The Adventure Continues: Champagne
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The Adventure Continues: Champagne

Following a recent forage through the Palatinate, in southern Germany (see my last four posts), my brother and I drove to Paris via Champagne for two-days, before heading onto the southern Rhone for a two-week family vacation. Stay tuned for notes on ’10 Chateauneufs!

In Champagne we tasted some wines from small growers, becoming ever more prominent in the region since the deregulation of grape prices in 1989/90; juxtaposed against an enlightening tasting at Krug. Krug is (almost)  always a magnificent wine, founded on patience; built on large reserves of base wines; and crafted by meticulous attention to detail, not to mention the largesse of MH and its capital.

This being said, our much anticipated visit to Tarlant was not diminished by Krug’s mantle but instead, showed a solid set of wines, some outstanding indeed. While the house has been criticized by some for its championing of non and/or very low dosed styles, the wines are assiduously constructed and balance, at least in my view, is attained through quality ripe raw material and long lees aging. This, after all, is the only way to counteract the severity of acidity, bubbles and mineral force inherent to such a cold climatic expression of wine, without the addition of sugar prior to bottling.

The author at work: Krug

Didier Hubert

Brut Premier Cru: generic; quite coarse; substantial Meunier in this cuvee 83

Mailly Grand Cru: (35% Chardonnay / 65% Pinot): creamy and structured. 24 months on lees 91

Extra Brut: tight and a bit ungenerous with only 24 months on lees to counterbalance chalky minerality and brittle acidity. That is why one ‘doses’! Needs more time 85

Cuvee Platinum: 65% Chardonnay-all Grand Cru sourced fruit; with a nice creamy mid-palate (malolactic) and a build of firm acidity. A bit coarse, however 88

2005 Herbert Private: MLF blocked, 9 months aged in oak; fermented in oak. Powerful wine with some finesse although oak stands out a little too much 89

Krug

Clos de Mesnil ’98: based in the heart of the Cote de Blanc. More exotic style noted by the Krug family when fermenting separate parcels, thus decided to make single cru-wine (five micro-parcels within, each of different age), as of 1971 when bought. Fine year for Chardonnay.

Ginger, turmeric, cumin and exotic tangy spice. Big nose redolent of abundant yellow fruits. Mouth-filling and powerful, yet while the oak lays low, the wine is incredibly vinous suggesting richness from oak. Lots of lees, mass and power, with the flamboyance of ’98 very suited to the exotic aromas and Chardonnay inherent to Clos de Mesnil and its swagger 97

1998 Vintage: Fine year for Chardonnay so exceptionally, Chardonnay dominant (as with ’91)

Softer, less exotic than Clos de Mesnil, with apple/quince/pear aromas and ginger on the finish. Loose and flamboyant in the style of the vintage, without the confident strut of Clos de Mesnil 92

Grande Cuvee: the richest wine with more structure-accentuating the essence of Krug and the depth of its reserve wines which, for obvious reasons, are not in the vintage wines. Toast, ginger, marmalade and plenty of sinew and muscle, driving the wine long down the throat 95

Tarlant

House style: barrel fermented, NO MLF and no added yeast. No dosage for ‘zero’ cuvees. Low (2-3 g/L) dosages for others. Pick late. Small stocks of reserve wines here due to small nature of house; only use own grapes; no vin sur lattes and do NOT sell grapes; unlike most recoltant-manipulant who usually split sales to third-parties and then make some for themselves. Chaptalizes when need be up by 1-1.5%.

Zero (no dosage and signature style): currently based on 06/07 with just over two-years on lees. Barrel ageing and ferment seem to augment no dosage styles by giving textural breadth and softness if handled well. As importantly, Tarlant’s style is hinged on picking relatively late to an ‘ideal’ ripeness level, necessary to smooth over the spindly mineral and searing acidity of Champagne 88

Rose Zero: Benoit Tarlant wisely avoids skin contact for non-dosed styles due to the risk of making a wine that is excessively bony (all acid and phenolics, but no balancing sweetness). Therefore blends Pinot majority with some Chardonnay. Coarse and short 87

Cuvee Louis: from a single vineyard called les Crayons, low lying thus refraction and absorbtion of light from river reflecting sunlight; assisting the ripening process. The wine spends a whooping 12 years on lees and is currently based on the ’93 and ’96 vintages, a nice parry of styles! ‘A paradox between freshness and maturity’ (Benoit Tarlan). Lovely creamy biscuity mouth-filling richness. Long, detailed and very, very impressive. 50:50 Pinot Noir and Chardonnay ALWAYS to respect planting percentages in vineyard. If one grape dominates the other Benoit does NOT make it 94

Champagne ‘WW’ 2003 (unreleased yet): 100% Pinot Noir with bottle opened before disgorgement, especially for us. Richly coloured. Bready, red fruited and powerful. Not yet dosed and in my opinion (due to nature of vintage), it doesn’t need any more sugar. Dry yet distinctly sculptuesque and corpulent, yet far from flaccid. Reminded me of a white Hermitage with bubbles! Superb example of how to handle the less-than-typical nature of 2003. A disaster for most, but finely tuned by others 92

la Vigne d’Antan 2000: from ungrafted Chardonnay. Lots of vinosity due to ungrafted 60 year old vines and 9 years on lees and yet NO new oak in the ageing regime. Powerful in a Krug-like architected style, yet not at all cumbersome in its weight/power. Real class and driving, penetrative length. My favourite wine in the stable and indeed, the wine I voted the finest Blanc de Blanc among 150 or so during a recent Tokyo tasting of many top names 96

la Vigne d’Or ’02: 100% Pinot Meunier. Fruity red fruited tang; grapefruit bitterness moving into almond. Round and creamy without penetrative length of other varieties 89