Tasting Biodynamic Champagnes at Larmandier-Bernier

It is already a month since our visit to the heart of Champagne, Epernay. It was really the perfect place to stay as a group without a car. We were able to reach many smaller towns within 15 to 20 minutes by cab. The cost was reasonable as we split it six-ways. One of the houses we visited was Larmandier-Bernier, a champagne producer in Vertus known also for its biodynamic practices.  Continue reading “Tasting Biodynamic Champagnes at Larmandier-Bernier”

In the Footsteps of Selosse

Champagne Jacques Selosse, the rebel of Avize, has always fascinated me. I am often skeptical when it comes to more expensive brands, however, Selosse to me is worth every penny you spend on it. Selosse is not just a brand, it is a phenomenon. This is why I am super excited to be visiting the estate restaurant, les Avizes, in June. So to prep-up, I decided to embark on a journey to learn more on how Anselme  (the son a Jacques) and his wife Corinne Selosse have achieved such a world renowned reputation.  Continue reading “In the Footsteps of Selosse”

Wine Review: Champagne Agrapart & Fils Minéral Extra Brut

During my journey down to the rabbit hole to the world of Champagne, I have come across a few names that seem to excite (or repell) many professionals. Anselme Selosse is one of them, having become a world renown rebel of Champagne. You either love his wines or you really don’t see what the fuss is about (I am on the lovers side). Agrapart & Fils is a fresher name on my list, but it has the same ring to it. Combining tradition, amazing vineyards in the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Oger, Cramant and Oiry and a disinterest in what “others” think (this is all good), Nathalie and Pascal Agrapart make a range of very interesting Champagnes coveted by many wine geeks (like myself). You might recall of trip to Terres & Vins de Champagne last May (post here)? Well the stand of Agrapart was completely packed all morning and ran out of wine after lunch. Popularity or bad planning? Who knows, but it caught the visitors interest. So when we found a few bottles from the cellars of Viking Line, I was quite excited.

The Agrapart & Fils Mineral is not a bottle you open just any Friday (so probably not movie Champagne), it is something you share with good friends who have a similar love of the French bubbly. Acquiring the bottle took some work (it’s not all a bed of roses taking one of those boat trips with Viking Line) and it was not cheap (71€), so we had the bottle stashed up for a special occasion. Having my sommelier friend and fellow champagne lover, Iisa visiting from Finland seemed like the perfect occasion (even though it was a Wednesday).

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We had some good wine and snacks that night
This wine is a blanc de blancs (100% Chardonnay) directly from the heartland of Chardonnay, Cotes du Blancs. The vintage of this bottle is not advertised on the front label (it is in the back), but it is from the harvest of 2008 (one of my favorite years among the more recent years). The champagne has been made with malolactic fermentation, aged 5 years on the lees and turned manually. The dosage is only 4g/l, so one can draw the conclusion that the producer has relied on the quality of the grapes. That is how I like my bubbly, dry and faithful to the grape!

When opening the bottle, you get a whiff of citrus, yeast and brioche. The nose of the wine is dry and chalky, as are the first sips. The wine is almost savory in character. As the wine warms up in the glass the fruity flavors of peach, lemon bitters and cherry emerge. There is a clear white wine character to the champagne, it reminds me of the style of Olivier Horiot (I adore Horiot). The wine is nice and complex (sweet and savory flavors combined) and the taste is long lasting.

This is an amazing wine. If I completely disregard the price, I would give this a 5. The bottle is, however, not cheap. We bought this bottle on the duty free ferry for around 71€, which I think is a fair price, but not excellent. Value for money I would say is 4. If you have a chance to snag a bottle, I say go for it!

Wine Review: Mumm (de Verzenay) Blanc de Noirs

We recently visited Mumm when in Reims and in addition to a small tour of their facility we also sampled their Blanc de Blancs and the Blanc de Noirs. Having previously reviewed the Blanc de Blancs it is also appropriate to the same with the Blanc de Noirs. I will not reiterate the story of Mumm so check the previous review for that.

The Blanc de Noirs is however much more what I would have expected from Mumm as their own production of grapes is heavy on Pinot. This specific cuvee is however not any Pinot Noir, it is made entirely from Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Verzenay. The vineyard is on the north facing slopes of Montagne de Reims. It is one of the more exclusive cuvees from Mumm so quantities are somewhat limited. It spends 6 years ageing in Mumm’s cellars.

Pouring the Blanc de Noirs
Pouring the Blanc de Noirs

Having been very positively surprised by the Blanc de Blancs I had high expectations on this on as well and perhaps that was part of the issue. The first look showed a intense gold color and especially side by side with the Blanc de Blancs it was significantly darker.
The nose was powerful with nougat, dried fruit mixed with hints of coffee and vanilla. On the palate there was a mix of yellow fruits, honey, brioche and the nougat from the nose also is present here.

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The flavors are not at all unpleasant but for me it was still a bit disappointing as it did not at all match the quality of the Blanc de Blancs. This was more power and less subtle and complex flavors. I suspect it would need some food alongside it to be at its best and I could imagine it with some stronger cheese or some salty food.

It is selling for around €60 in many parts of Europe and looking at that price I do not see it as good value for money as there are many better champagnes at lower prices. So how does it rate:
Quality: 3.5
Value for money: 2.5

Varnier-Fannière Grand Cru Brut Zero NV – lovely grower champagne

While we did not really feel a strong urge to have some champagne after the numerous champagnes tasted earlier in the week at Terres et Vins de Champagne, we were having guests on Saturday and it was sort of a given that a bottle of something would be opened. As we were having asparagus it was also clear that we would be having something that was not overly fruit driven and we were considering some of the lovely Rieslings. However, after some deliberation we opted for champagne instead as we felt it would also work well together with the asparagus as well as function as an aperitif.  The choice fell on the Varnier-Fannière Grand Cru Brut Zero NV that we had brought back from our trip to London.

The family Fannière settled in the Côte des Blancs as early as 1860, but at that time and until the 1950s they sold off all their grapes to other producers. In the 1950s Jean Fanniere started to bottle Champagne under his name and then his son in law, Guy Varnier, succeeded him and took over production. Today the son of Guy, Denis Varnier, is in charge of the company and has taken over the still family owned and run company. They have a fairly small estate, only 4 hectares but all in the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Cramant, Oger and Oiry. The entire estate is old vines which is in line with the estate policy of conservation. The average age is around 40 years old as they believe strongly that the old vines will produce better champagne and if this Brut Zero should be taken as the result of this then I am inclined to agree.

The brut zero is made both as a non vintage and a vintage but we tried the non vintage this time. The color was pale yellow and the nose had a pleasant freshness of citrus but also nicely balanced by some yellow apples. The flavor is consistent with the nose and the pleasant freshness is also mixed with a hint of yeast which makes this a very nice drink. The 100% Chardonnay grapes without added sugar is a perfect match with the perfectly prepared asparagus (it was the overenthusiastic tapas-chef in action again). I have seen this wine available in Italy for as little as €28 which is a bargain but in the UK it sells for £34 at the Sampler and for 270 DKK in Denmark (from Nordisk Champagne) and that is more in the category of good value. So how does it rate:

Quality: 3.5
Value for Money: 4 (if found below €30)

Wine Review: Jacques Selosse Initial Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut

So here is my first review on the How to spend it -section: Jacques Selosse Initial Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. I am often very torn with wines and Champagnes that cost over 100 € a bottle. Yes, I buy them sometimes for curiosity’s sake . However, I am not completely sure if they are worth the money. If we take the Krug Grande Cuvee for example, its a wonderful Champagne. But is it that much better in proportion than a good standard Champagne like the Francois Bedel, one of my favorite Champagnes in the 30 euro section? I think that the Krug is better, definitely, but is it really four times better, which would be in line with the price difference? This is just my thinking around the price of wines, but of course I know that it’s not how the world of supply and demand works. Taste is taste and a price of a Champagne is not 100% in line with quality or the cost of production. Price is mostly (but not completely) determined on how much consumers are willing to pay for it.

Back to the Selosse. The winemaker Anselme Selosse has a bit of a cult status. He divides opinions like many charismatic characters. His wines start from around 100 € a bottle and vintages of course have a heavier price tag. When looking at the more expensive vintages, they do not however climb up to the price levels of a Vielles Vignes Francais or Krug Clos du Mensil, but are considered by some critics to be of equal quality, thus great value for money. There are however numerous experts who also find his wines, if not awful at least poor so be aware that opinions differ on the topic of his brilliance (or lack thereof). So before splurging 100 € or more consider whether you believe you will like it. We started with the Selosse Initial because, well, we could get or hands on it, and as its name suggests, it is a good starting point to get acquainted with the Selosse style.

The wine is quite light colored with small bubbles. The nose is brioche-like with marzipan and almonds. One can also get some peach, citrus, honey, yellow apples and minerals. There is a lot going on in this wine. The taste is much fuller than many other champagnes with some acidity and notes of apples and citrus fruit. There is an interesting slight bitterness in the aftertaste that gets stronger when the wine warms up. If one can say a wine is complex, this is it. Its not just cold dry and sparkling, it has a lot of character. It reminds me of the Horiot Champagnes that are like great regular wines, just with bubbles and both producers seem to have a similar philosophy, they do whatever they want (not what is expected). One tip for drinking it though. Pour a small glass at a time and keep the wine cool in the fridge. When it warms up you get a bit of an overwhelming zesty lemon bitterness that is not as pleasant as of you would have kept the wine chilled.

Ok, I am sold. The Selosse Initial is a very, very good Champagne. I would recommend pairing it with some food, not sure what exactly, but light meats and seafood would be a good start. The quality of the wine definitely gets a 4.5. I have not gotten over my dilemma yet regarding the price vs quality ratio. Perhaps I will over time. I would say the drop is minor though and the value for money rating is a 4. One thing to consider as well before getting carried away with Selosse purchases. Anselme Selosse has mentioned in several interviews that he wants to make wines coherent to what each year has to offer, not a product that tastes the same from year to year. To me this keeps things interesting, but it also means that quality will vary. This is just good to know for managing expectations. Anyway, I am now amongst the fans and very happy to have another bottle in the fridge and that’s already a sunk cost so no point worrying about the price of it.