Friday, March 21, 2008

Boutique de Champagnes Tasting (Mar. 20, 2008)

It's all in the name: a new local importer of artisanal, boutique Champagnes. The visible force is Eldad Levi, a veteran wine writer in Israel and on whose 'pet' wine forum, Fat Guy, I am an active participant.

I don't have much experience with Champagnes. I joked with Eldad after the tasting that I tripled the number of Champagnes I'd tasted over the course of the evening and that is the truth.

The full catalog (including full details of the grapes, crus, dosages and vintaged blended into the N.V's) in Hebrew can be found here. Non-English speakers are directed to the Terry Theise Champagne catalog which covers some of the wines and will give an overview of the growers.

All list prices are before any discounts.

A. Margaine, Cuvee Traditionelle Brut, N.V.

90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir, from Villers Marmery (1er Cru village). A blend of six vintages, mostly 2004, the nose initially dominated by tropical fruits, but once their sweetness subsides, a greater complexity and minerals and yeasts notes are uncovered. The palate has a crisp, tight structure of bitter minerality but offers less complexity. My guess is the restaurants will go for it to a greater degree than the private customers, who I think will opt to pay extra for more finesse. 189 NIS.

Larmandier-Bernier, Brut Tradition, N.V.

80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, 70% Grand Cru vineyards, the rest 1er Cru, a blend of 2002/3/4 vintages, 40% from 2004. The nose is mostly bread and minerals and you can sense the Pinot. The palate is very impressive, tight, crisp, intense with no loss of elegance. The best non-vintage of the tasting. 249 NIS.

Jean Milan, Cuvee Millenaire Brut, NV.

100% Chardonnay, 100% Grand Cru, 2002 and 2003 in equal parts. White fruits and minerals on the nose, with some tropical fruits in the background. Like the Larmandier, a crisp, minerally, tight structure, but more feminine and easier to approach. 249 NIS.

Vilmart, Cuvee Rubis, N.V.

90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay, from Rilly La Montagne (1er Cru village), 60% from 2004, the rest from 2003. This really has a Bourgogne nose of strawberries and forest floor, with a Champagne toastiness. The big question on my mind was how much I'd have enjoyed it as a still wine as there is something a bit obvious about the nose, but having said that, it is a very tasty wine and I finished my glass rather quickly. 309 NIS.

A. Margaine, Special Club, 1999

100% Chardonnay from Villers Marmery (1er Cru village). A flowery nose with a bit of dough. A very elegant palate that retains a lot of fresh fruitiness. If it were a still wine, it'd give the Cote de Beaune Premier Crus a run for their money. 299 NIS.

Gaston Chiquet, Millesime "Or", 1999

60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir. The yeasty, oxidised aromas take time to get used to for Champagne neophytes and I'm still unsure how much I like the style. Beyond them are the kind of mineral notes I applaud and despite the mature impression of the nose, the palate is surprisingly fresh. I guess this is for the Champagne 'specialists'. 279 NIS.

Pierre Gimonnet, Oenophile Extra Brut, 2000

100% Charodnnay from old vines from Cramant and Chouilly (both Grand Cru villages) and Cuis (1er Cru). A knock out nose of great complexity and subtlety dominated by minerals, earth, dough and bread. A sharp, crispy palate with a long saline and lemony finish. This would give a Chablis Grand Cru a good, even fight. 309 NIS.

Vilmart, Coeur de Cuvee, 1993

This magnum was disgorged in 2006. Vilmart's flagship wine, it is made of 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir and comes from Rilly La Montagne, a 1er Cru village. Now if the Oenophile would give, say, Le Clos a fight, this is at the Corton Charlemagne level, I think. A really deep, compex nose that offers just about everything for everyone, with no loss of elegance and finesse: nuts, tropical fruits, mushrooms, a slight oxidation (works better here, to my taste, than with the Millesime). The palate is just as gorgeous and multi-layered, with amazingly refreshing acidity and a long, complex finish. 1199 NIS for a magnum.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

sounds like great value wines.
i would be glad to know your opinion on these bottles as WINES and their cost performance. so far i only read the press which i must admit thrilled me, but i prefer a buying costumer like yourself.

2GrandCru said...

Larmandier-Bernier, Brut Tradition, N.V. costs somewhere between a village and a 1er cru Cote de Beaune white and when you factor in that, even after the local tax reductions on sparkling wines, people are amenable to an overhead for bubblies, it's a reasonable-to-good value.

The A. Margaine, Special Club, 1999 and Pierre Gimonnet, Oenophile Extra Brut, 2000 are both great values in my opinion when compared to their 'still' counterparts in Bourgogne.

I have a problem with the Vilmart, Cuvee Rubis, N.V. It's charming and delicious for sure but when I tried to 'translate' it to a still wine, it didn't seem like a 300 NIS wine. So the 'bubbly' overhead here is a bit steep.

One thing to keep in mind is how much you personally are willing to accept Champagne as food wines. If you're biased towards using them as an appertif only, my arguments regarding their cost performance might be rendered invalid.