Friday, October 31, 2008

Wine of the Week: Larmandier-Bernier Rosé de Saignée Extra Brut Premier Cru

It’s been an action-packed week, with little time for blogging. My friends from Triage Wines in Seattle, Washington, have been here in Champagne, and we’ve been tasting many good things together. Triage distributes an amazing selection of grower champagne in Washington and Oregon, and in fact, I can’t think of any single company anywhere that has a greater portfolio of champagne estates. Some of it is brokered, such as the Terry Theise collection or Louis/Dressner, and some of it is directly imported, but the fact that they have all of these growers collected together in one book makes for an all-star lineup. It’s like the Justice League — a massive array of heroes, each with a different superpower.

A couple of days ago, we tasted through the brand-new lineup of Larmandier-Bernier’s wines, which were outstanding as always, and, as always, extremely and awkwardly youthful. Larmandier’s wines are so highly in demand worldwide that they’re forced to release them unusually early, and here in France, both the Brut Tradition and Brut Blanc de Blancs are already on the 2007 tirage (meaning that they’re based on the 2006 harvest). While I would happily purchase any of Pierre Larmandier’s wines (and believe me, I do), I would stash them away in the cellar for at least another year after disgorgement, and even longer for Terre de Vertus (currently on 2005) and Vieille Vigne de Cramant (2004).

The one wine that might actually benefit from its youthfulness is the Rosé de Saignée, one of the most original champagnes in Champagne. Made from pinot noir grown in the southern portion of Vertus, where the soil is richer and deeper than on the Mesnil side, this is macerated for two days to extract a deep, dark red color and then fermented in enameled steel. It comes out looking and feeling more like a red wine than traditional champagne, with concentrated, vinous notes of red cherry and huckleberry and a spicy, earthy depth of flavor. Although there are other producers who are making super-dark, macerated rosés, Larmandier’s is different in that while it’s powerful in aroma, it’s not at all heavy or weighed down by its intensity. It’s dosed at a mere two grams, which further accentuates the intrinsic vinosity of the wine without adding any additional weight from sugar, and thanks to the taut, energetic character of Vertus, this maintains a deft balance all the way through the long and fragrant finish. The bottle of 2006 that we tasted was only disgorged last month, and yet it’s already showing well, with deliciously fresh fruit and a vibrant, lively personality. I think it would be ideal with a plate of artisanal charcuterie at L’Epicerie au Bon Manger in Reims.

Larmandier-Bernier is imported into the United States by Louis/Dressner Selections, New York, NY (and if you live in Washington or Oregon, distributed by Triage Wines).

6 comments:

Gavin said...

I tasted this wine the other day. As you say, it is quite original. The only thing that left me wanting was the dryness of the finish. Now, Larmandier-Bernier is known for its dryness but I think this is a good example of where one of their wines would be greatly enhanced by a little sugar. What do you think?

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Peter Liem said...

Hello Gavin,

Actually, I don't agree with you about the dosage here. I am not at all one of those who thinks that the less dosage there is the better, as you undoubtedly know from reading my blog, and while I do think that there are many wines in Champagne that suffer from too little dosage, this is not one of them. I don't know which vintage you tasted, but to me the 2006 feels very secure and harmonious in its balance, and as I stated in my post, its low level of dosage accentuates the vinosity of fruit in a way that I find exceptionally pleasing. If there is any hint of aggression on the finish it's from tannin, which is not at all the same thing as aggression from lack of dosage (contrast the tannic feel of a young pinot noir from Burgundy with, say, the steely feel of lemonade without enough sugar). Incidentally, I like the slight hint of tannin here, as it adds briskness and focus. The 2005, which is probably more commonly found out in the world right now, is even richer and more prominent in fruit, which I find to balance the other components very well. If you think about it as a light red wine rather than as traditional rose champagne, it actually makes much more sense.

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burgundy wines said...
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