Now I wrote this last year and only recently had a platform for it. So enjoy even if it is a little dated.
After the headaches have subsided, and the guilt of too much good food is fast becoming a memory, it is a good time to share some tasting notes of the wines I had over the festive season. I thought it would be fitting to focus on Champagne, as it is such a popular beverage over this time. In fact, Australian’s drink 5 times more Champagne per person than the Americans! Seeing that there are 360 million glasses of Champagne drunk in the United States over the Christmas period in America, that’s some big figures for Australia! Other than the Europeans, Australians per capita are the biggest drinkers of Champagne.
I was going through my notes, as one does after a week of furiously drinking some outstanding wines with friends and family. I found my notes were often indecipherable, rushed, sometimes poetic. Writing on whatever was at hand - the back of a receipt in my wallet…pieces of scrap paper. Although creatively chaotic, my notes had a pattern with these three Champagnes; the wines were made by producers that grew most if not all of their own fruit. Now, this is a rarity in Champagne as the big houses and négociants have mainly bought fruit off growers, which is then trucked in, crushed by the house, and blended across many vineyards and growers. With that system, many growers grew fruit in a way that maximised volume over quality of fruit and with little care for the environmental impact of their agricultural methods. So, as we are expected to do a wine prediction for 2018, I predict that Champagne from the small houses and grape growers who make their own wine from their own fruit will gain a stronger more mainstream following, and with that growth, prices will match.
Now, picture the scene. It is mid-Christmas morning, in one of those coveted lulls that exist when you have little children on Christmas day. The excitement of the weeks leading up to Christmas, the cruel early morning rise, and the frantic unwrapping of all the presents takes its toll, and the children were simply playing with their newly acquired loot when we took the opportunity to sneak onto the veranda to drink some Champagne and eat a dozen oysters. The view was picturesque overlooking the untroubled turquoise Kalang river at high tide in Urunga on the NSW North Coast. The temperature was relatively mild due to a dramatic overnight storm, so a perfect setting. Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus 2011 was what we were drinking, it is delicate and unique.
Larmandier-Bernier is run by Pierre Larmandier and his wife Sophie, they are grape growers and winemakers, growing all the grapes used in this wine giving them, as producers, the ultimate control over the end wine. I think for some Terre de Vertus could be life-changing, in fact, to quote Robert Walters the author of “Champagne a secret history” and Wine Importer, “I was floored.” This wine is from a single vineyard, unlike so many Champagnes which tend to come from many vineyards all over the 30 000 hectares of vineyards in Champagne. It is also Biodynamic which is again unusual in Champagne as many of the agricultural practices used in Champagne are questionable. Terre de Vertus is also 100% Chardonnay with zero dosage (dosage is a mixer added before the wine is released on the market, it contains sugar, reserve wine and spirit alcohol). To have zero dosage is a rarity in Champagne. Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus 2011 is a truly honest wine, not hiding behind added sugar or reserve wine and it is expressive of Champagne. It is very tight, with an intensely chalky citrusy core. There is a tonne of complexity in this wine too, with floral high notes, green apple skins and has the wine aged on wild yeast lees for 4 years in the bottle. This gives some toasty notes and nutty edges, but not overtly, I really had to search for them. It is an edgy wine and acid gives the wine a nervous energy which I found really exciting. I drank this with fresh local natural Oysters, and it hit the spot. Drink listening to Yusef Lateef’s “Poor Butterfly “and with good company! With that acid it will cellar well for another 6 to 10 years - I recommend getting your hands on as many of these as possible!
Louis Roederer is now the largest Organic and Biodynamic grower in Champagne and one of the large houses that grows its own fruit. I believe that for one of the larger houses Louis Roederer is really trying to put quality and terroir expression above mass production. We popped this Brut 2009 on a balmy Brisbane afternoon whilst watching the children in the pool. It was hot! But the wine was cool. Now, this wasn’t the first time I have drunk this wine, I have a few in my cellar, and it has proven too tempting at times to leave it. However, there is always something much more magical when you’re drinking wine on holiday and in the Australian summer heat. The Louis Roederer is the antithesis to the Larmandier-Bernier, where the Larmandier is ethereal, nervous and flute-like in tone the Louis Roederer Brut 2009 is weighty, a little brutish is style. The Louis Roederer is 70% Pinot Noir, this explains why the wine has more weight and body than the Larmandier, also the autolytic characters are much more prominent. Autolytic is the name of characters that the yeast gives the wine over the 4 years it spends ageing with them inside the bottle. This follows the more traditional style of Louis Roederer that values what time and the Cellarmaster add to the wine. They sensitively balance the work done in the cellar with vineyard expression. This wine has some wine critics excited due to its quality at this price point. It is much more traditional than the Larmandier, which is why it points higher than the Larmandier wine. The Louis Roederer Brut 2009 is a bone-dry wine, and frankly, on reflection, I have been drinking them a tad early as it will open up with more time in the cellar. With all its tightness it has a contradicting broad texture and mouthfeel which is why I keep coming back to this wine. Dry rose petals, dried red apple skins and that classic oyster shell character that I often find with wine from Louis Roederer. Drink this with a Caerphilly cheese or Parmesan, whilst listening to Massive Attack’s “Protection”. Further cellaring is encouraged as it really is in infancy here, look at it again in another 2 years and cellar for a further 7 years. I suggested buying a few of these wines from a classic house from an underrated vintage.
After returning home to Mudgee on New Year’s Eve, we had a bottle of Jacquesson 740 in the fridge I had prepared for this very occasion. A long 12-hour drive had whet our appetite for something deliciously crunchy. Jacquesson is a little Champagne producer. Of all three of the Champagnes, Jacquesson 740 is the hipster of the bunch, with a well-cropped beard, white t-shirt with a check flannel top. This guy knows he is cool, so cool in fact that 740 is the blend name. Now out of the three, it is also the technical non-vintage of the bunch, however only just, 80% of the wine was grown in 2012, and the other 20% was made from reserve wines. The two guys who run Jacquesson grow 80% of the fruit they use, they must buy in the other 20% to meet the demand for their wines. I feel this wine is a “ground up” wine, being grown first and built from there. Jean-Hervé and Laurent Chiquet are the two brothers behind the wine and push sustainable agriculture, farming their land under Organic and Biodynamic principles with a focus on low yields for maximum expression of place. Finding the exact quantities of each variety is a little hard because these two brothers are obsessed with the expression of each parcel of land rather than the fruit, but it is 50% Chardonnay and the two Pinot varieties; Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier make up the rest. Again, the wine is as dry as chewing on chalk. There is a minute amount of dosage, and it has a minimal effect on the wine. The fruit concentration stands up to the dryness and austerity, with a classic backbone of oyster shells and a limey, chalky acidity that really drives the wine. This wine is surgical in its precision and clarity of the Chiquet brothers vision of producing wines that sing of the place they were grown. Drink listening to Tame Impala’s “Feels like we only go backwards” whilst eating some pan seared prawns or preferably scampi. This wine will keep for the next decade, but I recommend drinking it around 2022 for the sweet spot. These guys are a producer to watch. I bought six of these but keep a look out for their next vintage as they seem to improve with each year.
Ok, that’s it from me.
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