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There's a great deal to admire in the Champagnes and ethic (terroir is everything) of Aurelien Suenen. His wines combine beautiful fruit with a frank minerality in a graceful way. This results from conscientious farming (Suenen has been in transition to organic certification since 2009) and deft work in the cellar (native yeast fermentation, natural malolactic fermentation, moderate use of sulfur, and dosage determined by blind tasting trial). Blessed by an array of well-situated parcels in the grand cru villages of Cramant, Chouilly, and Oiry (the latter of which he bottles as a single village wine), his progress as a grower has been inspiring to watch as he has refined his wines expression of each. Year after year his wines display greater precision, energy, and verve, even in difficult vintages. The wines are filigreed expressions of the different characters of chalk between Oiry and that of Chouilly and Cramant. Oiry is the brighter and lacier of the two cuvées, displaying brisk acidity, hints of lemon oil, and a crystaline finish, while C & C is equally chalky with more breadth and suppleness to the palate, with flavors of orange peel and salt spreading out on the broad powerful finish. The contrasts between the two is fascinating and a delicious excercise in tasting for lovers of terroir driven Champagnes. John McIlwain
Champagne, though oft-maligned as wines that seem un-rooted due to a tradition of blending, has plenty of wines of terroir if you take the time to look. An exciting place to start is with Aurelien Suenen. His village releases display his desire to grow Champagnes that articulate a sense of place. He notes that in Cramant there is a different terroir expression in the wines from the higher vineyards and the lower lying vineyards, with the vines planted in the latter proving to be more distinctly mineral. C + C, a blend of wines from Chouilly and Cramant is richer and more briny than the Oiry bottling. The 2017 base has a pale gold robe with a fine bead and soft mousse. Where the Oiry offers a certain wispiness—light as a feather, mineral as a board, if you will—C&C offers plenty of gras and power, without sacrificing an iota of precision. The nose is awash in aromas of chalk dust, orange oil (the Cramant portion of C+C, for sure), apple skin, blood orange, and green tea. C+C in my mind is always the more effusive of the village cuvées. The palate is broader and shows more sinew, with flavors of orange zest, whispers of acacia honey, and a deeply salty chalkiness. This offers more breadth, if not more depth, than Oiry and has a different complexion than its sibling, but a familial resemblance. Both are pure and bright, but where Oiry is balletic, C&C is more grounded and muscular. The contrast between the two is fascinating and quite the display of terroir. This is a prime blanc de blancs and a joy to drink. John McIlwain
Wines from the village of Oiry are typically sold under the Cramant designation (we haven't been able to find another Champagne with this single village designation, as yet), so this is a fine opportunity to taste Oiry's distinctive, chalky terroir. Aurelien's parcels contain some very old Chardonnay vines which make for some pungently mineral, stony wines. The vins clairs are fermented partially in barrel, spend nine months on the lees, and are bottled with3 g/l dosage. The 2017 has a pale lemon yellow robe and boasts a fine bead. There are aromas of chalk, rainwater, lemon pith, jonquil, spring breeze on the nose—cool sweetness and liveliness for sure. The palate reiterates that chalk and rainwater character, expressed in a lacy kind of minerality; the wine dances across the tongue rather than penetrates. But all the white fruit and citrusy character come welling up on the back-end and carry over on the unexpectedly long, lilting finish. I’m always amazed by Aurelien's Oiry, it manages the trick of weightlessness, while expressing a very specific piece of earth. Compelling year after year. Lovely now, but I suspect another 3-6 months more in bottle will reveal still more character. Highly recommended! John McIlwain