Champagne night at Arlequin Wine Merchant in San Francisco . . . let the tasting begin!
First up to Charles Neal for the NV Pierre Moncuit Champagne Blanc de Blancs from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs. Stainless steel, 2009 chardonnay. Wonderful depth of fruit. A lightness and delicacy to it. Works well with spicy food (I had just finished a curry lamb burger!). I'm familiar with this wine and it is as classic as ever. New producer to me, the NV Guy Charlemagne Réserve Brut also from Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs. Here a blend of 2007/2008/2009 chardonnay all from Grand Crus also in stainless. More aggressively green here, higher acid. Another solid food wine. Continuing in the Côte des Blancs a bit further north in Avize, the NV De Sousa Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru. A biodynamic producer that uses 30% barrel-aged reserve wine in the blend. And it shows, lots more toastiness here, nose is very giving, liked the nose bit more than the palate, more complex on aromatics. Very approachable Blanc de Blancs for sure.
And moving away from chardonnay and into Bouzy on the Montagne de Reims. Another biodynamic producer that is really, really, really capturing my fancy. The NV Benoit Lahaye Blanc de Noirs is silent and needs careful attention that a tasting like this can not afford. But still. This. Is. Amazing. Layered structured fruit, suggestions of something mineral (which isn't what I'd expect from Bouzy, rightly or wrongly), this is stunning, this is layered, this, ladies and gentlemen, is pinot noir. Wow. I am always a fan of things off the beaten path, so I'm always excited to make a sidetrip south to the Côte des Bar for the NV Serge Mathieu Brut Rosé. This is easy going and slurpable, fun and easy. Perhaps the most fruit-focused wine thus far. Crowd pleaser for sure. Back up to the Montagne de Reims for the NV Benoit Lahaye Rosé de Maceration that uses fruit from Grand Cru Bouzy and surrounding 1er Cru villages. Superfinely tuned, spicy, foodworthy, screams a bit more of red wine than the casual rose identity of the Serge Mathieu. This is a bit more serious. Hella good.
Another newish producer to me coming from Mareuil-sur-Aÿ (is this properly considered Montange de Reims or Vallée de la Marne?). The NV Philipponnat Brut Royal Reserve uses 30% reserve wines, apparently from vineyards all over for a blend that is 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 20% Meunier (according to K&L). And this totally reminds me of old skool champagne--that big airy, dry, yeasty, almost empty feel that suggests a New Year's Eve toast. Not my favorite style, but nostalgic for sure. And I see the appeal. The NV Philipponnat Brut Reserve Rosé from magnum smells a lot wilder and again old skool champagne, but here showing even more developed flavors. Superdry mouth presence along with aged, developed flavors, interesting, but not vibrant.
Returning back south to the wild outpost of the Côte des Bar for a producer that has to be among my large group of champagne faves. The 2009 Marie Courtin Extra Brut Resonance is now all pinot noir (evidently having included pinot blanc at some point in the past) stainless steel, no dosage, spring disgorgement. The nose isn't showing much and it feels like less pressure at the texture is smooth and soothing. The fruit here shows purity, delicacy. The best candy ever. Another fantastic treatment of pinot noir. One of the top wines thus far for me. The 2007 Marie Courtin Extra Brut Effloresence is also pinot noir, also no dosage, but here in neutral wood. The fruit here is more obvious, but so are what appear to taste like (and fellow tasters noted) wood tannins. Of all the wines thus far, this is the first one that seems to scream for more time to develop.
Heading way back north to Villers-aux-Noeuds on the Montagne de Reims, the 2006 Emmanuel Brochet 1er Cru Le Mont Benoit also returns to that classic blend of pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier in neutral wood. And it does seem a bit more classic with an expressive nose, classic, but perhaps a bit too rich and suggestive of butterscotch to me, which I suspect may be a function of vintage as the other 2006 I try tonight also is rich for my tastes (and reminds me of upper pradikat rieslings from that year which didn't appeal to my palate in their youth). The NV Emmanuel Brochet 1er Cru Le Mont Benoit is 80% 2009 and 20% 2008 and uses less pinot meunier than 2006 did. Still got candy on the nose, and though rich, rich, rich, a bit better balanced for my preferences.
At this point, I bump into a good friend and we get to taste and discuss the wines together. Twice the fun! And another friend (love the wine world!) is pouring the NV Jacquesson Cuvée 735 from magnum--hailing from Dizy on the southern slopes of the Montagne de Reims: 2007 base, low dosage. Jacquesson is another easy choice for me, loving them vintage after vintage. The 735 is as complex layered and pleasure giving as I'd want. Nothing really to break down here. I like it. The 2007 Jacquesson Rosé Terres Rouges is a single-vineyard rosé that I don't think I've ever encountered before. This is another wine that needs a proper setting with attention and fantastic food. A food-driven beautiful wine. Lovely.
New producer to me from Ambonnay on the Montage de Reims, the NV Dethune Extra Brut is 70% pinot noir, 30% chardonnay, using 50% reserve wines (! if I got that right), low dosage. Heavy mouthfeel, rich, lumbering and thick with a fantastic grip. Richer champagne that is easy to like as it doesn't come off as sweet but instead snappy. Another new producer to me, this time from Ludes on the Montagne de Reims, the NV Bereche Brut Reserve from magnum is one that I didn't get notes on, bummer. The NV Bereche Brut Rosé is 18% chardonnay, with the rest split between pinot noir and pinot meunier. Solid on the nose, good fruit, textured, simple and good. The NV Bereche Reflet d'Antan uses reserve wines from a 1985 solera, where neutral barrels are used. The nose is ripe but completely awesom, spicy, layered, amazing rich baked cake with fresh apples tossed in. Very likeable, very crowdpleasing.
Back south to the southern reaches of Champagne and the outpost of Montgueux for an old favorite, the NV Lassaigne Extra Brut Les Vignes de Montgueux. The nose is ungodly and immediate. Purity, defintion, yeast, almost aggressively yeasty to my taste. Inwardly focused, a pretty intellectual wine. Not even sure if I like it, but it is interesting. From a single parcel, the NV Lassaigne Extra Brut Le Cotet continues with the yeasty theme and perhaps is a bit richer. A bit more hidden in terms of profile. Table is crowded so I switch over to another table and back to the Côte des Blancs and Avize for the NV Agrapart Brut Les 7 Crus a blend of 2008 and 2009 from 7 vineyards. This is jolly rancher watermelon time. Damn that is good. Not sweet, low dosage, but firm and fruit-driven, even if it is the underbelly of the fruit. One of the more easygoing BdBs of the night. The NV Agrapart Blanc de Blancs Terroirs is a blend of 2006 and 2007 from all Grand Cru villages. Fleshy and ripe with a firm acid backbone, stony and good. This is a bit spicier and has really good depth. Very very pleasant. The 2005 Agrapart Blanc de Blancs Mineral continues with the depth, the focus, and the finesse. These are really precise and really focused champagnes, but the limits of my palate and attention span are coming into play.
Back to Ambonnay on the Montagne de Reims for a producer I've sampled before, but don't have a good feel for, starting with the NV Coutier Brut Tradition (70 percent pinot noir, 30 percent chardonnay if my notes are correct). Full, rich, plush, rich and quite spicy. This is plush champagne for sure. The NV Coutier Brut Rosé is a bit funky, is that sulfur? hi-toned, lots of sweetness--is this higher dosage? Not really my style of wine, at least at the moment.
Back to the southern reaches of Montgueux for the NV Lassaigne Extra Brut Rosé (85% chardonnay with 15% still pinot noir). It might be my tiring palate, but this suggests just the faintest hint of brettanomyces, or at least something associated with it which I don't recall ever encountering in champagne before. Whatever it is, I love it. Earthy and damn interesting. Great table wine.
Back up to the Côte des Blancs for a stop at Cramant for the NV Larmandier-Bernier Extra Brut - 85% chardonnay 15% pinot noir, raised in a variety of vessels. Expressive nose, awesome, feels plush and ripe, but not ripe=sweet. One of my favorite wines of the tasting the NV Larmandier-Bernier Extra Brut Terre de Vertus - 2007 fruit, 100% chardonnay, no dosage. It has a nose that screams its aliveness. This is what happy smells like, the joie de vivre smell. Layered and recessed, this would not be a wine I'd expect to grab anyone's attention amongst such hubbub. But oh it does, and how it does. Stunning stunning wine. Heading down south yet again to the Côte des Bar for the NV Bouchard Blanc de Noirs Inflorescence Val Vilaine - 2010 pinot noir, no dosage, farmed on his father's vineyards. Decently layered, showing one note, to my tired palate, superbly balanced but offering but one note. Have noted much more complexity in the past, so perhaps I am out of the game tonight.
Heading back north to Vertus in the southern edge of the Côte des Blancs, the NV Veuve Fourny Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature gets no dosage. Lots of purity here, dark fruit, ripe apples. Hmmm. The NV Veuve Fourny Blanc de Blancs is focused as well, but taste a few more layers here, bit more savory, not striking me as complex, rounded out a bit. Nice.
Staying within the Côte des Blancs, but heading north to Oger, the NV Jean Milan Brut Grand Cru Special is 100% chardonnay from 2006, 2007, and 2008. It seems to have a slight touch of sulfur on the nose, lemony taste, and then poof! I am completed melted. Wow, beautiful. Heading east to Mareuil-sur-Ay, the NV Marc Hebrart Blanc de Blancs Brut is evidently produced in a more Pinot Noir-type style. Indeed it comes off as flush, opulent, pretty big. Returning to Le Mesnil sur Oger on the Côte des Blancs, the NV Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs Brut Grand Cru - mostly 2009. Now my palate is near its end, but I am surprised here. This tastes positively milky at the moment. Excellent and I mean excellent execution, it was a stand out, but wow. What is with that? What is going on here? Finally last shot is a newish producer to me, the NV Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée St. Anne ( 95% 2008) is dark and awesome, Fruit here incredible, rich, primary, liqueuresque, wow wow wow. Great finish to a great tasting.