I spent the morning with Pascal Agrapart, tasting his outstanding 2007 vins clairs as well as the current range of champagnes, including the superb 2002s. Towards the end of our tasting, Agrapart disappeared into the cellar to fetch a bottle that was sur pointe and agrafé (stoppered by a cork that’s held in place with a big staple), and proceeded to disgorge it. (This photo is actually of a different wine that he disgorged afterwards, but you get the idea. It was an action-packed morning.)
The wine was wild—ripe and vibrant, it showed intense, nearly severe richness on the palate, with a laser-like structure and curiously umami flavors on the finish. While it was delicious, it certainly didn't taste like classic champagne. It turns out that this is part of an experiment that he tried for several vintages, attempting to make as natural a champagne as possible. “In 99 percent of champagnes, four to seven percent of the bottle isn’t from grapes,” he says. “There’s sugar, water, stabilization agents, all sorts of other things that are added. I wanted to make a bottling that was 100 percent grapes.” Harvested in 2003 at 11 degrees of natural alcohol, this was fermented with natural yeasts during the first fermentation, as all of Agrapart’s wines are, but the difference here is that the second fermentation was also done with natural yeasts. After the initial wine was finished, he bottled it together with must from another wine that was still fermenting, thus producing effervescence in the bottle.
Pierre Larmandier told me once that he had tried to do this and it didn’t work—the wine was too variable and sometimes it failed to finish fermentation in the bottle. I asked Pascal if he had ever had any problems and he said no, it always went smoothly, and he tried it in four different vintages. The only problem is that it’s illegal, as you aren’t allowed to bottle wines during the harvest, and I don’t think you’re allowed to use indigenous yeasts for the second fermentation, either. So you can’t buy it. But it’s incredibly interesting, nevertheless.