Last holiday season, our staff had a smorgasbord tasting of champagnes from the Kogod cellar. I wasn’t able to attend, but Max was kind enough to hand-deliver some of the highlights to my doorstep, including David L'eclapart and Marguet. He also insisted that I needed to try Olivier Horiot, a micro-producer in the village of Les Riceys.
5 Sens (or five senses) is our favorite in the lineup and has the most breadth, as it's a blend of Arbane, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, and Pinot Noir. Les Riceys is a commune of three villages situated in the southernmost part of Champagne. The Kimmeridgian soil here is the same you'll find in Chablis and Sancerre, except these slopes primarily grow Pinot Noir. The village is also known for its Rosé des Riceys, a long-held tradition that’s now kept alive by a mere 15 to 20 producers.
Olivier is the third generation to pursue viticulture. His father and grandfather sold all their fruit to the local cave coopérative until Olivier began winemaking in 1999. The Horiots farm seven hectares—all farmed biodynamically—but keep just two hectares for themselves. Olivier jokingly calls it the Champagne equilibrium. “This balance [allows us] to have more fun with the stuff we vinify independently,” he explained to Louis/Dressner, “to craft them more to our taste.”
While Jacquesson's vintage champagnes are deserving of every ounce of praise it receives for their crystalline transparency, the 700-cuvée series offer the same brilliant detail at a more palatable, everyday price point. When the discussion arises on the best champagnes under $85, Jacquesson is a leader of the pack. This is a non-vintage for the most serious and classic-leaning champagne enthusiasts.
Talking about Jacquesson's 700-cuvée series in the same breath as other non-vintage standouts doesn't seem right, and the quality has only continued to rise over the past decade as their farming practices reach new heights. 30% reserve wine meets the 2016 vintage of 55% Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from Aÿ, Dizy, and Hautvillers, 45% Chardonnay from Avize and Oiry; and less than one gram/liter of dosage.
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.
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.
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.
Today, I'm happy offer a wide collection from Champagne Pierre Péters, starting of course, with the flagship Cuvée Réserve with special pricing.
The non-vintage Cuvée Réserve, 100% Chardonnay sourced entirely from grand cru villages, is the reference point for the Côtes de Blancs. Sourced from 63 parcels and supplemented by the perpetual reserve.
While the story behind Pierre Péters warrants significant time, I'd like to start with some technical information gleaned during my visit that really helped me understand exactly why the wines are as focused and profound as they are.
- Mesnil's unique broken chalky soil allows vines to easily travel deep, picking up nutrients and mineral expressions from this bedrock, in turn, supplying the wines with that chalk-inflected and unmistakable saline note that stands apart from even the neighboring villages in the Côte de Blancs. If Mesnil is winter, then Avize is summer, Crammant fall, and Oger spring.
- Stainless steel is used for the aging here (with the exception of reserve wines, we will get to that later). The use of oak in Mesnil is believed to bring a nutty character that may work well in many other villages, but here it becomes far too pronounced and detracts from the taut and straight-line focus that is its calling card. In short, stainless steel provides a balance that is ideal for Mesnil Chardonnay.
- There's a maximum of 3 hours between harvesting a cluster to the time it is pressed. In the world of white winemaking this is as rapid as it gets. The idea is that degradation of Chardonnay will begin, even in the most faint respects, after this 3 hour period has passed. The extremely rare luxury of two pneumatic presses allows for pressing on an ideal, un-rushed schedule.
- There's a noble bitterness and citrus pith note to the fruit here matched with the salinity that's the foundation for the house style. Ultimately, in my estimation, the most crystalline reflection of chalky terroir. With age (yes, the NV warrants cellaring too) the nutty and slightest of caramel notes can arise. If I had to choose one village to visit in bottle after decades, it would be Mesnil for this wild combo.
- An average of 65% of this Chardonnay completes malolactic fermentation. In cooler years, this percentage can rise to 80%. Fuller the malo, more creamy the texture. In ripe years such as 2003 and 2009 the partial blocking of malo maintains the tension of structure that otherwise would become too flabby.
- The perpetual blend (source of reserve wine) was started in 1997 and contains wine from: 1988, 1990, 1993, 1995, 1996. Vintages like 1999 and 2003 were excluded, for instance, because they brought a hefty weight that was not ideal.
- Before 1997, instead of using a perpetual blend, Rodolphe's father chose single vintage reserve tanks to pull from to supplement the NV.
- Today, the perpetual reserve is kept in a combination of three formats:Stockinger foudre (wood) 18%, concrete 38%, and steel 44%. The foudre brings fine tannins and faint nutty development. The concrete brings out the chalky character, while paradoxically keeping the lees settled. The steel brings the bright citrus and fresh fruit qualities.
- The L'Esprit is sourced from 4 parcels contained in Grand Cru village: Mesnil, Cramant, and Avize. (ALL LARGE FORMAT NV RESERVE IS ACTUALLY 100% L'ESPRIT)
- Oubliée Reserve taps the three best reserve vessels (foudre, concrete, steel) and then spends two years in steel tank.
- L'Etonnant Monsieur Victor is a newer bottling that taps the best tank of Les Chétillons, the best Reserve wine, and the Oubilée.
The transition from grower to grower-producer is never a seamless one. Pierre Péters historically sold all grapes to large champagne houses until 1919 when Camille Péters chose to bottle his first wine. Camille's son Pierre, only 12 years old, took an interest in the newly formed estate, showing wines at exhibitions in Paris. Upon Camille's passing, Pierre took control of production in 1944 at the age of 24. It was under his tenure that new vineyards were acquired, attention to detail grew, and the estate Pierre Péters rose in stature.
Of Pierre's two sons, Jacques went on to become Chef de Cave at Clicquot and François chose to stay at the domaine. The choice by François was not necessarily an easy one, as at this time the larger houses like Clicquot cast a large shadow on the more emerging grower-producer movement. Pierre saw fame and accolades while François continued to fight the good fight, honing in on improving his vineyards and working closely with his contemporaries. François was a founding member of the Special Club.
François's eldest son, Rodolphe began to focus on wine after initially studying marine biology. A close friend convinced him of the spectacularly rare gift that awaited him at home. Rodolphe earned an Oenology degree and an MBA before working in various aspects of the wine trade. He joined his father in 2000, and in 2008 he took control of production.
Over the last decade Rodolphe has taken the Pierre Péters to even greater heights. The estate now covers 18 hectares primarily in Le Mesnil (45 of 63 parcels), as well as vines in grand crus, Cramant and Avize.
In 4000 Champagnes, Richard Juhlin sums up the estate well:
"Pierre Péters is a hidden treasure of Champagne . . . and the prices are laughable considering the quality of the wines.”