Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Jérôme Prévost, Gueux

It’s virtually impossible to be a hip wine bar or wine store in Paris, or indeed, anywhere in France, if you don’t have champagne from Jérôme Prévost. Selling a Prévost wine, or ordering one at a wine bar or restaurant, has become almost a badge of honor, a secret sign that affirms your initiation into an exclusive club of those in the know. Unfortunately, with an annual production of only about 13,000 bottles, Prévost’s wine is not always easy to obtain.

Prévost doesn’t come from a family of winegrowers. His two hectares of vines in the vineyard of Les Béguines (La Closerie is the name of the estate) were inherited from his grandmother, who didn’t cultivate them herself, but rather rented them out en mettayage to be worked by others. Prévost took over the vineyards in 1987, and sold his grapes to the négoce until the 1998 vintage, when his friend Anselme Selosse convinced him to begin producing his own wine. As Prévost had no cellars of his own, Selosse offered to share a corner of his cellars in Avize. The 2002 vintage was the first to be vinified in Prévost’s own cellars in Gueux, although it was bottled in Avize; since 2003, all the production takes place in Gueux.

Prévost’s two hectares of 40-year old meunier vines are all located within Les Béguines, although he does have an additional 20 ares in another adjacent parcel, co-planted with meunier, chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot blanc. As these vines are still young, they are currently blended with the meunier, although they may be used to produce a different cuvée in the future. The soils in this area, just west of Reims, are a mix of sand and calcareous elements, due to being a seabed around 45 million years ago, and they’re filled with lots of tiny fossils, as you can see in this photo.

In general, Prévost makes only one wine, which, ignoring the aforementioned 20 ares of co-plantation, is always from a single variety (meunier), a single vineyard (Les Béguines) and a single vintage. Emphasis is firmly placed on the vineyards rather than the cellar, with work done according to natural rhythms, and without chemical pesticides or herbicides of any sort. “The important thing for me is to harvest ripe grapes,” says Prévost, who doesn’t chaptalize his wines. He adds, however, that he sees ripeness as “less about sugar richness than physiological maturity,” and that the average alcohol level is about 10.5 degrees at harvest. The winemaking is as natural as the vinegrowing: the wines are fermented and aged in 450- to 600-liter barrels, fermentation is always with indigenous yeasts, and the wines are bottled late (usually around July), with a minimum amount of sulfur and without fining, filtering or cold-stabilization. The wines are all disgorged at once, about 18 months after bottling, and spend a total of three years sur lattes before release.

The current vintage on the market is 2004, and although it’s marked Extra Brut on the label, like all of Prévost’s wines it’s non-dosé. Tense and energetic, it shows a yeasty, bready youthfulness, alongside nutty notes of macadamia and almond. There’s a wonderful feeling of texture and densely-knit richness on the palate, as if inscribed with unusually high DPI. While still adolescent, it shows more harmony right now than the 2005, which is firmly backwards and unformed, needing time to put its components together. The interaction of saline minerality and appley fruit in the 2005, however, is mouthwateringly intriguing, and I’m looking forward to checking back on this in another year or two.

In 2003, Prévost produced two different bottlings: Les Béguines and another wine subtitled “d’Ailleurs”, which is exactly the same wine except that the base wine was aged in barrel for an extra year, bottled in July of 2005. (Incidentally, this was also done in 2000: a cuvée called “Une fois pour tout” was also held in barrel for an additional year.) The 2003 Les Béguines is outstanding, combining rich depth with a graceful and saline minerality and finishing with long, spicy fragrance and impeccable balance. D’Ailleurs is more vinous, more ample in feel, with deeply authoritative flavors on the palate and a lovely, supple texture. I can’t really say it’s a “better” wine, but they are definitely different in character, making for an intriguing comparison.

I’ve always felt that Prévost’s wines need a lot of post-disgorgement aging to show their best. Unfortunately, as with many grower champagnes, most of the bottles are drunk too young. My favorite Prévost of all time (so far, anyway) was the 2000 — I drank my last bottle with friends in NYC about two years ago (four years after disgorgement), when it was just beginning to develop real resonance and depth. Tasting this wine again with Prévost last week, I immediately regretted that I didn’t stash a case of it away when I had the chance. Expansive and harmonious, with a subtle, soil-driven fragrance and finesse, this is breathtaking wine, demonstrating an intense and captivating sense of expression, completeness and poise. Without a doubt, this 2000 is the greatest pure meunier I have ever tasted (coming from someone who actively seeks out pure meunier to taste). It also confirms the need for bottle-age: ideally, I would purchase a case of Prévost every year and not touch the first bottle for another three to five years.

I have never actually seen a bottle of Prévost for sale in the United States, but he is in theory represented by Thomas Calder Selections, and distributed by Triage Wines in Seattle, WA. Needless to say, if you do happen across a bottle you ought to buy it, as Prévost’s champagne is an experience not to be missed.

5 comments:

Steve L. said...

What a superlative introduction to this producer (of whom I had never heard). Sounds as though I am unlikely to come across a bottle any time soon, but I hope to keep this name in mind.

David McDuff said...

Ditto what Steve said. And I'm not sure I can remember anyone else describing a wine in terms of its pixelation.

Peter Liem said...

Thanks to both of you!

I had an Apple Laserwriter for the longest time (purchased back when 300dpi was top of the line), and I remember stepping up to my first HP, at 1200dpi. Nowadays all these kids are spoiled.

Peter Liem said...

My friend Brian at Triage Wines tells me that they do indeed have the 2005 Prévost in stock, and it's available for sale in both Washington and Oregon. Both of us think, though, that the 2005 is still a bit awkward and in need of time, so I would put it in the cellar.

Anonymous said...

The champagne of Jérôme Prévost is also imported into the U.S. by Polaner Selections (NY/NJ) and Potomac Selections (MD/DC/VA.