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Every year right about this time in Reims, there is a week of tastings called Le Printemps des Champagnes that is guaranteed to set the heart of bubble lovers aflutter. And of the various salons one of my favorites is Des Pieds et Des Vins, featuring both longtime Chambers Street favorites (Agnés Corbon, Mouzon-Leroux, Guillaume Sergent, and Thomas Barbichon), as well as new favorites Flavien Nowack, Thomas Perseval, and the talented and personable Étienne Calsac.
Located in Avize, Calsac took over his grandparents vines in 2010. He works the vines organically, though not certified. There is grass planted between the vines and plowing (by horse in some cases) to keep the weeds down. In the cellar he works fairly hands-off, vinifying the individual parcels separately, fermenting and aging the vins clairs in a combination of tank and used barrels. All the wines go through malolactic fermentation and dosage is with MCR (concentrated grape must). The resulting wines are supple and charming on first tasting, with a frank mineral character that seems to emerge from within.
The wines from today's offer hail from the 1er cru villages of Gruaves in the Côtes des Blancs and Bisseiul on the southern flank of the Montagne de Reims, as well as the grand cru village of Avize. All offer distinctive interpretations of chalk from the broad palate of the Grauves-dominant l’Échappée Belle, to the powerful, majority-Chardonnay Rosé de Craie, and the electric and nervy single parcel Clos des Maladries in Grand Cru Avize. And though each wine can be enjoyed today, there's enough character and structure to warrant setting aside a couple of bottles to experience more mature and knit expressions of each cuvée. John McIlwain
The 2018 base l’Échappée Belle reminds us of the beautiful purity and vibrancy of Étienne Calsac’s Champagnes. Though the domaine is located in Avize this wine speaks more to its origins in Grauves (considered Côtes des Blancs, though more aligned in character to Coteaux Sud d’Epernay according to our friend writer Peter Liem) with a just a nod towards the south-facing village of Bisseuil on the lower slope on La Montagne de Reims. The nose offers aromas of yellow flowers, chalk, and an intriguing note of citrus rind (though it seems to flit between orange peel and lemon zest). In the mouth the wine is supple and emphatically ripe—though by no means flabby or overwrought—with delicious flavors of juicy orchard fruit and lemon curd lent gravitas and energy by a fine, nervy line of chalk running through the mid-palate and carrying all that lovely fruit on to a long and admirably complex finish. I suspect this could gain from cellaring in the short to midterm, but finding the willpower to keep one's hands off those resting bottles may be tested given how absolutely delicious this is at present. And while it’s no secret that young M. Calsac makes lovely wines, this indicates that he has kept joy in mind while putting this dandy Champagne in bottle. Highly recommended. John McIlwain
90% Chardonnay 10% Pinot Noir, farmed organically. Aged in tank and 15% used barrels. 2018 base, disgorged 11/20. With a majority of Chardonnay from Bisseuil and four grams dosage, the wine is ripe, but also elegant and pretty with a pale strawberry pink robe, soft mousse, and fine bead. This offers a beautiful nose highlighted by aromas of hibiscus, wild strawberry, raspberry, tarragon, and chalk. The palate is brightly mineral and structured, with a deep stoniness at its core within its layers of lush red fruits and savory herbal notes on the expansive, lilting finish. This is a lovely rosé balancing ripeness and stony detail with great
(and delicious) aplomb. John McIlwain
100% Chardonnay from a tiny 0.16 hectare south-facing parcel in Avize. Fermented in tank and barrel. Disgorged 1/21, bottled without dosage. With vines planted in the 1970s, the chalk-soiled Clos des Maladries is a true Clos (enclosed by walls) and plowed by horse. Pale golden robe. Effusive aromas of golden apple, lemon blossom, acacia honey, lemon cream, oyster shell, and chalk emanate from the glass. The taut, chiseled palate is pungently mineral and saline with its chiseled frame lent charm by ripe citrus and white stone fruit flavors and a ripple of autolyse radiating from the core. This is still very much young but the verve, brio, and startling persistence of the lengthy, sapid finish that already impresses. While this was quite good with a starter of spaghetti alla gricia, it was better still with a pork cutlet with a mint hazelnut pesto over wilted greens. Nonetheless, I’d be inclined give this a few years in the cellar to allow the elements to knit. That said, this offered enough excitement upon opening to elicit an audible, “golly.” Highly recommended for lovers of deep chalk and even deeper umami. John McIlwain