Some months ago, in October last year, I arranged a tasting of a set of vineyard-designated Champagnes in our wine-tasting club AuZone. These are Champagnes that originate from a single vineyard site (lieu-dit in French, lieux-dits in the plural) and has this vineyard name indicated, so you could also call them single vineyard Champagnes. This is an origin which is one step more narrow than just village of origin, which would be a so-called monocru since the cru term is applied at the village level in Champagne (unlike e.g. Burgundy). A typical single vineyard site covers a couple of hectares, in some cases perhaps a dozen or so. In rare cases, the entire vineyard site has a single owner and is therefore a “monopole”, but in most cases the ownership is distributed over a number of parcelles of different size with different owners. In many cases only a single grape variety is grown in a vineyard site, but there are exceptions.
Vineyard-designated Champagnes can be vintage or non-vintage, as well as varietal or blended. When producers choose to vinify grapes from a single vineyard separately and indicate that vineyard name on the label, it is usually because the resulting Champagne is unusually good or has a unique style. For small growers, this can sometimes be because they happen to own old vines in a particular vineyard site, rather than this site being inherently superior to most other sites in the same village. However, there are no guarantees that a vineyard name on the label always equals exceptional quality, just as there are some vintage Champagnes that don’t rise above the typical non-vintage level. That said, there is a definite trend that more and more producers make vineyard-designated Champagnes. This fits into a trend that Champagne, in particular on the small grower side, is becoming more similar to Burgundy, by not following the Champenois tradition to blend grape varieties and vintages, as well as by using oak barrels, by lower amounts of dosage, by more interest for the precise geographical origin of the grapes, and more interest in producing more full-bodied wines that go well with food.
Champagnes at this tasting
Other than the Leclerc-Briant used for “warming up” while I was giving an introduction to the subject of the evening, the eight wines of the main flight were all blanc de blancs, i.e., varietal Chardonnays, which I didn’t tell participants. We agreed that they were very different from each other, so I’m not surprised that a number of Pinot guesses were heard around the table throughout the tasting. 🙂
Of these eight, seven were vintage Champagnes, either formally or in reality, in the latter case with the vintage indicated on the back label. The eighth was from a solera with a known youngest vintage. Due to highly varying release policy from various producers, in terms of the age of the Champagnes when released, a number of different vintages from 2002 to 2010 were represented in the lineup. The reason for this was that I focussed on varying the geographical origin and to introduce a couple of producers I consider excellent, even if that meant varying vintages.
This was my own opinion of the Champagnes tasted:
Leclerc-Briant Les Crayères Brut NV
A blend of 38% Pinot Noir, 37% Pinot Meunier, and 25% Chardonnay, unknown base vintage. The vineyard is located in the premier cru village Cumières in the Grande Vallée de la Marne and contains 24% limestone.
A bready nose with apples, apple must, and winter apples, some development, hints of earthy/clayey notes of a kind that indicates a “bio” producer (which it is) or Meunier. Palate with rather good concentration, yellow apples, rather spicy notes, mineral, good acidity, some developed notes and an apply aftertaste with some acidity. In summary definitely a good wine with a pleasant development and some “bio notes”, 89 p.
Since this wine (purchased in September 2015 from the Swedish importer’s stock) had somewhat different label than that showed by Leclerc-Briant on their website (their range is in flux, by the way), I’m rather certain this bottle had been sittin at the importer’s for a while, i.e., this explains the developed note.
This was the “warming up wine” before the real flight so it wasn’t part of the vote. I chose the wine because it is non-vintage and blended, despite coming from a named vineyard.
2008 Chartogne-Taillet Heurtebises
100% Chardonnay, dosage 2.5 g/l (i.e., in reality an Extra Brut), vinified in steel tanks. The vineyard (and the producer) is located in Merfy in the Massif de Saint-Thierry and consists of sand and clay soils.
Medium yellow colour. The nose is smoky with yellow apples, some citrus, slightly toasted notes (but more genuinely smoky), somewhat developed notes and slightly earthy impression. Palate with rather good concentration, citrus, mostly green apples, some yellow apples, good minerality, high acidity, aftertaste with green apple, some mineral, and some spice. Reasonably spicy and with rather good mineral character although it doesn’t dominate fully, 89 p.
No best and two worst votes, including my worst vote. A really good Champagne without flaws but to me came across as a bit “plain” in this company.
2006 Dehours Brisefer
100% Chardonnay, dosage 4 g/l. The vineyard is located in Mareuil-le-Port in the Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche and is a mild slope (5%) located in the lower part of the slope.
Deep yellow colour going in the golden direction. The nose is in a powerful and fruity style with ripe yellow fruit including yellow apples, apple sauce and peach, some oak notes, and slightly spicy. Definitely a pleasant nose. Palate with rather good concentration, pear, peach, some canned fruit, decent acidity, spice notes, some “bio feeling”, and a fruity and spicy aftertaste. A good nose and a foody style but not too high acidity. Comes across as a bit odd next to the other ones, 90 p?
No best and six worst votes and therefore voted the least good wine of the lineup. The odd style and the rather low acidity (and therefore less freshness) is likely to have been the reason for these votes. The powerful style is what saved this Champagne from geeting my worst vote.
2002 Cazals Clos Cazals Extra Brut
100% Chardonnay, old vines. The vineyard is located in the grand cru village Oger in the Côte des Blancs.
Deep yellow colour. Nose with ripe citrus, rather prominent honey note, slightly flowery, initially only some notes of maturity but showed more bready and developed notes with time in the glass. Rather big and elegant nose, but still a bit shy. Palate with good concentration, dominated by a powerful minerality, green and yellow apples, good acidity, aftertaste with powerful minerality. All in all an impressive wine dominated by a lot of mineral, fruit, and some developed notes. 92 p
This is a Champagne that has a bit of a reputation for bottle variation. When they are good they can be really good, though, and this was a good bottle!
1 best vote.
2004 Jacquesson Champ Caïn Extra Brut
100% Chardonnay from vines planted in 1962, dosage 1.5 g/l. The vineyard is located in the grand cru village Avize in the Côte des Blancs, southern exposure below the slope, chalky soil.
Rather deep yellow colour. Nose with yellow and green apple, some winter apple, prominent minerality, discrete perfume notes and some spice, some bready notes and emerging development. The most classically “good blanc de blancs-styled” in the lineup. Palate with good concentration, yellow apples, some winter apples, powerful minerality, high acidity, and a mineral-dominated aftertaste with winter apples. More developed than the previous and a fine balance. 92 p
A very good Champagne but to be honest I was slightly disappointed. Considering how good the vineyard Champagnes from Jacquesson can be, I had expected this to contend for the top spot. It sort of fits into a pattern where some high-end 2004s now tend to be less impressive than they originally were.
No votes in either direction.
Selosse Les Carelles Extra Brut NV (disgorged 2011-04-13)
100% Chardonnay, vinified in a solera with 2004 as the youngest vintage in this batch. The vineyard is located in the grand cru vintage Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs.
Quite deep yellow colour with golden tinges. Powerful, wonderful and quite big nose with peach, apple compote, zest, bitter oranges, spices, discrete notes of nuts and oxidation, flowery with white flowers and lilac, well integrated oak notes with some vanilla. Very characteristically Selosse, but here the Sherry notes are in the background. Palate with enormous concentration, peach, yellow apples, spice, high acidity, and a long aftertaste with peach and spices. True to the “solera-Selosse” style and wonderfully concentrated, 95 p.
Unsurprisingly this was the most powerful wine of the lineup.
7 best votes including mine, and voted the best wine.
2010 Ulysse Collin Les Pierrières Extra Brut
100% Chardonnay, vinified in used oak, disgorged 2014-03-11. The vineyard is located in Vert-Toulon in the Val du Petit Morin, with a southeastern exposure, chalk close to the surface and a thin topsoil mixed with black flint.
Slightly paler than medium yellow. Nose with ripe citrus including zest, some peach, some red apples, well integrated oak notes that are beautifully handled, some white flowers and hints of smoke. Palate with powerful concentration, citrus, green apples, fine minerality, high acidity, and a long aftertaste with minerality and citrus. In summary rather young, fine citrus notes with minerality and an excellent combination of concentration and freshness. 93(+) p
Of the two Ulysse Collin wines this is the one that was most typical of an oaked Chardonnay in its notes.
2 best votes.
2010 Ulysse Collin Les Roises Extra Brut
100% Chardonnay, vinified in used oak, disgorged 2014-03-11. The vineyard (and the producer) is located in Congy in the Val du Petit Morin, with southern exposure and clay soils over limestone.
Medium yellow colour. Nose with ripe yellow apple and some red apple, peach, mineral and some mint notes, rather well integrated oak with some vanilla, some spice and light flowery notes. Palate with powerful concentration, spicy style, citrus, green apples, high acidity, aftertaste with citrus, mineral and green apples. Rather young, could probably develop more, 93(+) p.
Of the two Ulysse Collin wines this is a little heavier and more spicy in both nose and palate. Of the lineup as a whole this was the second most powerful wine, after the Selossen.
2 best and 1 worst votes.
2009 Roses de Jeanne (Cédric Bouchard) La Haute Lemble
100% Chardonnay, vinified in steel tank, disgorged 2013-04. The vineyard is located in Celles-sur-Ource in the Barséquanais (in the Côte des Bar).
Pale yellow colour, the palest of them all. The nose is rather smoky with yellow apples, pears, citrus, rather much mineral of the chalky kind, a light hint of oaky notes, and light herbaceous notes. Palate with good concentration, some sweet fruit, good minerality with “fizzy tablet feeling”, high acidity, some vanilla, and a fruity and long aftertaste. Somewhat young, 90(+) p.
Showed the most sweetness of fruit in this lineup.
3 worst votes, probably due to the sweetish impression.
Below a map of the villages of origin of the nine Champagnes at the tasting. The exact vineyard location within the village has not been indicated, only the location Google map give for the village.