Sunday, 6 October 2013

Ay " en Argonne" - current Giraud Champagnes

Tasted London, September 2013

Quite a memorable experience, what a card player might call a Royal Flush.

Esprit de Giraud Blanc de Blancs - a rare type of all Chardonnay champagne, the grapes coming exclusively from the Montagne de Reims, including 10% Ay Blanc. Maintains an admirably crispness and aromas of spring flowers but has an added rich smokiness that is very Montagne. As such, it might go with a wider palate of food flavours than the lighter style of the Cote des Blancs. Stainless steel fermented. Terrific quality for an entry level champagne. *** (*)

Hommage à Francois Hemart, Ay Grand Cru NV - pure Ay 70 /30 Chard. NV. Six months in oak barrels gives patina to the wine. Three years sur lie. Roundness, freshness and the key iodic saltiness of a great site. Long. ****  fine quality /price ratio.

Code Noir Blanc de Noirs Ay Grand Cru NV - richness, intensity, exotic touch of pineapple, reined by noble minerality - you feel the dentelles of chalk in its texture. Opens many opportunities to gastronomy - lobster, seafood, scallops maybe with black bean sauce. ****

Code Noir Rose Ay Grand Cru Ay Grand Cru NV- a truly orginal expression of Pinot Noir Rose striking sensation of wild ham, with strawberries left under the sun, & a note of white pepper. A sensuous delight. For risotto with porcini. **** (*)

Fut de Chene, Multi Vintage, Ay Grand Cru NV - this former top-o-the-range cuvee is now a muti-vintage, rather than from a single year. Created in response to consumer demand, this champagne is all about balance and impressively shows the blender's skills: it has an extra freshness and more keenly defined minerality as a counterpoint to the inherent richness of old; if anything, the wood is even better integrated. **** (*)

Henri Giraud Cuvee Argonne, Grand Cru Ay 2002 - replaces the Fut de Chene vintage, now named after the forest of Argonne. Outstanding wine from a great vintage, all burnised gold, tiny bubbles and every component - fruit, chalky salinity, rich vinosity, perfect oak integration -in superb balance.Grand Vin ***** Tasted Ay, February 2013.


Monday, 30 September 2013

Giraud Master of Argonne Oak in London

Until recently, trying to identify the origins of oak in French fine winemaking was a fool's errand since tracing the wood to an exact forest and type had become impossible.The supplying coopers  tended to give vague answers about the provenance of their wood to houses and growers, who had to resort to averaging everything out by using up to five different coopers to arrive at a style of wine that they thought best suited their wine. It was all a bit hit and miss, anything but precise and clear.That began to change in the early 1990s, when Claude Giraud from one of the oldest wine growing families in Ay began the most intellectually rigorous study of Champagne's local forest, the Argonne, south east of Chalons which for three centuries had provided the most suitable, least invasive type of oak to support the delicate flavours of Champagne. Claude was at Lord's Cricket ground last week at Coe Vintners Tasting to reveal the fruits of his research into oak, expressed in a range of champagnes that come  predominantly from Ay, the silkiest of Grand Cru Pinots; and certainly all his wines are born on the Montagne - unique for a producer who straddles the world of merchant and grower with effortless ease.

Claude Giraud of Hemart-Giraud

Claude began the seminar with some essential background. He told us that with the dramatic expansion of the Champagne market post World War 2, by the 1950s the Champenois were faced with the  Industrial/Agricultural option. As they had become rich,with the thought of becoming richer still, it is no surprise they chose the industrial path based on volume and ambitious distribution. The oak forest of the Argonne was abandoned and stainless steel fermenters were installed to bring a simpler type of Champagne, which was easier to make for mass markets with fewer challenges and risks. Yet from the late '80s, a stalwart band of smaller producers ( led by the pioneering example of Bruno Paillard in 1981) returned to the precepts of their fathers, seeking to  express the true nature of chalky Champagne - fresh, pure, mentholated, mineral and dry, set for a long distinguished life. At first, several growers were wary of returning to oak for fear of distorting the purity of their wines.

Claude had other ideas. Because of  his heritage, he knew that the poor soil of the Argonne was the perfect place for the subtlest oak to enrich his grands vins d'Ay - if only he could identify and authenticate the forest of this ideal wood. Thanks to Claude's 20-year friendship with Camille Gauthier, a 'meraindier' (tree cutter), the last link in the puzzle has been solved. So Maison Giraud now choose all their own oak from trees that are 150 year old, 100 per cent  Argonne authenticated, the only houses in Champagne that can make this claim. Claude signs off in his laconic humorous style: ' Since 1990, there's been no racking. If you touch the wine, you lose its sense. We're not bio or extremist, we just use sustainable methods to make the best wine. Steel tanks are inert, the cask is alive, giving texture, tension , durabilty.' Another way of saying great Champagne. The sweetest irony is the two entry- level cuvees made in stainless steel, Esprit de Giraud, white and pink, are still of the highest quality at their price point.

That's a long enough post for one day...for a full report on the current Giraud range,  the next postfollows in a few days.

Friday, 6 September 2013

A fresh look to Bordeaux at the Westbury

Last night was one of the most enjoyable evenings I've had in a while, taking my mind off a sore knee inflicted by my falling on the stairs in the middle of the night after a blameless alcohol-free supper. Louise Hill organized a wine dinner for 12 in a delightful svelte room off Alyn Williams' splendid restaurant at the Westbury. So good to see professional wine friends, Hugh Johnson, Charles Metcalfe, Neal Martin, Patrick Schmitt and Tom, the Cambridge wine blogger. Louise the one delightful female company and her husband, Neil the wine tipster, always good value.We had come to hear three growers from Fronsac, Graves and Margaux give eloquent proof of Innovation & Change in Bordeaux. We kicked off with an impressive aperitif, Chateau Couhans, Pessac- Leognan blanc 201, presented by Romain Baillou. Although it was pure Sauvignon, it wasn't the grape's usual descriptors that struck some of us, but as Hugh said, a genuine sense especially of the clay and limestone terroir from which it sprang, in the best part of Pessac-Leognan for whites between Chx Carbonnieux and Bouscaut. The dramatic improvement in this wine apparently owes a lot to an infra -red technology that analyses the soil, applies ripeness tests and determines homogeneous areas. Geeky, I know, but it works.

Then, a relaxing interlude, as chef Alyn Williams, ex chief sidesman to Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, told us about the elegant dinner to come. The lightest veloute of butternut squash/ new forest mushrooms in that morning, with aged parmesan; braised beef  cheek/ gentle garlic scapes/beets/ mild home-made horseradish sauce; vanilla creme brulee, the classic sans extraneous flavourings. Mouthwatering, eh, and later passing the plate test with flying colours, happy to play second fiddle to the wines, just enhancing them.

Guillaume Halley, the young scion of Chateau de la Dauphine in Fronsac took the stage and spoke of two big changes at his beautiful property. His sizeable hectares are all being converted to organic viticulture; and he has changed wine consultants from Denis Dubourdieu to Michel Rolland. To be honest I winced slightly, as I'm a great admirer of Denis and a more reserved one of Michel. But my scepticism was confounded when I gazed at and tasted the baby 2012 Dauphine, largely Merlot -lovely deep colour and enticing, not too extracted ripe fruit - the Rolland influence. The 2009 looked a little in on itself, with a less youthful hue than the excellent 2001, a classic and his father's first vintage after he bought the property in 2000.

Chateau de la Dauphine & pond

And so to Chateau Marquis de Terme, Margaux classified growth, a nostalgic memory of more than 40 years ago when I was a squirt stagier in the Medoc. Lunching frugally but decently at the cobwebby restaurant L'Etoile - 8 Francs all in, vin ordinaire inclus -  I used to dream of being rich enough to drink the Marquis regularly. It always had fabulous terroir in the centre of the Margaux-Cantenac sector, but it's rarely been that fashionable. Now it has a fine protector in Ludovic David, general manager and winemaker. The 2011 is a quiet little beauty from as yet an unsung vintage. Structure, elegance, admirable Margolais expression of Cabernet Sauvignon. Ludovic's innovations include a 10 % use of the now famous 'egg' vat made of concrete, less oxidative than full oak, in order to preserve the fruit, as it ages. The curvaceous shape of the egg allows for a better interchange of wine and lees. Another tool from the box of tricks is a whizz which measures the polyphenols that will contribute much to the complexity of the wines - that's as far as one old  taster understands it. Ask Neal Martin or Chris Kissack! The 2005 Marquis is a great sleeper that needs more time. I can see why Tom loved the 1990, but we had perhaps a different bottle at our end of the table - in our glasses, the wine seemed a bit torn and drying out.

Altogether a lovely evening, though, restoring one's faith in the greatest wine region on earth.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Flights of Franciacorta (2) _ Enrico Gatti

Erbusco vineyards

This azienda is close to my heart, a proper wine farm, the enterprise akin to a good-sized recoltant-manipulant in, say, Champagne's Cote des Blancs, with 17 hectares of prime vineyards above Erbusco, producing 150,000 bottles annually of Franciacorta DOCG across five cuvees. Founded in 1977 by Enrico, the wines are now made by his son, Lorenzo in a style that is serieux, without compromise - for those who want durably structured Franciacortas which will age well in a unhurried way. Low in dosage (5 g/l or less), firm but not too big, with a strong mineral presence & sense of place. English speaking journalists often scurry around to describe the Italianate character of Franciacorta. Personally, I think the more interesting reality is how closely the Franciacortese study the best Champenois and impose even stricter criteria on themselves in the search for balance and poise in their inherently richer wines. Jean-Claude Rouzaud of Louis Roederer's famous adage about 'Champagne's restrained exuberance' finds an echo in Gatti's Franciacortas, a different opulent expression, of course, but from the same philosophical base. Lorenzo at first spoke about his wines in workaday English, but he soon got frustrated and asked if we spoke French. So, we  chatted away happily, comparing notes about our shared favourites among growers in Le Mesnil, Cramant & Avize (Peters, Vergnon, Lilbert, Agrapart). Lorenzo is very well informed

Three winners, tasted Erbusco 10 July 2013

Enrico Gatti Franciacorta Brut Rose. Pure Pinot Nero/Noir from 2010. Made the hard way, the fine roseate colour with subtle salmon lights, achieved by skin contact, is most skilfully judged. Fresh and fragrant, medium intense mouthfeel, beautifully dry, lots of little red fruits but withal precise, well defined, enhanced by that mineral streak and elegant acidity. Made for food, especially risotto con porcini to please the Pinot Nero. Franco Ziliani gave this wine four and a half stars, maybe from a different vintage. How right he must have been.  Today **** (*)  18. Exceptional

Enrico Gatti Franciacorta Saten 2007. 100% Chardonnay, fermented in French oak futs. The wine is now opening up beautifully, the effects of gentle oxygenation from its time in wood. Excellent,straight, super-dry, steely elegance, a touch of austerity in the best sense. Dosage just 4.5g/l. **** 17.5

Enrico Gatti Franciacorta Millesimata 2007 at the start of its journey to full maturity. " You do need patience with my wines," sighs Lorenzo. Great wells of fruits which will blossom in complexity over quite a few years. Great potential Dosage 4g/l, doesn't need more. **** (*) 18

Azienda agricola Enrico Gatti
(Lorenzo Gatti)
Via Metelli 9
25030 Erbusco (Brescia)
Tel 030 7267999


Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Flights of Franciacorta (i) - Il Mosnel

 An hour's drive or so from Milan, on the south shores of Lombardy's Lake Iseo, Franciacorta has been on the radar of oenophiles internationally since just the late 1960s. Then, the important house of Guido Berlucchi decided to concentrate on sparkling wines. It was a far-sighted move, for in the half century since, with wealthy Milanese pouring money into new or revitalized wineries, this compact region has established itself as the home of Italy's finest spumante, no expense spared, to vie with great Champagne at much the same full prices. Warmer than the Marne, with fewer problems of ripeness, Franciacorta is withal a fairly temperate sub-alpine climate, Lake Iseo being on average one or two degrees Celcius cooler than Lake Garda to the east. The main quality challenge tho' is to temper the natural richness and assertive character of mainstay Chardonnay in the blends by tending higher altitude vineyards close to the lake and staying loyal to floral, delicate Pinot Bianco/Blanc in the grape mix. Some of the most glamorous wineries (notably Bellavista) now feel they don't need PB  anymore - I suspect what they really mean is that it's a tricky grape to grow, thin-skinned and prone to rot in humid summers. For me, still the greatest of Franciacortas, Ca'del Bosco, doesn't make this mistake: as its presiding creator Maurizio Zanella insists, "an element of  Pinot Blanc is essential to maintain the finesse of the wines." Music to my ears when bigness is too much the order of the day, as much in Lombardy as in Champagne. Another estate which clings to the old virtues of elegance and restraint is the historic house of Il Mosnel,  still family run by a brother and sister,Giulio & Lucia,children of the matriarch Emanuella Barzano Barboglio who died in 2007.

Giulio & Lucia Barzano
Vyds below Franciacorta's Morainic hills
Il Mosnel has been a wine estate in Franciacorta since the Renaissance, reflected in its 16th century cellars and a captivating clos now planted in Pinot Nero/Noir, framed by beautifully tended roses - if you think the wine experience should be all about emotion, this is the spot to rekindle your feelings. For the historian, the original name Franzacurta, first recorded in 13th century documents probably referred to exemption from commercial taxes - in the Latin,franca curtes- which was a privilege of local villages under the protection of influential clergy. Il Mosnel has been in the Borzano family since 1836, and it was Emmanuella who carefully guided the winemaking for 40 years since 1967 Today, there are 40 hectares in production, two of which are reserved for still wine making. The estate is a model of high density planting and restricted yields: the vineyards are in the third year of conversion to organic viticulture. Guilio, the winemaker, ferments the wines in a mix of stainless steel and barrels. Dosage is about 7 g/l, though as at other leading Franciacorta estates he makes an excellent pas dose (Brut Zero), which I think is generally more successful in this clement place than in Champagne.

Three strong recommendations:

The entry level Il Mosnel Brut NV - 60 Chard., 30 Pinot B., 10 Pinot N. 30% fermented in barriques, 24 months on lees, Dosage 7g/l (October 2012) Subtle pale yellow, green lights; captivating white flower aromas; lovely soft-textured mousse caresses the tongue; yet the wine has energy, freshness, mineral drive, length. Brilliant with local Grana Pardana Lombard cheese and better still with Lucia's Casoncelli tortellini with vegetables,oil and herbs. Impressive ***(*) 16.5+

Il Mosnel Saten - 100 percent Chardonnay from the 2009 vintage. The category where the great white grape shines, certainly here. Less pressure, akin to the old cremant style of Champagne. A feminine wine, for once the right word. All silk and satin, fine-drawn, creamy; subtle persistence of flavour makes for a fine finale. A grand aperitif, par excellence/  **** 17

Il Mosnel Riserva 2007  - 40 Chard, 40 Pinot Blanc, 20 Pinot N Welsh gold, a real sheen; at this stage of maturity a captivating note of strawberry; but this is more fine wine than spumante\;,elegant, aromatic, supple, made more complex by good phenolic maturity. No green edges  The bees' knees. Exceptional. **** 18

Saturday, 27 April 2013

Great forest for great Champagne - L'Argonne reborn

The great oak of the Argonne Forest, south east of Chalons-sur-Marne lies on the first real hills down from northerly Epernay, an hour drive's away. Since the time of the Giraud ancestors and Dom Perignon, Argonne has been the cradle in which great Champagne is made and aged . The silex soils of the forest gives to the oak a more delicate and subtle texture than that of the Troncais forest in central France. At the beginning of the 20th century there were as many as 180 coopers in Florent en Argonne. But by 1950 the expansion of Champagne internationally brought a more industrial attitude; steel and stainless steel were preferred and the Champenois forgot their forest for half a century

History often turns full circle and there's now a return to oak use in winemaking.. Claude Giraud, pioneer of reborn Argonne oak in Champagne says, " I want to make a call to growers and to bigger brands to use our great local oak. The Argonne Forest needs us today, as we need it. In partnership with the National Forest Office, we are planting its oak now as a symbol of  our patrimony and its historic excellence."

Monday, 15 April 2013

KRUG A TABLE - faites simple

Rue Coquebert  is one of the more famous addresses in Reims, not for its quiet bourgeois architecture but because it is the home of Krug. One's expectations of this ne plus ultra Champagne house have always been high since first coming coming here in the early 1990s. Yet on our first evening, last tuesday, the house excelled in a walk through liquid history, as a quintet of their most famous old vintages in magnums. For a detailed account of a wonderful tasting, I'm keeping that for a more permanent place in a wine journal. But I can say now that the 1969 Krug Collection, which I had not tasted before, is maybe one of the five greatest champagnes of my drinking life, right up there with Veuve Clicquot 1952/1962 and both Henriot Les Enchanteleurs & Roederer Cristal, in 1988.The '69 Krug had effortlessly controlled autolytic aromas- the come hither smells of the baker's shop - then a faultless opulent, elegant mouthfeel, at once rich, vinous, energetic, endlessly complex, and so  fresh & long at 44 years of age. 20/20

Joseph Krug the founder would have loved this

Factually, my focus today is the informal dinner we had afterwards in the family  house, over or rather next to the shop, looking out onto the lawn, which the beloved, late-departed Henri Krug  kept so immaculately that he could have been an Englishman. As favoured hacks, we're lucky to be able to taste great wines quite often, but I have sometimes thought that the more famous the appellation, the less trouble is taken with the food , especially in sustaining morcels. Not so at Krug, as we sat down to a fine meal, the more impresssive for its simplicity, the quality of the ingredients and the creative touch of Bertrand Grebeau, the young hot chef, protogee of Alain Passard of trois etoiles L'Arpege, now at Septime ( Paris 11eme): Bertrand is in the vanguard of the new bistro-gastronomy wave that is attracting bon vivants wanting to eat as well as always, without burning a hoel in their pocket book.

The theme of the evening was four expressions of Krug Grande Cuvee, the base wines of each blend of different ages: the current 2004, then 2001 (Savoir-Faire). 2002 (Equilibre), 2000 (Richesse). Each blend was matched with a dish.

Line-caught mackerel, citrus fruits & little balls of Macoona almond was a natural pair with the 04 base: the wine a pale vigorous gold, its racy flavours (Chardonnay very present) a fine foil to the strongish mackerel; and, delightful surprise, no way was this GC fazed by the citrus fruits, which can sometimes be assassins of great champagne. xx(x)

White asparagus, button mushrooms & slightly smoked fromage frais. A skilful assembly of flavours, the white asparagus topped with a gratinee; delicious subtly smoked fromage frais a spot-on combo with the 01 base: A more vivid gold, ageing nicely, fine vinosity. A point, 2001 a fragile year but something of a coup at Krug. xxx

Poulette de Patis, roasted vegetables & Cantal Entre-deux AOC.
An exciting dish of beautiful simplicity served with a great Grande Cuvee (base 02 Equilibre). Tender young hen chicken from Le Patis, near Le Mans, pure accompaniments of roasted vegetables, in a light glaze -the carrot esp bursting with flavours. This has the stamp of the great Alain Passard all over it, with the extra Gerbeau touche of lightly melted morsels of Cantal cheese. The GC with a lot of the great 02 in it was perfectly balanced - rich, creamy, upright. elegant, long and satisfying. Grand Vin.Merite le detour, as they say. xxxx

Belched apple, raw cream & salted butter caramel
On its own, a fine dessert and so good for my marginal diabetes! But let's be honest, its sucrosity rather overwhelmed the Grande Cuvee (Richesse, base 2000), which for all its ripeness got lost. I could have done with a small glass of Bonnezeaux or Quarts de Chaume. x

Yet a great convivial evening, and fascinating to see how each harvest has an appreciable influence on Grande Cuvee, in successive releases. A thoroughly healthly exercise - for a professional audience.

Friday, 15 March 2013

Lunch with a difference in Borough Market...

From the first days of January, mid-winter 2013 has been long and cheerless, made harder by the loss of old wine friends - Frank Prial, John  Radford, and mostly recently the beloved Henri Krug, a mentor to me in the early1990s. So I am doubly grateful for an interlude, an epicurean experience that was quite unexpected. Out of the blue, a week ago I was asked to Sunday lunch by Francis and Bronwen Percival at their flat over the Neal Street Dairy, where Bronwen is the authoritative cheese buyer. I've admired Francis as a food writer for some time, his column in Fine Wine giving me something to think about and always penned with wit, erudition and passion. One knew the couple were fine cooks, but boy was I blown away by the lunch and its theme - cheese, cuisine and wines (especially) from Europe vis-a-vis California. Its conception reflected the couple's merged background and studies: Francis, after Cambridge working at the cutting edge of the British culinary revival; Bronwen, the daughter of a Californian musicologist, going to college at Wellesley near Boston, where she studied biochemistry, so she would later have a head start when thinking about starting yeasts for cheese-making.

The lunch which went on until dusk was actually no grande bouffe but an exhilarating mix of the cerebral and the sensuous. As we gathered for aperitifs, two beautiful Neal's Yard cheeses were offered, with the best match there is, aged vintage champagne. The Innes Log was a subtle blue-vein, incisive and crisp, but the Duckett's Caerphilly was magnificent, making me proud that I have some Celtic blood (Cornish, on my mother's side)

with Pascal Doquet (right) in Le Mesnil

 With these, two cracking growers' champagnes in 2002. Pascal Doquet's Mesnil was just plain delicious, with a purity of ripe peach and apple fruitiness typical of the lower slopes of the village. Eric Rodez's Ambonnay was something else, an exceptional expression of (mainly) great Pinot Noir, which when it hits the spot in a perfect terroir and vintage has no peer for flavour and complexity. Ravioli of boudin noir and Kirkham's Lancashire in a sleek wine-blessed sauce was the best pasta I've tasted for months, the flavour contrasts of wines from the Santa Cruz mountains and those of the Jura so marked and fascinating. The hedonism and patisserie -like aromas of Ridge's Montebello Chardonnay 2004 added to its rich vein of sunny Santa Cruz fruit made a riveting comparison with Benedict & Stephane Tissier Arbois Chardonnay 'Les Graviers' 2010, the tenacity of the rugged stony Jurassien terroir making its presence felt in every corner of the wine.

The centrepiece of lunch was the seven-hour slow roasted shoulder of lamb, easing from the bone with a gentle touch of a spoon and so succulent, served with gratin dauphinois. The two wines were very different. The Montus Madiran, 'La Tyre' 2000 from south west France was an imposing rich  mouthful, a little international in style for my taste and Cathy Corison's lovely Napa Cabernet Sauvignon1998, so open, friendly and elegant that it quite won my heart. I think this is enough for  the natural length of a post. More, another day, about the dessert wine from Kracher, with pudding.  A big thank you, Bronwen & Francis.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Pascal Agrapart comes to London

A week ago, Pascal Agrapart, probably the most incisive winemaker in Avize, was in town to show his repertoire of mainly grand cru chardonnay cuvees back to 2002. The venue was the bruit dans le couloir, the much acclaimed Quality Chop House in the Farrington road fringes of the City, handy for Sadler's Wells. Nine champagnes were shown, the perfect number for serious appraisal by  Grands Fromages like say the Rouzauds & Billecarts or for toiling foot soldiers in the trenches, e.g your correspondent. Pascal has always been quite Burgundian in his respect for his privileged soils esp in Avize and Cramant but very Champenois in his winemaking: precise and supremely adaptive in his  use of oak or tank, depending of the weight and character of individual wines and differently styled vintages. The 'malo' is always conducted at Agrapart, but it is a measure of Pascal's flair that perhaps the greatest wine on the day was a 2005, a  difficult, largely too warm vintage prone to oxidation. Not 'Mineral' 05, which kept its driving mineral focus quite intact. Bravo.

Here is the race card of six front runners, using stars and the WOFW score scale out of 20 points.If the numbers and the words don't match, follow the words!

Les '7 Crus' NV Brut (90/10 Chard/PN , the first time Pascal has used a little Premier Cru PN Avenas (up from Mareuil sur Ay) in his blend. Initial elevage 25% in oak. 30 months aging under crown cap. Dosage 7g/l.)  Very healthy and vibrant pale yellow, the vigour of seemingly 08 Chardonnay  tempered by the gras Pinot ripeness in 09. Smart.   *** 16 now

'Terroirs' Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut ( 2007 + 2008. grands crus of Avize, Cramant, Oger & Oiry. Initial elevage  25% in oak. 42 months aging under crown cap. Dosage 5g/l). Bright yellow, maturing hint of gold, dynamic quite punchy bubbles. Lively and energetic mouthfeel, still wound and tight, un peu serree but very promising. Drink at Christmas 2013. ***(*) 16.5

'Mineral' Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2005 Extra Brut (50:50 Avize & Cramant. Initial elevage 50% in oak. 6 yrs bottle aging under crown cap. Dosage 4g/l) Something of a miracle in testing conditions. Perfectly judged ripeness & acidity, pervaded with wonderful mineral flavours, the brisk impact of the chalk. Nothing overdone or out of balance. long and fine. Brilliant winemaking. Grand Vin ***** 18.5

L'Aviseoise Grand Cru Blanc de Blance 2005 Extra Brut (100% grand cru Avize. Initial elevage 100% in oak. 6 years bottle aging under clamped cork). Hedonism in the glass from first sip to last swallow. Richness, gras, heralded by the golden senses the beneficial, enhancing complexity of oxygenating oak. I do like the wine very much, but for the moment 'Mineral' seems finer- or rather it is to my taste. Re-taste in a years time **** 17.5

'Venus' Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2005 (100 % Avize. Initial elevage  100 % in oak; 6yrs bottle age under clamped cork). Golden dramatic hue - but the decision to make it without dosage in this hot harvest seems spot-on. It has all the elegance and depth of Avize yet is crystalline, incisive, very Pascal. But at the end of the day it's still the Mineral 05 that sings to me. And it's thirty pounds cheaper. One mustn't quibble though.**** 18

'Mineral, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2002 Extra Brut (50:50 Avize & Cramant, Initial elevage  50% in oak. 6 years bottle age under crown cap. Dosage 4 g/l) Very rich style just this side of a little corpulence, not yet sure where it's going but still remarkable now. **** 17

ends mfe 5.iii.2013