Monday, May 12, 2008

Bérèche et Fils, Craon de Ludes

As with any wine region, one of the most exciting things about Champagne is watching a new generation of winemakers emerge. In the village of Craon de Ludes, the 26 year-old Raphaël Bérèche has been working alongside his father at their nine-hectare estate of Bérèche et Fils since 2004, and is slowly but increasingly putting his personal stamp on the domaine.

Bérèche owns vines in three different sectors of Champagne: the area around Ludes and Craon de Ludes; the eastern Montagne de Reims, around Trépail; and Mareuil-le-Port, on the rive gauche of the Vallée de la Marne. The viticulture has been steadily improving — they completely stopped using chemical herbicides in 2004 and have planted cover crops in all of the vineyards, and since 2007 a portion of the vineyard is being converted to biodynamics.

The range begins with the Brut Réserve, composed of roughly equal parts chardonnay, pinot noir and meunier, along with about 30 percent reserve wine from the previous three vintages. It typically shows full, fruity notes of citrus, apple and quince, and as with all of the estate’s wines, malolactic fermentation is avoided. The same wine is released with an additional year of lees aging as the Extra Brut Réserve, with about 1.5 grams per liter of dosage (the Brut is between seven and nine grams); the current release, 2004, is particularly vibrant and energetic, with a lovely, saline minerality.

In 1902, Raphaël’s great-grandfather planted some chardonnay vines in the Ludes vineyard of Les Beaux Regards, and today these are used to make the cuvée of the same name. (These vines are also used as a sélection massale for replanting the rest of the domaine’s chardonnay.) Unfortunately, since the parcel is too small this is no longer a single-vineyard wine, normally including about 30 percent of chardonnay from Mareuil-le-Port. Nevertheless, the resulting wine is always very focused and precise, remaining sleek and racy while showing the bold girth of chardonnay from outside of the Côte des Blancs. While the domaine is sold out of this wine at the moment, the 2005 will be released in October, and it will be the first time that this cuvée is released as a brut nature, having previously been around four grams or so.

There is a tiny quantity of vintage wine made, and the current vintage, 2002, is 40 percent chardonnay, 40 percent pinot noir and 20 percent meunier. It’s a bold, ample wine, with luscious and complex notes of clover honey, quince and dried peach. The previous vintage, 2000, is even creamier in texture, balanced by bright, orange-citrus acidity; the higher proportion of chardonnay (60 percent) keeps it feeling lively and balanced.

The most unusual wine in the cellar is the Reflet d’Antan, made from a solera started in 1990, stored in 600-liter demi-muids and bottled with cork for the second fermentation. Composed of equal parts of all three grapes, this shows a burnished, honeyed richness, its aromas of dried apple and citrus peel complicated by notes of sandalwood incense and exotic spice. There’s a texture and luster about this that gives it a feeling of opulence — I often think that it tastes the way a Peter Greenaway movie looks. Raphaël suggests a pairing with tuna rossini, which would be suitably decadent.

Bérèche et Fils is imported into the United States by Petit Pois Corp./Sussex Wine Merchants, in Moorestown, NJ.