Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Claude Corbon, Avize

I had a lovely visit down in the Côte des Blancs this afternoon with Agnès & Claude Corbon, winegrowers in Avize. Chances are you’ve never heard of this small estate, as they only produce a tiny quantity of wine and so far their sole export market is Italy.

The family has grown vines in Avize for four generations, but it wasn’t until 1971 that Claude Corbon began bottling his own wine, shortly after taking over the estate. Corbon retired two years ago, and since then his daughter Agnès has taken over the reins. The family owns six hectares of vines, two of which are in Avize, with the rest in the Vallée de la Marne, in the villages of Vandières, Verneuil, Vincelles and Trélou-sur-Marne. However, the Corbons sell a good portion of their grapes to the négoce, and total champagne production is only around 15,000 bottles per year.

Since the beginning, Claude Corbon has never fined or filtered his wines, which I find both surprising and admirable. I loved the 2000 blanc de blancs (labeled Chardonnay Grand Cru) for its balance and poise, showing a round depth of apple and lemon fruitiness backed by classic Avize minerality. It’s showing quite well right now, as many 2000s are, but seems to have the freshness and structure to develop for another decade at least. Also, this is the only one of their wines that is pure Avize.

The Cuvée Prestige, made of 50 percent chardonnay and 25 percent each of pinot noir and meunier, was harmonious and elegantly composed, with a deep core of fragrance on the palate — it’s made in a cuvée perpétuelle, which is a sort of mini-solera whereby half of the blend is drawn off each year and replaced by wine from the most recent harvest. The current release was bottled in 2002, which means that the base year was 2000, as Corbon ages this wine for a full year in both wooden foudre and enamel tanks before bottling.

At the top of the range is the Brut d’Autrefois, packaged with a handsome, old-fashioned label and featuring a cork tied down with string rather than a wire cage. It’s another cuvée perpétuelle, made of 95 percent old-vine chardonnay from Avize and five percent pinot noir from Vandières, and about a third of it is aged in wooden barrels. The current release was bottled in 1996, meaning that it’s had about ten years on the lees, which is certainly demonstrated in this wine’s sense of richness and complexity. It’s warm and earthy, with a broad, mouthfilling fragrance held firmly in place by a taut core of acidity, and the finish is expansive and long, showing a detailed nuance and an excellent sense of balance.

The Corbons also offer champagne education courses at their estate, which can be organized in advance. Agnès Corbon speaks flawless English, having previously lived in the United Kingdom, and the Corbons are warm and generous hosts. If you are ever here in the Champagne region, it’s worth giving them a call and stopping by to buy some wines.


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