Hoildays Esprit - A Pierre Péters tasting (Dec. 26, 2018)

Even if Peters was just another grower, he'd still be a grower
from a town legendary for having no ordinary wines
We visited Pierre Péters in May and I'd like to quote two observations from my post on that visit by way of introducing this one:

"Even if Peters was just another grower, he'd still be a grower from a town legendary for having no ordinary wines."

But he's no ordinary grower. Which brings me to the second quote from the visit, which is actually something Fabienne Péters told us when she poured the Chetillons 2008:

"You probably don't want to spit this."

We didn't, and it's not only a great tasting note but the best advice I can give for anyone attending a Péters tasting: grab a cab, don't drive, and then you won't have any regrets when the evening is over.

If you do need to spit, however, you might as well spit out the first three wines and enjoy the rest because the quality across the range progresses in a very orderly manner. The Cuvée de Reserve, Cuvée  Extra Brut and Rose for Albane are excellent, albeit obvious, showcases of skill and care, rather than visceral experiences; the Esprit a huge step up, shining in the great vintages, especially 2012; and the Chetillons is a classic that defies expectations in an off vintage like 2011 and immortal in a great one like 2002 (or 2008 for that matter). Finally, L'Étonnant Monsieur Victor is a unique approach that pays off.

Cuvée de Reserve (2014 based)

This is a showcase of the Côte des Blancs aromatic and flavor profile: citrus fruits, chalk and yeast, a dry bitter, pit-like core with sweetness on the fringes. Like everything except the rose, this is 100% blanc de blancs, from the family's holdings in the grand cru villages of Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant. The base vintage always makes up about 60% of the blend, the rest being sourced from a solera with 20 back vintages. Full and direct, it's balanced and tasty without loads of complexity, probably because it's still very yeasty and that overshadows the mellowness that the mature reserve wines in the blend should purportedly provide.

Cuvée Extra Brut (2014)

This is a vintage wine in essence if not in legal terms, as Rudolph Péters releases it before it has matured enough to qualify for vintage status. It feels like step up in quality from the Cuvée de Reserve, which is odd when I think about it, because the base wine is the same. I'd expect the reserve wines and the lower dosage to make for stylistic difference, not a qualitative one. Whatever, the nose and palate are more complex, the palate fuller and more powerful, yet with more finesse. Without any reserve wines to temper it, the chalk is more pronounced.

Rose for Albane 

This is a good rose but whenever I drink it, it comes off a step behind the rest of the lineup. It’s tasty, with an excellent texture and a lovely finish, but I don’t think it has the star quality of their best. By the way, even though the Peters site doesn't say so, I'm guessing this is another de facto vintage wine.

Peters makes two de jure vintage Champagnes. Both are extra brut, the l'Esprit being sourced from vineyards from Le Mesnil sur Oger, Oger, Avize and Cramant (which I guess means the best vineyards, otherwise why limit yourself to specific vineyards for one of your premium wines), the flagship Les Chetillons from select plots in, well Chetillons, ranked by many as the best vineyard in Le Mesnil sur Oger.

l'Esprit, 2013 

2013 is the best wine in the lineup if you want to experience Côte des Blancs. The 2012 and 2009 are richer, more flamboyant, vintages and the character of the terroir is still in the backseat. Here, you get the full expression of the citrus fruit, the elegance and vibrancy of that fruit, the electric thrill of its acidity. Champagne, like many of the classic French wine regions, had to contend with uneven ripening in 2013, but that's not evident in this fine, enticing wine.

l'Esprit, 2012

This wasn't a blind tasting, but I'll wager that any lover of Champagne would have pegged this as really great vintage from the first sniff. What an amazing nose! - with sweet brioche and fruit and mineral aromas. This was more intense and concentrated than anything in the tasting, including the Chetillons - which outclassed it in other aspects. But what a terrific, terrific wine!

l'Esprit, 2009

This is step behind 2012, but 2012 was so many steps ahead that it’s not a crime. Complex, balanced and and already starting to mellow with age, this is the most rewarding to drink of the flight.

TL;DR classy quality for the “second” vintage wine. Buy the 2012 if you can find it but don't be shy about settling for a lesser vintage because it's still going to be great.

Les Chetillons 2010

As I wrote above, the Chetillons outclassed the 'lEsprit 2012, even though there is no single writer that would give 2010 any chance of catching up with 2012. And it outclasses the 'lEsprit by a magical trick that great champagnes have: that feeling that the picture of the world they place in your mouth has more colors and clarity than the real world. There is simply an additional dimension of fruit here, without loss of minerals, structure, freshness  or finesse.

Les Chetillons Oenotheque, 2002

This is a recently disgorged version of the 2002 bottling, that rare vintage that everyone agrees is a great vintage, the magnificent growing season where everything was just right. All signs of yeasts gone, what's left is a Corton-Charlemagne with bubbles, a super tasty masterpiece of smoky finesse.

L'Étonnant  Monsieur Victor MK11  (2011 based)

Eldad Levy, the local Peters importer says this is a unique attempt to place a non-vintage blend at the top of the hierarchy. Simply put, the idea is to take best juice of the base vintage and vinify with the best juice of the solera at the time of blending (while making sure l'Esprit and Chetillons get their share, I suppose). I can't really speak of the uniqueness of that approach (although the price is certainly premium), but it really is a great wine. Here the effect of the reserve wines is more pronounced, giving the fruit the mellow, sautéed effect of a mature wine, even while the fruit retains quite vivid freshness. This is less overtly fruity than any wine in the lineup, with the most immediate impact: the complexity, the mineral backbone, the wine-iness are very clearly stated.