Yesterday I went to Le Grand Tasting, the giant event organized in Paris by Michel Bettane and Thierry Desseauve. 350 wine producers. 2,350 wines. Multiple rooms full of great things from all over France, Italy and Spain. Yet what did I end up spending most of the day tasting? Champagne. I’m getting a little too predictable. I did get a sip of Henry Marionnet’s Provignage and a mouthful of the 2001 Château d’Arlay Vin Jaune—I tried to branch out further, but ultimately the pull of champagne is simply too strong.
I hooked up with my friends Sharon Bowman and David Rayer, and by chance, we happened to run into Olivier Collin of Champagne Ulysse Collin as well, so it made for a merry day of tasting. As Olivier and I were sampling the excellent Veuve Fourny Blanc de Blancs, he commented, not as a criticism but as an observation, that it smelled like it was made in a membrane press. We asked Emmanuel Fourny and he confirmed that he does indeed use a pneumatic press, which was quite interesting. The reason Olivier is so keenly aware of the differences in pressing is because for his first vintage, the 2004, he used a traditional Coquard vertical press, while for the 2005 he pressed the grapes in a friend’s pneumatic membrane press. He notes that in the Coquard the aromas are a little wilder (“plus sauvage”), expressing perhaps more overt minerality, while the pneumatic press tends to produce a finer, more polished tone to the fruit. I’m not sure that I could pick this out blind in a tasting, and obviously there are many other variables that can interfere with such a judgment, but if you taste Collin’s 2004 and 2005 next to each other, this distinction is indeed present, even beyond the differences in vintage character. Personally I prefer the 2004 (and the 2006, which was also pressed in a traditional Coquard) to the 2005, but it’s true that his 2005 has a finer texture and a more pronounced elegance.
Sharon, David and I drank the 2004 later that evening at Le Verre Volé, in the rare Brut form (most of Olivier’s 2004 was sold as a non-dosé Extra Brut, but he made 500 bottles of a so-called “brut”, with two grams of dosage). Unfortunately Olivier wasn’t there, as he had to get home to his girlfriend and their month-old baby, so he missed out on a gloriously drunken evening of unbelievably great champagnes. The resulting hangover today is a small price to pay, no matter how painful it might feel right now.