Friday, June 6, 2008

Wine of the Week: Chartogne-Taillet Brut 1999

It’s undoubtedly great to travel, but there’s also something to be said for coming home, cooking dinner and rummaging around in one’s own cellar for a bottle. Last night I celebrated my return by making a pan of fried rice just like my grandmother used to make for me (only mine is never as good), watching (finally) the superb season four finale of Lost, and drinking a bottle of Chartogne-Taillet’s 1999 millésime.

Chartogne-Taillet is located in the village of Merfy, in the Massif de St-Thierry just northwest of Reims. While this area is under-appreciated in the modern day, in times past its wines have been held in exceptionally high regard. In the grand gastronomic treatise of 1674 entitled L’Art de bien traiter, published anonymously under the initials L.S.R., St-Thierry is named alongside Verzenay and Aÿ as one of the best growths of Reims. A century later in 1775, Sir Edward Barry noted in his Observations, Historical, Critical, and Medical, on the Wines of the Ancients, and the Analogy Between Them and Modern Wines that “among the Mountain Wines the Selery and St. Thyery” were the most esteemed. Today, the Chartognes are at the forefront of the movement to re-establish the reputation of the region.

Currently, Chartogne-Taillet is the only récoltant-manipulant in their village, working a little over 11 hectares in Merfy and the adjacent villages of St-Thierry and Chenay. The soils here are markedly different from those in the heart of the Montagne de Reims, as Merfy has large areas of sand and clay mixed with the Montagne’s more typical calcareous elements. “What is unusual in Merfy is that we have layers of clay and sand,” says Alexandre Chartogne, “so the vines are living in two different environments, since the roots go down sometimes more than 20 meters. This makes a rounder wine [than those grown in chalky soils].”

Made of 60 percent pinot noir and 40 percent chardonnay, Chartogne’s 1999 vintage wine feels autumnal and inviting, with quiet, harmoniously knit aromas of baked apple, brown spices and candied orange peel. It’s silky and fragrant on the palate, adding some delicate red fruit flavors to the mix yet demonstrating an overall structure and finesse that feels very chardonnay-driven. This wine isn’t large in body yet it expresses a noticeably strong personality, and its supple texture and mouthfilling aroma are very indicative of Merfy’s sandy soils.

Chartogne-Taillet is imported into the United States by Terry Theise Selections/Michael Skurnik Wines in Syosset, NY, and the suggested retail price for the 1999 is $70. Skurnik is selling the last of the 1999 vintage and will soon be moving into the 2000, which is also a terrific wine: lemony, elegantly poised and unusually bright and crisp, thanks to the malo having been blocked in the chardonnay this year. But the 1999 is the one you want to drink now, while waiting for the 2000 to gain a little more post-disgorgement age. Also, I think the 1999 will be the last vintage with the old label, pictured above — the Chartognes have redesigned all of their labels and you should be seeing the new ones soon.

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