Sunday, April 29, 2018

Montaigne de Reims: Selected Premier Cru sites

Explicit in Peter Liem's Champagne is the idea that the important terroirs in Champagne's  Montagne de Reims subregion are Grande Montagne, Petite Montagne, and Massif de St. Thiery. I have described the Grand Cru sites of the Grande Montagne in a prior post. Herein I present the Premier Cru sites of Grand and Petite Montagnes as well as important villages of Massif de St. Thiery.

Massif de St Thierry
The 17 villages located in Massif de St. Thierry are beautifully framed by surrounding vineyards and forests. The region's vinous history stretches back to the 11th century when the renown of the wines from the Abbey resulted in the  awarding of a Champagne appellation: the wines of the Montagne de Saint-Thierry. Phylloxera and two World Wars significantly reduced the size of the vineyard but it has rebounded to today's 1001.9 ha. Pinot Meunier (54.31%), Pinot Noir (28.64%), and Chardonnay (16.85%) are the region's staples.

Vineyards of Massif de St Thierry (Source: massif-saint-

The most important of these villages is Merfy whose vineyards extend over 45.6 ha and rest on soils comprised of clay, sand, and sandstone over chalk. The vineyard slopes are mild with varying exposures. The Merfy village outline is shown in the picture below while the vineyard plots are shown immediately after.

The Merfy vineyards are outlined in red above

Merfy vineyard parcels

Grande and Petite Montagnes
Montagne de Reims is more of a wide plateau than a mountain as its horseshoe shape -- open to the west -- is only 293 m (940 feet) at its highest point. The plateau is mostly covered with thick forests with vineyards occupying the flanks and, depending on their position on the horseshoe, having exposures ranging between northwest and south.

Grande Montagne occupies the northern, eastern, and southern slopes of the horseshoe while Petite Montagne, a lower slope, occupies a northwesterly offshoot. Petite Montagne is 30-ha in size and is one of the two primary homes of Pinot Meunier in Champagne (the other being Vallée de la Marne). The distribution of varieties in the sub-zone is 50% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir, and the remainder Chardonnay.

Premier Cru sites can be found at all exposures on the "mountain" as pictured on the map below and  detailed in the table following.


Table 1. Premier Cru villages on the Grande Montagne
-          Pinot Noir 80 – 90% of plantings
-          On north bank of the Marne
-          10 inches of topsoil above a very dry chalk
-          Less warm and more cold wind than Bouzy so takes longer to ripen

-          Planted almost entirely with Chardonnay
-          Separated from Villers-Marmery by a thick band of forest
-          True mountain wine but with a specific chalk-driven tension and intense minerality
-          Cold and high in elevation. Prone to mildew
-          Chalky terroir yields wines that are racy and austere
-          15 – 30 inches of topsoil above chalky bedrock (deeper towards the northern side of the village

-          Chardonnays that are primarily used in blends

-          Champs d’Enfer – stony, chalky area on the south side of village
-          Brocot – deeper soils
-          Les Alouettes-Saint-Belzs – warm vineyard with a lot of chalk and little topsoil
Four distinct sectors:
-          Cran de Ludes
-          Area around the village
-          Area around La Grosse Pierre
-          At the limit of the Ludes boundary
-          Cran de Ludes has very little topsoil, a thin layer of clay then chalk
-          Area around village does not have a lot of topsoil and wines close ones palate
-          Further down the slope has more clay and sand
-          Limit of the Ludes boundary

-          Les Beaux Regards

-          La Grosse Pierre

-          Les Monts Fournois
-          131.9 ha
-          58% PM, 24% PN, 18% Chardonnay

-          Le Clos des Pêcherines
-          Clos du Moulins
-          Les Pêcherines
-          312 ha
-          38.9% PN, 36.6% PM, 24% Chardonnay

-          Le Bas Clos
-          Les Bas Moutions
-          Les Clos
-          Les Clos Dérard
-          Les Clos de Prés
-          Les Clos Saint Paul
-          Les Clos Yons
Table constructed with information gleaned from Peter Liem's Champagne and, North-facing; East-facing; South-facing

Petite Montagne
The villages of Gueux, Écueil, and Vrigny are of importance in this sub-zone.

Gueux, according to Walters, is located on the northern edge of the Petite Montagne zone. Its soil is a mix of sand, calcareous elements, and tiny marine fossils which date to 45 million years ago. According to, the vineyards of this village cover 19.8 ha (489 acres) and is distributed between Pinot Meunier (84.5%), Pinot Noir (11.7%), and Chardonnay (3.8%). Jérôme Prévost is a producer of note in this village.

The villages of Écueil and Vrigny are both east-facing slopes with the former's clay, limestone, and chalk soil (akin to Burgundy) rendering it suitable for Pinot Noir. Most of the other villages in this sub-zone lie on sandy soils which are more suited to Pinot Meunier production. Écueil is 144.9 ha in size of which 76.3% is dedicated to Pinot Noir, 11.8% to Chardonnay, and 11.9% to Pinot Meunier. Sand on the lower slopes act as a foil to phylloxera and some ungrafted vines are planted here. Les Chaillots and Les Gilles are noted lieux-dits in this village. Producers of note in this village are Frédéric Savart and Nicolas Maillart.

Vrigny is 90.7 ha in size with 71.7% planted to Pinot Meunier, 19.5% Pinot Noir, and 9.3% Chardonnay. The slopes in this village are gentle, with varying exposures, and the soils are limestone and calcareous clay. Important lieux-dits are Les Champs de Vallier, Les Clos, Les Linguets, and Les Près, the latter of which rests on deep, fossil-bearing soils. Notable producers are Egly-Ouriet and Roger Coulon.

This submittal completes the review of the Montagne de Reims sub-region of Champagne. See here for a review of the Grand Cru vineyards.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Friday, April 27, 2018

A home run for the inaugural vintage (2017) of the Benanti (Viagrande, Mt. Etna) Etna Rosato

My strategy at this year's edition of Contrada dell'Etna was to drink only the Carricante-based white wines of Etna's South-East Region in order to imprint the characteristic of that wine on my senses. And everything was going according to plan until I got to the Benanti tent where Antonio -- one half of the dynamic-Benanti-brothers duo -- asked me to taste their brand new Rosé. Antonio is such a wonderfully pleasant young man that it is impossible to say no to him. So I agreed. And was blown away.

Antonio Benanti (r) and the author at 2018 Contrada dell'Etna
with the bottle of Rosato that I took home to evaluate further.
Photo credit: Antonio Benanti

The wine, according to Antonio, was the brainchild of his brother Salvino and its genesis was like pulling teeth because its introduction would put them in the position of being followers -- rather than their accustomed position of being leaders. But they went ahead and the product was well received at Vinitaly. I reached out to Antonio to gain the additional information required to write a review of the product. He gave me a bottle of the wine to facilitate that evaluation.

Before getting into this specific wine, a reprise of the Benanti Estate.

The Benanti Estate
The Benanti estate was founded in 1988 by Guiseppe Benanti, a Catania businessman who had conducted an extensive study of the soils of Mt. Etna with an eye to re-invigorating its moribund wine industry. The estate's initial vintage -- 1991 -- yielded 20,000 bottles, a figure that has grown to 130,000 annually (Etna Wine Lab). According to Nesto and di Savino, Salvo Foti, a man who brought with him "... a love of the mountain and a respect for the Etna culture of family production" was Benanti's "pioneering enologist" until 2011. The estate sources grapes from all of the major slopes (see figure below).

Sources: Underlying map -- Wikipedia;
data --

The Etna Rosato 2017
The Vintage
According to information secured from Brandon Tokash:
In Milo (one of the main South-East Villages), it rained for 59 of the 72 days between November and January with some light sporadic rain between February and April. After that there was no significant rainfall until a few days in July then it was dry again until early October when it rained for about 10 days. Some difficult choices for the growers  to either pick before the rain with concentrated sugar or take a chance not knowing when the rain would end, if it would end.
The Wine
I secured the particulars behind this wine in an email interview with Antonio Benanti. The wine is 100% Nerello Mascalese made with grapes sourced from Contrade Demone located in Viagrande on the South-East slope of the mountain.

According to Antonio, the wine was Salvino's idea (Salvino said it was Antonio's) because "he loves Rosé and felt strongly about us having our own." Antonio was hesitant because of the unaccustomed position in which this offering would place them but eventually relented. "... we then realized that what counted the most was to produce an outstanding wine that would immediately stand out in the crowded arena of Etna Rosato and become important in our portfolio so we went for it because we were confident about our in-house skills."

Grapes for the wine were harvested (manually) in the fourth week of September in order to have a lower sugar  and alcohol content. The grapes were de-stemmed and crushed and placed into stainless steel tanks for an hours-long cold maceration after which they were soft-pressed for around 3 hours in a horizontal pneumatic press. The free-run juice was fermented and remained on the lees for 2 months. Bottling occurred in March.

The Taste
As mentioned, I had initially tasted the wine at Contrada and took a bottle home for further analysis. In Orlando, I took the bottle to lunch at a small Thai restaurant and evaluated it both as a standalone drink and as a food wine.

The wine had a faded strawberry color, eschewing the Salmon color of the Provence Rosés and the intense colors of Tavel wines.

The initial nose showed intense strawberry, richness, and a minerality which increased in intensity with residence in the glass.

Bright acidity, strawberry, and chalky minerality. Fully engages the palate. Early picking shows through both in flavor-restraint and mouth-puckering acidity. Long, drying, mineral finish.

As time passed hints of bitterness showed up on the finish followed by a tamarind flavor and now-evident salinity. The wine then settles down into an austere phase: tamarind, salinity, and drying minerality.

This is an excellent food wine; especially with spicy foods. It banished all hints of spiciness from the palate with each sip taken.

Of the Rosato's I have tasted on the mountain, I have been most impressed by Salvo Foti's Vindulice (2500 btls), Barone de Villagrande's Rosato (3000 btls), and Pietradolce's Rosato (9 - 10,000 btls). These wines each have their own unique look and feel and varietal composition but are similar in that they all give an exquisite sense of pleasure on the nose and palate. The Benanti Etna Rosato 2017 immediately vaults into this company with its initial vintage.

The wine was initially tasted at the estate with a number of importers and, according to Antonio, "there was immediately a very positive consensus." The wine was officially presented at Vinitaly 2018 and the vast majority of people that tasted it were impressed. The wine was also very well received at 2018 Contrada dell'Etna.

The wine will officially launch to the market on the week beginning May 7th with the 7,000 bottles available for this vintage. It is expected that 14,000 bottles will be available for the 2018 vintage.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Thursday, April 26, 2018

La Matricianelli, traditional Roman cuisine in the heart of Rome

Parlo and I were traveling to Sicily for the annual Contrade dell'Etna (her first, my third), an en primeur event wherein the latest vintages of participating producers are tasted by attendees. As it "worked out," we had some time between arriving at Fiumicino Rome International Airport and leaving for Catania Airport in Sicily so we decided to travel into central Rome for a proper meal.

We traveled in from Fiumicino to the Termini in Rome via the Leonardo Express, a trip scheduled for 28 minutes and costing $28/person round trip (Don't worry, the train never leaves on time and the journey always exceeds the scheduled travel duration. I have reached this conclusion after making the round trip twice within the space of a week.). The seating is comfortable with large windows (if you get the right seats) providing a view of the world beyond the train as you trundle in. Good luck in your battles with fellow travelers seeking to position their luggage strategically.

Once the decision was made to go into Rome, I contacted Brandon Tokash (my long-time, Mt-Etna-based friend) to get restaurant recommendations (Though domiciled on Mt. Etna, love pulls him to Rome almost every weekend). He recommended La Matricianella (Roma Via del Leone, 4) as (i) it was a great restaurant that specialized in Roman cuisine and (ii) had an awesome wine list. He also mentioned that it was close to both the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps. Great. I get to combine great food and wine with a little bit of history and sightseeing.

At Rome Termini, I purchased tickets that would allow us to travel the three stops to the Spanish Steps.We had stayed at a hotel at the top of the Steps on a visit a few years ago and that all came roaring back as we stepped into the piazza. We walked around for a bit and took some pictures, all while attempting to evade the masses of tourists and outstretched iPhones. Then it was off to finding the restaurant and banishing the hunger pangs.

Parlo resting at the Spanish Steps

The restaurant was closed when we arrived at 11:30 am. We saw someone inside and beckoned her over. Without waiting for our question, she pointed to a sign which clearly said that the restaurant would open for meals at 12:30 pm. Bummer. We could have gone on to another spot but I was intrigued by the place; and every retail shop that we stepped into reassured us that Matricianella was the place where we wanted to have lunch.

So we had some time to kill. We first tried shopping, but our hearts weren't into it. We needed to take the edge off the hunger. A little piazza with open-air seating beckoned from up ahead. And we responded. We plunked ourselves into the nearest open seats and ordered glasses of champagne.

At 12:20, we headed back to Matricianella. The doors opened promptly at 12:30 and they validated our outside seating choice. Other patrons were now arriving at a fairly rapid rate and it was not too long until they were turning people away. We were convinced; this was a place with a reputation.

It was a nice, warm day and the outside seating afforded us the opportunity of seeing shoppers, tourists, and business people scurrying back and forth on the street.

The food and wine menus were brought to our table at this time. The food menus features locally sourced ingredients that are presented either as a part of the extensive standing menu or as daily specials. The massive wine list -- 2.5 to 3 inches thick -- featured wines from every Italian wine region. It made for great reading. We started off with a bottle of Gosset Brut Grande Reserve.

We went the deep-fried route on appetizers: Breaded Bacalau and artichokes. Both of these dishes were tasty.

Deep-Fried Bacalau

Fried Artichokes

My first plate was a Pasta with tripe with a rich, thick, cheesy, red sauce which rendered the circular pieces of the tripe almost indistinguishable from the tubular pasta. Hearty, tasty dish. As was the Bacalau which followed.

Pasta with Red Sauce and Tripe
By this time we had struck up a conversation with the couple that was seated next to us and they joined us for the Collepiano Sagrantino de Montefalco which I ordered. I am generally a Paolo Bea man but the Collepiano was in a good place.

2004 Collepiano Sagrantino di Montefalco

Bacalau (Salted Codfish)

The afternoon had gone swimmingly well. We had had a long, pleasant afternoon at a leading proponent of traditional Roman cooking which featured "fresh seasonal raw materials delivered daily" to the restaurant and a 1000-label wine list. The service is competent but do not expect to find wait staff hovering around at your elbow.

A must-visit if you are in Rome. The experience is amplified if you are able to snag an outside seat.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Montagne de Reims and its Grand Cru vineyards (after Peter Liem)

In his best-selling book Champagne, Peter Liem states that the 20 or so subregions into which the Comité Champagne divides the appellation "... is useful but perhaps a little too granular for most people's needs." He reduces this granularity to the seven subregions that I graphically illustrated in a recent post. In that post I promised to delve into Liem's subregions and began with a look at the Côte des Blancs. I continue herein with the Montaigne de Reims.

The Unions des Maisons de Champagne (UMC) divides its Montaigne de Reims subregion into four subzones:
  • Grande Montagne Reims
  • Massif de St. Thiery
  • Monts de Berru
  • Reims: Vesle & Ardre
Montagne de Reims is a forested plateau south of Reims that is known for rich, full-bodied Champagnes and the dominance of Pinot Noir. According to, the subregion is comprised of 94 villages, stretches over 7989.30 ha, and has a variety distribution as follows: Pinot Noir, 40.32%;  Pinot Meunier, 33.59%; and Chardonnay, 26%. The map associated with this characterization of the region is shown below.

Modification of a map secured from cambridgewineblogger
It should be noted that combines Petite Montagne, Vesla, and Ardre (shown separately in the map above) into a single subzone called Vesle & Ardre.

In his graphical representation of Montagne de Reims, Liem divides the villages into two buckets: West and North (to include all the villages located outside of the Grande Montagne subzone); and Grande Montagne. In his description of the wines and terroir, however, he does distinguish between Grande and Petite Montagne. Liem does not spill any ink on the villages falling into the Monts de Berru and Vesle & Ardre (beyond Petite Montagne) subzones.

Montagne de Reims is more of a wide plateau than a mountain as its horseshoe shape -- open to the west -- is only 293 m (940 feet) at its highest point. The plateau is mostly covered with thick forests with vineyards occupying the flanks and, depending on their position on the horseshoe, having exposures ranging between northwest and south. Grande Montagne occupies the northern, eastern, and southern slopes of the horseshoe while Petite Montagne, a lower slope, occupies a northwesterly offshoot.

Grand Cru sites are located on south and north exposures while Premier Cru sites can be found at all exposures. The Grand Cru sites are pictured on the map below and described in detail in the table following.


Table 1. The Grand Crus of Grande Montagne.
-          Most southerly of the Grande Montagne Villages
-          On north bank of the Marne
-          Newcomer (1955) to grapegrowing
-          Terroir produces combination of mountain (more rigidly structured) and river wines

-          Ranks among the greatest terroirs of Champagne
-          Among warmest terroirs of this subzone
-          True mountain wine
-          Bedrock of hard chalk
-          Some parts of topsoil at 50 cm
-          A 3-m-deep layer of sedimentary soil runs through center of village – ideal for Pinot Noir

-          Among greatest terroirs of Champagne
-          Portion of vineyard faces SE (Tempers ripeness, resulting in wines more delicate than Bouzy)
-          Three rolling hills provides wider variety of sun exposure than experienced in Bouzy
-          Chalky terroir
-          Soil poor near Bouzy
-          Deeper alluvial soil at the base of the slope in the eastern portion
-          Thinner closer to Trépail
-          More calcareous soil exposed in SE vineyards 9ideal for Chardonnay)
-          Deep topsoils below the village
-          Les Crayères – chalky vineyard on east side of village
-          Les Bermonds
-          La Grande Ruelle
-          Le Bout de Clos
-          Le Parc – thick layers of tufa above the chalk
-          Clos d’Ambonnay – notably calcareous soils (structure, complexity, salinity)
-          418 ha (1033 acres)
-          Pinot Noir darker than in south-facing villages (distinctive gaminess and metallic, iron-like undertone
-          Well-drained soils
-          Some clay-heavy parcels, some chalk-heavy parcels
-          Clay seems deeper

-          Located on the flatter land below the slope (other side of A4)
-          92 ha (227 acres)
-          Mild, NE-facing slopes in southern part of village

-          La Loge
-          Les Blauer Germains
-          Les Champs de Romont (southern part of village)
-          Westernmost Grand Cru in northern Montagne de Reims
-          Classified Grand Cru in 1920
-          70 ha (123 acres)
-          Strong, 80-member Coop operates herein
-          35 lieux-dits
-          400 parcels of Pinot Noir (89%) and Chardonnay
-          Pinot Noir not as powerful and vinous as is the case for south-facing slopes
-          Among the last subzones in Champagne to be harvested (difficulty ripening)
Varied terroir with chalk subsoil
-          Les Baraqumes – cooler site producing structured, spicy PN
-          Les Godats and Les Coutures – further downm the slope; fatter and warmer
-          Les Cotes – Southern side of the chalky ridge so more exposure than the preceding
Data sources: Peter Liem, Champagne, South-facing. North-facing

The Premier Cru vineyards and the remaining subzones of the Montagne de Reims will, in a subsequent post, round out the discussion of the region.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme