• 1999 & 2015 Bérêche Coteaux Champenois Rouge:  Rare Birds of Champagne

    1999 & 2015 Bérêche Coteaux Champenois Rouge: Rare Birds of Champagne

    Tasting the entire range with Raphael Bérêche last year was a masterclass in champagne precision. While this stable of artisanal wines are produced in very small quantities, the Coteaux Champenois Rouge is simply on a different scale. I'm thrilled to showcase two warm vintages where this rare bird soars.

    Today, I'm happy to offer the 1999 and 2015
     Bereche Coteaux Champenois Rouge Les Montées for $109 per bottle.

    Bérêches's Les Montées is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from old vines in the Montagne de Reims. The grapes are only partially de-stemmed and the fermentation is done in barrel, sometimes yielding only a single one. There is no fining or filtering before bottling. 

    On one hand, Raphael is as adventurous as any vigneron I've met, with a child-like joyous demeanor exuding enthusiasm at every turn in the cave. On the other hand, him and his brother, Vincent (who focuses in the vineyard) take an exacting approach to every detail in this domaine founded in 1847.

    The nine hectares owned by Bérêche are farmed by ten full-time workers, an extremely unusual ratio. But, Rapha knows the quality in bottle will be dictated, above all, by the number of minutes each vine sees of hand working through the growing season.

    The Bérêche estate also stands out for a vast array of terroir at their disposal. Starting at home base with the chalky soils of 1er Cru Ludes, ideal for Chardonnay (pictured below), all the way to the western Valée de la Marne and those heavier clay soils, where Pinot Noir and Meunier excel. In addition to the Coteaux Champenois Rouge, these other cuvées are available below.


    NV Brut Resérve is comprised of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The Premier Cru village Ludes in Montagne de Reims is where parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are sourced to bring that nervosity from chalky soils. And the broader and richer tones come from Pinot Meunier and additional Chardonnay parcels from Mareuil le Port in the western Vallée de la Marne.

    35% of the Brut Réserve comes from a perpetual blend of reserve wine and is supplemented with 65% from the harvest listed below. It's this reserve portion of the blend that brings a sense of grandeur perfectly suited to mesh with the more taut structure from the single vintage. Fermentation is split between 60% neutral French oak barrels and 40% small vats, aging taking place in 600-liter neutral barrels. 

    Coteaux Champenois Blanc 1er Cru Les Monts Fournois is the rarest wine from the domaine. A still, single vineyard Chardonnay, this wine from a surprisingly warmer vintage (2013) in Champagne has all of the chalky drive and crystalline personality that you'd imagine, but with a definitive weight that fleshes out on the palate and finishes very long. I've stashed many bottles in my cellar and always am amazed at the evolution from one year to the next, slowly picking up more deeper color, orchard fruit tones, but framed by wild acidity, nonetheless.

    Remensis Rosé comes from a single parcel in the Petite Montagne de Reims village of Ormes. 2/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Chardonnay, with all color coming from small addition of still wine. This has always been a favorite for its ginger and tangerine notes supported by beaming acidity and a precision rare to find in the world of rosé champagne. Today's offering features wines from the 2012 base vintage, the maturing in bottle has put this in a perfect spot where all of the notes are now more pronounced and expressive than I've ever tasted before, still finished by laser-focused salinity. 

    Les Beaux Regards is sourced primarily from vines planted in 1902 by Rapha's great-grandfather in his home village of Ludes (pictured below). The interplay between finely-woven threads of minerality and a concentrated driving force through the finish really had the tasting come to a halt in my mind. The balance is an ideal example of how Rapha is at the top of the echelon today. 2013 and 2014 available below.

    Les Cran is equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay coming from old vines in the best mid-slope parcels in Ludes. Raphael has an interesting take, "[Le Cran] 
    demonstrates that there is much more minerality in the mid-slope of a premier cru than at the base of the slope in a grand cru.” 

    Reflet d'Antan is as special as they come. Sourced from a solera started in 1985 by Rapha's father, Jean-Pierre. This is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Each vintage 2/3 of each barrel is removed to blend with the Brut Reserve. "Reflection of yesteryear" tells the story of this esteemed producer, still showing the fine lacy texture and brimming energy that you will find with the youngest wines here.
    Posted by Alexander Rosen
  • 2012 Summer of Avize:  Agrapart's Mesmerizing Blanc de Blancs

    2012 Summer of Avize: Agrapart's Mesmerizing Blanc de Blancs

    Pascal Agrapart is to Avize what Champagne Pierre Péters is to Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Here, Avize is the personification of summer to Mesnil's winter, although we're still on the chalky slopes that define the Côtes des Blancs. In the epicenter of Chardonnay royalty, Agrapart's Avize champagnes show an amplitude and breadth that's completely juxtaposed with Mesnil's austerity.

    But, make no mistake about it, these extra brut and brut nature wines are defined the very most by their taut and energetic personalities, the sort which pair magically with Avize's more charming and generous demeanor. The greatest thing I can say about Pascal's wines is that they truly beg to be drunk. They provide never-ending fascination, wild development in glass with air, and they offer a quenching characteristic that just fulfills summertime needs every time.

    Today, I'm happy to offer the new 2012 Agrapart release, complete with a late winery disgorgement of the 2009 Mineral. 


    Agrapart farms 10 hectares covering 60 different parcels, all located in Grand Cru villages, but Avize is the source of his Tête de Cuvées. Wines here commonly go through full malolactic, and elévage takes place in both older oak barrels as well as stainless steel.

    Terroirs is comprised of Chardonnay sourced from Grand Cru villages, Avize, Oger, Cramant, and Oiry. A blend of two consecutive vintages, with the older vintage being aged exclusively in neutral oak barrels. A NV Blanc de Blancs that is the first I reach for alongside Pierre Péters'. In fact, last month I brought magnums of both to a dear friend's wedding. The side-by-side comparison was simply awesome.

    Minéral is sourced from extremely chalky soils in Avize (Les Champboutons) and Cramant (Les Bionnes). Pascal imagined Chablis would be a village that would most closely match with the personality of Minéral. Laser-focused, and finishes with a deep salty impression of white fruits.

    Complantée is co-planted with Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Arbane, and Petit Meslier. Although it may appear this mix of varieties would define the wine, it's the unique parcel's terroir with its mix of chalk and clay throughout that's ultimately the unique component. Like Terroirs, this contains two consecutive vintages blended.

    Avizoize is sourced from an upper hillside in Avize containing old vines. The soil here sees much more clay than Minéral, so it has a fuller texture and sense of gravitas, but the chalky bedrock still ultimately informs the backbone of the wine. Fully chiseled, with some up-front deep, textural impact and then firms up and gets surprisingly linear on the finish. Very long.

    Venus, named after Pascal's horse who works this vineyard, is a single vineyard that takes us back to a more linear style along the lines of Minéral. But, the clay composition here brings a power and drive that's simply quintessential Avize Grand Cru. Pascal called to mind Meursault when thinking about the style that comes from this site. This sees no dosage due to the perfectly ripe and satisfactory vin clair we tasted in barrel. In fact, a still Coteaux Champenois would be an ideal partnership with this site. We'll see if Pascal decides to toy with that idea. No hints...

    Experience was an adventurous endeavor by Pascal to produce champagne with only grapes (no sugar, dosage, or yeast). To do this he took his base wine (2012 here) and added unfermented pressed grape juice from the following year (2013 here) to use as the prise de mousse used to create the secondary fermentation. This cuvée is only made when two consecutive vintages are up to Pascal's high standards. 
    Posted by Alexander Rosen