Saturday, December 10, 2011

Farmer Fizz with Terry: 21 Champagne Notes

Today I had the opportunity to taste through the Terry Theise portfolio of Grower Champagne, otherwise known as “Farmer Fizz”. Terry was on hand for the event and was able to share a few words with him – more on non-wine relate things rather than the specific wines, but I did enjoy this tasting and found some truly outstanding products.

Grower Champagne is interesting. It has taken me sometime to really come around to appreciate that, not so much because the wines are lacking in any way – they are not – but more because I am always cautious of trendy things and these wines became very trendy a few years back, not due in any small way to Terry’s reputation and connections. The end of a trend is usually a good thing, but when the trend continues to rock and engage more and more participants, then it just becomes a way, or the way. Terry’s portfolio is here to stay and these wines are now part of the landscape.

Tasting 21 wines in a row and seeing the progression of blends, styles and regional effect is one of the best ways to really grasp why these wines are interesting, why they are different. I am always a fan of comparative tastings where the differences can be appreciated and the nuance of terroir can really be felt. Tasting a wine in solo can be a great experience, but tasting in company is educational.

Below I have highlighted the wines that I tasted today along with the basic point system I use of rating wines out of three, with +’s as a slight modifier. Hopefully this helps you on your holiday quest for great Champagne, no matter what time of the year. As a note, most of these wines were bottled within the past six to eight months, but there are a few that had been bottled earlier, usually with good results. I would suggest though that whenever buying Champagne that the dosage date be a strong consideration for selection. Champagne is almost always better when fresher (unless the intent was for purposely aged wine), typically are bottled once a year in preparation for the upcoming holiday season (often end of Spring or early Summer) and should be questioned if there is no date given. I believe most Champagne producers will be adding dosage dates to their labels in the future. You can assume that if there is no date then the producer may not have the interest of the consumer in their sights, and I would move on.
Technical notes are from the TT catalogue)

We started in the Cote des Blancs…

Pierre Péters Cuvée Réserve, nv
(100% Chardonnay, based on the 2008 vintage with a solera reserve, 95% malolactic ferment followed by 24 mos en triage, 6.7g/L dosage.) Delicate floral and fruit aromas on the nose, touch of ginger spice and yellow apple, good acidity but very soft, smooth dry finish. 1/3

Pierre Péters Cuvée Special ‘Les Chetillons’, 2004
(100% Chardonnay, a single vineyard wine from Les Mesnil known as ‘Les Chantillons’, full malolactic ferment with 6 years en triage, 4.7g/L dosage.) Rich, full nose with round apple aromas, crisp mousse with full flavors on the palate, gaining richness and a very long deeply flavored, balanced finish. Very good 2/3

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut ‘Selection Belles Annees’, nv
(A non-vintage version of the cuvee Gastronome, produced with lower than normal atmospheric pressure (4.5°atm) to expand versatility with food.) Rich and flavorful, but with elegance and restraint, pleasant apple and baked spices on the palate with crisp acidity and a fresh, clean finish which is juicy with acidity. 2/3

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Brut Blanc de Blancs ‘Fleuron’, 2005
(100% Chardonnay – 23% Cramant Grand Cru, 45% Chouilly Grand Cru, 8% Oger Grand Cru, 24% Cuis 1er Cru, 5 years en triage, 6g/L dosage.) Very supple and smooth with a creamy texture that makes it seem almost sweet and more full, long and smooth on the finish. Quite Good 2+/3

Varnier-Fannière Brut Grand Cru, nv
(100% Chardonnay from Grand Cru villages of Cramant, Oger, and Avize, based on 2008 vintage with reserve wine from 2007, 2 years en triage and 10g/L dosage.) Big nose with rich creamy style on the palate, flavors of ginger and Asian spice, young and fresh with juicy acid, long creamy finish. 2/3

Then we moved to the Vallée de la Marne…

René Geoffroy Cuvvée Volupté, 2006
(80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir produced without malo and raised predominantly in foudre, with 6% in tank, produced all from Cumières, 48 mos en triage, 2g/L dosage.) Really big nose with winey notes, very creamy on the palate with great acid/fruit balance, bone dry and really well balanced through the finish. This is a very good, well-made wine worth more consideration 2+/3

René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée Brut, nv
(100% Pinot Noir produced with the saignée method from what will be the still wine of the house under the AC Coteaux Champenois, all from 2008, aged in neutral wood and SS for 18 mos, with 10g/L dosage.) Spicy bright nose with tangy raspberry aromas, big and fresh on the palate with great feel, delicate red fruits like cherry carry through the finish which has some chalkiness. Quite Good 2+/3

Gaston Chiquet Brut ‘Tradition’, nv
(35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, 45% Pinot Meunier from 1er Cru villages of Dizy, Hautvillers, and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, based on 2007, 3 years en triage and 8g/L of dosage.) Spicy nose, touch of bread/biscuit aromas too, clean and fresh on the palate with a lovely feel, juicy and dry on the finish. Very Good 1+/3

Gaston Chiquet Cuvée de Réserve, nv
(Similar cuvee to the ‘Tradition’, but the Réserve is based on 2004 and received 5 years en triage.) Ginger to almost cedar notes in the aroma, creamy and deep flavors on the palate with some autolysis or bready aromas, fuller and weightier than many other wines. Great style, loved this 2+/3

Gaston Chiquet Vintage Champagne Brut, 2003
(60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, from 1er Cru villages Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Dizy and Hautvillers plus Grand Cru village of Aÿ, 6 years n triage, 8/L dosage.) Delicate and sleek nose with elegant ape aromas, creamy and dry on the palate with bold flavors of ripe red fruits and an intense, chalk dryness through the finish. Quite good, fuller wine 2+/3

Henri Goutorbe Cuvée’Prestige’, nv
(70% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier from 1er Cru villages Cumières, Hautvillers, Bisseuil, and Grand Cru village Aÿ, based on 2005 with 4 years en triage and 9.6g/L dosage.) Round, full nose with just a slight touch of oxidation (this wine had been bottled 1.5 years ago), creamy and soft mousse with great persistence and a long crisp finish. 2/3

Henri Goutorbe Special Club, 2002
(70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay exclusively from Grand Cru village of Aÿ, 8 years en triage with 9.6g/L dosage.) Creamy and rich, red fruits start to take over on the palate, but crisp and delicious, a deep feel and flavor intensity that carries through the finish, very well. 2+/3

Henri Gourtobe Rosé, nv
(25% Chardonnay, 75% Pinot Noir from 2007 blended with some Pinot Noir rouge from 2006, sourced from Grand Cru village of Aÿ, 3 years en triage and a dosage of 9.6g/L (I like consistency).) Pretty nose with berries and fresh clear aromas, creamy and the palate, full flavors, smooth mousse and texture that carries through the finish. Quite nice, delicate 2/3

And on to the Montagne de Reims…

A. Margains Extra Brut, nv
(100% Chardonnay, entirely from 2001 harvest and the village of Villers-Marmery, 25% of the blend was raised in neutral barrel.) Pronounced nose, with round flavors of apples and nutmeg and bright almost apricot and citrus, bone-dry, chalky, and delicate on the finish with lingering hints of lemon and chalk. Very good, indeed 2/3

A. Margains Traditionelle Demi-Sec, nv
(90% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir, sourced from Villers-Marmery, based on the 2008 vintage with almost half coming from reserve wines from ’07, ’05, ’04, ’00, partial malo and fermented in SS, 27 mos en triage, with 33g/L dosage.) Quite fresh aromatically, and almost glycerous on the palate, definitely rich but ultimately finishes dry due to the racy acid. Quite Good 1++/3

Chartogne-Taillet Brut ‘Cuvée Ste-Anne’, nv
(60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir based on 2007 vintage with 20% coming from ’06 and ’05, 10 mos sur lie in SS, with 3 years en triage and 4.5g/L dosage.) Round and full aromatically, but with a restraint that is almost delicate, apple and some tangy cherry notes, crisp clean and tangy through the finish which is complex and tangy. 1/3

Chartogne-Taillet ‘Cuvée Fiacre, 2004
(60% Chardonnay from Chemin de Reims vineyard and 40% Pinot Noir from 50+ year old vines in the parcel Les Orizeaux.) Ginger, bread and yeasty aromas, med+ flavors but intense on the palate with bold flavors of apple and bread and tangy sour dough, quite persistent through the finish. Quite good 2+/3

Aubry Brut, nv
(45% Pinot Meunier, 25% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay, 5% ancient varieties, 45% 2008 vintage, 55% reserve wines from a solera composed of 1999 through 2007 vintage with 24 months en triage.) Crisp and snappy bready aromas, balanced and fresh with acid and fruit, quite tangy and balanced through the finish. Delicious 2/3

Henri Billiot Cuvée Laetitia, mv
(A perpetual solera composed of vintages from 1983 through 2007 with a cépage that is predominantly Pinot Noir with chardonnay, 30 months en triage with 8g/L dosage.) Spicy nose with Asian aromas, tangy Belgian beer flavors of banana and Asian spice, exotic and a bit perfumed, perhaps too much for me, but pretty interesting wine. 1+/3

Henri Billiot Rosé, nv
(Cuvée is 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay with the addition of Pinot Noir base wine from ’05 and ’04.) Orangy-pink color, strawberry, cream and basil in the nose, very delicate flavors with a dry finish, chalky even, but very clean on the end. Good 1+/3

Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier, nv
(70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, sourced from 2 parcels – les Hautes Grèves and Basses Grèves, based on the ’08 vintage with reserve wine from ’07, ’06, 10 mos in large oak casks followed by 2 years en triage, 10g/L dosage.) Smokey and full-ish nose, apples, biscuits, nutmeg, creamy on the palate with a touch of round sweetness almost showing through on the palate, finished with great texture and a long-ish finish. Quite Good 2+/3

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