Eldad Levi had been writing locally about wines for years but appropiately enough, his greatest impact on the local wine scene has been the introduction of boutique Champagnes to Israel. There's nothing ironic or sarcastic in my making this observation; I'm very grateful and very pleased.
Now then, to the tasting. Eldad's intent was to compare three growers from three different villages, to show the effect of the terrior - and to prove that Champagne is foremost a classic wine.
Eldad has already proven the last by me as far as I'm concerned and as for the comparison of the terroirs, well, I don't like to reach any conclusions based on such a small sample. But Eldad did a good job highlighting the different characteristics of the growers tasted. Each grower we tasted showed a distinct style with interesting nuances within that style across the different wines. It was also interesting to note how within each flight, how the basic non-vintage always displayed the house style in a much more forward style while maintaining a high quality. Like many of my friends, I prefer to pay somewhat more for the high end vintage wines but it's nice to know there's good stuff lurking 'downstream'.
Jean Milan (Cote Des Blancs)
Crystalline wines of great power.
Brut Millenaire, n.v.
The most forward nose of the Milan group: orange fruit and peel, fresh bread, chalk, developing a touch of tropical fruit in glass. Long and sharp yet tempered by a certain roundness. Rich yet with plenty of finesse. Gives an initial impression of dryness until a light, sweet overtone creeps in on the finish. 249 NIS.
Cuvee Reserve, n.v.
The nose is very closed at first, with the fruits indistinct, but some air uncovers apples and bread. More time shades the fruit with flint and toast, even hints of coffee. Of course, many wines will change in glass but in this case, there was greater charm than usual in the way the nose opened and showed a light oxidized note reminiscent of a mature Bourgogne. The palate highlighted what was lacking in the Millenaire as the Reserve was longer, more powerful, in a word, inspired - with an aftertaste that blended a citrus flavor with red apple acidity. 279 NIS.
Somehow more powerful than the Cuvee reserve and at the same time more elegant and airy. A very flowery nose, that starts out citrus-y and then shows baked apples and yeasty overtones. Here too, a light oxidation shows, blending well with the rest of the elements. The palate is broad yet focused and very elegant, moving further up the elegance scale. This would need a few more years in the cellar for sure. 309 NIS.
Gaston Chiquet (Valle De La Marne)
It's hard for me to encapsulate the Gaston house style. I'd say the wines have a chalky minerality as opposed to the Milan's more crystalline strucuture, but other than that, the house style is just not as obvious.
Brut Tradition, n.v.
The Brut Tradition reminds me of my dog: cute, loveable, charming yet somewhat obsequious . The leitmotif here is green apples, with an approachable roundness countering the acidity. 199 NIS.
Blanc de Blancs d'Ay Grand Cru, n.v.
Storms out of the gate in a cloud of chalk and baked apples and develops a funky overlay of mushrooms and leather that captivated me. Broad on the palate, and though more focused than the Brut Tradition, it is not as sharply defined and crystalline as the Symphorine, say, but rather loosely minerally and chalky. Right now, this seems to be the first of the Champagnes that I will open from my fridge and I can hardly wait. 100% 2004 fruit, by the way, thus a non-vintage only because it wasn't aged long enough to comply with the AOC's vintage regulations. 229 NIS.
Millesime Or 1999
A contrast between the nose and palate. The nose is very ripe and laden with mature aromas - baked fruit, honey, sea breeze, biscuits - and also possesses an oxidized overtone. So you would be expecting a mature wine at first sip and would be taken aback by its distinctive freshness. 279 NIS.
Vilmart (Montagne De Reims)
Whether it's the terroir or Vilmart's doing, all his wines showed the influence of the Pinot element, which in the case of the Grand Cellier d'Or was just drop dead gorgeous.
Grande Reserve, n.v.
70% Pinot Noir (vs. 30% Charodnnay) and it's very obvious, as though someone painted a Pinot overlay over the Chardonnay canvas. You can sense it very strongly on the nose, those Pinot exotic spices, that Pinot forest floor aroma. Though the Chardonnay dominates the palate. This is a 'wow' wine but overshadowed by the Grand Cellier's finesse. 249 NIS.
Grand Cellier, n.v.
The Pinot-Chardonnay proportions are reversed here, so while you still gt the Pinot, the effects are more subtle, creating an aromatic impression that owes to the Pinot but somehow reminds me Francois Jobard. The palate is very elegant, the Pinot dominating the attack and the gently merges into the Chardonnay on the mid-palate and finish. Great, but you ain't seen nothin' yet. 309 NIS.
Grand Cellier d'Or 2001
If I thought the Grand Reserve was a 'wow' wine, what can I say about this vintage Champagne? It continues the direction delineated by the previous wines then waves bye-bye as it passes them by. Sheer elegance yet within lurks an acidic backbone that remains unobtrusive until it flares up on the long, citrusy finish. Fantastic and is already drinking very, very well, though I would guess there's no rush to drink it. 359 NIS.
Finally, a bonus wine:
Larmandier-Bernier, Cramant Grand Cru (labelled n.v. but 100% 2004)
Minerals, toast and again a light note of oxidation (which is starting to wear well with me). Like the Chiquet Blanc de Blancs, this wine is chalky rather than crystalline. And very young. 369 NIS.