Champagne: Off the Beaten Track
Barry Weinman: 27th December 2023
At this year’s Taste Champagne, I took the opportunity to try as many grower/cooperative/lesser-known Champagnes as I could, given the amount of attention that this section of the market has been getting of late. So, with a somewhat heavy heart, I ignored the likes of Charles Heidsieck, Veuve Clicquot, Moet and Roederer, and headed to the grower tables. (The heavy heart came from ignoring Charles Heidsieck, which is one of my favourite wines).
And what I found was a real mixed bag. There were a number of idiosyncratic wines, some of which worked better than others. however the best were excellent wines and worthy of your attention.
In no particular order, here are some of the wines that stood out.
The NV Rosé was a highlight for me. Lively and fresh, with hints of strawberry fruit adding to the appeal. A mid-weight wine with excellent length and texture, aided by gentle astringency that boosted the mouthfeel. Food friendly.
Royal Reserve – None Dose – NV. This had a lightness in the palate that was most appealing. Lively and fresh, with lemon zest highlights. I am not usually a fan of zero dosage wines, but this is an excellent drink, with the ripe fruit characters balancing the dry finish.
Barons De Rothschild
The Rothschild family’s entrance into champagne has happened at great speed. The first vintage was only 2010, yet they have already acquired 72 hectares of vineyards.
My overall impression was that these are, first and foremost, serious wines, with more power than many on show.
The Concordia Brut NV is a complex wine with gentle stone fruit and lemony fruit leading to a creamy mouthfeel and very long, fine finish. An elegant wine. 4yrs on lees, 6g/l dosage, 40% reserve wines, 60% pinot/40% chardonnay
The Blanc De Blancs NV was more powerful, dense and textured, and a meal in itself.
The Rose NV traded some of the power for increased complexity and subtle intensity. A charming wine. 4yrs on lees, 6g/l, 85% Chardonnay.
Domaine De Marzilly
Another newcomer to Champagne, founded in 2012. The key differentiators here are the reliance on pinot meunier and universal barrel aging. The Lot 7 NV is a different interpretation of Champagne, with depth, richness and a chewiness that is more common in still wines. Excellent length of flavours. 80% pinot meunier and only 3g/l dosage.
The L.P.M. NV takes things even further, being made from 100% pinot meunier. Good drinking, but I prefer the Lot 7.
The 1er Cuvée MV (has up to 50% reserve wines) spent 3yrs on lees and, with only 5g/l dosage, is being referred to as an extra brut. Plenty of citrus characters here and an excellent aperitif.
The highlight in the range for me was the Rosé MV. This has hints of red fruits and subtle power, but what stood out here was that it was a good drink. Not the biggest, richest, or most showy, but a very enjoyable wine.
There was only one wine on tasting (Extra Brut) and it was a highlight. Intense, rich, rounded and long. This was a great drink and one I recommend trying.
Le Brun De Neville
This was another winery that I had not encountered before, and I am glad that I did. Of the five wines on tasting, the following were my picks.
Cote Blanche NV. I loved the nose here. Fresh stone fruit and wonderful baked bread aromas supported by minerality and gentle development. The palate has depth, texture and power, and possesses excellent balance. Base wine from 2018, 100% chardonnay, 8g/l dosage.
La Croisée Des Chemins MV is a single vineyard wine that is fresher and livelier, with citrus notes. This is a more elegant style that, whilst lacking the power of the Cote Blanche, is a better wine overall and worth seeking out. 75% Chardonnay, 2016 base wine, 4 g/l dosage.
Autolyse Noirs and Blancs NV. This has spent an incredible 11 years on lees and, whilst lively and fresh, is a rich and powerful wine with a core of minerality. Very fine indeed!
A highlight of the tasting was the wines of Forest Marié. The Brut Tradition stood out for its balance of freshness with richness and texture. Good length, gentle grip, creamy mouthfeel and fine acid drive combine in a great drinking package. 9.6g/l dosage, a high proportion of reserve wines used.
Brut De Blancs NV has more of the brioche/bread dough characters due, in part to the 6 years on lees this spent in the cellar. A complete wine that is fine and elegant, with excellent length and minerality.
Cuvée Saint Crespin NV is remarkably fresh for a wine that spent seven years on lees. It is the rich, powerful fruit on the palate that is the key feature here, supported by hints of musk, spice and gentle autolytic notes. Disgorged in 2021. 100% pinot noir, 4.8g/l dosage.
As it turns out, I also had time to visits a few of the Grande Marques and was floored by the quality of the wines from Roederer and Charles Heidsieck.
The Roederer Collection 243 NV is intense, powerful and rich, with great length of flavours. The acidity is a little taut right now, so I would suggest giving this a year in the cellar to unwind a little bit. But is a lovely wine all the same.
The Vintage Brut 2015 has plenty of rich, powerful fruit, but it is the near seamless palate and wonderful mouthfeel that sets this apart. A superb wine.
I was also impressed by the Brut Nature Philippe Stark Blanc 2015. Despite being zero dosage, this chardonnay dominant field blend is a great drink, and is defined by its chalky minerality. Only the 4th vintage of this wine that was produced from the fruit of three blocks of vines.
Charles Heidsieck is one of my all-time favourite Champagne houses and the current releases are just brilliant. The Brut Reserve NV has the trademark power and intensity of the brand, combined with superb mouthfeel. Disgorged in 2022.
The Blanc de Blanc NV turns things up a notch, with a healthy dose of minerality adding to the intense fruit.
The overall wine of the tasting for me was the outstanding Millésime Brut 2012. A stunning Champagne.