Larmandier-Bernier is one of the finest estates in Champagne, producing wines of rare depth, purity and soil expression. Since 1990, Pierre and Sophie Larmandier have made a cuvée exclusively from two plots of old vines in Cramant, one 45 years old, the other over 70 years. Located in the vineyard of Bourrons, on the magnificent, southeast-facing hillside of the Butte de Saran, these parcels yield a rich, densely knit wine of intense minerality and sophisticated complexity of character, and today this is one of the most sought-after wines of the Côte des Blancs.
Earlier this week, I tasted the 2004 Vieille Vigne de Cramant at the estate in Vertus. Marked by the vivid, lively character of the vintage, it’s still an extremely youthful wine, and I might consider decanting this if I opened another bottle anytime soon. The nose shows a taut, compact richness, touched by light aromas of honey, while on the palate this expands with a sappy depth and mouthfilling fragrance, its fruit character almost indistinguishably intertwined with an insistent and powerfully chalky minerality. The dosage in this wine is always very low (here it’s two grams per liter, while in 2002 it was four, and in 2003 none at all), yet it’s impeccably balanced, remaining harmonious and expressive all the way through the long finish. Indeed, the finish is the most striking element of this wine, demonstrating a complex, finely detailed elegance and incredible persistence of aroma, infused by that piercing sense of chalk.
The 2004 Cramant won’t officially be released until May, but since the 2003 vintage was such a short crop, Larmandier sold a few bottles of 2004 early. As of yet it cannot bear the vintage date on the label (since a champagne must spend three years on its lees to qualify as a vintage wine), but it will be vintage-dated beginning in May.
So if you see a bottle of Cramant without a vintage date, it will be the 2004, but if you need reassurance, check the computer code printed on the bottle. Larmandier has been using this system for a couple of years now—I’m not really sure why they don’t just print the information on the label, but it’s all here, anyway, and it’s not at all cryptic. Close to the base of the bottle, on the glass itself, you’ll find a tiny code that looks like this: LCT4DG0507. LCT stands for Cramant (LTDV, as another example, stands for Terre de Vertus); 4 is the vintage date (2004); DG0507 means that it was disgorged in May of 2007 (like the bottle that I just tasted from). Very useful stuff. Larmandier-Bernier is imported into the United States by Louis/Dressner Selections in New York, NY, and the suggested retail price for the Vieille Vigne de Cramant is $99.