Sunday, January 10, 2016

Hipster wine tasting: The Champagnes

In Orlando, distance, consumer demand, and distributor choice conspire to restrict the types of wines available on the market. To combat this state of affairs, a number of wine lovers travel to the major metropolitan areas in order to stay abreast of trends "under the brighter lights." One such traveler is Ron Siegel, a good friend, travel buddy, and, in addition, one of the biggest collectors in town. We tend to drink mostly the five Bs but, over the last few trips that he has taken to NYC, the Somms have been recommending wines that are not normally on his radar screen.

Ron thought that this required further attention and had some discussions with Pascaline Lepeltier MS (Rouge Tomate) and the Wine Director at Jean-Georges to get a sense of some of these "new wines" that he should be drinking. He also consulted Raj Parr's Delectable Timeline to get a sense of the wines in this class that Raj was drinking. At the conclusion of that investigation, Ron curated a number of wines for a Hipster tasting and invited a number of local Somms and friends to participate.

"Hipster Tasting" crew. Photo courtesy of Steve Alcorn
I will report on this tasting over a number of posts beginning with the Champagne flight herein.

The tasting kicked off with a flight of three Champagnes: Chartogne-Taillet 'Les Barres' Extra Brut 2008; Georges Laval Cumières Premier Cru Brut Nature Rosé; and Bérêche et Fils Brut Nature Chardonnay 'Les Beaux Regards'. The Chartogne-Taillet was contributed by Jill Davis, Head Sommelier at Del Frisco's Double Eagle Steak House, located on International Drive in the Orlando Convention District, while the other two were procured by Ron from out-of-state sources.

Chartogne-Taillet farms 11 ha of vineyards on south and southeast facing slopes in the village of Merfy in the Montagne de Reims. The vineyard is divided into 13 individual parcels planted to Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Arbane. The Les Barres parcel stretches over two of the southernmost plots in the estate's holdings and were planted during the period 1952 to 2008. The 0.84 ha plot is evenly planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier.

Grapes for the Les Barres Champagne are grown on 60-year-old, ungrafted Pinot Meunier vines with root systems reaching down through two meters of Thanetian sands to the underlying limestone. Due to the sandy soils, Phylloxera has never affected these vines.

The grapes are hand-harvested and pressed gently. There is no additional treatment to the grapes, must, or wine beyond the application of a small quantity of SO₂ at harvest. The grapes are vinified in oak barrels -- ranging in age from three to nine years -- using natural yeasts and malolactic fermentation is also allowed to proceed naturally. The wines are aged for eight to 18 months and then bottled without filtration.

Georges Laval
On our recent trip to New York for La Fete du Champagne, we had a number of area Somms advise us that the wines of George Laval should not be missed at the weekend Grand Tasting. So we had that as a mission and did experience the man and his wines. And both were stellar experiences. And, hence, the motivation for Ron adding this producer to the tasting.

George Laval's vineyards are sited on south-facing slopes in Cumières in the Vallée de la Marne. The estate has been organic since 1971, almost Big Bang time in the world of European organic viticulture, and is planted to Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Fifty percent of the vines are in excess of 30 years of age with some vines being older than 70 years.

Like Chartogne-Taillet, the Laval grapes are hand-harvested and fermented with natural yeasts, but, unlike that estate, Laval uses sulfur at low doses (< 30 mg/L SO₂) during fermentation to prevent oxidation. The base wines are aged or 10 months without fining or filtration and then blended before bottling. The Champagnes are aged on the lees for 2 - 4 years depending on the vintage.

Bereche et Fils
The Bereche et Fils holdings amount to 9.5 ha distributed between Ludes on the Montagne de Reims, Mareuil le Port in the Vallée de la Marne, Ormes in Petite Montagne de Reims, small plots in Trépail on the eastern slope of Montagne de Reims, and a tiny Grand Cru parcel in Mailly. The vineyards are planted to roughly equal proportions of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier and, as in the two prior estates, the grapes are grown organically.

Parcels are vinified separately with natural yeasts used for smaller tanks and selected yeasts in larger tanks. Malolactic fermentation is discouraged. Wines that are vinified in tanks age on their lees for 5 months while those fermented in barrels rest on their lees for 6 months (75% of the fermentation is conducted in barrel). After assemblage the wines remain in the cellar for between 2 and 6 years. The estate uses cork closures, rather than crown caps, for secondary fermentation. There is no filtration.

The Les Beaux Regards is a Blanc de Blanc sourced from vines planted in 1902 and 1970.

Tasting Notes
The Chartogne-Taillent 2008 exhibited great freshness on the nose along with a toasted brioche and a nuttiness. Long finish. This wine is drinking beautifully right now. The Georges Laval showed a spicy strawberry along with gaminess, blood, and a savory note. Slight oxidative note. Less expressive on the palate. The Bereche et Fils showed bread, lime, minerality and a slight citrus rind. Crisp, limey acidity and a drying out on the palate.

At the conclusion of the flight, participants were asked to select the best in flight. The Georges Laval got a lot of mentions but the peoples choice was the Chartogne-Taillet.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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