Last week I tasted some Champagnes from Suenen, a producer located in Cramant in the Côte de Blancs part of Champagne, and part of the range sold by Caviste. Since 2009, Suenen is run by Aurélien Suenen, following the premature passing away of his father. Aurélien has put his mark on the range by progressively phasing out the old cuvées while concentrating the vineyard holdings to Côte des Blancs. Other than Cramant, there are also vineyards in Chouilly and Oiry, all three villages classified grand cru.
Starting from the 2013 vintage, two new non-vintage blanc de blancs were introduced, using grapes from different villages: Oiry and C+C, where the latter originates from Cramant and Chouilly. (They replaced a non-vintage Blanc de Blancs from all three villages, a vintage blanc de blancs, and effectively also a Réserve using Pinots Noir & Meunier from Montigny-sur-Vesle.) These were the two Champagnes I tasted. Although they are non-vintage the base vintage is indicated on the label. Supposedly, some not yet released single vineyard-designated Champagnes are also resting in Suenen’s cellar.
By the way, don’t be fooled by the spread-out vineyard holdings. This small domaine only has a bit over 2 hectares of vineyards, and the production a regular year is some 15-16 000 bottles (yes, bottles, not cases).
I must admit that I really like that Suenen uses an excerpt from the 1944 Larmat Champagne vineyard map on their labels. Below the map from C+C. If the map style seems familiar this is probably because other excerpts in black and white have been used by Jacquesson for their vineyard-designated wines.
The production philosophy is characterised by organic cultivation, low yields, a well-judged use of oak barrel vinification (combined with steel tanks) and very low dosage, max 2 g/l. The result is firm and elegant blanc de blancs with very fine minerality, of the smoky kind, that come across as serious and well made. There is definitely a bit of similarity to white Burgundies. There are good concentration of aromas and depth in the modern Suenen cuvées, but the impression is rather dominated by mineral and firmness than the weight found in some small growers with a “cult” following, such as Selosse or Ulysse Collin. Apparently, Suenen has learnt from Agrapart, an excellent Avize producer, and to some extent this is reflected in the style. However, Suenen Champagnes aren’t quite as “hard” as those of Agrapart, but this could be due to the village(s) of origin. (Champagnes from Avize tend to be “harder” in general than those of the villages where Suenen’s vineyards are located.) I think that the Suenen Champagnes will develop very well with some years of cellaring.
Oiry Blanc de Blancs (base vintage 2014, disgorged June 2017)
Tasted Feb 2018:
Nose with ripe green apples, mineral, discrete notes of yellow plums in the background, slightly flowery with white flowers, elegant. Definitely dry palate with a lot of mineral, some mineral bitterness, citrus, green apples, high acidity, and an aftertaste with green apples and mineral. Young, fine precision and good minerality, 90(+) p.
More accessible than C+C from the same base year. It was said that the bottle had been more mineral dominated when freshly opened (as when I tasted it in November, see below).
Tasted Nov 2017:
Nose with mineral and “Puligny mineral feeling”, apple, and bass notes that indicate weight. The palate is definitely dry with some apple, mineral, and good acidity. A style without compromise and dominated by mineral. Young, 90+ p.
C+C (base vintage 2014, disgorged June 2017)
Tasted Feb 2018:
Nose with smoke, noticeable mineral notes, ripe apples – green and yellow, some spice notes and bass notes. Palate with dominating intense minerality, good concentration, fruit in the background and in particular apples, high acidity, long aftertaste. Young, 92(+) p.
A big wine with more concentration and intensity than the Oiry of the same base vintage. Would be very interesting to follow with some years of development.
Oiry Blanc de Blancs (base vintage 2013)
Tasted Feb 2018:
Nose with mineral, green apples, and some citrus. Dry palate with mineral, green apples, rather good concentration, and an aftertaste with unripe green apple. Young, 89 p.
Compared to Oiry base 2014, this base 2013 is a bit more “pointy” and dominated by acidity.
C+C (base vintage 2013)
Tasted Nov 2017:
Nose with smoky mineral notes, yellow fruit including citrus and hints of tropical fruit. Dry palate with fruit notes including citrus and some peach, good concentration, mineral, and good acidity. Young, 90(+) p.
Compared to Oiry base 2014 (tasted at the same occasion) this shows more weight, more fruity in nose and palate, but not as intense minerality.
In both cases my opinion is that the Champagnes with the 2014 base vintage are better than those with 2013 base vintage, and come across as possessing a bit more weight. This is not what I expected since 2013 has a bit better reputation in general. This may in part be because these new Champagnes from Suenen have become even better in their second release. In any case, they’re quite good both in their 2013 and 2014 versions!