Saturday, January 26, 2008

The Single-Vineyard Wines of Champagne Jacquesson

A longtime wish of mine was fulfilled this week on a visit to Champagne Jacquesson, when I finally tasted the Vauzelle Terme, a champagne made exclusively from a steep and tiny pinot noir vineyard of the same name in the village of Aÿ. Jacquesson first produced this as a separate wine with the 1996 vintage, but it was so scarce and so highly sought-after that I never even got the chance to see a bottle. The next vintage of Vauzelle Terme is 2002, which won’t be released until 2010.

If you haven’t been following the house of Jacquesson lately, they are in the midst of a drastic restructuring to their portfolio that began in 2000, when they discontinued the Perfection non-vintage brut in favor of a numbered, highly vintage-specific cuvée. The first, Cuvée 728, was based on the 2000 harvest, while the current release, Cuvée 731, is based on 2003. The Perfection vintage brut had already been discontinued in 1989; Jacquesson continues to produce a vintage wine now (currently 1996), which takes the place of the Signature prestige cuvée.

Most strikingly, however, Jacquesson is now producing three single-vineyard, vintage-dated champagnes: Dizy Corne Bautray, Avize Champ Caïn and Aÿ Vauzelle Terme. The first vintage of Corne Bautray, a pure chardonnay from a vineyard on the high slope between Dizy and Aÿ (and just up the hill from my house, incidentally), was 1995, and there was another made in 2000, which is currently available in the market (and it’s superb). The first Champ Caïn, a chardonnay from a chalky vineyard in Avize on the border with Oiry, will be the 2002 – Jacquesson already had an Avize bottling prior to this, but it was a blend of three parcels: Champ Caïn, Némery and La Fosse. In the outstanding 2002 vintage, Jacquesson produced all three wines together for the first time, and since Champagne Time moves very, very slowly, we won’t be able to see the true picture of the new range until these wines are released in 2010.

On my visit this week, Jean-Hervé Chiquet generously opened the three 2002s for me to taste, along with the 2000 Corne Bautray and the 2003 Terres Rouges, a single-vineyard, saignée rosé from Dizy. The 2000 is in current release, as I said, but the others were all disgorged the day before and thus presented without any dosage – the final dosage (if there is any) won’t be determined until the wines are released, of course, and will certainly be either extra brut or non-dosé. As a sneak preview, here are some brief notes, keeping in mind that the 2002s are still very adolescent and have another two years of lees aging to go.

Dizy Terres Rouges 2003
The first Terres Rouges, the 2002, was 100% meunier; the 2003 is 83% meunier and 17% pinot noir. This bottle is of course non-dosé, having been just disgorged, but it will be dosed at 3 g./l. when it is released in September 2008. Deep in color, this shows bold flavors of strawberry and red cherry, backed by notes of licorice and damp earth. It’s ripe and full in flavor yet doesn’t feel weighty, maintaining a graceful balance.

Dizy Corne Bautray 2000
This was disgorged in the spring of 2006 and released without any dosage. It’s full of resiny, stone-fruit flavors, yet the most striking element of this wine is its goût de terroir, earthy rather than stony, with a rich, sappy depth from the 40-year old vines.

Dizy Corne Bautray 2002
Where the 2000 is dark and deep, the 2002 is lilting and aérien, with a finer and more elegant texture, typical of the vintage. It already shows a complex array of exotic fruit, backed by the same earthy sense of soil. It would be wonderful to taste this alongside Gaston Chiquet’s Blanc de Blancs d’Aÿ, which is grown not too far away.

Avize Champ Caïn 2002
Silky and fine, this feels ethereal on the palate, its fragrant, lemony aromas tethered by intensely chalky minerality. It has the marvelous sense of detail found in the best 2002s, and it’s a wonderful comparison between this, a classic Côte de Blancs chardonnay, with the Corne Bautray chardonnay from the Grande Vallée de la Marne.

Aÿ Vauzelle Terme 2002
This is, simply put, the greatest champagne I have ever drunk from Aÿ. In typical Aÿ fashion, it’s high-toned yet complete, intense without need of weight, fruit-concentrated while insistently minerally, red-fruit in flavor but with a subtle streak of white peach and an almost melon-like aroma. The fragrance feels three-dimensional on the finish, and the way that the back end grips the palate in a firm yet velvety grasp is utterly profound. This is indisputably grand cru, in the tradition of a great, great Burgundy.


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