Tasting Events

Champagne Laherte Frères [GrapeCircus 2020 Round 1]

Champagne Laherte Frères is based in the village of Chavot, a ten minute drive south-ish of Epernay.  The estate was established in 1889 by Jean-Baptiste Laherte and was expanded incrementally over the generations.  The estate is named after sixth generation brothers Christian and Thierry, though I couldn’t confirm if they were the first to make the big leap from growing grapes to making their own Champagne.  Thierry’s son Aurélien has been a part of the firm for the last fifteen years.

Laherte’s 11.38 hectares of vineyards are covered in detail on their website.  The majority are in villages of the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, split 4.22 ha planted to Chardonnay, 3.88 to Pinot Meunier and others 1.18 ha.  A further 1.48 of Pinot Meunier is in the Vallée de la Marne and 0.62 of Chardonnay on the Côte des Blancs.  They have identified 75 different plots which are vinified separately; 80% of the wines are fermented and matured in wood barrels or casks.

Credit: Laherte Frères

Since 2011 Laherte has also bought in grapes from growers who farm around 4 hectares in the Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs; of course these growers share the same philosophy.

This is our way of celebrating the terroir: by respecting differences, promoting uniqueness, and letting the soil express itself.

In his excellent book on Grower Champagne “Bursting Bubbles”, Robert Walters makes some excellent point about the style and quality of Grower Champagnes in general.  Firstly, many who make Champagne under the Récoltant-Manipulant (RM) label are simply much smaller versions of the big Houses; it is those who focus on their terroir and allowing their wines to express it that can make great Grower Champagnes.  Secondly, small producers who take such care but also buy a small amount of grapes from close contacts – and therefore have the Négociant-Manipulant (NM) label – can also make excellent terroir Champagnes.

Aurelien Laherte was noted as a promising grower in Bursting Bubbles, but of course as the firm now buys in grapes  they are classed as NM.  Walters specifically mentions Jacquesson & Fils as an example of terroir focused small houses, but I believe that Laherte Frères would also qualify for that accolade.

Laherte make a large number of different wines, grouped into three different types.  The wines in blue are reviewed below.

  • Ultradition: Brut, Brut Rosé, Brut Blanc de Blancs
  • Special & Original Cuvées: Ultradition Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut
  • Terroir Fundamentals Cuvées: Les Beaudiers (Rosé de Saignée Meunier), Les Longues Voyes (Blanc de Noirs 1er Cru), Les 7 (all 7 Champagne grapes in a “solera” system), Les Vignes d’Autrefois (Old Vine Meunier), Les Grandes Crayères (Vintage Blanc de Blancs)

Champagne Laherte Frères “Ultradition” Extra Brut NV

This is a blend of the three main varieties: 60% Pinot Meunier (60%), Chardonnay (30%) and Pinot Noir (10%).  40% of the total is from reserve wines which are kept in barrel and add complexity.  Malolactic fermentation is blocked for a portion of the base wines to give a mix of roundness and freshness.  Those base wines also spend six months on their lees while maturing.

Ultradition Extra Brut has an amazing nose of lifted floral, citrus and pear aromas; so lifted, in fact, that you feel like you’ve got the elevator to the top of the Empire State Building.  In the mouth it pulls off the trick of being both creamy and fresh, briochey and citrusy, with a lively mousse and a satisfying, fresh finish.

Champagne Lahertes Frères Rosé de Meunier Extra Brut NV

This is a “Rosé d’Assemblage”, incorporating both saignée and pressée techniques.  Made solely from old vine Pinot Meunier, it consists of 30% macerated wine, 10% red wine and 60 % white wine.  40% of the later is from reserve wines aged in barrels.  Vinification is the same as for the Ultradition Extra Brut, though dosage is even lower at 2.5 g/L.

The nose is full of juicy red fruits that leap out of the glass.  On the palate they are further defined as strawberry, cherry and raspberry.  The dosage is low, even for an Extra Brut, but the quality of the fruit and the fact they are picked when fully ripe means that more is not required.  The fruits are so fresh and vivid that, if tasted blindfolded, you’d be peeking to see if any berries were floating in your glass.

Champagne Lahertes Frères Blancs de Blancs “Les Grandes Crayères” 2014

This is a single vineyard, single variety, single vintage wine made from one of Laherte’s best sites.  As you might be able to guess from the name “Les Grandes Crayères” the vines are grown on chalky soils.  Not in the Côte des Blancs, however, but rather in their home village of Chavot where the chalk  in some plots is only 20 cm down.  Unlike the other cuvées above, MLF is totally blocked for this wine to preserve acidity as the wine ages over the years.

The Champagne geeks among you might wonder what the single variety is; for the vast majority of Blanc de Blancs Champagnes this would automatically be Chardonnay, but when a producer makes a wine with all seven permitted varieties (five white, two black) then it could be any one of five.  But it’s Chardonnay!

And what a Chardonnay!  The nose has layers of flowers, lime and toast plus a little candied peel.  In the mouth it is creamy yet fresh and refined, with mineral notes and a certain tanginess.  This is an amazing wine that could be nothing else than a Blanc de Blancs Champagne.


GrapeCircus 2020:

Opinion

Frankly Wines Top 10 Fizz 2019

My interest in good and great bubbly is well known, so there are some crackers in my Top 10 Fizz this year.  It’s dominated by Champagnes, which reflects both my preferences and the wines that I’ve been able to taste in the last year or so – but try as many as you can and make your mind up for yourself:

10. Champagne Beaumont des Crayères Fleur Blanche 2009

Beaumont des Crayeres Fleur Blanche

12.0%, RRP €47.00.  Distributed by O’Briens.

Co-operative Beaumont des Crayères’ regular bottle is their Grande Réserve NV which is a very acceptable bottle itself, but this vintage Blanc de Blancs is a whole new level.  For non-francophones, the name “Fleur Blanche” simply translates as “White Flower” which both hints at its composition and evokes its aromas.  The palate shows evidence of extended lees ageing with lovely toasted brioche topped by citrus and stone fruit.  2009 is a very good vintage so this is something that you could lay down and enjoy a bottle every so often over the next decade.

9. Champagne Laherte Frères Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV

laherte freres champagne nv

12.5%, RRP €53.00.  Distributed by GrapeCircus.  Also see related article here.

This Champagne is part of the Pinot Meunier comeback (more on which later) – the region’s third grape variety is somewhat unloved as it doesn’t have the cachet of the big two – Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – nor, according to many, the same ageing potential.  However, Meunier has plenty of character of its own which can really shine through when it’s done properly as in the hands of the Laherte brothers.  The nose evokes flowers but the palate has both red and citrus fruit plus some nice leesy notes.

8. Champagne Leclerc-Briant Brut Réserve NV

leclerc briant brut reserve

12.0%, RRP €62.00.  Distributed by Nomad Wines.  Also see related article here.

Another Meunier dominated non vintage Champagne with an extra brut dosage, this is a lively, fruity little number that tastes fresh rather than dry – it has lots of red fruit but they tend towards redcurrant and even cranberry, a sign of zippy acidity.  Depending on your personal preferences, this could be laid down for several years for it to round out and develop more complexity with bottle age – or just enjoy right now!

7. Champagne Salon Cuvée “S” Le Mesnil 2007

Salon 2007

12.0%, RRP €530.  Distributed by Pembroke Wines.

Salon is something of a legend in Champagne circles, but amongst regular and even enthusiast wine drinkers it is not well known – mainly down to the very small production volumes and minimal advertising (oh yes, and the price).  All the grapes are sourced from one of the Côte des Blancs’ best Grand Cru villages, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.  It’s a special enough place that master blenders Krug released their first single vineyard Champagne from there: Krug Clos Le Mesnil.  Salon only produce a single, vintage wine and then only in very good years; 2007 is only the 38th release since the first in 1921, and the 2008 is only going to be released in magnum format (form an orderly queue please).  So how is the 2007?  Intense, bready, taut, young…almost raw in fact.  But the inherent splendour can be guessed at – if you are prepared to wait a while then break open the piggy bank and stash a bottle or two.

6. Arcari + Danesi Franciacorta “Dosaggio Zero” 2013

franciacorta dosaggio zero arcari danesi

12.5%, RRP €60.  Distributed by GrapeCircus. Also see related article here.

This is the best Franciacorta I have tasted by a country mile.  It has no dosage but doesn’t need one – there’s loads of juicy fruit sweetness without any extra sugar.  Talking of which, Arcari + Danesi don’t even use sugar or the second alcoholic fermentation, but rather grape juice from their own harvest.  If you’ve been underwhelmed by the Franciacortas available where you are (and I was) then this shows you how good they can be.

5. Nyetimber Classic Cuvée MV

picture 86377

12.5%, RRP €61.99.  Distributed by Liberty Ireland.  Also see related article here.

More and more English sparkling wines are coming to the market each year and the overall quality keeps getting higher, but for me Nyetimber are still top of the pops.  So how do they stay ahead of the chasing pack?  A relentless drive to improve has made their Classic Cuvée better with each subsequent release.  Is there a ceiling?  I don’t know, but it will be fun finding out!

4. Champagne Alfred Gratien Cuvée Paradis NV

Champagne Cuvee Paradis Brut Alfred Gratien

12.0%, RRP £125.00 (magnum).  Distributed in the UK by The Wine Society.

Alfred Gratien doesn’t receive the kudos that some of the big houses do, but their no-nonsense Champagnes have plenty of fans.  This is a magnum of their top offering; with several years post-disgorgement it’s on the mature side (which is a good thing) but has plenty of years left (also a good thing).  I’ve tried it twice in the past 18 months and it was even better the second time.  If you can get your hands on some, do!

3. Champagne Gosset Grand Millésime 2004

Gosset Grand Millesime 2004

12.0%, RRP €95. Distributed in Ireland by Mackenway and in the UK by BBR.

The oldest extant Champagne house, Gosset was founded in 1584 – before Champagne wines were even sparkling.  They have a fantastic range, with the Petite Douceur Extra Dry Rosé and Blanc de Blancs also being big favourites of mine.  I’ve  been lucky to try the Grand Millésime 2004 several times recently and it’s truly magnificent – such finesse and complexity.  It’s even found a fan in my dad who doesn’t normally bother with anything sparkling.  The blend is 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, neither of which go through malolactic fermentation, preserving freshness. A minimum of six years’ ageing on lees before disgorgement is not as long as some prestige cuvées but helps to generate lots of interesting creamy, nutty and fruity notes.  A real treat!

2. Champagne R&L Legras Cuvée Exceptionelle Saint-Vincent 1996

r-l-legras-saint-vincent-blanc-de-blancs-grand-cru-brut

12.0%.  Distributed in the UK by BBR.  Also see related article here.

While this is also a treat, it’s not for everyone as it is quite mature in style (apparently, some people don’t like mature Champagne – what gives?).  But I bloody love it!  From the  village of Chouilly, this is 100% Grand Cru Chardonnay.  Quite tight and structured on release, a dozen or so additional years of bottle ageing have added layers of spice and baked apple onto the citrus and brioche framework.  This is mature but far from tired, so don’t be in a hurry to drink it.

1. Champagne Dom Pérignon P2 2000

Dom Pérignon 2000 P2

12.5%, RRP €420.  Distributed in Ireland by Edward Dillon; retailed by SIYPS.

Even people quite familiar with Dom Pérignon – it is the best selling luxury cuvée, after all – might not be aware of the house’s P2 and P3 Oenothèque releases.  The “standard” or “regular” (how inadequate those words sound!) Dom Pérignon 2000 was released in 2008 after disgorgement the previous year, so after six or so years on the lees.  Some of the wines were held back and aged on lees for an additional nine years, apparently the wine’s second peak (or “Plenitude“).  The result is not just more autolytic notes, but it’s a turbocharged Dom Pérignon, with nuts, cream, coffee, honey….the list goes on, as it stands as one of the best wines I’ve ever tasted (of any type).  Yes, it’s just over double the price of the current release of DP, (around €200) but it’s not that much more than the DP Rosé which I think it is far better than.  If you get chance to taste this, you must.

 


The Frankly Wines 2019 Top 10s:

  • Top 10 Whites
  • Top 10 Fizz
  • Top 10 Reds
  • Top 10 Sweet
  • Top 10 Value Whites
  • Top 10 Value Reds
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Ireland
  • Top 10 Alsace wines tasted in Alsace

 

Tasting Events

To SPIT or not to SPIT (Part 4 – GrapeCircus)

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Last – but no means least – of our awesome foursome from Spit is GrapeCircus.  Enrico’s wines are the most “edgy” of the whole gang (if you’ve got a moment, some are edgier than U2’s guitarist walking along the side of the Cliffs of Moher watching Tom Cruise film “Edge of Tomorrow” on his Samsung phone.)  This means that even open minded wine geeks such as myself won’t necessarily like every wine in a tasting line-up, but it’s highly likely that we will love lots of them!

Here are five that I loved from SPIT:

Laherte Frères Champagne Extra Brut “Ultradition” NV (12.5%, RRP €53.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin, Meath & Galway; Fallon & Byrne Exchequer St & RathminesBlackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Mitchell & SonSIYPS)

laherte freres champagne nv

Founded in 1889, Laherte Frères is now in the hands of the sixth and seventh generation of the family.  The latter is represented by Aurelien Laherte who has spearheaded the estate’s move to organic and biodynamic practices.  A key strength is their use of over 350 old oak barrels to ferment each parcel separately, giving lots of options when putting together each cuvée.

“Ultradition” is of course a portmanteau of “ultra” and “tradition”, though at 4g/L the dosage is extra brut rather than ultra brut.  The blend is 60% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir (including 40% reserve wines).  The nose is quite floral with a touch of biscuitiness.  Fresh red and citrus fruit dominate the palate

Agusti Torello Mata Xarel-lo “Xic” 2017 (11.0%, RRP €18.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin, Meath & Galway; Green Man Wines, Terenure; 64 Wine, Glasthule; Ashes of Annascaul; SIYPS)

augusti torello mata xarel-lo xic

Xarel-lo is best known as one of the three traditional Cava grapes, along side Macabeo and Parellada.  Agustí Torelló Matá does indeed make Cava but this is a single varietal still offering designed to be fun and drinkable.  It does drinkable in spades, so delicious and moreish!  The palate abounds with fresh quince, apple, grapefruit and lime.  This is a stunning wine that really drinks ahead of its price point.

Meinklang “Burgenlandweiß” 2017 (11.0%, RRP €19.00 at Sheridans Cheesemongers Dublin & Galway; Blackrock Cellar, Blackrock; Ashes of Annascaul; SIYPS)

meinklang burgenlandweiss

So now to Austria’s Burgenland and an aromatic white blend from biodynamic producer Meinklang.  And it’s aromatic as hell!  Enrico made sure I tasted this when he showed it at the Ely Big Tasting as he knew it’s my kind of wine (he’s a shrewd man).  A blend of 50% Grüner Veltliner, 40% Welschriesling and 10% Muscat, this is just a downright delicious liquid that puts a smile on your face when you sniff it and a sh*t-eating grin when you drink it!

Welschriesling’s origins have yet to be discovered.  Also known as Riesling Italico, Olaszrizling, Laški Rizling or Graševina, it is unrelated to “true” (Rhine) Riesling or Schwarzriesling (better known as Pinot Meunier).

Le Due Terre “Sacrisassi” Bianco 2014 (13.0%, RRP €49.00 but on-trade only at the moment)

sacrisassi bianco le due terre

This wine is exactly why independent wine festivals like SPIT are important – they give trade, press and public an opportunity to try wines that they otherwise would not have the chance or the yen to try.  The hefty price tag and lesser known region of production might put many off, but this is a wine that, once tried, goes straight into the “special treat” category.

A blend of 70% Fruliano (the grape formerly known as Tocai) and 30% Ribolla Gialla, on tasting this wine has the “wow factor”, such depth of flavour.  It shows wonderful soft stone fruit at the core, surrounded by an envelope of sea-spray freshness.

Roccalini Barbaresco 2014 (14.0%, RRP €47.00 at Green Man Wines, Terenure; Sheridans Galway)

roccalini barbaresco

Paolo Veglio follows the traditional “hands off” winemaking practices of Barbaresco, making wines that would be considered by many to be “natural” (though more on that another day.)  As well as their overall quality, Paolo’s wines are known for their drinkability and their texture.  Too often (for me at least), 100% Nebbiolo wines are too tannic and a little on the thin side, even though they might have prodigious levels of alcohol.  At Roccalini they use a traditional third way of extracting colour and flavour from the grape skins; instead of punching down or pumping over, they wedge sticks in the top of the concrete fermenters which keep the cap submerged

This is a thick, chewy, viscous, amazing Barbaresco that needs to be tried!

 

The SPIT series: