As a huge fan of Vilmart’s entire range of champagnes, I looked forward to our next stop and the drive down from Merfy to Rilly-la-Montagne.
Impressions from my visit to Chartogne-Taillet are here:
The fog persisted for the duration, as you can perceive in this shot just outside Vilmart’s entrance:
As we approached, Laurent Champs greeted us along with a Finnish couple, and into the sitting area, past the receptionist we went.
The room was gorgeous, filled with Christmas decorations and stained glass murals, reminiscent of the label adorning Vilmart’s Cuvee Creation. It reminded me of a rural, but beautifully appointed slopeside cabin, with exposed wood beams and dark wood paneling along the walls. It felt like home.
Laurent uncorked the following bottles for us to taste after a quick tour of the facility:
NV Grande Reserve (70% Pinot, 30% Chard)
NV Grand Cellier (same proportion as the Reserve)
2003 Grand Cellier d’Or (80% Chard, 20% Pinot)
2001 Coeur de Cuvee (80% Chard, 20% Pinot)
1999 Cuvee Creation (70% Chard, 30% Pinot)
We were fortunate to catch the disgorgement of bottles in action, beginning with the freezing of the lees, necks plunged into a solution before having the resulting ice/lees plug ejected.
I was tempted to ask if I could assist with a couple bottles, but didn’t want to impose as everything was moving pretty quickly.
In this contraption, the ice plug is ejected and the dosage injected:
The freshly dosed bottles frothed as they entered the corking/caging area. Again, it was tough to resist making like the kid in Charlie in the Chocolate Factory, lunging for a bottle and gulping from it.
Corks inserted and cages on, the bottles headed toward the end of the line to be labeled and boxed.
Psyched to have witnessed the process, we viewed the barrel room and then proceeded back to the reception area to taste the wines.
The NV Grande Reserve was a fine wine, but a bit angular and paled in comparison to the rest of the range, an experience I’ve found consistent. Well worth spending the extra dollars on the Grand Cellier IMHO.
The NV Grand Cellier was mind-bending juice for its “lowly” NV designation, and if I understood correctly, Laurent said that after the 2000 Cuvee Creation, that cuvee will go away, with the old vine juice going to both the NV Grand Cellier and vintage Coeur de Cuvee bottles. Imagine, the minerally, spicy, energetic and persistent Grand Cellier getting BETTER!?!?
Next up was the 2003 Grand Cellier d’Or. I was eager to try this for two reasons, I’ve only had one 2003 Champagne (Bollinger’s) and the price was amazing (28 Euros). Having tasted the 2002 recently, I was excited to compare. Whether my mind was playing tricks on me seeing the vintage (the dreaded 2003 summer in Europe) or not, the fruit tasted tropical. Not sweet, but just amped up and rich, almost like the 1998 Cuvee Creation. I would have been a buyer, but they had sold out.
Up next, the tete de cuvee, 2001 Coeur de Cuvee. Whoa! What a treat! I restrained myself for the third time on the visit, almost running to place an order after just sniffing this beauty! Exotic fruit, I swear there was coconut, combined with the funk of burgundy at its best, topped off by notes of spices had me swooning. Luxurious and broad on the palate and the finish, oh the finish. This bottle is class personified and it’s amazing what Laurent and his vines produced in 2001. I have been hunting like a demon (as Juhlin noted about the 1993 Coeur) for more.
The 1999 Cuvee Creation seemed more elegant and less brash than the 1998 (which wasn’t poured, but I’ve tasted). I believe Laurent said this bottling is from a single parcel, but I could be totally wrong, as I entered a fugue-like state following the 2001 Coeur. Rich, creamy and well-defined structure, I like it more than the 1998 version, but I generally prefer 99s to 98s across the board.
With that, we received dinner recommendations from Laurent (L’Apostrophe in Reims was unpretentious and a fun ambience), settled up for some purchases and said au revoir to Vilmart.
Laurent, like Alexandre Chartogne, is a gentleman and was a pleasure to meet and taste with.
I’m plotting my return to this glorious region.