Estate-bottled Champagnes, or as Terry Theise calls them, farmer-fizz, are the micro-brews and single malts of the wine world. Unlike the brand-driven Grand Marques which blend various lots sourced from multiple parcels throughout the Champagne region, these are the creation of roughly 2,000 vintners who grow, produce and bottle bubbly themselves from their own tiny patches of hallowed Champagne dirt. Grower Champagnes are artisanal products, hand-crafted in small quantities. Their distinct vinous personalities express the vineyard sites of their origin and the human quirkiness and preferencess of the individuals who pamper them.
An estate-bottled Champagne bears the initials RM for Récoltant-Manipulant in the matriculation number on the label. While not necessarily a guarantee, a grower Champagne with this mark is almost sure to be interesting, even soulful, and worth a try. At the top levels, Grand Cru quality can be purchased for less than half the price level of the big negociant houses and represent extraordinary wine values.
On to the wines . . .
Imported by Terry Theise Estate Selections
August 24, 2000
The ticking of a short-term parking meter limited this tasting experience to quick reactions only. Even so, my take-away impression was that many fantastic wines were offered today. Yes, WINES, not mere insipid bubbles. These fine grower Champagnes seem to be bred to be more interesting and characterful, instead of sacrificing distinction to maintain a house-style. Not as heavily dosed with sweetner, the fine fruit of recent ripe vintages can show to maximum advantage in these fascinating wines.
Cuvée St. Denis, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, $43 Filigreed nose with floral, mineral and lemon curd, dances lightly on the palate, brightly acidic with lots of verve, long greenish finish. VERY GOOD
Brut Premier Cru, $35 Flinty mineral-driven nose, fatter entry, round and full-flavored in the mouth with tinge of red fruit upfront, very ripe and almost chunky, clamps down in modest finish. VERY GOOD
Brut Rosé, $37 Salmon pink, flinty rose petal nose, steely impression, zesty acidity with wash of wild berry flavor, crisp ending. VERY GOOD
1995 La Nombre dOr, Campanae Veteres Vites, $44 Unique flavors from arcane varieties of Arbanne, Petit Meslier and Fromenteau. Intense and piercing nose of sultanas, pear and biscuit, aggressive young acidity lends tang and bodes well for 5 years of improvement in the cellar, concentrated and weighty with exotic fruit, caramel, Earl Grey tea, and mineral extract, very long and linear finish. EXCELLENT
1995 Cuvée Nicolas Francois Aubry, Sable Rosé, $43 Very pale tint of shell pink, oddly briny nose of cerise and mineral, very dry and austere, bracing finish. GOOD
HENRI BILLIOT, Ambonnay:
These were the biggest wines of the tasting, bursting with ripe fruit and toasted brioche. Definitely killer.
Brut Réserve Grand Cru, $38 A big bruiser with a soul-satisfying dose of Pinot Noir. Very rich and robust with toast, strong minerality and powerfully ripe fruit in the nose and palate, weighty and full-bodied with firm acidity, mouth-coating with impression of sweet ripe fruit, long corpulent finish. The Zinfandel of Champagnes. EXCELLENT [tasted three times with consistent notes]
1995 Brut Grand Cru, $53 Even greater dimensions with the volume blasting and shaking the rafters. Intense meatier nose with yeasty complexity, lavish minerality and Pinot depth, punch of fresh acidity, more complex and sophisticated yet muscular and masculine at the same time, blockbuster finish. OUTSTANDING
Cuvée Ste. Anne, $37 Light airy nose, tightly wound in the mouth, rinse of minerals and citrus, tight long finish. Not enough revealed to evaluate. GOOD
Cuvée Fiacre Taillet Brut, $50 One of my favorite discoveries to return to again and again over these last three years, so luscious and polished. Nose of yellow apple, chalky mineral, biscuit and white flowers, impressive depth and intensity with layers of flavor, creamy texture, very long and refined, haunting finish. Will benefit from another year or two in the cellar. OUTSTANDING
1995 Brut, $44 Sweet focused nose with ripe fruit, bread dough and chalk, expansive on the palate with smoky richness and concentrated fruit, turns leaner in finish. VERY GOOD
GASTON CHIQUET, Dizy:
Carte Verte Brut Tradition, $38 Disgorged 05/07/99. Fresh green apple nose, very zesty on the palate with squirt of lemon juice, Granny Smith apple and chalk, light finish with oxalis aftertaste. VERY GOOD
Blanc de Blancs dAÿ Brut, $40 Disgorged 15/02/99. Lively nose with high-toned fruit and floral aromas, open and giving on the palate with firm backbone, very flavorful with vanilla wafers, Meyer lemon, pork rinds and apple pie, buttery aftertaste in long finish. EXCELLENT
1991 Carte dOr Brut, $46 Apple blossom, hay and lemon zest nose, less interesting in the mouth with flattened profile and too low acidity. GOOD
1995 Special Club, $55 Asian pear and chalky nose, racy acid balance with bright fruit, great clarity and verve through long finish. VERY GOOD
Réserve de Millenaire, $56 Deep and broad nose of bread dough, flint, honeycomb and dates, silken entry with creamy mouth feel, forward blast of generous fruit and toast but pulls up a tad short in leaner finish. EXCELLENT
FLEURY PERE ET FILS, Courteron:
The group of wines from this biodynamic grower were the most intensely fruity of the tasting with a juicy, dewy quality that delights but defied description.
Carte Rouge Brut Tradition, $45 Jasmine, chalk, strawberry and pear skin nose, expansive yet very light and well formed on the palate, vividly fruity middle, lingering finish. VERY GOOD
Cuvée Fleur de lEurope Brut, $50 Honeyed nutty tones with floral and buttered toast, very light footprint, delicate finish. VERY GOOD
1993 Brut, $62 Spiced earth and fruity nose, fruit-forward and deep on the palate with grapefruit, jasmine tea, mineral, mushroom, walnuts, lees and butterscotch notes, rotund honeyed finish. Most idiosyncratic. EXCELLENT [tasted twice with consistent notes]
Rosé Brut, $49 Rosy hue with lively tiny bead, exotic nose of gunflint, star jasmine, strawberry and crushed raspberry, seductive whisper of juicy berries and steely minerals, poised and refined character, crisp finish with lasting rosewater aftertaste. 100% 1997 vintage. OUTSTANDING
RENE GEOFFROY, Cumieres:
Cuvée Réservée Brut Premier Cru, $36 - Nutty nose and palate with flint, smoke and lemon zest, woody oxidative style, biting finish. VERY GOOD
Cuvée Sélectionnée Brut Premier Cru, $42 Finer and more elegant/restrained nose with a spicy complexity, more fruit-driven on the palate with apricot, pear, green apple and minerals, turns bold in full long-lasting finish. EXCELLENT
Rosé Brut, $40 Coral pink, closed nose with steely note, gripping entry, austere and cleansing on the palate, firm structure, crisp ending. VERY GOOD
Cuvée Prestige Brut Premier Cru, $48 Bread dough, citrus, mineral, jasmine and honeysuckle in deep meaty nose, explosive and full-blown on entry if somewhat shallow at mid-palate, sharply creased flinty finish. VERY GOOD [tasted twice with consistent notes]
JEAN LALLEMENT ET FILS, Verzenay:
Brut Grand Cru, $38 Vanilla bean and toast mingle in richly fruited nose, leaner in the mouth, low fizz, steely finish. GOOD
Brut Réserve, Grand Cru, $50 Damp woods in toasty nose, broad but not deep, stern personality, clean finish. GOOD
Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru, $37 Plump nose with bread dough, lemon zest and minerals, lightly acidic, aftertaste of freshly mown grass in moderate finish. VERY GOOD
1995 Cramant Vieilles Vignes, Grand Cru, $45 Broader nose with deep carmelly notes and intense minerality, stark acidity, low effervescence, metallic finish. GOOD
1995 Special Club Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru, $52 Without a dose of sugar, one would expect this to be uncomfortably austere and dry, but the density of extract and lees carries the show. Biscuit and honeycomb nose, creamy mousse, aged quality of toast and walnuty richness, voluptuous mid-palate, fat finish. VERY GOOD
A. MARGAINE, Villers-Marmery:
Cuvée Traditionelle Brut Premier Cru - $34 Pretty floral nose, feminine personality, waves of poached pear, fresh fig, mineral and lees in the mouth, very long lacy finish. VERY GOOD
JEAN MILAN, Oger:
After meeting Milans achingly beautiful Blanc de Blancs wines made entirely from white Chardonnay grapes, I have to take back everything horrible Ive said about Chardonnay as a variety. By the way, Milan is now classified as a negociant, as he buys in a small amount of fruit from his neighbors.
Brut Carte Blanche Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, $37 Citrusy high-toned nose with hyacinth and lead pencil, very precise and sleek on the palate forthcoming with pear skin, candied citron, lime zest and gunflint, long-lasting ripe finish. VERY GOOD
Brut Spéciale, Grand Cru, $36 Bread dough dominates cool minerally nose, mouth-filling creaminess, expansive with incisive cut, mature leesiness mingled with spring flowers and chalky minerals, bone dry, rounded finish. VERY GOOD
1995 Brut Sélection Terres de Noël Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, $53 Pale straw hue with delicate bead, white flowers, mineral, Meyer lemon, green apple and pear skin nose, ethereal texture with nervy acidity, classy and sophisticated etchings on the palate with subtle complexity of citrus, Asian pear, freesia, quinine and lemongrass, spritely balance, intense through long persistent finish. OUTSTANDING [tasted twice with consistent notes]
PIERRE PETERS, Le Mesnil:
Cuvée Réservée Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, $38 Tightly wound nose, very vinous in the mouth, high-toned yet penetrating with impressive depth and complexity of yellow apple, chalky mineral, jasmine and lemon curd, firm and vibrant, snappy succulent finish. EXCELLENT [tasted twice with consistent notes]
VILMART & CIE., Rilly-la-Montagne:
While widely praised as the finest of Champagne-growers, a couple spins around the block failed to reveal why.
Cuvée Rubis (rosé), $43 Faint blush, floral and faintly strawberry aromas, aged depth and fullness on the palate, disjointed with funky off-notes, woody finish. GOOD
1993 Cuvée Grande Cellier dOr Premier Cru, $54 Burnt match, green apple, chalky and spinach nose, biting on the palate, moldy and skunky flavors, very ripe fruit, firm crisp finish. Marred by excessive sulfur. [tasted twice with consistent notes]