Alexandre Chartogne is the Prince of Champagne. He's humble, whip-sharp, and intent on proving to the world that his tiny village of Merfy now deserves the praise which was once heaped upon it as far back as 853 AD. Yes, Merfy was once among the most celebrated villages of all Champagne, with parcel names dating back 800 years. Although the wines were then still, the terroir was a beacon for greatness. Today's offer from Chartogne-Taillet features a dizzying array of wines.

The 100% Pinot Meunier from all un-grafted vines in Les Barres and Beaux Sensmay be the rarest and most unique cuvées below, but the Saint Anne is simply my reference point for trois cépage NV Brut champagne

Among the true band of brothers I visited, Alexandre is the most overtly passionate and pensive. Since taking control in 2006 of his family's 1863-established parcels, he's worked to uncover the story below the vines - Regularly taking pit samples to understand the unique geology here. Unlike most villages, in Merfy soil changes rapidly from one 0.5 hectare parcel to the next - Imagine if Burgundy's Côte de Nuits was compacted into the village of Chambolle. And, his uncommon use of native yeast ferments doubles down on his dedication to telling a story of place.

This deep digging by Alexandre has brought a new understanding of terroir. The micro-cuvées now produced from 11 hectares have Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier matched with soil for ideal expression, as compared to ideal yield of quantity, as neighbors follow. 

“I do not feel good when I’m sure about something.”, says Alexandre. He understands, like any true lover of wine, the more you know the more your realize how much is still left to be learned. 

Alexandre worked under the ultimate hero of the grower-champagne movement, Jacques Selosse. It was there he began to question all that he knew. He fully realized that in a region most recognized for producer style and method in the cellar, it was actually the vineyard that would have to be the foundation of change. His organic and biodynamic work creates a flourishing life of activity in the vines that yield the most pristine raw material. Farm-first focus may be something I constantly hammer home, but this point has no more fitting application than with Alexandre. 

Merfy lies just north of Reims, and while it was once prized, over the last centuries it's fallen into the shadows of more celebrated villages like Le Mesnil, Avize, Bouzy, and Äy. However, Alexandre has firmly placed Merfy in the minds of collectors over the last decade, and its Pinot Meunier vineyard Les Barres (0.5 hectares) is widely considered one of the very best in all of Champagne.

Only produced since 2006, it's made from un-grafted old Pinot Meunier vines on less than half a hectare - It's one of the most elusive wines in the world, and rightfully so. And the equally-impressive, and also un-grafted 100% Pinot Meunier from Beaux Sens (also 0.5 hectares) rarely leaves France, but today we have a nice chunk.

Alexandre's main focus is on single vineyard, single vintage, and single varietal wines. - an unusual approach in Champagne that many small growers have now also adopted. 

Alexandre's wines are allocated in very small quantities each year, and there's no winemaker in Champagne I turn to with more regularity when given the chance. I'm always reminded that champagne's ability to express terroir is just as profound as Burgundy. And the ultra-focused work on these single parcels offer the clarity that we all crave.

* An interesting discovery was made during this week's visit: In order to minimize the influence of fruit and maximize the expression of terroir, Alexandre does not top some of the barrels during the colder months. Barres and Beaux Sens (PM) are topped the least, Orizeaux (PN) is topped a little more, and Heurtebise (CH) is fully topped.

Purchase here.

Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte Anne Brut NV
$44 per bottle.
A changing blend of all three main varieties. Vinified in stainless steel.

2012 Chartogne-Taillet Couarres Château Extra Brut Champagne
$95 per bottle.
The most adventurous and unique wine of the estate, this is a blend of 30% Chardonnay, 30% Petit Meslier, 30% Arbanne and 10% Pinot Blanc. The Chardonnay is aged in older barrels, and the other varieties are vinified and aged in stainless steel.

2012 Chartogne-Taillet Orizeaux Extra Brut Champagne
$119 per bottle.

2011 Chartogne-Taillet Orizeaux Extra Brut Champagne
$89 per bottle.
100% Pinot Meunier from 1961-planted vines on sand and limestone over chalky bedrock.

2011 Chartogne-Taillet Beaux Sens Extra Brut Champagne 
$134 per bottle.
100% Pinot Meunier with plantings back to 1957. Un-grafted. Shallow sandy soils over clay and chalky bedrock. Vinified and aged in neutral oak barrels.

2011 Chartogne-Taillet Les Barres Extra Brut Champagne 
$127 per bottle.

2012 Chartogne-Taillet Les Barres Extra Brut Champagne 
$164 per bottle.
100% Pinot Meunier from un-grafted 60-year-old vines. Un-grafted. Deep sandy soils over clay and chalky bedrock. Vinified and aged in neutral oak barrels.

2010 Chartogne-Taillet Lettre de mon Meunier Brut Champagne
$124 per bottle.
100% Pinot Meunier. As Les Barres and Beaux Sens were not produced in 2010 due to severely low yields, this cuvée was chosen instead to incorporate both vineyards. Only produced in 2010. Vinified and aged in neutral oak barrels.

2008 Chartogne-Taillet Brut Millésimé Extra Brut
$179 per bottle.
60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay. All sourced from the Les Couarres vineyard: limestone-clay underneath topsoil of sand. 4 grams/liter dosage. Vinified and aged in neutral oak.

2010 Chartogne-Taillet Fiacre Brut Champagne
$159 per bottle

2006 Chartogne-Taillet Fiacre Brut Champagne
$199 per bottle.
This Tête de Cuvée is no longer producedVinified and aged in neutral oak barrels.
The 2010 vintage is comprised of 
100% Chardonnay from the Chemin de Reims vineyard. 
The 2006 
vintage is comprised of 60% Chardonnay from Chemins de Reims and 40% Pinot Noir from Orizeaux.