Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Larmandier-Bernier Tasting (Dec. 14, 2017)

Vertus
Eldad Levy's Champagne catalog lists seven growers. They are all very dear to my heart and I'd hate to have to choose between them or even rank them. But if I had to make a case for Larmandier-Bernier as the number one seed, my argument would be that Larmandier makes the purest, most intense wines of the lot. We like our Champagnes to flirt around with maturity and show that lovely brioche/mushroomy/biscuity character, but they all start out as young and fruity with traces of yeast. Which is where, I think, you can make the best cross comparisons, at their youth, before age starts to obscure any differences

Having tasted most of the catalog both in youth and with some age, I can say that the young Larmandiers are full, ripe wines, arguably the ripest of the lot, but that ripeness is backed by solid, almost intense acidity. The dosage is very low, so with the acidity being so generous, they don't taste sweet at all. In fact, they seem lean and lithe, almost electric, the balance of fruit and acidity making for powerful tension. At the same time, they're so well crafted that their intensity is never abrasive and, at the end, they impress for their finesse. I enjoy drinking them young because that tension is so very gripping and fascinating to experience. The reason I have enough patience to lay them down is because drinking ten and twelve year old Cramant Grand Crus has taught me how long lived these wines are.

I'll be mentioning the vineyards and villages worked by Larmandier in my notes. So a little background first. Laramandier is based in the Côte des Blancs, which is Chardonnay country, as the name broadly suggests. The domaine is located in the Premier Cru village of Vertus, but also works vineyards at Cramant, Oger and Avize, all Grand Cru villages. The debate around the Champagne classification system will never end, which is appropriate because it's dumb and classifies villages instead of vineyards. I'm telling you this because the Larmandier Vertus is almost as grand as the Cramant, just so you know when you plan your purchases. 

You can read more about the domaine here or skip to the notes.

Latitude, Premier Cru, n.v.

This is made from young vines south of Cramant and it's primal and citric and in need of time. To wit, fifteen minutes were required to show more aromatic complexity and chalk.

Longitude, Premier Cru, n.v.

Made from all the Laramandier holdings in the Côte des Blancs: Vertus, Oger, Avize, Cramant. This is obviously where the real fun begins. Greater nuances and power, probably as good as an ‘average’ vintage Champagne. 

Terre de Vertus Premier Cru, 2009

This is the kind of wine that is almost too easily labeled as intellectual. Which means it's too rocky and electric to drink casually and really demands you pay attention to it. Now, I wrote earlier that it's of Grand Cru caliber, but it's not quite as broad and complete as the Cramant. For one thing, it's a fair bet that while the Vertus vineyard this hails from is at least a match for an average Cramant vineyard, the family's Cramant holdings are hardly average. For another thing, it's a different style of wine, lean and angular and made with zero dosage, which makes it less approachable. This is probably a good place to quote the Larmandier philosophy on dosage:

At Larmandier-Bernier, no secret recipe: once again, our ambition is to allow the terroir to express itself. After all the care lavished on our wines, starting in the vineyard, we are not going to add anything which might go against them.

While most brut Champagnes are dosed at around 12 grams per litre, we never exceed 4 grams for our cuvées. For the 'Terre de Vertus', it's simple: we add no sugar at all. Generally speaking, there is about 1 gram of residual sugar anyway. We prefer to favour the maturity of the grapes and their natural sugar rather than adding sugar when the bottles are disgorged and running the risk of making the Champagne heavier and losing sight of the terroir.

Rose de Saignee Premier Cru, n.v.

Sourced from the family's only Pinot Noir holdings in Vertus, this is floral, very Pinot ish. Still, despite its obvious sex appeal, it is very discreet. This is the only wine in the lineup that I would enjoy a great deal more with age, because it's really too demure to impress right now.

Les Chemins d’Avize Grand Cru, 2009

This is the newest single village wine in the portfolio, and 2009 was the first vintage. Again, a whole bedrock of minerals, but complemented by flowers, it's a  sedate wine, less angles and knees and elbows sticking out than the Terre de Vertus

Les Chemins d’Avize  Grand Cru, 2010

The year is cooler and I get more flowers, a more intense bouquet, while the body is leaner. Never mind the descriptors, the common thread of the evening is how Larmandier puts so much stuffing without loss of grace, all the while insinuating and hinting at nuances. The specifics are less important.

Vieille Vigne du Levant Grand Cru (formerly known as Cramant), 2007

The house’s crown jewel, this is a very full wine, so full that this time the minerals are buried under baked apples. In a way, it's paradoxical how such a backward and monolithic wine is also the most complete wine.

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