Friday, May 2, 2008

Wine of the Week: Leclerc-Briant Brut La Ravinne

When it comes to single-vineyard champagnes, the house of Leclerc-Briant in Epernay has been well ahead of the curve: since 1990, they’ve been producing a series of three mono-parcelle wines from the village of Cumières—Les Chèvres Pierreuses, Les Crayères and Clos des Champions. As of last year, they’ve added a single-vineyard meunier as well, from La Ravinne in Verneuil. I asked Pascal Leclerc why he chose to bottle a 100-percent meunier, which is quite unusual in Champagne. “We were looking for a wine that was more accessible,” he says, “something completely different from the other wines in our collection.” La Ravinne is a south-facing vineyard in the Marne Valley, composed mostly of clay and sand, with little chalk. Leclerc has two hectares of vines here that were planted in 1968, and the vineyard is currently being converted to biodynamics.

Leclerc tells this story about how the family came to acquire this vineyard, sometime in the mid-1950s: “At the time, my father’s vines were all around Cumières and Hautvillers, and it was difficult to expand the domaine because there weren’t a lot of vineyards for sale. So my father would drive around the region, taking picnic lunches and exploring the area. One day he went to Verneuil, and noticed some good vineyards there. He tasted some wines and they were good, so he started asking about land. It turned out that there was a grower there who wanted to sell some land, and my father purchased it almost on the spot. So really this wine is the result of a picnic.”

The first release of La Ravinne is pure 2004, although future releases will be blended from at least two different years. It’s full, fragrant and inviting, its broadly honeyed aromas of red plum, quince, lemon peel and kumquat backed by hints of tobacco leaf and brown spice. The texture is unusually fine for meunier, and the finish is anchored by a subtly earthy, clay-soil richness. An interesting thing about this wine is that the pressure accidentally wound up lower than usual, around four kilograms or so. Leclerc doesn’t really know why—perhaps it was a problem with fermentation—but he likes the result because he thinks it complements the forward, accessible character of meunier.

Leclerc-Briant is imported into the United States by K&L Wine Merchants in Redwood City, CA, and Baron François in New York, NY.

5 comments:

Louise said...

Peter,
I happened upon your blog... I don't even remember how. And have since been tremendously entertained and thoroughly educated. Having enjoyed it so, I sought out other wine related blogs. I had assumed yours was an example of the general level of the wine-wanker (no offense intended) blog. But I've found that most others are not even close. So I've now become an ardent fan. And I love the wine of the week, even if, almost always, they're a pain in the ass to find. Even when imported by my hometown wine store (K&L). Thanks for the effort, I certainly appreciate it. My cellar too!
cheers,
David Harden
Los Angeles

Peter Liem said...

Hello David,

Thanks for the compliments -- they’re greatly appreciated! King of the wine-wankers, that’s what I aspire to be. ;-) As for availability, I admit I screwed up on this one. I looked on the K&L site and realized that they haven’t gotten the wine yet! But I asked Pascal Leclerc if Gary Westby at K&L had bought any La Ravinne and he said yes, so presumably it should be on its way. Sorry about that. (Sometimes here you forget that shipping isn’t instantaneous!) I’ve e-mailed Gary to confirm whether or not he’s getting the wine.

I did see that they have Leclerc's Les Chèvres Pierreuses in stock, which is a terrific wine as well, from a single vineyard in Cumières.

Louise said...

Something to look forward to then!

And thanks again for the blog. It really is a first-rate effort.

cheers, David

Skinny said...

Peter,
As a Champagne fan, I really enjoy your Blog. I'm interested in trying Leclerc-Briant Brut La Ravinne". I just recently discovered in the last year or so Jose Michel's Champagnes and I'm a fan of his NV Pinot Meunier cuvee. I was not aware of anyone else besides Jose Michel making a 100% Pinot Meunier cuvee. I really enjoyed the slight rusticity in the Champagne and it was a facinating expression of Terroir and varietal character. Please keep up the good work.

Cheers,
Skinny

Peter Liem said...

It's true that there aren't so many people making pure meunier champagnes, and other than José Michel, I don't think any others are imported into the United States. There's a broker in Seattle who supposedly carries Jerome Prevost, but good luck trying to procure a bottle. That wine is already difficult enough to get here in France.