Friday, 23 September 2011

Blue skies return (27 August) - en plein vendange at Franck Bonville

early morning in AY - 27 august

My first day of the '011 harvest in Champagne (26/08) had been a wash-out - a  damp memory quickly erased by that fabulous re-union with Jacquesson's three lieux-dits in 2002: this glorious year must be one of the greats since 1945, creating ideal conditions for the sort  of ne plus ultra champagne which says - don't push me, ease yourself into my heart and I will show you everything in my own good time. The next morning, saturday, I rose in high spirits to greet the sun in an early stroll through Ay, then  later a taxi to Avize for a harvest lunch with Olivier Bonville, who, thanks to the energy and flair of his father Gilles before him, has nearly 20 - yes, twenty  -hectares of exclusively grand cru sites in Avize and Oger. Unlike some fine smaller producers who suspended picking over the weekend, to gain (successfully) an extra degree of maturity the following week, Olivier continued to harvest right through. "Acidity is beginning to drop, and I want to keep as much freshness as I can in these see-saw conditions of driving heat, humidity and squally showers."  His is a subtle, pure and mineral style that gives free expression to his supremely privileged sites - they have little or no need of wood to show their class and elan. And the advantages of their size and extent, plus the saving on costs of  not having to buy expensive barrels, result in great complexities at keen prices for champagnes of this rare quality.

Olivier, le patron leads by example
The chardonnay grapes looked in fine nick, as they came in, with little sign of rot despite the buffeting of the weather in previous days. I am tho' very happy to say that the sun really put his hat on sunday and shone for a week to make potentially great chardonnays that may yet be as good as 1995. As a little foretaster of this, Olivier, gentleman that he is, opened bottles of his great 100- year -old -vine BellesVoyes, Oger, 2007 as a rather special aperitif for his key working colleagues, the guys at the press, the fork lift driver, and one pretty vendangeuse, who seemed to have come from Paris's Sciences Po specially  to taste this nectar. Clever girl.

man with a thirst

Postscript for champagne geeks: PIED DE CUVE. this micro-technique or  literally the foot of the vat is used at Bonville and many other enlightened growers. First mini-vinfications of grapes from all parts of the vineyard are asssembled every three days during the harvest. Then 10 % of the accumulating mix is added to each major cuvee to encourage the malolactic fermentation that civilizes the wine and makes it more complex. 

harbinger of the 'malo'

Friday, 9 September 2011

Grands Vins at Jacquesson - Protestant and Catholic!

les grandes foudres de fermentation
Upstairs from the cellars in the comfortably dry study we had a remarkable tasting of the innovative Jacquesson 730 series in which the aim is to express the best of the most recent vintage rather than replicate the non-vintage style of the grandes maisons, where consistency is supposedly paramount. These were followed by a tasting of Jacquesson's four lieux-dit single-vineyard champagnes in the great 2002 vintage.

Tasted 11.15 am 26 August 2011

Cuvee 734 (2006 base) - Pale elegant limpid straw with ripe golden lights. Lovely supple richness reflecting the warm summer; lifted by fine acidity, mais pas trop. Now that I'm drawing my bus pass, my tolerance of malic acid is low, so I love this wine - as I'm sure will many consumers **** 17.5

Cuvee 735 ( 2007 base) - youthful, resonating yellow-gold, a little more reductive and less expressive than the 734,  but with more structure. Linear and energetic, no surprise it's very much a sommelier's wine - the young guys were very enthusiastic. '07 a better year for Chardonnay than for Pinot Noir. A wine for crustaceans, moules, oysters and roast halibut, beurre blanc *** (*) 17

NB plans are afoot to bottle late-disgorged wines in this series after eight years sur lie

Corne Bautray 2002  -  Pure Chardonnay, from a high site in Dizy, lying over hard burrstone pebbles rather than the Belimnite chalk found on the Cote des Blancs. Evolving, elegant yellow gold. No dosage. Real core and structure, with a rather splendid austerity acting as as a white puritan collar worn over a durably built body.  Or as Thierry Desseuve hilariously labelled it - HSP: Haute Societe Protestante! a wine of great rectitude and gravitas. **** 18

Champ Cain, Grand Cru Avize 2002  - from the classic chalky lieu-dit of Avize's Les Fosses
 a great Chardonnay so very different from Corne Bautray - this has all the lace-like delicacy of a priestly surplice. Lovely Welsh gold hue, tint of green; finest bubbles; a superb minerality and freshness. A true beauty that has lost the puppy fat of youth, it shows a captivating medley of white flowers allied to terrific poise, richness, length and complexity in perfect measure . For cardinals and popes in their private moments. *****19

Vauzelle Terme, Grand Cru Ay 2002 Lovely limpid positive yellow of great Pinot Noir vinified as Champagne. Suffused with the gorgeous scents and flavours of peches des vignes. a perfect balancing acidity, gentle and integrated. fine to drink now but will last for many years. Pity there's so little of it. **** 18.5

J-H Chiquet, most eloquent of wine communicators