La Fête du Champagne Thoughts

Michael Lewis talked me into the grand tasting and the Pinot Meunier seminar at the last moment. I collected my thoughts below. Apologies in advance for the stream-of-consciousness thinking, typographical errors, and misinformed opinions.

The grand tasting was well worth the price of admission for fans of Champagne, with 21 houses pouring 4 wines each, including many rare bottles that are almost never seen at retail. There was also some awesome food provided by the likes of Despana (jamon iberico bellota) and DeBragga (miyazaki beef). The Meunier seminar was a bit disappointing as Eric Asimov spent a lot of time on the basics of Meunier. Overall a great experience, and I will definitely be back next year.

Here are some of my impressions from the tasting:

Top Surprises
2009 is a superb vintage in the hands of skilled growers.
Larmandier-Bernier is producing some absolutely incredible single village champagnes.
Savart is making some incredible wines. Hope they don’t disappear as people figure out just how good they are.
Doquet’s champagnes are precise, balanced, delicious, and under the radar.

Stuff that wasn’t a surprise
Selosse is a rockstar and his wines are incredible across the board.
Prevost is every bit worthy of the hype. The wines held up extremely well in the tasting.
Chartogne’s wines are excellent and there is so much potential as his winemaking career is just beginning.

  • Of the two Meunier wines, Les Barres is from own-rooted vines in sandy soils while Les Alliees is on grafted rootstock in clay
  • While it was interesting to drink Les Barres (09) I preferred the Les Alliees (08)-- not sure how much is 09 vs. 08 as opposed to the difference in soli/vines
    2002 and 2008 are killer vintages for Champagne.
    The 2002 Salon is really great. It’s also really expensive. Definitely tastes suave/“big house” at first but that is quickly overwhelmed by the incredible intensity.

Good stuff
Pierre Peters had some impressive stuff, especially the Oubliee for fans of “solera” style champagnes.
Bereche’s wines were quite good although they didn’t hit the same high notes for me as some of the wines mentioned above.
Laval was a really interesting guy to meet-- very opinionated about winemaking. The wines are quite good.

  • I had a preference for the blend and blanc de noirs as opposed to the blanc de blancs-- just a bit more accessible
    1998 Dom P2 was enjoyable but certainly not worth the retail tariff.
    Jacquesson’s wines were good but not special, with the cuvee 733 degorgement tardif the best of the bunch

Disappointing stuff
Agrapart’s wines fell a little short. Just not enough cut/intensity vs. the other stars at the tasting.

  • He served a number of older wines that probably don’t reflect the current style
  • Still, the 2002 extra brut seemed to be a bit lacking. Tasting it right after Selosse definitely didn’t help…
    Krug… it’s just so Krug-y. Enjoyable in its own way but not a Champagne in the same sense as the other producers here. The Jadot of Champagne.
    Philipponnat was not that impressive overall. Indistinct and a bit thin on the palate.
    2006s-- hopefully they are just shut down right now.
    2007s-- unexciting vintage.

Big houses releasing 2003 vintage champagne. I guess given the global demand for their brands they can sell through this poor vintage.
2004s-- harsh acidity even from those with riper styles.
A number of saignee method roses showed very poorly at the tasting. Reductive/green flavors. Maybe a tough contrast to the rest of the wines?
Delamotte? Hard to believe these are the same folks that make Salon.

Meunier Seminar
Overall, all three producers (Prevost, Chartogne, and Bereche) downplayed the importance of varietal.
Prevost asks why make white from red?

  • You can taste the entire flavor of a grape from the skin, yet the berry without the skin is mostly sugar and acid.
  • Prevost makes his rose via assemblage to introduce the flavors of Meunier-based red wine.
    Chartogne sees the importance of pairing grape to soil. Grapes are just a vehicle, the soil is what creates the wine.
    Prevost noted that Meunier vines are often planted at lower altitudes where their is greater frost risk.

Although the lineup was great, I would have loved to see a few others, such as:
Ulysse Collin
Cedric Bouchard
Vouette e Sorbee

Ross – thanks for a concise and information-packed writeup!

That is a spectacular write up - many thanks! I need to refer to this from time to time…

Great write up, many thanks. I’ll be referring back to your post as well.

Nice write up, Ross. Generally, we had similar reactions. For me, the biggest surprise was just how much I enjoyed the Larmandier-Bernier lineup. Aside from that, the tasting confirmed my suspicions about which producers I liked most, which I found to be poor value (even if the wines are generally pretty good), and which I liked least.

For the curious, here is the lineup in full: Grand Tasting — La Fête du Champagne

Ross and I made it through everything except Drappier and Geoffroy

Thanks Ross (though I think I was more impressed by the Bereche in the PM seminar than you)!

What did you think of the Prevost Roses? While La Closerie is one of my favorite Champagnes the one time I had the rose I thought it good but not worth the upcharge. I’ve been debating whether to give it another try.

Jay, I’ve had the rose a few times before and this tasting confirmed for me how much I enjoy it. It is more Meunier than his regular champagne, with the sap/pine flavors of the red Meunier merging well into the rest of the wine. To be fair, I find that in general I prefer assemblage roses (like Prevost and Selosse) to saignee roses. Of course, the impossibility of ever actually being allocated a bottle means that the question is mostly academic!

08 Prevost Rose I think may be one of my all time favorite roses. A monument, basically.

Great write up but even at extremes I can’t agree with the Krug = Jadot comment. I normally always enjoy Krug, no matter which bottling. Jadot even on the top end (yes I most not “get” it) never does anything for me.

The Terry Theise gang probably coordinated their trip to do this event and today’s Skurnik trade tasting at City Winery. It was great to see the producers. The lineups from:

Pierre Peters
Jean Milan
Mousse Fils

were all fantastic.

A few of my highlights were:

Jean Milan BdB ‘Grand Reserve 1864’ NV–100% Chardonnay from 03-04 vintages. It might sound strange since Ross panned these vintages but I found this tight and minerally, with balanced fruit on the palate and nice toast on the finish. It has a cool rope thingy instead of a wire cage, maybe I’m just a package whore. :wink:

2009 Chartogne Taillet Les Barres–If you’ve had this wine you know what it’s about. Awesome chalk and mineral notes, red fruits on the palate, spice on the finish.

2009 Marc Hebrart Special Club–60% Pinot Noir 40% Chard; rich, chewy and dense, balanced fruit and acidity.

2008 Marc Hebrart ‘Rive Gauche-Rive-Droite’–A steely, intense, minerally, tightly wound wine. It’s young and not revealing a lot in terms of depth or weight but this might be my wine of the day.

2006 Gimonnet Special Club–My literal note was, ‘wow, profound, intense.’ I think it was pretty rich with some toasty/grain notes and mineral on the finish. I have had some aged Gimonnet Special Clubs and with time they tend to get really rich and dense both in color and flavor, this should be one that stands out with time.

Pierre Peters ‘Reserve Oubilee’ NV–Aged an extra year in tank, this is youthful and fresh on the fruit side, but has nice toasty brioche undertones from the extra aging, I guess the idea was to make something that has some notes of an aged wine on release. Very nice.

Unfortunately there were several other producers I skipped entirely, but there was a ton of great stuff and pretty much every winery had a winemaker/family representative there.

I really enjoyed that wine at the La Fête tasting. Similar aged notes to Selosse’s solera wines, in a good way. Apparently the wine was not sold in the US until just recently. Zachys has some on pre-arrival.

Ross, it’s an entirely new wine, apparently Rodolph was challenged by a British wine writer to make something ‘looser’ by using casks, according to the blurb in the book. Compared to the tightly wound NV it’s a departure, but not quite sure it’s worth twice the price…

great write up’s guys. very helpful.

Sarah, it was less of a comment about the quality level and more that both producers have a distinct “house style” that is notably different from others in the region.

Gotcha. Thanks

I was also able to make it to the Theise tasting (sorry I missed you Brent). It got really crowded, so it was tough to hit everyone, but Laura and I soldiered on and managed to taste all of the grower Champagnes. I took very abbreviated notes, so these are just impressions.

Aubry: a very enjoyable Brut NV that is fine value. I liked everything at this table, but the Dualis NV (blend of 50% 1998 CHardonnay and 50% 1999 Pinot Noir) was a true standout.

Pierre Callot: Well made wines that were a bit of a shock to the system due to higher dosage than most of the grower wines. The higher (or at least perceived higher) dosage was a benefit for the 2007 Brut which was a touch rounder than most 2007 (which were generally very lean/tart).

Lallement: Laura and I are very much focused on the red grapes of Champagne, so that biased us in favor of these wines. The Reserve Brut NV was our favorite at this table. The 80% Pinot Noir from 2009 made for a rich blend that gained focus from the 20% 2010 Chardonnay.

Pehu-Simmonet: Best showing in our experience for this producer. Loved the Blanc de Noirs Brut NV as well as the Rosé NV. The Rosé was one of the more succesful 2011 based Rosé wines, probably due to the solera-style reserve wines adding more depth.

Jean Milan: Poured a huge range of wines. The Spéciale Brut NV stood out among the earlier bottles in the lineup, with the 2008/2009 blend giving it an advantage over 2011 blends. The Blanc de Blancs Grand Réserve 1864 Brut NV was an incredibly interesting bottle, combining 2003 and 2004 vintages in a richer, more complex package. I liked this very much.

René Geoffroy: I always like these wines. I actually tasted these near the end of the day, and it was really crowded, so tough to get background info, but I was impressed by the Volupté Brut 2007, and both Laura and i singled out the Rosé de Saignée Brut NV for its depth and complexity. The 2004 Millésime Extra-Brut was also excellent.

Pierre Gimonnet: Another big range of wines. I was a fan of the Sélection Belles Années Brut NV, as well as the 2009 Cuvée Grastronome Brut. The 2005 Vintage Collection Brut was a very interesting wine. Didier Gimonnet decanted it from magnum, and that really helped it stand out. My palate was getting wrecked from Champagne after Champagne, and the decanting made this wine fan out on the palate, and gave it a more gentle impression.

Chartogne-Taillet: A predictable impressive table. Alexandre Chartogne is a magician. He has raised the basic wines to a much higher level than they used to be. The 2008 Brut Millésime was amazing, showing the depth and richness of 2008. The 2009 Cuvée Les Barres Extra-Brut was amazing, another in the string of great vintages of this 100% Pinot Meunier wine. The 2009 Cuvée Orizeaux Extra-Brut (100% Pinot Noir) just blew me and Laura away. The complexity of this young wine was the most impressive part of the entire tasting.

Gaston Chiquet: Solid! Really solid. The Tradition Brut NV was one of the best versions of the wine I have tasted in several years (this was my house Champagne in the early 2000s. Loved the 2004 Millésime Brut showed well, eclipsing the two Special Club bottlings (2005 and 2007) for me.

Marc Hébrart: Lots of Pinot Noir in most of these wines. The Rosé Brut NV was very “berry” with the high quantity of 2009 Pinot Noir showing through. Also really liked the 2009 Spécial Club, which had a lot of depth.

Egly-Ouriet: Tasted near the end of the day, and totally overshadowed. I will give them the benefit of the doubt, as I was tired.

Pierre Péters: First table we hit during the day, and along with Chartogne-Taillet the star of the event. The Cuvée de Réserve Brut NV showed a notable lime and green apple element that I really liked, though it might be controversial for some. I enjoyed the Réserve Oubliée Brut NV as well, but am not interested in the upcharge. The 2008 Brut Millésime was another standout, giving more ammunition to the 2008 vintage. Laura singled out the Rosé ‘for Albanne’ Brut NV as one of her favorites of hte day. The 2007 Cuvée Spéciale Les Chétillons Brut was very linear, direct and in need of cellar time. It was the best 2007 we tasted on the day, but still beat out by the regular 2008 Vintage Brut here.

Goutorbe: We had never tasted teh Goutorbe range, and boy are we glad we did. These were across the board some really nice wines. The Rosé Brut NV was outstanding. This was (alongside the Péters) Laura’s favorite Rosé of the day, likely due to the 10%+ of Pinot Meunier vin rouge that made of the blend. It made the wine really vinous and deep.

Moussé Fils: We both loved these wines. We love Pinot Meunier Champagnes, and that is the specialty of this producer. The Cuvée Noire Réseve Brut NV was very fruity, but also very dry. Lovely combination! The 95% Pinot Meunier (5% Pinot Noir) 2009 Millésime Brut was another favorite, and showed tons of depth and richness. So good. We loved all the wines here, as we have loved the bottles we have tried in the past.

A. Margaine: I have not paid much attention to this producer in the past, so this was a bit of an eye opener. The Cuvée le Brut NV was a favorite, and we really liked the Traditionelle Demi-Sec NV, which was not so sweet, just showing more mid-palate richness, and perhaps a slight impression of finishing sweetness. Very nice balance for a wine in a category that I have normally ignored. Could be a crowd pleaser for non-geeks, or an interesting companion to food for geeks.

Henri Billiot: Strong performance here. So glad to taste the wines, and have them show so well. The Réserve Brut NV was like I remembered it - all swirling fruit and sneaky depth. Delicious. The 2007 Vintage Brut was like a coiled spring. Give it time, but all the goods are here.

Varnier-Fannière: Last table we hit, so really sketchey, but I liked both the Cuvée Saint Denis Brut NV and the 2008 Grand Vintage Brut. Just didn’t get any more impressions than my check marks.

Vilmart & Cie: Let’s just say Vilmart and be done with it? Excellent stuff, but for me these always need cellar time. I am not generally a fan on release. That being said, the Cuvée Rubis Brut NV and 2009 Grand Cellier Rubis were both amazing, as they always are every single time!

Tasting 97 Champagnes is tough work. I think it’s easier to taste 150+ German wines.

I attended la Fete, and agree with much previously stated.
Quote of the day; " at 60 years old I too am quite oxidative " - Anselme Selosse

I tasted yesterday from Magnum Margaine 07 Blanc de Blancs and it was excellent, Milan 1864- Blanc de Blancs - outstanding, but Egly O Ambonnay disgorged May 2015 from a 750- killed it!

Awesome write up fellas. Much appreciated.

Tasting notes from the future! Berserkers breaking new ground every day!!! :wink:

Are higher dosage champagnes a non-geek thing? I like 'em lots, I’ve run into other geeky folks who agree . . . (To be fair, there is plenty of big house crap in the demi-sec category, but good demi-sec can be terrific, just like pradikat riesling can outshine its trocken counterpart .)