Part One introduced the different types of producer, the grapes and the main areas of Champagne. Now we look at different grower Champagnes from different subregions of the area.
Wine Workshop Grower Champagne Tasting
In mid August I ventured again to The Wine Workshop in Dublin for a fab tasting of Grower Champagnes, hosted by Morgan VanderKamer. Thanks to my friend Una who helped with the photos!
Réné Geoffroy “Expression” Cumières 1er Cru NV (Vallée de la Marne)
Champagne Réné is now run by Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy, son of Réné and grandson of Roger who first moved from just producing grapes to making Champagne. Although they have an elegant maison in Aÿ, 14 out of their total 17 hectares under vine are in the Premier Cru village of Cumières, in the heart of the Vallée de la Marne. The family can trace their roots in the same village back to the 17th century. Production volume is 9,000 cases per year of which 500 are vintage.
This is the top cuvée made by Geoffroy, always made from a blend of two different years. The assemblage is given as 50% PM 30% C 10% PN – though that would leave me feeling a little short-changed. All the grapes are hand picked and a traditional “Coquard” press is used. Parcels are fermented separately to help decide on the blend furether down the line. Malolactic Fermentation (MLF) is blocked to retain fresh acidity. A proportion of the reserve wines are aged in oak to add texture.
Compared to many sparkling wines this tasted a little less fizzy – more like a Perlé style, which used to be known as Crémant before that was appropriated for traditional method sparkling wines from other French regions.
Roberdelph NV Charly-sur-Marne (Vallée de la Marne)
All because…the lady loves…RoberDelph! This was my friend Una’s favourite of the evening. The most Pinot Meunier-biased Champagne of the tasting (the assemblage of the current bottling is 75% PM, 16% C, 9% PN, though it may fluctuate a little), it had a certain earthiness…it would be amazing with Mushroom risotto.
As a NV it is usually based substantially on one year with around 30% reserve wines from three previous years.
RoberDelph have just 5 1/2 hectares under vine round the village of Charly at the western end of the Vallée de la Marne (the Marne of course being the river after which the Département is also named). Their vineyards are composed of 20 different small parcels with different soils and are farmed using “lutte raisonné” methods – think similar to organic but pragmatic rather than dogmatic. They are now run by the 5th and 6th generations of the Robert family.
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Cuvée Cuis 1er Cru NV (Côte des Blancs)
Olivier and Didier Gimonnet are the grandsons of Pierre Gimonnet who expanded the family business from grape growing to producing their own Champagne in 1935. They have been growing grapes in Cuis since 1750.
They have 28 hectares of Chardonnay within the Côte des Blancs (plus a couple of small plots of Pinot Noir elsewhere):
– Cuis and Vertus Premiers Crus
– Cramant, Chouilly and Oger Grands Crus
They make a single non vintage (for which they use the more romantic term Sans Année) and five different vintage cuvées which aim to maintain the house style while showcasing the great terroirs of the Côtes des Blancs. Above all they value elegance, finesse, minerality and freshness, with everything in balance.
The high percentage of old vines at this estate sets it apart from many others. There is always a trade off with vine age – yields tend to decline with age, but the resulting juice becomes more and more concentrated – it’s quantity versus quality.
This NV is a personal favourite – it showed very well at the Glasnevin Fizz Fest last year.
Watch out for their Spécial Club bottlings which are Gimonnet’s flagship – grapes are selected from their oldest vines, go through MLF and then over five years ageing on the lees.
Varnier-Fannière Cuvée St-Denis Grand Cru NV, Avize, (Côte des Blancs)
I’ve been a fan of Denis Varnier’s Champagnes since I first visited him in Avize in early 2012. I sneaked this into the tasting and it threw some of the tasters. It had much more body and texture than usual for a blankety blank. Oak? No, that would be the five years (minimum) on the lees.
Denis eschews oak and blocks MLF to keep the wines as fresh and pure as possible. The grapes for this bottling are grown in a walled vineyard in Avize called Clos du Grand-Père, named after Denis’s maternal Grandfather Jean Fannière who became a Champagne producer when already in his 50s.
V-F produce another premium Chamapgne called Jean Fannière Origine – it’s a similar style and quality level to St-Denis but made with grapes from Cramant and a lower dosage.
Jacquinot et Fils Blanc de Noirs NV (Cote des Bar)
The Côtes des Bar is a Pinot Noir stronghold – it accounts for 87% of the vines there. This is a 100% Pinot Noir so it has some real guts – layers of red fruit with enough body to accompany the main course of a meal.
The Jacquinot estate dates back to the French revolution. Pierre Jacquinot expanded the family vineyard holdings just after first world war, at the same time becoming a grape broker and Champagne wine merchant, adding his own pressing centre in 1929 and starting to make wine. In 1947 with his 2 sons Jacques and Jean-Guy he created the brand Champagne Jacquinot et Fils. Jacques looked after sales and Jean-Guy developed the vineyard. Jean-Manuel Jacquinot, Jean-Guy’s son, Oenologist in charge of production since 1998 is now running the Estate with the help of François Nicolet, Jacques’s son- in-law.
Other Jacquinot wines of note include the White Symphonie which has 10 years on the lees and their top bottling Harmonie which has 14 years!
Dravigny-Godbillon “Cuvée Ambre” NV, Ecuille
What a delightful label! *cough* But hey, if people aren’t going to buy it because of the cover then there’s more to go round for those of us who value the contents! The good folks at Ely Wine Bar in Dublin obviously share the same opinion as it’s on their list next to the big guns of Taittinger and Bollinger. As it’s a small producer they only export to two countries – Denmark and Ireland!
The blend is 70% PN, 25% C, 5% PM, so there is plenty of strawberry goodness but wrapped in a lemon envelope. The Chardonnay keeps it fresh enough that it doesn’t tire after a few glasses.
Guy Charlemagne Le Mesnil-sur-Oger Grand Cru 2004 (Côte des Blancs)
Did anyone else get the pun? Mesnillésime is a portmanteau of Le Mesnil sur Oger, the Côte des Blancs village where Champagne Guy Charlemagne is based, and Millésime, the French word for vintage. Krug’s super-premium single vineyard vintage Clos Le Mesnil comes from the same village – it’s probably the best source for Chardonnay in the whole of Champagne.
This is the firm’s top bottling, being 100% Chardonnay from having spent spends six years maturing on the lees before disgorgement, and gets a light dosage of 4g/L so qualifies as extra brut. The mousse is more persistent than Jeremy Paxman…it’s so creamy and goes on and on. Lemon meringue, crème fraîche, the flavour keeps on coming.
Although this was by some distance the most expensive Champagne at the tasting, in the not-so-humble opinion of this taster it was the best value of all!.