.99

  • Organic

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

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $109.99

  • Organic

Marguet 2010 Champagne Extra-Brut Ambonnay Grand Cru Les Bermonts

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, fermentations are with native yeasts, his wines see little to no sulfur, and his viticulture shows clearly in the finished wines. While the 2011 vintage was difficult for most producers, Marguet's wines were lovely. 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 chalky and mineral, showing the power of Ambonnay, while also showing an incisive minerality, which drives the wines. This shows citrus blossom and chalky on the nose, while the broad palate is saline, textured,  and savory.  This will benefit from time in the cellar and is a compelling expression of the terroir of the Montagne de Reims. John McIlwain

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • $109.99

  • Organic
  • Biodynamic
  • Low Sulfur

Suenen 2013 Base Champagne Grand Cru C + C Blanc de Blancs Extra-Brut

There's a great deal to admire in the Champagnes and ethic of Aurelien Suenen. His wines combine beautiful fruit with a frank minerality in a graceful way. This results from conscientious farming (Suenen has been in transition to organic certification since 2009), deft work in the cellar (native yeast fermentation, natural malolactic fermentation, moderate use of sulfur, and dosage determined by blind tasting trial). Aurelien's inaugural village releases display his desire to release Champagnes that articulate a sense of place. He notes that in Cramant there is different terroir expression in the wines from the high vineyards and the lower lying vineyards, with the vines planted in the latter proving to be more distinctly mineral. C + C, a blend of wines from Chouilly and Cramant is richer and more briny than the Oiry bottling. The nose offers an intoxicating blend of lemon blossom, sea spray, and apricot aromas, while the palate is incisively chalky, pungently stony, and taut. This is not to say this is austere, rather brisk and punchy with great persistence on the long, sapid finish. John McIlwain

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  • white sparkling
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  • $59.99

  • Organic

Suenen 2013 Base Champagne Oiry Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra-Brut

The 2013 vintage is the inaugural release of Aurelien Suenen's Grand Cru Oiry Blanc de Blancs. Wines from the village of Oiry are typically sold under the Cramant designation (we haven't been able to find another Champagne with this single village designation, as yet), so this is a fine opportunity to taste Oiry's distinctive, chalky terroir. Aurelien's parcels contain some very old Chardonnay vines which make for some pungently mineral, stony wines. The vins clairs are fermented partially in barrel, spend nine months on the lees, and are bottled with 1 g/l dosage. The 2013 is brisk,  briny, and fresh on the nose with aromas of citrus peel, quinine, and chalk dominating. The palate is chiseled, taut and very dry with racy acidity and an energetic driving finish. Suenen continues to grow with each vintage and this new line up of village designated Champagnes are particularly exciting. The 2013 is especially suited to seafood dishes such as fluke crudo, where the bright acidity sets off the sweetness of the fish, or as a bright foil to pan-roasted monkfish, or skate with brown butter and lemon. John McIlwain

  • Out of Stock
  • white sparkling
  • 0 in stock
  • no discount
  • $59.99

  • Organic

Suenen NV Champagne Extra Brut MBDA MBDA (10B) Disg 1/14

Aurélien Suenen originally trained in the US to become a professional basketball player, but returned to France to take over the estate in 2009 when his father passed away. "MBDA" is one of his first cuvées; besides a longing tribute to four generations of Suenen (Marcel, Bernard, Daniel, Aurélien) that have farmed in Champagne since 1898, it represents a precocious and stunning effort.  MBDA is a blend of nearly equal parts Pinot Noir (from Montigny-sur-Velse) and Chardonnay (from grand cru sites Cramant, Chouilly, and Oiry). Enticing at first with golden apple, candied ginger, and brioche aromatics, this Champagne fills out the palate with bruised red apple skin, yellow plum, and toast flavors, and then finishes with shaded undertones of dried honey and roasted parsnip. Texturally, the soft mousse floats like a featherweight on the center of the tongue, but then broadly fills out across the palate. Jonas Mendoza

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  • $64.99

  • Organic