Caroline’s Champagne – the single vineyard projects…

A few months ago I moved to Champagne to write more whilst specializing in this wonderful wine:-). As I am discovering my new playing ground I seem to stumble upon so many true gems, unusual wines and fabulous producers which I would like to share in the “Caroline’s Champagne” section of my blog.

Originally I had thought to start with Zero Dosage Champagnes as I have a real soft spot for this “naked” style of sparkling wine. However since the article I wrote on this topic for Palate Press has just been published , I decided instead to launch “Caroline’s Champagne” by talking about some great single vineyard Champagnes I have tried last week.

Single vineyard Champagne is a bit of an anomaly – as blending or “assemblage” is king here in Champagne. It was at the origin of Champagne – Dom Perignon’s real claim to fame is the fact that he started to blend different varieties, plots and later vintages to make a consistent quality wine. And today the bulk of the Champagne produced, especially by the large Champagne Houses, is still a blend of different terroirs, grapes and vintages. Lots of producers and people I have spoken to since arriving here tell me that the blend across the different vineyards and subregions is what makes Champagne great…

However on the fringe, there are some really exciting single vineyard projects happening :-)
Because Champagne is a marginal wine growing region with multiple soil compositions and lots of micro-climates I do believe that you really have to understand your vineyard, the soil, micro-climate, and invest in separate parcel vinification to correctly pinpoint which plots will shine by themselves. So it is not really surprising that the single vineyard projects are generally led by the Vigneron Indépendant or Récoltant-Manipulant rather than the big houses. And the more single vineyard Champagnes I taste, the more I believe that it is here that the Vigneron Indépendant can truly shine without having to compete with the Negotiants.

Larmandier-Bernier Egg shaped cement tanks used for the Rosé de Saignée

Larmandier-Bernier Egg shaped cement tanks used for the Rosé de Saignée

Without doubt Larmandier-Bernier has fully understood this as they make rather “unusual” but widely recognized Champagnes. Pierre Larmandier changed his approach to grape growing in 1992 when he stopped using pesticides and instead focused on working the soils of his vineyards. In 1999 he changed the winemaking to only use indigenous yeasts and in 2003 he started farming in a biodynamic way. The winery is spotless and pretty modern and Pierre uses a mixture of barrels, “foudres” (large wooden casks), stainless steel tanks and a few cement egg shaped tanks for the fermentation. He differs from most Champagne makers in the fact that he leaves his still wine on the lees for about 10 months as he only bottles in July. He believes that the true expression of the terroir is done in the 1st fermentation rather than through extensive aging. He makes two single vineyard, single varietal and single vintage cuvée’s, Terre de Vertus (average retail price €39) and Vieilles Vignes de Cramant (average retail price €50). I also will add the tasting notes here for his very unusual Rosé de Saignée which retails for around €50.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus 2007

Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus 2007

Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus 2007 Brut Zero: 100% Chardonnay, a Zero Dosage Champagne aged for 4 years on the lees. Light golden in colour with fine bubbles. Fresh Macadamia, quince and red apple on the nose, with flavours of ripe pear, red apple, fresh almonds and macadamia and a very mineral, chalky finish with a few saline notes.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Vieilles Vignes de Cramant Extra Brut 2006: A single vineyard Champagne made from 100% Chardonnay from vines of 50 to 70 years old, 2g/l dosage. Golden colour with very fine bubbles. Intense and voluptuous nose with aromas of ripe apple, white nectarine and a little hint of vanilla. Flavours of stewed ripe apple, quince paste, great minerality and little flintiness in the lingering finish.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Vieilles Vignes de Cramant Extra Brut 2005: Exactly the same wine from the 2005 vintage and it is mind blowing how different the expression of the terroir is between the 2 vintages. Wet chalk and earthy notes on the nose, elegant mineral driven wine, with hints of quince, pear and a little meyer lemon and fresh Macadamia, lots of mineral notes (flint, chalk, river stone) in the lingering finish.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée NV: 100% Pinot Noir. Grapes are destemmed and left to macerate for two days before being pressed off. Deep Pink in colour with fine bubbles. A real Pinot nose with aromas of wild strawberry, ripe raspberry and some hints of mushroom and earth. Medium bodied wine with flavours of red berries and a lingering earthy almost smokey finish. Perfect match for a charcuterie platter!

A few days later I came across another excellent single vineyard Champagne – Clos des Bouveries 2005 by Duval-Leroy. Duval Leroy is a large independently owned Champagne House. The production today is about 5 million bottles and the Owner/CEO, Carol Duval-Leroy as well as the cellar master, Sandrine Logette-Jardin are women which is pretty unique in Champagne.

Duval-Leroy Clos de Bouveries 2005

Duval-Leroy Clos de Bouveries 2005

The fruit for this Cuvée comes from the east sloping Bouverie vineyard in Vertus. The vineyard is walled on 2 sides hence the name Clos and owned by the Duval-Leroy family. The Clos de Bouveries is a vintage cuvée and the aim is to reflect the terroir as well as the climate changes in Champagne from vintage to vintage. After pressing part of the juice is fermented in barrique and the rest in stainless steel tanks. The wine spends about 5 years on the lees before disgorging and just under 10,000 bottles were made in 2005. The average price per bottle is €45.
Champagne Duval-Leroy Clos de Bouveries 2005: 100% Chardonnay. Pale golden in colour with small bubbles. An elegant mineral nose with aromas of apple blossom and white flowers. Crisp Champagne, with flavours of red apple, almond pastry and mineral chalky and flinty notes in the long finish.

I had a blitz visit to Champagne Pouillon and was totally blown away by Elodie and Fabrice Pouillon’s 2XOZ 2004. I had briefly tasted this wine on Champagne Day in Reims last year and remembered liking it but I had forgotten just how amazing and complex this Champagne was. 2004 was the first vintage of the 2XOZ. The wine is made from 100% Pinot Noir harvested from part of the Ecueil vineyard in Mareuil-sur-Ay. The vines are on average is 47years old and the Champagne is made in a artisanal way. The fruit is picked at about 12.5% alcohol, which is significantly higher than usual in Champagne. Only natural yeasts are used, which for the second fermentation come from the lees of the first fermentation, and concentrated must is added instead of sugar to the liqueur de tirage and liqueur de dosage. The wine was aged for 7 years and only 2547 bottles have been produced.

Fabrice Pouillon's 2004 2XOZ

Fabrice Pouillon's 2004 2XOZ

Champagne Pouillon 2XOZ 2004: Very floral nose lots of notes of citrus flower and a little bee wax. Elegant Champagne with very small bubbles, on the palate I encountered layers of fruit: first red forest fruit like wild strawberries and raspberries, then some ripe pink grapefruit which lead into mandarine and finished on zesty lemon & lime notes. Great weight and excellent minerality (riverstone, flint, wet chalk) – and floral notes (jacaranda, honey suckle) reminiscent of a fine Mosel Riesling in the finish. At around €55 this is a real bargain!!!

On Tuesday Morning I once again visited Tarlant as they do some FABULOUS single vineyard wines. I described most of them in my post on Tarlant but want to briefly mention here a little newish project of Benoit Tarlant. About 7 years ago he planted a small plot with 5 rows of each of 3 of the lesser known Champagne varieties, Pinot Blanc, Arbanne and Petit Melier. He’s trying to understand their specific characteristics and behaviour in the vineyard as well as in the winery where he has been experimenting with a “BAM” Cuvee.

Blending BAM experiment with Benoit Tarlant

Blending BAM experiment with Benoit Tarlant

I was lucky enough to taste the vin claire and to participate in a fun blending experiment as well as taste some of the first Champagne results (non dosé). The vin claire of this year was very floral (white flowers) with some hints of green apple and herbal notes (bell pepper) in the very acidic finish. We blended different vin claire, and it was amazing how the wine changed, became fuller and less acidic, by adding reserve wines which had been aged in barrel. I really loved this opportunity to experience yet a different expression of the terroir, and feel the Tarlants have once again found a niche to stand out from the others :-)

I will continue to search out and share different single vineyard cuvée’s and other unusual blends with a focus on independent growers. Besides the element of excitement they add, I feel they are within price reach of Champagne and wine lovers who are looking for something cutting edge and a little more unique. And they prove that terroir is important and can be expressed also in a sparkling wine:-)

I would like to finish off by saying that besides Duval-Leroy, a few other Champagne houses make a single vineyard cuvée. However as single vineyard means low volume these wines have generally become a super Cuvée Prestige for the House: they are very sought after hence quite expensive. Please find a few examples here below. I took the average pricing from Winesearcher.

  • Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Françaises Blanc de Noirs. A vintage single vineyard wine made from 2 Clos planted with ungrafted Pinot Noir grapes. Part of the grapes are planted in the traditional way – creeping on the soil. Bollinger does not produce a Vieilles Vignes Françaises every year and the production is rather small at 3000 bottles. The average bottle costs €616.
  • Billecart Salmon Clos St Hilaire Blanc de Noirs. Again a vintage single vineyard champagne made from 100% Pinot Noir. Around 6500 bottles are made and the average price is €302.
  • Krug Clos du Mesnil Blanc de Blancs made from 100% Chardonnay
    and Krug Clos d’Ambonnay Blanc de Noirs made from 100% Pinot Noir. Both wines are very rare and hence extremely expensive with prices around €823 for the Clos du Mesnil and€2,155 for the Clos D’Ambonnay
  • About Caroline

    Caroline is a certified Sommelier (by the CMS) and WSET diploma student. In order to specialize in the wines of Champagne she moved to the region and currently works as a wine consultant, wine educator and wine writer. She is a member of the Circle of Wine Writers and writes for several international publications including Palate Press, Snooth, Wine-Searcher, Decanter and Vinogusto; further activities include teaching Champagne related courses at Reims Management School and organizing personalized tasting experiences at http://www.tastingswithatwist.wordpress.com as well as being a regular judge at international wine competitions.
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