• Diamond of Le Mesnil: Champagne Pierre Péters

    Diamond of Le Mesnil: Champagne Pierre Péters

    The Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is the source of the most quintessential chalky and dead-serious blanc de blancs champagnes of all. Here, the name Pierre Péters exists in rare company with the likes of Jacques Selosse, Krug, and Salon. Chardonnay excels in Mesnil's porous, chalky slopes and there's no producer that covers the entire range like Pierre Péters.

    Cuvée de Réserve is a reference point for the Côtes de Blancs. It’s 100% Chardonnay sourced from 63 parcels (all in Grand Cru villages) supplemented by the perpetual reserve. The reserve wine was started in 1997 and contains wine from 1988, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996, etc. Vintages like 1999 and 2003 were excluded, for instance, because they brought an undesired weight. About 65% of this Chardonnay completes malolactic fermentation, though it can rise to 80% in cooler years. In ripe years, such as 2003 and 2009, the partial blocking of malo maintains tension and structure.

    Mesnil's unique broken chalky soil allows vines to travel deep, picking up nutrients and mineral expressions from this bedrock and supplying the wines with that unmistakable chalk-inflected, saline note that stands apart, even from the neighboring villages in the Côte de Blancs. There's also a noble bitterness and citrus pith note matched with the salinity that's the foundation for this house’s style. With age, nutty and slight caramel notes can arise. If I had to choose one village to visit in bottle decades later, it would be Mesnil because of this wild combo.

    The estate historically sold all of its grapes to large champagne houses until 1919 when Camille Péters bottled his first wine. Camille's son, Pierre, only 12 years old at the time, took an interest and showed the wines at exhibitions in Paris. It was under Pierre’s tenure, starting in 1944, that they acquired new vineyards, attention to detail grew, and the estate rose to fame. Today, Pierre’s grandson, Rodolphe, continues to raise the bar. The estate now covers 18 hectares in Le Mesnil as well as Cramant and Avize.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Avize's Rising Star: Champagne Agrapart

    Avize's Rising Star: Champagne Agrapart

    Pascal Agrapart is to Avize what Pierre Péters is to Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Here, Avize is the charming personification of summer to Mesnil's rigor of 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 amplitude and breadth juxtaposed with Mesnil's boney austerity.

    But make no mistake, Pascal's extra brut and brut nature wines are defined by their taut and energetic personalities, pairing magically with Avize's more generous demeanor. The greatest thing I can say about Pascal's wines is that they beg to be drunk. They provide never-ending fascination and wild development in the glass. The world has caught on, as available quantities are now painfully limited.

    Agrapart farms 10 hectares covering 60 different parcels, all located in Grand Cru villages, but Avize is the source of his tête de cuvées. The wines commonly go through full malolactic, and elévage takes place in older oak barrels and stainless steel.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Champagne Crescendo: Bérêche Brut Reserve

    Champagne Crescendo: Bérêche Brut Reserve

    The Bérêche brothers illustrate just how profound a non-vintage bottling can be. Their Brut Réserve is one of the first bottles I turn to when choosing cellar selections. Tasting their entire range on a visit in 2018 was truly a masterclass. Raphaël is as adventurous as any vigneron I've met, with a joyous demeanor exuding enthusiasm at every turn in the cave. On the other hand, he and Vincent, who focuses on the vineyard, take an exacting approach to every detail.

    Bérêche's nine hectares are farmed by ten full-time workers, an extremely unusual ratio, but Raphael knows quality will be dictated by the number of minutes each vine is cared for through the growing season. The Bérêche estate also stands out for a vast array of terroir at their disposal: Starting at their home base with the chalky soils of 1er Cru Ludes, ideal for Chardonnay, all the way to the western Valée de la Marne and their heavier clay soils, where Pinot Noir and Meunier excel.

    The non-vintage Brut Resérve is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from Premier Cru village Ludes in Montagne de Reims 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. This reserve portion brings a sense of grandeur perfectly suited to mesh with the more taut structure from the single vintage (Currently the 2017-base). Fermentation occurs in 60% neutral French oak barrels and 40% small vats, with aging in 600-liter neutral barrels.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Invigorating Vertus: Champagne Larmandier-Bernier

    Invigorating Vertus: Champagne Larmandier-Bernier

    Perhaps no grower-producer in the Blanc de Blancs Champagne category nails the non-dosage form better than Larmandier-Bernier of Vertus. Ripe, forward fruit and full malolactic fermentation in oak help carry off this tight-rope balancing act. Larmandier-Bernier's early adoption of biodynamic viticulture has put these prime parcels in a position to turn out the very best, razor-precise examples of Chardonnay.

    Terre de Vertus is a special selection of Larmandier-Bernier's top two mid-slope vineyards, Les Barilles and Les Faucherets. Aging four years on the lees also helps soften this cuvée's contours and allows its pulverized rock core to come through with beautiful harmony and balance. Larmandier-Bernier's cellar approach adds buffering texture and breadth to these inherently mineral-infused, laser-focused Champagnes.

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    Posted by Max Kogod
  • Rising Star in Verzy: Champagne Adrien Renoir

    Rising Star in Verzy: Champagne Adrien Renoir

    What is the most exciting element of grower-champagne today? Finding thoughtful vignerons and introducing them to the best-suited palates. On a trip to Verzy in October 2019, Adrien Renoir, just 29 years old, was someone I knew I should meet. My first impression of his champagnes left me with a thirst to learn more (and drink more). The most unmistakable quality in these wines is their balance and shimmering sense of composure. It's apparent Adrien has already found a way to fine-tune the wines from these Grand Cru vines in Montagne de Reims to highlight their elegance.

    Over the last several years, I've been so impressed by what I've seen from this younger generation in Champagne as they have immediately made their mark. Like Adrien Dhondt of Dhondt-Grellet, Renoir is an ideal example of the under-the-radar stars in the progressive grower-champagne scene.

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    Posted by Max Kogod