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In as much as Champagne can be considered a brand embodying a "House Style," which is often the case, it can be a true wine of terroir. Whether it’s the sub-regional distinctions from the Kimmeridgian soils of the Côtes de Bar to the distinct chalkiness of the Côte des Blancs or explored at an even closer level such as an individual lieu dit or parcel within a particular vineyard, organic farming and deft winemaking helps distinctive terroir speak clearly. Below are a number of Champagnes which while delicious are also particularly soil driven and compelling.
We've had the disticntive pleasure of carrying Emmanuel Brochet's Champagnes from the northern portion of the Montagne de Reims for a few years now and marvel at their distinctive savory stoniness. Emanuel Brochet meticulously farms a 2.5 hectare plot called 'Le Mont Benoit' in the village of Villers-aux-Noeuds, where the three major Champagne grapes are grown in the chalky-clay soils over Cretaceous chalk of the mid-slope vineyard. He ferments with native yeasts and vinifies in wood and his wines have a distinctly mineral core which is nearly tactile on the palate. The 2016 base Le Mont Benoit is newly arrived and still a bit taut, but displays this pungent earthiness and is already layered and complex for a young wine.
Benoit Marguet is one of our favorite Champagne producers for many reasons. First, it's fascinating to see someone's wines improve with every vintage as his dedication to biodynamics begins to bear fruit. Second, while some vignerons embrace biodynamics to improve their wines, one gets the sense Benoit believes that embracing biodynamics inmproves his life and the farming and wines follow suit. Blessed with old vines in Ambonnay and Bouzy his wines are profoundly mineral as well as powerful, though never top-heavy. His work in the vines as well as fermenting and aging in barrels produces wines of richness and class expressing the character of the terroir, quite deftly. The innaugural release of Les Saints Rémys from Ambonnay by the border with Bouzy combines young verve with great cut and power, not to mention length and precision.
Hubert Soreau is a newer grower for us. His Champagne comes from 3 parcels of Chardonnay totaling .49 hectare in Le Clos l'Abbé, very near Epernay, whose soils are made up of clay and silt above Cretaceous chalk. The Clos has been planted to vines since the 9th Century when the Bishop on Reims ordered it cleared for viticulture. Soreau's production is quite modest, about 1200 bottles, but of beautiful quality. The vines are farmed without chemical fertilizes, herbicides, or pesticides. The fermentations are with native yeasts in used barriques and 300 liter barrels from nearby Hautvillers, the secondary fermentation takes place under cork, and the wines are aged sur latte for seven years. The wines have a distinctive chalkiness, but with a bit more richness than the blanc de blancs one finds in the Côte des Blancs. The 2010 base Le Clos l'Abbé is suave and mineral with a fine bead; the finish is dry and admirably long.
Emmanuel Brochet is a bit of an outlier in Champagne, in that he works his vineyards and cellar entirely himself, almost all by hand, and all with organic certification—no small feat. This bottle is a beautiful example of that hard work paying off. 'Le Mont Benoit' is a 2.5 hectare lieu-dit in the village of Villers-aux-Noeuds in the Montagne de Reims. The vines age from ~35-60 years-old planted in a mixture of silt, clay, and chalk; all of which present themselves on the palate. The assemblage for the NV (16 Base) is 39% Pinot Noir, 37% Pinot Meunier, 24% Chardonnay, with 4 grams dosage. Emmanuel bottles his Champagne unfiltered, with only a small amount of sulfur as he prefers to leave the wine relatively unmanipulated. Upon opening the nose expresses a barely toasted croissant and delicate fruit aromas of freshly picked pear and yellow apple. The palate reveals crushed rock from the mixture of soil-types and creamy lemon curd. There is a tension here: a balance of richness and lightness, supported by its medium weight and soft bead. This is a Champagne I happily enjoyed on its own, but would be fantastic with chicken liver mousse on brioche or a nuttier cheese like Beaufort. Michelle DeWyngaert
Hugues Godmé 2009 Les Alouettes Saint Bets Brut is a single vineyard blanc de blancs from Villers-Marmery near the border with Verzy. The soils of this climat are very chalky with little topsoil. The grapes are farmed biodynamically, vinified in neutral oak with native yeasts, with no malolactic fermentation, and bottled with low sulfur. There is an electric sense of chalky minerality to this Champagne. While there is a degree of richness to the wine that hints at Verzy, and a silken quality on the palate derived from its time in wood, ultimately a cool, deft sense of fruit and chalkiness defines the nose and palate. Still a bit taut, there are floral and citrus oil notes on the nose, followed by Meyer lemon and a subtle salinity on the palate. The mousse is fine and the finish long, complex, and supple. This should shine brightly with a bit more time in the bottle. John McIlwain
If ever there were an argument that portions of Cumières merit Grand Cru status, Laval's Les Chênes makes a convincing case. The amphitheater-shaped vineyard is something of a sun trap and produces Champagnes of power and precision in Vincent's able hands. Made up of 100% organically-farmed Chardonnay from the eponymous lieu-dit on the eastern side of the village (near the bottom of the slope down by the river), where the soils are chalky rather than the clays of other portions of the village. This is a particularly powerful blanc de blancs.The 2016 has a pale lemon yellow robe with a frothy mousse and ultra-fine bead. The nose is inviting with pretty apple blossom, lemon oil aromas with a wisp of minty herbaceousness. The palate is incisively chalky, with a deep stoniness forming the core of the wine with layers of orchard fruit and citrus peel flavors shimmering above. This has fine grip and drive and enough brio to make for compelling drinking now, but don't hesitate to age for 10 or more years, as tastings with Vincent have shown that les Chênes is a particularly long-lived wine and a magnificent expression of singular terroir. John McIlwain
100% Pinot Noir. The 2014 Les Saints Rémys is the inaugural release of this parcellaire from Benoît Marguet. Located on the slope on the western side of Ambonnay near the border with Bouzy. The robe has a faint peach color, fine bead, and soft mousse. The nose is warm and floral with notes of peach skin, rose petals, blood orange zest, shortbread, and Pinot spice. The wine balances supple, ripe, red fruit flavors with a firm (verging on sinewy) structure within. This is already compellingly complex, though it should gain in detail and nuance with time in the bottle. This is a stellar addition to Benoît's lineup and offers a fascinating contrast to the racy, crystalline Les Crayères. Bottled without dosage. Disgorged March 2019. John McIlwain
Hubert Soreau is is a vigneron whose wine exemplifies the dedication of small growers to producing distinctive Champagnes of terroir. Farming just .49 ha near Epernay without chemicals, he produces tiny amounts of wine which ages in wood, sees long lees-aging under cork, and extended time in the cellar before release. The current Release of Le Clos l'Abbé (base 2010 with this bottling) is vinous, savory, and layered. The nose offers aromas of lemon blossom, sea spray, beeswax, and chalk. The palate is rich and layered, with a subtle, perfectly knit barrel influence lending textural complexity to the mid-palate. This is a lovely blanc de blancs with pinpoint balance between the ripe fruit, briochey, biscuity nose, and salty chalkiness. Bottled without dosage. Disgorged summer, 2019. John McIlwain