At the end of a tasting with Jean-Paul Hébrart of Champagne Marc Hébrart yesterday, he pulled out an old bottle for us to drink, which is always a pleasure. The burnished color of the wine indicated that it had some age, yet it was still bright and lively, both in its appearance and in the fragrant, expansive aroma on the nose. I was thinking that perhaps the wine could be around 25 to 30 years old, but the prominent acidity on the palate was keeping me puzzled as to the exact vintage. There was too much flesh for it to be from a vintage like 1980 or 1981, but it didn’t quite fit the opulent profile of 1982. The acidity was high, but not high enough to be 1979. 1975? Maybe. It had a harmony and balance more typical of 1985, but most ’85s are much more youthful, especially stored in the original cellars. I thought perhaps it could be 1983, with its combination of acidity and its mature aromas of exotic spice, preserved ginger, butter caramel and candied orange peel.
Needless to say, I was surprised when it turned out to be from 1976. One of the warmest years on record, ’76s are notable for their low acidity, high alcohol and ample, fat character. This wine had none of those things. Although there were creamy, rich flavors of toffee, mocha and dried Turkish apricot on the palate, they were kept in sharply kinetic focus by the firm structure, and the overall picture was one of finesse and harmony. It continued to develop more complexity and depth in the glass, with a subtle chalkiness growing increasingly more prominent on the finish.
Hébrart doesn’t have very many old bottles in his cellar, which made this even more of a special occasion. The ones that he does have, however, are stored sur pointe, on their original lees, and he’s wondering whether or not they ought to be disgorged. This one was disgorged back in February as an experiment — I’m glad he did it, of course, as that meant we could drink it!