I’ve been both busy with work and incapacitatingly ill during the last two weeks, but I’ve managed to visit a handful of producers in the meantime to taste the results of the 2007 harvest. It was a strange year here in Champagne: March and April were warm and summer-like, resulting in early flowering (and consequently an early harvest), yet throughout the summer it was grey and damp, and sometimes July and August felt more like April should have. Mildew was a constant problem due to the wet weather, necessitating much more treatment than usual, and there was severe hail in several areas (such as Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and the Vallée de Surmelin) that reduced the crop considerably. Thankfully, sunny weather and a drying north wind in late August helped to boost maturity and limit the spread of rot, and most people began picking at the end of August. “If we didn’t have good weather on the 25th [of August], the vintage would have been catastrophic,” says Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy of Champagne René Geoffroy. “We would have had another 1984.” As it is, people are pleased, and somewhat relieved: the quality appears much higher than what was forecasted, and while it won’t be a widely declared vintage year, the higher acidities will help to fill a need for reserve wines after two warm, ripe vintages. Incidentally, this is already the second time this decade that harvest has begun in August, in a region that was more accustomed to October picking just a generation ago.
Conventional wisdom is that chardonnay fared the best and meunier the worst in ’07, and yield-wise chardonnay was certainly higher than the other two. I haven’t tasted enough yet to make intelligent comments about that, but I’ll give you a brief rundown of my impressions so far:
Pinots for the Tradition aren’t too bad: fresh, supple, nicely clean. Several tanks of racy, citrusy juice for the green label that are very impressive (I see that I actually wrote at one point, “Who’s talkin’ ‘bout a light vintage?”), and terrific Cramant wines for the Prestige that remind me more of 2004 than 2002 at this stage, more firm and vividly intense. As usual, a lovely selection of Cramant parcels in barrel for a potential Fleur de Passion, all showing outstanding structure and finesse. A barrel of pure Pimonts was my favorite and the most complete on its own, though a close second was a minerally, nervy blend of two-thirds Rouillées and one-third Buzons. Jacques Diebolt thinks that he might make vintage wines in 2007.
De Sousa, Avize
Many people blended early this year, due to the early harvest, and at De Sousa the Tradition and basic blanc de blancs are already completed, so I couldn’t do any tank tastings. I did taste from barrel, however. Avize La Fosse is outstanding as usual, less powerful than some past years but still showing lovely breeding and finesse – De Sousa won’t make vintage wine this year, so this will go into Caudelies NV. Even more impressive was a barrel of Le Mesnil that made me think of Pernot Puligny Folatières. Great elegance and length on all of these – should make for fantastic reserve wines.
Veuve Fourny, Vertus
“The wines of Vertus are a little rounder than those in the rest of the Côte des Blancs,” says Emmanuel Fourny, “and [because of the high acidity of] 2007 this resulted in a nice balance.” Half of Fourny’s vines are in the lieu-dit of Monts Ferrés, near Le Mesnil, and three different tanks, from vines of different ages, showed variations on a theme of lemony, racy energy, underlined by intense, nearly spicy minerality. Other samples from different sites around the village clearly illustrated how the terroir changes as you move from the Mesnil side to the Bergères side, combining vivid acidity with surprisingly rich depth. Most surprising, though, was a barrel of pungent, smoky Vertus pinot noir picked at 11.8˚ natural alcohol! There are lots of other parcels of chardonnay separated out in barrel but they’re all going through malo right now (several people told me that malos were very late this year), so I’ll return in a few weeks to taste those.
René Geoffroy, Cumières
Remember the words Les Hontrants! Someday, hopefully, we’ll see a Geoffroy wine from the parcel of that name, co-planted (à la Deiss) with five varieties (including petit meslier and arbanne). The wine is flowery, citrusy and umami all at the same time, and very Deiss-like in its supression of varietal character. Among “normal” wines, highlights included a lovely, aristocratic chardonnay from Le Chêne, destined for either Volupté or Empreinte; a steely, vivacious chardonnay from the steep and chalky Tourne-Midi, on the opposite side of Cumières; and a creamy, aromatic pinot noir from La Grange and two other parcels, stored in foudre.
There will probably be no vintage wines from Jacquesson this year, although the Corne Bautray is the most promising, with a subtle complexity and delicate body. The Avize Champ Caïn shows firm structure and definite Avize refinement, but Jean-Hervé Chiquet thinks it’s a little too lean to make a vintage wine. No Vauzelle Terme, as it’s blended in with other pinots. There are two barrels of potential Terres Rouges saignée rosé, but they were both badly reduced on my visit and difficult to taste. I did taste a pinot noir (vinified en blanc) from another part of the Terres Rouges that was fragrant and full of berryish aroma, with an earthiness and broad girth that shows how different this side of Dizy is from the Aÿ side.
With Gosset’s policy of no malolactic, this is like old-school, tooth-rattling vin clair tasting (but it hurts so good). You know you’re in for it when the first wine of the morning is Cuis (high-acid village), 2007 (high-acid vintage), chardonnay (high-acid variety) from Gosset (sans malo)! That Cuis was lovely though, after recovery from the whiplash. It’s impressive how chef de cave Jean-Pierre Mareigner achieves balance in all of his various lots – we tasted samples from about ten different villages, nearly all of them showing clear, precise expressions of place. The Ambonnay filled the mouth like Chambertin – I would have taken a bottle of this home as a still wine if he had let me. Interestingly (and a little counter-intuitively, in this cool and damp year), Mareigner is a big fan of 2007 red wine (as in, red wine used to make rosé). “It was a good year for rouge. Lots of people said, ‘Oh, they have no color’, but look at this,” he said, holding up a glass of deeply scarlet pinot noir blended from Ambonnay, Bouzy and Cumières. “There’s plenty of color. 2003 was an excellent vintage for reds, but I think 2007 is even better.”
Unfortunately David Pehu had already blended nearly everything by the time I arrived. The blends were very promising, especially the sleek, velvety blanc de noirs, a selection of the best Verzenay pinots in the cellar, 30% of which was aged in wood. A portion of this wine will be bottled as pure 2007 (but not vintage-dated), while another part was left in barrel for reserve wine, slightly more closed yet still showing terrific class and subtle, long aromas. I also loved the delicate, floral rosé, which was blended with 40% of reserves from 2006 and 10% red wine from Les Poules in Mailly and Les Noues in Verzenay (which are basically right next to each other).
I’m off to the Loire today for the Salon des Vins de Loire, visits to lots of Louis/Dressner producers, a taste of new vintages of Damien Laureau’s awesome Savennières, and all the oysters and pork products I can possibly eat. I’ll return home in a week for another round of vin clair tasting....