Saturday, April 18, 2009
Lots of people find stuff in old houses. Maybe some old magazines buried in a wall, or coins stuck in floorboards. Not many people stumble upon a treasure like the one my friends Eric and Sylvie found. Eric and Sylvie run a series of fantastic B&Bs in Avize and Cramant—if you're ever visiting the Côte des Blancs, you definitely ought to consider staying with them. Last night while I was over at their house for a visit, they told me this wonderful story.
They already have a property in Avize, but they recently just purchased another house, following the passing away of the previous owner, an old winegrower. They've been busy renovating it, and it will eventually become another guesthouse, or chambre d'hôte. One day their electrician needed to get down into a storage area underneath the house. There are two large tanks sunk into the ground down there, and upon opening one of them, Eric was dismayed to find it full of water. In the process of removing this water, he happened upon a large cache of old champagne bottles, closed with crown capsules and still on their lees.
Eric pulled these out and has had them sitting sur pointe in his cellar for the last few months, and he disgorged one last night for us to drink. Of course, it's impossible to know what's in it, where it's from, or when it was made. The old man's wine estate was in St-Martin d'Ablois, not Avize, so it's likely that at least some of the grapes were from the Coteaux Sud d'Epernay. It's clearly a champagne of some age, although its mature flavors of mocha, praline, butter cream and quince are combined with a remarkable freshness, held in taut suspension by a prominent but harmoniously integrated acidity. It's surprisingly fine in texture and tone, finishing with astounding length—this ain't no farmer's moonshine here. This is serious champagne. Its obvious finesse suggests that chardonnay makes up a portion of the blend, although there's a breadth and generosity about the palate that makes me imagine that meunier is present as well.
Eric thinks, conservatively, that this wine might be 20 to 25 years old. Sylvie thinks it's older, perhaps as old as 50 years. To me, it seems like a champagne from the '70s, maybe 1975, although with that acidity it could be 1979. But honestly, it could be anything. The old man was 103 when he passed away, and he had been making estate-bottled champagne since the 1950s. Who knows what he decided to tuck away, or why he stashed a bunch of bottles in a tank full of water? All we know is that the wine is delicious, still terrifically vibrant and fresh for a mature champagne, and at a perfect point of drinking as it is, disgorged à la volée, with no dosage. It makes you wonder what other undiscovered treasures are lying about in perfectly mundane locations.
Posted by Peter Liem at 23:54