Sunday, June 29, 2008

And Now, For Something Completely Different....

Taking a break from Champagne, I arrived in Porto this morning, and spent a hot, blisteringly sunny Sunday wandering around Vila Nova de Gaia and the Porto waterfront.

I was completely prohibited from leaving my hotel room tonight, as the Euro 2008 final began at 7.45 Portuguese time. So during the match I ordered room service and drank a bottle of red vinho verde (yes, red!) that I purchased today for the princely sum of €3.50. It was a 2006 tinto from the Adega Cooperativa de Ponte da Barca, and it was delicious: pungent, brisk and lively, it was full of brambly blackberry and black plum fruit, and while it was initially a bit severe to drink on its own due to its forceful acidity, it gained a surprising depth and richness with air. I'm not entirely sure what it's made of, but most likely it contains grapes such as azal tinto, borraçal and espadeiro. (All household names, I know.) It was a perfect match with pork and clams, a distinctly Portuguese combination that I actually don't think I could find a better wine for (except for perhaps white vinho verde). The prominent red fruit flavors handled the pork with ease, while the zesty acidity allowed it to play off of the clams (a feat that few red wines can accomplish), and also contrasted the fattiness of the meat. Utterly delicious.

As an aside, before tonight I couldn't have possibly imagined being so excited about Fernando Torres scoring on Jens Lehmann. Speaking as an Arsenal supporter, that boy scares me.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Pierre Péters Gets a Makeover

Pierre Péters, one of the finest estates in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, is changing the designs of its labels. Rodolphe Péters cites legibility as the primary factor: “There was too much information on the old label,” he says, “and it was difficult to read on store shelves.” In this photo, the old label for the vintage wine is on the left; on the right is the new one, to be introduced with the 2003 vintage. The rest of the lineup will feature a similar design, changing the color of the bottom band (black for the Cuvée de Réserve, green for the Extra Brut, a sort of periwinkle blue for the Perle du Mesnil), except for the Cuvée Spéciale, which will retain its current packaging.

One welcome addition to the label of the Cuvée Spéciale, however, is the mention of the vineyard name, Les Chêtillons, which means that journalists can finally stop repeating the weary line, “The Cuvée Spéciale is a single-vineyard champagne, even though Péters doesn’t put the name of the vineyard on the label.” Technically, the 2000 vintage is the first to show this new information, but since Péters chose to release the 2001 before the 2000, it’s on the 2001 that it makes its debut in the marketplace. Personally, I think that putting the vineyard name on the label is a fantastic decision. Not only does it make people aware that it’s a single-vineyard wine, but it also brings attention to the actual parcel itself by using its real name. As Les Chêtillons is one if the finest sites in the whole village, it deserves to be known, and I hope that other champagne producers will follow Péters’s example.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Wine of the Week: Paul Déthune Brut Rosé Grand Cru

Pierre and Sophie Déthune, of Champagne Paul Déthune, grow seven hectares of vines, all in the grand cru village of Ambonnay. As you would expect for an Ambonnay grower, the majority of their vineyards are planted with pinot noir, which makes up about 70 percent of their total holdings.

Déthune’s entire range is worth seeking out, from the sleek, lively Brut to the deeply-flavored, barrel-fermented Blanc de Noirs to a rare Ambonnay Blanc de Blancs (sold only in Japan and Italy). This week, I’ve selected their rosé for my Wine of the Week, perhaps because it seems appropriate for the sunny, summer-like weather that we’ve had in Champagne lately, or perhaps just because it’s so deliciously slurpable.

Déthune has an extremely unusual method of making this wine, which can’t really be classified as either a saignée or a traditionally blended rosé. In fact, it’s almost the opposite of a traditionally blended rosé. First, the pinot noir grapes undergo a short maceration, giving the juice a pronounced color that’s slightly darker than the final product: “It’s not red, and it’s not rosé,” says Déthune. To this reddish juice, he adds about 20 percent of chardonnay, both to lighten the color and to add finesse to the blend.

The result is a rosé champagne that is more vinous than overtly fruity. The color is extremely attractive: bold and vibrant but not as dark as many of the saignées that are on the market. On the nose it’s quite floral, with notes of rose petal and orange peel, although a deeply concentrated core of red fruit emerges on the palate, turning intensely plummy on the back end in both its flavor and its sense of acidity. It’s shapely and focused, constantly underlined by chalky notes of soil, and it demonstrates superb balance from start to finish, making you simply want to drink more.

Paul Déthune is imported into the United States by Valley View Wine Sales, Glen Ellen, CA; Grand Cru Imports, Souderton, PA; and Belle Epoque Wine Imports, Miami, FL. Valley View’s suggested retail price for the Brut Rosé is $53.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Alternative Energy? In Champagne?!

Champagne isn’t the most eco-friendly wine region in the world. It’s getting better, admittedly, and care of the environment is one of the most talked-about issues in the region right now. But there’s still a lot of work to be done.

At Champagne Paul Déthune this afternoon, I was pleasantly shocked when Pierre Déthune showed me his 54 square meters of solar panels, which he installed in 2004. I’ve never heard of any other champagne producer using solar energy, and I often wonder, why don’t we all have panels on our roofs? Okay, the cynics among you might point out that the Champagne region is sorely lacking in sunshine. Yet Déthune says that his system currently provides for 20 percent of the estate’s electricity, and he’s currently planning an additional purchase of solar panels that will double that output.

In addition, he has installed a rainwater collection system that provides for 20 percent of his water needs. It’s not used for anything requiring potable water, but it’s useful for tasks such as washing tractors and cleaning equipment. And for all you cynics, Champagne certainly gets plenty of rain, so it's great to see somebody putting it to use.

Déthune’s wines, by the way, are fantastic — I tasted the complete lineup today and was consistently impressed, from the entry-level brut all the way up to the Cuvée à l’Ancienne. This is definitely an estate to keep your eye on.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Claude Corbon, Avize

I had a lovely visit down in the Côte des Blancs this afternoon with Agnès & Claude Corbon, winegrowers in Avize. Chances are you’ve never heard of this small estate, as they only produce a tiny quantity of wine and so far their sole export market is Italy.

The family has grown vines in Avize for four generations, but it wasn’t until 1971 that Claude Corbon began bottling his own wine, shortly after taking over the estate. Corbon retired two years ago, and since then his daughter Agnès has taken over the reins. The family owns six hectares of vines, two of which are in Avize, with the rest in the Vallée de la Marne, in the villages of Vandières, Verneuil, Vincelles and Trélou-sur-Marne. However, the Corbons sell a good portion of their grapes to the négoce, and total champagne production is only around 15,000 bottles per year.

Since the beginning, Claude Corbon has never fined or filtered his wines, which I find both surprising and admirable. I loved the 2000 blanc de blancs (labeled Chardonnay Grand Cru) for its balance and poise, showing a round depth of apple and lemon fruitiness backed by classic Avize minerality. It’s showing quite well right now, as many 2000s are, but seems to have the freshness and structure to develop for another decade at least. Also, this is the only one of their wines that is pure Avize.

The Cuvée Prestige, made of 50 percent chardonnay and 25 percent each of pinot noir and meunier, was harmonious and elegantly composed, with a deep core of fragrance on the palate — it’s made in a cuvée perpétuelle, which is a sort of mini-solera whereby half of the blend is drawn off each year and replaced by wine from the most recent harvest. The current release was bottled in 2002, which means that the base year was 2000, as Corbon ages this wine for a full year in both wooden foudre and enamel tanks before bottling.

At the top of the range is the Brut d’Autrefois, packaged with a handsome, old-fashioned label and featuring a cork tied down with string rather than a wire cage. It’s another cuvée perpétuelle, made of 95 percent old-vine chardonnay from Avize and five percent pinot noir from Vandières, and about a third of it is aged in wooden barrels. The current release was bottled in 1996, meaning that it’s had about ten years on the lees, which is certainly demonstrated in this wine’s sense of richness and complexity. It’s warm and earthy, with a broad, mouthfilling fragrance held firmly in place by a taut core of acidity, and the finish is expansive and long, showing a detailed nuance and an excellent sense of balance.

The Corbons also offer champagne education courses at their estate, which can be organized in advance. Agnès Corbon speaks flawless English, having previously lived in the United Kingdom, and the Corbons are warm and generous hosts. If you are ever here in the Champagne region, it’s worth giving them a call and stopping by to buy some wines.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Dosage on the Label

Speaking of putting more information on the label, brooklynguy raised the point yesterday about revealing the amount of dosage. I agree with him — I enjoy seeing this information, and it’s useful to me. But I can see why producers wouldn’t want to do it. It’s even more fraught with danger than putting the disgorgement date on the label.

The first problem is that, as with anything in the world of wine, dosage needs to be put into context in order to be properly understood. For example, one of the considerations is the vintage, or the base year for non-vintage wines (information that is even less likely to appear on a label than dosage): six grams of sugar per liter is going to taste very different in a high-acid vintage like 1996 than in a low-acid vintage like 1999. The amount of reserve wine used, and the type of reserve wine, is also going to affect the balance. You and I know this, and can properly adjust our mental state, but the majority of consumers won’t or can’t adjust their perceptions. A number has a feeling of concreteness and security, and a dangerous misperception that is all too prevalent right now is that a lower dosage is necessarily and automatically better. (And I’m not exempting wine professionals, many of whom ought to know differently.)

The second problem is that getting the correct balance of dosage is not at all a formulaic process. You cannot simply say, “Well, I’ve got x grams per liter of acidity here, therefore I need to add y grams of sugar.” I think of it this way: each wine has its point of optimum balance, which is individually determined by the unique set of characteristics of that particular wine. The trick of a dosage tasting is to find that balance point. As I’ve said before, dosage can fool you very easily, no matter how experienced of a taster you are. (I’ve been in tastings where I swore the 4 g./l. sample tasted perceptively sweeter than the exact same wine dosed at 6 g./l., even after I knew which was which.) Sometimes a wine balances at six grams, sometimes at ten, sometimes at none at all. But each one is different. It’s like taking ten twigs of different shapes and sizes and trying to find the fulcrum point of each. You can’t just measure x number of centimeters and expect it to work for all of them. This is the primary reason why a lower dosage is not automatically better, and the reason why many producers don’t want to reveal the dosage. They just don’t trust us to understand the concept.

Numbers can fool you even in finished champagnes. To cite examples just from wines that I’ve tasted within the last week or so, Françoise Bedel’s Dis, Vin Secret, is dosed at 11 grams per liter, yet it tastes much drier than that due to its extraordinary balance and expression of soil character. Ployez-Jacquemart’s Extra Quality Brut, on the other hand (I don’t mean to pick on them, because they do make wines that I like), has a dosage of only four to six grams per liter, depending on the blend, yet every time I taste it I feel like it tastes much higher.

But to get back to putting dosage on the label, I don’t think it’s nearly as important as the disgorgement date. If a wine tastes balanced, that’s good enough for me. But I admit that I really do like it when producers do it. It’s useful information to me as a taster, and beyond that it also reminds me that this producer really thought about his or her dosage — people who put dosage on the labels are generally among those who obsess over each cuvée, trying to get the balance perfectly right, rather than those who just throw in a knee-jerk amount of sugar every year. I doubt it will ever become a widespread practice, however. It’s just too risky.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Disgorgement Dates

We’re starting to see more and more champagnes with disgorgement dates printed on the back labels, and as far as I’m concerned, this is a good thing. Egly-Ouriet has done it for a very long time, and wines like Bollinger’s R.D. or Jacquesson’s D.T. have as well (since in those cases it’s obviously the whole point of the cuvée). But today, it’s becoming a much more standard practice among forward-thinking champagne producers. It’s easier to do it when you’re small, and all of the hipster growers do it. American importer Terry Theise requests it of all the growers that he imports, which is an extremely laudable practice. It’s not only growers, though: a few of the most progressive houses do it as well, such as Philipponnat and Jacquesson.

Why is the disgorgement date important? The simplest reason is that bottles disgorged at different times are, in effect, different wines. A particular cuvée of either non-vintage or vintage champagne will see several different disgorgements over the time that it’s sold. This is done for practical, physical reasons in the cellars, and also because leaving a champagne on its lees keeps it fresher while waiting for the next outgoing shipment. But since they spend different amounts of time on the lees the wines will necessarily be different, even if these differences are subtle. The amount of post-disgorgement aging will obviously be different as well, which has perhaps an even bigger impact on the wine. Furthermore, it’s a relatively common practice to adjust the dosage for different disgorgements of the same wine: earlier disgorgements usually take a higher dosage, because the acidity is more pronounced. In contrast, the dosage is often reduced for later disgorgements, as the wine mellows out and the acidity becomes rounder and less aggressive.

Of course, this can also lead to a lot of bickering, especially amongst those who are constantly demanding the “best” wine. (“My February disgorgement is better than your December one, so there.”) I don’t get too hung up on this. It’s true that there can sometimes be pronounced differences, but this is rare — more often the differences are due to the combination of slightly more lees aging and slightly less post-disgorgement aging. The main reason I like knowing the disgorgement date is not to find the “best” version of a cuvée, but to know what to expect when I open the bottle. A bottle disgorged six months ago is going to be different in character than the same wine disgorged two years ago. Since I prefer wines with more post-disgorgement age, I’ll usually pick the older one if there's a choice. In truth, I actually enjoy tasting different disgorgements of the same wine, and find it to be a very instructive activity. I do think that there is an optimum time to disgorge a champagne, and that some wines have too little lees aging and others too much. But that's a story for another day....

One problem with disgorgement dates is that many consumers mistake it as a sort of “born on” warning, and assume that the more recent it is, the better. Honestly, finding an older disgorgement of a wine can be a great thing, if it’s been well-stored. There’s nothing in the world like the biscuity, complex character of properly matured champagne, and this can be fully achieved only with aging after disgorgement, not before.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Man With Bottle, by Guillaume Hébrart

Posted on my refrigerator door is this fine portrait of yours truly, the handiwork of six-year old Guillaume. Guillaume is heir to two outstanding Champagne estates, Diebolt-Vallois in Cramant and Marc Hébrart in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, which essentially assures him of exceptionally superb drinking for the rest of his life. Even if he decides to become an artist instead of a winemaker. (As I am myself the proud holder of a degree in fine arts, I’ll definitely steer him towards the latter.)

We’re good pals, me and Guillaume. So hopefully he’ll share some of those bottles....

Saturday, June 21, 2008

More Helicopters (in Dizy, this time)...

Life in the French countryside isn’t always idyllic. Here’s a photo I took the other day of some unidentified producer treating their vineyards by helicopter on the slope behind my house in Dizy. I can unfortunately guarantee you that unlike with Larmandier-Bernier, it isn’t a biodynamic tisane that’s being sprayed all over our neighborhood. Needless to say, after taking this photo I went indoors and shut all my windows.

In other news, I’ve fixed the photo links from my old posts, so everything should be working correctly now in the archives. My apologies for leaving those unattended to for so long.

Friday, June 20, 2008

Ployez-Jacquemart Brut Sélection Rosé

Founded in 1930 by Marcel Ployez and Yvonne Jacquemart, this small, highly regarded négociant in the village of Ludes has attracted a worldwide following for its champagnes. Careful attention is paid to the details here: only the cuvée (the first pressing) is used; the wines are aged for a long time on the lees (minimum three years for the brut, and much longer for the vintage wines); and the dosage is unusually low (between three and six grams per liter across the entire range). It seems that Ployez-Jacquemart is doing everything right. At the same time, I’ll confess that I’ve had trouble with their wines in the past. The prestige cuvée Liesse d’Harbonville is consistently excellent, but sometimes I’ve found the other wines to be a little rustic and lacking in finesse.

Tasting the current release of Sélection Rosé this week reminded me of what the house is capable of achieving. Based on the 2005 vintage, this is composed of roughly the same assemblage as the Extra Quality Brut (60 percent pinot noir and meunier, 40 percent chardonnay), with the addition of 12 percent red wine from Avenay Val d’Or, fermented and aged in barrel. The beautiful salmon color is of relatively deep hue, which looks particularly attractive in a bottle of clear glass, and the nose reveals silky, delicately fragrant notes of raspberry and red cherry. The key to the entire wine, however, is the superbly calculated dosage — on the palate this strikes a perfect balance, elongating and expanding the aromas and allowing the fruit to express a full range of flavor, while still keeping the wine feeling dry and vinous. I was so impressed by the balance here that I actually commented on it three times within the same paragraph in my notebook. I think, too, that the wine has an excellent weight for a rosé — it’s light enough to serve as a summery and refreshing apéritif, yet it has enough substance to pair with an array of lighter dishes at the table, from salads to mezze to tempura. I imagine it would also be marvelous with certain sashimi, as it possesses the requisite clarity and definition to match the purity of the fish. I’m looking forward to becoming more acquainted with this wine over the summer.

Ployez-Jacquemart is imported into the United States by Weygandt-Metzler Selections, Unionville, PA, and the suggested retail price for the Sélection Rosé is $73.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Françoise Bedel, Crouttes-sur-Marne

While there are an increasing number of producers in Champagne working with biodynamic viticulture, there are very few who have committed to it entirely. One of the most prominent of them is Françoise Bedel in Crouttes-sur-Marne, in the Vallée de l’Aisne. Bedel arrived at biodynamics through a roundabout road: in 1982, she sought homeopathic treatment for her son Vincent’s medical condition, and she credits this homeopathic practitioner, Robert Winer, for steering her towards a biodynamic worldview. Over the following years, she became increasingly disillusioned with the methods and practices at her family-owned winery, and wanted to incorporate the ideas and philosophies that she had learned from Mr. Winer into her professional life. “There was a philosophic element that was missing in my work,” she says. “I knew I wanted to do more, but I didn’t know what.”

The answer came in 1996, when she met Jean-Pierre Fleury of Champagne Fleury, who had begun biodynamic viticulture in 1989. After tasting the wines of Fleury and other biodynamic practitioners from various wine regions, she decided to convert two hectares to biodynamics in 1998, and the following year began conversion of the entire estate. Today Bedel farms a total of 8.4 hectares (20.75 acres), all certified biodynamic by Ecocert. Bedel notes a pronounced difference in the wines before and after biodynamics. “There’s a certain rectilinear character in the wines now,” she says. “The flavors are more intimate, with a greater profundity and expression.”

Bedel’s wines are aged for an extremely long time on the lees, and they need plenty of air to show their best once they’re opened. I wouldn’t hesitate to decant these wines, and depending on the individual wine, I often find that I prefer them in tulips or wider glasses rather than traditional champagne flutes. The brut sans année (sold only in France) is called Origin’elle — the current release is based on the 2000 harvest, composed of 81 percent meunier, 12 percent pinot noir and 7 percent chardonnay. Six years of lees aging is virtually unheard of for a basic brut, and the yeasty, autolytic character here is almost overpowering, although there’s plenty of spicy, earthy depth underneath to back it up.

Located in the far west of the Champagne region, Crouttes-sur-Marne lies only about 80 kilometers (50 miles) from Paris, and the soils in this area are largely argilo-calcaire (a mix of clay and chalk), with some limestone and stony terrain in the neighboring village of Charly. Bedel offers a geological comparison in the form of two cuvées: Dis, Vin Secret, from limestone parcels, and Entre Ciel et Terre, grown on argilo-calcaire. The current release of Dis, Vin Secret is made of 86 percent meunier, 8 percent pinot noir and 6 percent chardonnay, and it’s based on the 2003 vintage, which gives it a richly spicy, roasted apple character. It’s broad, round and full in flavor but it’s not at all heavy, and the finish is dominated by a deliciously savory, brothy minerality that makes me think of grüner veltliner. Its intense minerality makes it feel quite dry, and I was shocked to find out that it actually has 11 grams of dosage. The balance is impeccable.

Entre Ciel et Terre is currently based on the 1999 vintage, composed of 72 percent meunier and 14 percent each of chardonnay and pinot noir. Upon first being opened, it’s nutty and intensely leesy, needing some time to reveal more complex flavors of orange peel, dried apple, spiced plum and blackcurrant. It’s sleek and racy under the rich flavors, showing a vividly energetic fragrance and persistent length on the finish. Bedel told me that limestone produces a rounder wine, while argilo-calcaire gives a greater sense of verticality and cut. I would have expected the reverse, but these two wines certainly back up her statements.

Bedel’s vintage wine is called L’Âme de la Terre, and as it’s selected by a blind tasting of base wines in the cellar, the composition can differ radically from vintage to vintage. The current release, 1998, is composed of roughly equal parts of all three varieties, showing ample aromas of apple, white peach and redcurrant that expand with terrific dimension and persistence on the finish, all backed by subtly stony minerality. It’s an intriguing comparison with another 1998 vintage wine called Comme Autrefois, which is fermented and aged in barrel, bottled by hand and finished with cork instead of capsule for its second fermentation. This is largely meunier (78 percent), and feels even deeper in flavor than the Âme de la Terre, with a baroque, palate-staining presence not unlike a Smaragd by Nikolaihof. It’s an expressive and compelling wine, and I wanted to explore it further — I purchased a bottle to drink later that evening, but upon arriving in Paris, I discovered to my utter dismay that it was corked. I suppose I’ll just have to go back and get another.

Françoise Bedel is imported into the United States by Jon-David Headrick Selections, Chapel Hill, NC.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008


Flowering has begun here in Champagne, as you can see from this photo of chardonnay vines in La Souchienne, one of the best vineyards in Dizy. We’ve had erratic weather so far this year, and it’s been generally cooler and wetter than normal, which has made some growers a bit nervous. This week it’s warm and sunny, which is good news for the vines at this delicately precarious stage in their growing cycle. Let’s hope it stays that way for a while.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Philipponnat’s 1999 and 1998 Clos des Goisses

I had the opportunity on Friday to compare several recent vintages of one of my very favorite champagnes, Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses. Arguably the finest vineyard site in the region, the Clos des Goisses is a steep, fully south-facing slope in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ that has been owned by Philipponnat since 1935, producing an intensely minerally wine that often requires decades to reach maturity.

The current release, 1999, is surprisingly forward and fruity for a Clos des Goisses, reflecting the open, generous character of that vintage. At the same time, there’s a tension and grip on the mid-palate that still requires some time to resolve, and I would not hesitate to put this in the cellar for another ten years or more. As with many 1999s, its transformation over the aging process has been more dramatic than usual. “It was a bit disappointing in the beginning, but it’s aging very well,” says Charles Philipponnat. “It remains very pure and it has gained weight with age. I think it’s a vintage that will continue to age in a very noble way.” The saline minerality typical of the Clos is very evident on the finish, expanding with subtle, quiet grace and becoming increasingly more pronounced as the wine gains air in the glass. As with any young Clos des Goisses, I would decant this if I were drinking it now.

Due to its softer structure and more approachable fruit character, relatively speaking, the 1999 was released before the 1998, which is due to arrive in the marketplace sometime over the next few months. The 1998 is full, fragrant and complex, with creamy aromas of marzipan, tangerine peel and blanched almond. Tethered by a firm, dense structure, it feels concentrated and textural while possessing a phenomenal sense of balance and focus, staining the palate in long, vividly aromatic length. It’s already so expressive and harmonious despite being still an adolescent, and I think that the 1998, along with the 1995, will turn out to be the finest Clos des Goisses of the decade. Not to take anything away from any of the other vintages, but both the 1998 and 1995 have an extra dimension and extra bit of completeness that sets them apart. (Incidentally, there has been a Clos des Goisses produced in every single vintage since 1988, which attests to the quality of this special site.)

As good as these vintages are, Clos des Goisses promises to become even better in the future, as Charles Philipponnat continues to refine the house’s methods and winemaking. The new winery in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, completed in 2004, has made a significant difference in the quality of the wines, as demonstrated by the last couple releases of Brut Royale Réserve — the current offering, based on the 2005 vintage, is the finest I can ever remember tasting from Philipponnat.

Yesterday, I returned to Mareuil to taste the 2007 vins clairs just before they are bottled later this week. I had tasted several components of the 2007 Clos des Goisses back in November, when it was still angular and wound-up, but now as a final blend, the wine is utterly magnificent, with detailed, elegant depth and an incredibly long and complex finish that could rival a top-class grand cru Burgundy. We won't see this again for another ten years, but I can hardly wait.

Monday, June 16, 2008

NY Times Article on the Champagne Expansion

There was an article by Doreen Carvajal in Saturday’s New York Times about the proposed expansion of vineyard land in Champagne. It still remains to be seen how exactly this issue will be resolved, but it’s very likely that we will have more land included in the appellation in the near future. Carvajal also raises the issue about the rising cost of champagne in the United States due to both the falling dollar and the increasing price of grapes here in the region. Unfortunately for Americans, there are plenty of other people around the world who are thirsty for champagne, and who have stronger currencies to pay with.

Another bonus of the article was discovering Cyril Janisson’s blog. Janisson-Baradon et Fils is a grower based in Epernay and a member of the Club Trésors de Champagne — I know Cyril and am familiar with his wines, which can be very good, especially the single-vineyard Spécial Club from Les Toulettes in Epernay, and I was happy to find out that he has a blog.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Saturday Afternoon at Augé... plus a Super Soccer Star

I’m in Paris this weekend, and yesterday afternoon I went down to Augé, the city’s greatest wine store, to buy a bottle of Chinon blanc I’ve been wanting. Upon arriving, I was happily surprised to discover that a number of the Loire’s top producers happened to be there, holding a tasting out on the sidewalk in front of the shop. It was all fantastic and semi-chaotic fun — I was greeted immediately by a kiss on the cheeks from Catherine Breton, waved at Eric Nicolas who was pouring his whole range of 2006s, and ran into Thierry Puzelat on my way inside (who had just dropped a bottle of La Tesnière that was merrily cascading all over the sidewalk). Marc Angeli was there, trying to politely ignore some French idiot who was trying to taste Les Fourchades and smoke a cigar at the same time; Jérôme Lenoir was cheerily pouring three vintages of Chinon and his superb 2004 Chinon blanc, from 100-year old chenin vines. I didn’t have my camera with me, so I missed out on some great photos of all the conviviality. That just meant I could focus on drinking. But for some photos depicting the action from past events, as well as excellent photos and essays on other happenings in the wine world, check out Bertrand Celce’s superb blog called Wine Terroirs.

In other random news, Luca, my three-year old nephew, has started soccer lessons! A noble and exceptionally outstanding activity to engage in. With that big ol’ head of his, I’m thinking maybe central defender — a future number 3 for the Azzurri. Here, however, he’s got nothing on his mind but the goal.

Finally, I apologize if any of you had trouble accessing my blog yesterday. It was completely my fault — I was updating some things with my hosting server and in my bumbling ineptitude I completely fouled everything up, requiring an hour or so of disaster control to get everything going again. It should be fine now, but if at some point it isn’t, please let me know via e-mail.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Paul Bara’s Ugly New Labels

Sometimes people just make bad decisions. Not that Paul Bara’s old label was a paragon of beauty or anything, but at least it felt classically Champenois, and you wouldn’t mind having it on your table in a fancy restaurant. The new label, however, just makes the wine look cheap. It looks like a supermarket brand.

Fortunately the contents of this bottle of Brut Réserve are still respectable, although the dosage is unnecessarily high, detracting a lot from its character (and really bothering me). Hopefully it will improve in a few months as it settles down in the bottle.

Champagne is a wine often associated with sophistication and elegance, yet aesthetically, the region’s packaging often leaves much to be desired. What are your nominees for the ugliest labels in Champagne?

Friday, June 13, 2008

Wine of the Week: Pol Roger Pure Brut Nature

It’s not easy to produce a good non-dosé champagne on a large scale. Actually, it’s not easy to produce a good non-dosé champagne at all. Getting the balance right requires ripe fruit and skillful blending, and even then not many champagnes are very harmonious without at least a little bit of dosage.

Pol Roger’s new Brut Nature, called Pure, is one that gets it right. The inaugural release of Pure is based on the 2004 vintage, with the addition of about 20 percent reserve wines. Its composition is identical to the Brut Réserve, with equal proportions of the three main grape varieties of Champagne, but it is not the same blend. To Pol Roger’s credit, they recognize that a wine that finds a balance at ten grams of dosage will not be balanced at zero, and they have created a different blend for the Pure in an effort to find the proper harmony. “It’s more floral,” says Laurent d’Harcourt, export director for the house, “and it comes from a different selection of crus, to create a better balance as a brut nature.”

This wine shows the same freshness and liveliness as the Brut Réserve, but I find it to have more character on the palate. It’s bold and hearty in the Pol Roger style, with black fruit dominating the palate: currant, blackberry and plum, accented by a hint of ginger. The finish shows an excellent balance and length for a brut nature, and it finishes with plenty of fragrance and personality.

Pol Roger is imported into the United States by Frederick Wildman and Sons, New York, NY. The suggested retail price for the Pure Brut Nature is $55.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

House Style (or, Why Pol Roger is Great)

I often think that too much emphasis is placed on “house style” in Champagne. I understand why we do it, of course. Most champagne is blended, so it’s difficult to categorize by terroir. Most champagne is multi-vintage, so it’s difficult to categorize by vintage. There’s little left to categorize except the style of the house.

My objection to house style is that sometimes it’s simply too dominant. It’s a fine line between making wines that consistently express the philosophy and character of the house and wines that feel industrial and mass-produced, all trying to taste as similar as possible. Or to put it another way, sometimes I feel that a house is trying to shape its wines too vigorously, pushing them in a particular direction instead of allowing the wines to simply express themselves. (Admittedly, in Champagne sometimes the base wines are so neutral that there’s little to express.)

I was thinking about all this the other day as I was tasting at Pol Roger, a house that I feel navigates this issue in exemplary fashion. Pol Roger has a very distinctive and readily identifiable character: a Pol Roger wine is bold in flavor and relatively robust in body, with a noticeably fine mousse and elegant, sophisticated harmony. Yet what makes Pol Roger’s style work so well is that while it exhibits a very particular personality, it doesn’t feel forced or manufactured in any way. It allows the wines to remain vinous and expressive, even while putting the house’s individual stamp on them. Other houses do this too, of course. But Pol Roger does it particularly well.

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.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

1997 Salon

Last month, Champagne Salon released its 1997 Blanc de Blancs, only the 36th vintage in the history of the house. This morning I went down to Le Mesnil-sur-Oger to taste it with Jean-Baptiste Cristini, export manager for Champagne Salon and its sister company, Champagne Delamotte.

It’s difficult to follow a vintage as highly regarded and as powerful in presence as 1996, but in truth, the 1997 vintage was capable of terrifically fine wines in the Côte des Blancs. (One only has to think of wines like Diebolt-Vallois 1997 Fleur de Passion or Pierre Peters 1997 Cuvée Spéciale for reference.) While many people tend to think of 1997 as a vintage driven by its ripeness of fruit, the best wines demonstrate a firm sense of structure as well. “The acidity levels were between 8.9 and 9.1, the same as in ’95, and the sugar was higher than ’96, averaging about 10.3 to 10.5,” says Cristini. “So I like the idea of looking at this wine as being as acidic as ’95 but with more fruit than ’96.” Cristini notes that Salon’s high sugar levels in 1997 were not the result of excessive ripeness, but rather of concentration through dehydration late in the growing season, which allowed the sugar levels to rise without a correspondingly steep drop in acidity.

The 1997 Salon is, in a word, magnificent. The nose is full and creamy in aroma, with notes of hazelnut and lemon peel, and despite its richness it feels elegantly balanced and discreetly composed. With its bold depth of fruit, one might expect it to be very ample and plush on the palate, but in fact it is surprisingly restrained, demonstrating a marvelous clarity of fragrance and a keenly focused, incisively pure minerality. It’s more approachable than the 1996 was at the same stage, although it’s hardly a forward wine: after the initial burst of fruit on the front of the palate, the minerality comes very much to the foreground, and the fruit retracts coyly into its shell. Yet as usual with Salon, the finish is a picture of finesse, harmony and grace. Tasting this wine with lunch over the next two hours allowed the fruit to re-emerge and develop more complexity and nuance, but over that time the minerality grew even more pronounced, dominating the wine with its pungent and inimitably chalky grip.

Overall, this feels like a very classical vintage of Salon to me, more so than either the 1995 or 1996, which were more muscular and powerful. If I had to compare it with a previous vintage I might say the 1988, but with a bit more overt fruitiness (and just as much chalky minerality). It’s thrilling now for its mineral expression, but as with any vintage of Salon, it really needs another decade (or two) in the cellar to show its best.

Champagne Salon and Champagne Delamotte are imported into the United States by Wilson Daniels, St. Helena, CA.

Monday, June 9, 2008

I *Heart* the Euro Championships

In general, I am a much more passionate fan of league football than international football. Perhaps it’s because I grew up in the United States, which doesn’t have a natural football culture, or perhaps it’s just because my preferred league team (Arsenal) is so much more exciting than my preferred national team (France). Nevertheless, I always love this time of year, every four years, when the nations of Europe get together to duke it out on the pitch. Football every day for three whole weeks! Unfortunately, it’s seriously detrimental to my working life.

While watching the French flounder against Romania tonight, I was thinking that perhaps there are parallels to be drawn between football and wine:

France: Too much daydreaming about a glorious past (ah, that 1998 World Cup), even as they have today what is perhaps the finest collection of youthful talent of any nation in Europe. Should be great, yet hampered by stodgy and inflexible management, slow to innovate and too reliant on the old guard (although now, finally, the new generation is being acknowledged). Unable to escape the nagging feeling that performance isn’t fulfilling potential, with reputation sometimes exceeding actual quality (Anelka). If things don’t improve, they’re in danger of falling behind the rest of the world.

Italy: Obviously full of quality, with a tremendous heritage and pedigree, yet still erratic. Despite being loaded with talent, their reputation for fakery and simulation turns out to be well-founded in reality. Is anyone surprised when Brunello gets yellow-carded for diving? At some positions they’re among the best in the world (Pirlo, Gattuso, Buffon; Barbaresco, Barolo, Amarone), while elsewhere even vaunted names sometimes under-perform (Gilardino, Zambrotta; Chianti, Vino Nobile di Montepulciano). Ultimately, the only reason they won the 2006 World Cup was because the star bottle of France’s cellar (Zidane) was corked that day. (Go ahead, flame me.)

Germany: Dependable, consistent, still underrated. Once acknowledged the greatest in the world: even though they’re not very fashionable now, they’re capable of reaching the summit again. True, some key players could still improve (Gomez, who wears the #9 shirt, needs some target practice), but the superstars can generally be relied upon (Podolski, Ballack), and even less-heralded names are capable of stepping up and demonstrating great quality (Lahm, Fritz). Even when they’re one-dimensional, they’re still good (Klose). Strengths include things like structure, balance and precision. They’re most successful when they concentrate on what they do best, rather than attempting to appeal to international taste.

Spain: Such plentiful and diverse talent, spearheaded by superstars of the new generation (Fabregas, Torres). Very strong domestically, but constantly looking for more success on the world stage. The country’s top goalscorer wine, sherry, is widely viewed as being tired, out of date and out of fashion: even when it’s experiencing a resurgence in quality and character, it still gets ignored (just like Raúl).

Portugal: Full of promise and potential, but still inconsistent in delivery when it comes to putting the ball in the net. (The top goalscorers in Portugal’s domestic league are all foreign players.) I’d like to see more quality of character (Deco, Pepe, Miguel) and less new oak and international flash (Cristiano Ronaldo).

Austria: Well, thank goodness they make world-class wines....

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Champagne Under the Sea

On his outstanding wine blog Dr. Vino, Tyler Colman recently published this intriguing post about some bottles being aged in the sea off of the coast of Normandy by Champagne Louis Roederer. Admittedly, the idea isn’t entirely new. Back in 1849, a cache of Jacquesson was hidden in the hold of the Niantic when it ran aground, and since then, a good number of people in the wine world have been wondering about the possibilities of storing wine down in the ocean. After all, the conditions are pretty ideal: it’s a constant temperature of about 10° C (50° F), there’s little to no light at those depths, and it’s quite obvious that humidity isn’t a problem.

I asked Roederer’s chef de cave, Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon, about this story and he confirmed that Roederer has indeed sunk a number of bottles of Brut Premier and Cristal 2002 into the sea off of Mont St-Michel, and is planning to pull them up on the first of June, 2009, to taste them alongside identical bottles stored in the cellars in Reims. He’s promised that I will be there, so I’ll have more to say on this topic in about 12 months....

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Champagne Article in the SF Chronicle

As a shameless bit of self-promotion, here is a link to an article of mine about micro-terroir champagnes in yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle. I thought it was laudably bold of the Chronicle to tackle such a progressive topic, and it’s also admirable that a major publication like this one is willing to write about champagne in June.

While you’re reading the Chronicle, check out this article on Italian amari written a couple of months ago by my friend and W&S colleague Wolfgang Weber. I know it's old and I should have talked about it sooner, but you ought to read it if you haven't already. Wolfgang is crazy about the stuff and wrote a fantastic piece — here in backwoods France we can’t get much beyond Fernet Branca, but Wolfgang’s article makes me want to look for more.

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.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Why It’s Called Pinot Meunier

I’ve arrived back home in Champagne after being away for a few weeks, and the vines have certainly been busy while I’ve been gone. The vineyards on the slope behind my house in Dizy are planted with both meunier and chardonnay, and it’s a joy to see them in full, verdant vigor. It’s also easy to distinguish between the two at this time of year.

Pinot meunier, or simply meunier, as it’s often referred to here in the region, derives its name from the downy white flecks on the underside of the leaves, making them appear as if they’ve been dusted with flour (the word meunier means “miller”). The young leaves are also particularly white and fuzzy, as you can see in the photo below.

Meunier is a moderately productive grape, often pruned in the Marne training system or else in the Chablis system. It’s more resistant to frost than the other two main varieties here, which is one of the reasons why it’s the predominant grape of the Vallée de la Marne, an area more prone to frost than the well-exposed slopes of the Montagne de Reims or Côte des Blancs. Also, meunier favors rich soils, another reason why it’s suited to the deep clay of the Vallée de la Marne. Today it accounts for slightly over one-third of Champagne’s viticultural area, and seems to thrive in two main areas in particular: the valleys along the Marne west and southwest of Epernay, where the majority of meunier is grown; and the northern part of the Petite Montagne, just southwest of Reims (Jérôme Prévost’s vines are here, in Gueux, and Egly-Ouriet’s meunier vines are nearby in Vrigny). Hopefully it does well in my backyard, too!

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Retailers: Le Cru (100% Champagne), Vienna

For me, a good wine store should have a thoughtfully selected collection of wines, preferably with a focus on artisanal estates. It should be run by someone who is passionate and knowledgeable, and it should be aesthetically pleasing and comfortable to spend time in. I found exactly such a wine store this morning while walking around in Vienna’s 1st district. What’s more, this store, Le Cru, focuses exclusively on champagne.

Christian Weininger opened Le Cru only two weeks ago, in a sleek, modern space close to the Stephansplatz. A former architect, Weininger spent ten years as a wine retailer in Vienna, and over that time he traveled frequently to Champagne, developing relationships with many growers there. The selection at Le Cru includes prominent names such as Pierre Peters, Michael Arnould, René Geoffroy and De Sousa, as well as lesser-known growers like Daniel Caillez and Bergeronneau-Marion, and a few houses such as Bollinger and Louis Roederer are represented as well. “We work with about thirty different producers,” says Weininger, “but we don’t necessarily take all of their wines every year. If I’m not 100 percent confident in a wine, I would prefer to wait until the next year.”

As he deals largely with grower champagne, Weininger is of course very conscious about terroir, and Le Cru’s handsome catalog is divided by region (Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, Aube and Côte des Blancs), which I particularly appreciate. I’m looking forward to getting to know this store better: with its ideal location and terrific selection of wines, Le Cru is a top-notch address for buying champagne.

Le Cru, Petersplatz 8, 1010 Vienna,

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Bründlmayer’s Sparkling Wines

I’ve said before that some of my favorite sparkling wines outside of Champagne are those of Bründlmayer. Today at VieVinum, I had the opportunity to taste the new releases of Bründlmayer’s Brut and Brut Rosé after enjoying his magnificent collection of 2007 grüner veltliner and riesling.

Willi Bründlmayer has been making sparkling wine since the 1989 vintage, and has always bottled it as a vintage wine. For that first vintage, he and his wife Edwige, who is French, actually took a trip to Epernay to have the base wine analyzed by the oenological station there, and to ask for advice on fermentation and production. Today, the Bründlmayer Brut has a finesse and complexity that surpasses much of what is being made in Champagne, although it presents an array of flavors that is all its own.

The vintage brut is composed of roughly equal parts chardonnay and pinot noir, along with about ten percent pinot gris (which Bründlmayer is increasingly favoring over pinot blanc for the sparkling wine) and ten percent grüner veltliner. Veltliner might seem like an odd choice for a sparkling wine, but Bründlmayer cites its versatility with food as the primary reason for its inclusion. “I love very much to drink sparkling wine with food,” he says. “Grüner veltliner is the most harmonious wine with food, and I would like to introduce this ability of grüner veltliner into the sparkling wine.”

The excellent 2005 Brut has just been disgorged a few months ago, and will be released shortly. Its yeasty, autolytic nose could easily be mistaken for champagne, and I love the tension between its ripe, firm depth of fruit and its undertone of saline, savory minerality. It’s bigger in body but also finer in texture and longer on the finish than the 2004, which I drank a couple of nights ago at my favorite Viennese wine bar, Vis-a-Vis, owned by restaurateur Hans Weibel.

Bründlmayer has also just released his second bottling of Brut Rosé, made from pinot noir, zweigelt and St. Laurent. It’s currently blended from approximately 80 percent 2005 and 20 percent 2006, although Bründlmayer would eventually like to make it from a single year. “The objective is to make vintage rosé,” he says. “Maybe one day we will, but right now we feel more secure if we blend a little bit.” The wine is superb, and very original — I’m not sure I can relate it to anything being made in Champagne. It’s creamy and rich in texture, with a sappy, staining depth of strawberry and red cherry fruitiness on the palate. Its vivid concentration makes it feel bold and extroverted, yet it’s not very large in body, and its fine texture and long, fragrant length combine to give an impression of delicacy and elegance.

Bründlmayer told me today that when they were in Epernay back in ’89, they were waiting for the lab oenologists to finish testing their wines, and the oenologists were talking amongst themselves, thinking that Bründlmayer and his wife didn’t speak French. “If these guys can make base wines like this in a country like Austria,” they said, “we’d better watch out.” Today, I think that there are quite a number of people in Champagne who could learn a thing or two from Bründlmayer.