All posts by Amber LeBeau

Fuck the Fires — Drink Australian Wine

It’s too much — the lost habitats and species. The homes and businesses devastated. Now there are reports that some Australian wine producers in the Hunter Valley and Adelaide Hills may lose an entire vintage due to smoke taint.

Kangaroo in Robert Stein Vineyard

Picture that.

Even if you don’t work in the wine industry, imagine an entire year’s worth of your work wiped out. Think about all those steps, sweat and hours in the vineyards going up in smoke. Perhaps insurance and safety nets will help offset some of the financial losses. But nothing offsets a punch to the gut.

You still feel it. But you learn to manage it and move forward. This is what Australian winemakers are doing right now. However, they don’t have to do it alone.

So in the spirit of Yael Cohen’s Fuck Cancer movement, I encourage the wine community to #FuckTheFires and commit to supporting our brothers and sisters in the Australian wine industry.

There are numerous ways that people can help.

Consumers — Drink Australian Wine, especially from small family producers

Hunter Valley Wineries

Just a small assortment of the many tremendous Hunter Valley wineries that could use your support.

It begins and ends with you. Consumers who care and want to make an impact need to vote with their wallets. You need to ask for and actively seek out Australian wines at your local wine shops and restaurants.

While some producers may have lost their 2020 vintage, there are plenty of bottles of current 2016-2019 wines out in the market. The cash flow of moving those bottles through the supply chain and emptying backstocks will help cushion the blow of a down vintage in 2020. Find these bottles and drink up. This is the easiest thing that anyone can do to help the Australian wine industry.

I know this is tough in many markets–especially in places like the United States where the Australian “selection” is dominated by a handful of big names and mass-produced brands. While the supermarkets aren’t likely to change anytime soon, independent wine shops and restaurants can be more responsive. And, believe me, if customers start asking for more Australian wines, they will rise to meet the demand.

Importers and Distributors — Promote and expand your Australian portfolios

This is more of a personal plea to my American compatriots back home. Because even though we’re the largest wine import market by value, the perception of Australian wines for many US consumers is still of low-priced critter wines and fruit bombs. While those wines helped pave the way for Australian wines into the States, they certainly don’t reflect the realities of Australian wine today.

American consumers deserve the chance to know about things like cool-climate Pinot noirs from the Mornington Peninsula and Margaret River Chardonnays that are ages away from the tropical, butter bombs of the past.

Then there are the crackling Rieslings of Mudgee or the beauty of aged Hunter Valley Semillon. Not to mention the Hunter’s exciting foray into alternative varieties like Verdelho, Fiano and Vermentino as well as intriguing Shiraz-Pinot noir blends.

Lowe Zinfandel

David Lowe was inspired by the great Dry Creek Zins of Fred Peterson of Peterson Winery.
His Mudgee Zinfandel strikes me as a mix of the red-fruit & peppery spice of a Dry Creek Zin with the mouthfeel and texture of a ripe Paso wine.

While I do think that Zinfandel is the “craft beer” of American wine, it’s also made its way to Australia as a passion project of more than a few winemakers worth discovering.

In Orange, they’re exploring the potential of high elevation vineyards as well as carbonic maceration. All of which are tailor-made to capture the interest of the wanderlust Millennial market eagerly looking for something different.

There’s so much more to Australian wines than fruit and furry critters. Please, help give American consumers a chance to discover this.

Wine Shops & Restaurants — add more Aussie options to your selection

I know you guys are caught in the middle between what consumers are buying and what you can actually get from importers and distributors. But being caught in the middle means that you can also push at both ends.

Highlight your Australian wine selection by pointedly putting them in front of consumers. And let them know why you’re doing this. Something as simple as a line on a menu saying, “To support the wineries and families dealing with the effects of devastating fires, we proudly offer this selection of Australian wines for you to enjoy” goes a long way towards bringing awareness to consumers.

Of course, we want consumers to lead the way and dictate demand. But dictations often need a prompt to get going. Seize on that and give consumers a prompt to consider Australian wine. In chicken and egg scenarios, successful businesses are rarely the chicken. So take the lead and be proactive in your promotions.

Wine Writers and Influencers — Talk About Australian Wines

Sasha and Jean Degen

Sasha Degen and her mom, Jean, run a tiny winery dedicated to single-vineyard wines.
Sharon Parsons did a lovely write up on Degen during the 2019 Wine Media Conference in the Hunter Valley.

Yes, there’s so much exciting and interesting stuff out there in the world of wine to write about. But next month, next year and so on, all that exciting and interesting stuff is still going to be there.  So mix things up!

I’m not saying that you need to turn your blog or social media feed completely over Australian topics. However, now is the time for us to turn the spotlight on Australia for something good.

Currently, when Australian topics come across newsfeeds, it’s almost always for something heartbreaking. The fires, the floods and drought. We don’t need to whitewash or sugarcoat the negatives. But we shouldn’t dwell on them either. Australia is so much more than just natural disasters and things that can kill you.

Let’s change the narrative by sharing the stories of dynamic Australian winemakers forging ahead. Let’s talk about how Australia is a microcosm for wine–combining the history of many of the world’s oldest vines and multi-generation family winemaking with innovation that is at the forefront of climate change and the future of the wine industry.

But most importantly, let’s make sure that in the minds and hearts of wine consumers that Australia doesn’t get left behind once the news cameras leave.

Wineries — Hold solidarity tastings featuring your wines and their Australian peers

The wine industry is unique in that while it’s a business and every winery is technically competing against each other; it’s also a community. There are too many other threats to our industry–declining interests by younger generations, neo-prohibitionism, government regulations, tariffs, unstable economies, climate change, hard seltzer and other beverages–that merit more concern.

Whether it’s across the street, across the country or globe, we’re all in this together. The health and success of all our businesses–wineries, shops, restaurants, writers, educators–depends on consumers being engaged and intrigued with wine.

That’s why it would be a fabulous idea for wineries in other regions to host “solidarity tastings” featuring their wines alongside their Australian counterparts.

This will not only highlight how interconnected the world of wine is but help deepen the understanding and appreciation of guests who could try Cab, Shiraz, Sauvignon blanc, etc. from a local favorite next to an expression of that grape from somewhere in Australia. But instead of being done as a competition, it’s done in the spirit of community–perhaps even to raise funds supporting relief efforts in Australia.

Cathy Huyghe and Rebecca Hopkins have a wonderful list of worthwhile organizations to support on their A Balanced Glass site.

Hospice du Rhone seminar mat

Events like the Hospice du Rhône do a great job of highlighting the community among winegrowers.
I remember being fascinated with how many Californian, French and South African winemakers attended this seminar. They were there to taste and ask questions of the panel from Barossa just like the rest of us.

This is a powerful message to send because, while this time it’s Australia, who knows which wine community will be next?

California, Washington, Canada and South Africa are certainly not strangers to devastating brush fires. Flooding, drought and mudslides are hitting European and South American wine regions with increasing frequency as well.

Even if you’re a skeptic about climate change causing these, there’s always the vagarities of devastating earthquakes like those that Chile, New Zealand and Italy have endured. This won’t be the first time that the wine community comes together for support and it certainly won’t be the last.

Why this matters

The timing and impetus for the industry to respond to the fires by supporting the Australian wine community couldn’t be more stark. The industry once again is wringing its hands over how to reach Millennials and Generation Z. But how many times do we need to be beaten over the head with the same messages?

Younger generations want to support businesses that stand for something. That share their values. That basically gives a damn.

So, here you go. Stand up. Give a damn. #FuckTheFires and let’s drink some Australian wine.

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60 Second Wine Review — Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon

A few quick thoughts on the 2013 Silverado Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

Silverado Cabernet Sauvign

The Geekery

In 1976 Diane Miller, daughter of Walt Disney, and her husband, Ron, purchased Miller Ranch from Harry See (of the notable See’s Candies family). A couple years later, Diane’s mother, Lillian Disney, acquired a neighboring parcel of See’s in the Stags Leap District that became Silverado Vineyards.

The sale included several acres of Cabernet Sauvignon planted in 1968-69 by See after seeing Nathan Fay’s success with the grape. This would become the notable “See Clone” (FPS 30) that today is one of the prized heritage clones of Cabernet.

In the early years, the Millers and Disney sold their grapes to wineries such as Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars and Grgich Hills until they were inspired to make their own wine.

The first vintage in 1981 was made at Shafer Vineyards while the Silverado winery down the road was being built.

Sourced from estate vineyards, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon includes fruit from Stags Leap District and the Mt. George Vineyard in Coombsville. Certified Napa Green, all the vineyards are sustainably farmed. While labeled a Cab, winemaker Jon Emmerich blended in 9% Merlot and 3% Petit Verdot for this vintage.

The Wine

Mocha pic by André Richard Chalmers. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0.

The creamy mocha coffee notes add richness & depth without overwhelming the fruit.

Medium-plus intensity. More red fruit than black (cherry, raspberry, plum). Noticeable oak and cedar with some mocha coffee notes as well.

On the palate, the ripe fruit becomes very juicy with high acidity. Medium-plus tannins are chewy, holding up the full-bodied weight of the wine. Some creamy vanilla enhances the coffee flavors but doesn’t overwhelm the fruit. Moderate finish introduces a minty note that wasn’t noticeable on the nose.

The Verdict

At $45-50 retail, this is an excellent buy for a Napa Cab. At the restaurant, we paid closer to $110, which wasn’t great but not dreadfully horrible for restaurant markups.

Still, I was impressed with how food-friendly and versatile this Silverado was to go with both my steak as well as the wife’s lighter chicken dish.

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Sauvignon Gris — the key to making Napa Sauvignon Blanc interesting?

Note: All the wines reviewed here were samples provided on a press tour.

Sauvignon blanc grapes by Cserfranciska. Uploading to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Back in my retail days, premium Napa Sauvignon blanc was always some of the hardest wines to sell. I’d have fantastic producers like Araujo, Bevan,  Cakebread, Grgich Hills, Duckhorn, etc. sit on the shelf untouched. Even during the peak white wine season of summer, it took every bit of handselling savvy to get these bottles into baskets.

You’d think that good wine wouldn’t be that difficult to move, but Napa SB had two knocks against it.

1.) It’s a white Napa wine (usually) over $20 that’s not Chardonnay.
(Because, hey, why not get Chateau Montelena or Moone-Tsai Chard instead?)

2.) It’s a Sauvignon blanc over $20.
(Why spend more than Kim Crawford or Oyster Bay?)

Now I’m not saying that it’s impossible to sell a Napa Sauvignon blanc over $20.

Obviously, these bottles are selling somewhere (such as tasting rooms). But it’s a tough sell in many retail settings because of the way that most US stores are laid out.

Here you’ll often see varietal wines from New World regions like California, New Zealand, Chile and South Africa all grouped together. Napa Sauvignon blanc rarely seems like a compelling value when stocked among their more value-oriented peers. Even if a shop had a dedicated “California” or “American wine” section, these wines are still competing against sub-$20 options from Washington State, Sonoma, Monterey County, etc.

The few Napa bottles that manage to stay under that magical $20 mark–like St. Supery, Mondavi and Honig–tend to fare better. But even these wines regularly lose sales to other regions.

This is because, in the minds of many consumers, Napa Sauvignon blanc doesn’t have a distinctive style–only a distinctive price tag.

2017 Stags Leap Aveta sauvignon blanc
And while they’re more likely to swallow the Napa price for Chardonnay (and, of course, Cabernet Sauvignon), that halo effect rarely reaches the Sauvignon blanc aisle.

Instead, customers who are interested in spending top dollar for Sauvignon blanc are more likely to go over to the Old World aisles for Loire or White Bordeaux. Here, the premium pricing of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé and Pessac-Leognan doesn’t drag each other down. More importantly, they promise a unique regional identity–which is key.

Back in the varietal section, those few customers reaching for the top shelf are more apt to grab Cloudy Bay. Or maybe one of the few other high-quality New Zealand Sauvignon blanc wines that make their way to the US. Even if you don’t know the producer, seeing the words “Marlborough” and “New Zealand” on the label promises something distinctive.

What is Napa Sauvignon blanc promising?

Something less green and herbaceous than New Zealand? Maybe. Though some producers have been experimenting with things like early harvest, heavier crop load and canopy shading to create more NZ-like flavors.

Something with a lavish texture and noticeable oak influence? Perhaps. These tend to be the more expensive and highly rated examples of Napa Sauvignon blanc. But, again, you have the question of why should a consumer who’s looking to spend top dollar for that style not go with a Chardonnay or white Bordeaux instead?

Which brings us back to the muddled middle that premium Napa Sauvignon blanc finds itself in. It’s not a value-priced wine. But it’s not as distinctive as other premium white wine categories.

Napa has to deliver something compelling–something interesting–to merit those lofty prices.
SLD vineyards behind Quixote

Of course, Napa wine is always going to be premium priced because of the high cost of land here.

They can’t rely just on the name “Napa” or even the quality in the bottle. Yes, having an outstanding wine helps sell in the tasting room where people can try it for themselves. But you don’t always have that privilege on the sales floor or restaurant table. Those premium bottles have to be hand-sold by an enthusiastic wine steward or sommelier who has already been wowed by the wine.

Though here’s the rub.

Every steward and sommelier is going to have dozens upon dozens of bottles that they’re passionate about. Everything from geeky varieties, obscure regions, small-lot productions to wineries with great stories–they all need handselling. Even hand-sold wines need to find ways to stand out from the pack.

In search of interesting Napa Sauvignon blanc.

During my trip to the Stags Leap District, I had many showstopping wines. And, yes, that included some absolutely delicious Napa Sauvignon blanc.

I noticed a pattern that many of the best examples prominently featured the Sauvignon Musqué clone. This caught my attention as growers in the Arroyo Seco region of Monterey County are also using this clone to make some thoroughly intriguing wines.

Taylor Sauvignon blanc

A few of my favorites were:
2018 Taylor Family ($40) made from 100% Musqué clone from Yountville.
2017 JK Ilsley ($35) also from Yountville and majority Musqué.
2017 Stag’s Leap Wine Cellar Rancho Chimiles ($40) made from 86% Musqué. This was way more aromatic and textural than SLWC’s regular Aveta Sauvignon blanc ($26) that is only 8% Musqué.

But as delicious as those wines were, it’s hard to say that they were compelling enough to merit a $20+ price tag–especially compared to the similarly delicious Sauvignon Musqué from areas like Arroyo Seco that cost far less. Picturing these bottles sitting on the same retail shelf, it’s not hard to see the higher-priced Napa bottles gathering dust.

However, there was one Napa Sauvignon blanc-based wine that more than stood out as being worth every penny.

The Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc ($50).

I was already familiar with Elizabeth Vianna’s outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon. Nestled in the southern end of the Stags Leap District, neighboring Clos du Val and one of Shafer’s vineyards, this is obviously prime red wine territory. But instead of offering the typical Carneros Chardonnay that is omnipresent in Napa, Chimney Rock’s flagship white is a fruit-forward but elegant white Bordeaux style blend–with a twist.

Chimney Rock exterior

Bordeaux-style wine made by a Brazilian winemaker at a Cape Dutch-inspired winery in the heart of Napa. There’s a lot going on at Chimney Rock and it’s all delicious.

Vianna has never been a fan of Semillon from Napa. Compared to Bordeaux, Semillon gets too lush and fat here. Now winemakers could do a juggling act with early harvests (like they do in the Hunter Valley) to retain acidity. But while that may work for a low alcohol varietal wine requiring long term aging, it’s not necessarily the ideal match for adding depth to Napa Sauvignon blanc.

Instead, Vianna and her predecessor, Doug Fletcher, fell in love with the “secret ingredient” hidden in many of the best white Bordeaux–Sauvignon gris.

Chateau Palmer in Margaux; Haut Brion, Smith Haut Lafitte and Pape Clement in Pessac-Leognan; Valandraud, Fombrauge and Monbousquet in St. Emilion. Depending on the vintage, you’ll often find anywhere from 5% up to 50% (2018 Blanc de Valandraud) of Sauvignon gris in these highly-acclaimed wines.

So what the heck is Sauvignon gris?

Jancis Robinson, Julia Harding and José Vouillamoz’s Wine Grapes notes that Sauvignon gris is a color mutation of Sauvignon blanc. Similar to the Pinot gris mutation of Pinot, it’s not known precisely where Sauvignon gris first emerged.

One possibility is the Loire, where the grape is known as Fié. Ridiculously low yielding, the vine was almost wholly lost to phylloxera as producers replanted with other varieties. It’s only recently, with the rediscovery of abandoned old vine vineyards such as Jacky Preys’ site in Mareuil-sur-Cher, that Sauvignon gris is getting another look.

Compared to Sauvignon blanc, Sauvignon gris tends to have slightly thicker skins often with a pink hue. It produces wines of medium-plus to high acidity with pronounced, concentrated flavors of melon, mango, stone and citrus fruit as well as a robust floral component. In the cooler climates of the Loire, it can add some subtle herbaceous notes though it rarely gets as green as Sauvignon blanc.

In addition to the Loire and California, producers in Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Moldova and New Zealand are also experimenting with Sauvignon gris.

A tasting of three Chimney Rock Elevage Blanc

Kenneth Friedenreich & Elizabeth Vianna

Tasting the Elevage Blanc and other Chimney Rock wines with Elizabeth Vianna and Kenneth Friedenreich, author of Oregon Wine Country Stories.

The winemaking of Elevage Blanc is very Bordeaux-like with a mixture of barrel fermentation and stainless steel using several yeast stains for complexity. The barrel component (usually around 1/3 new French and 1/3 neutral) sees frequent bâttonage beginning with 3-4 times a week and then gradually decreasing. The wine often goes through malolactic fermentation for stability. Depending on the vintage, around 3000 cases a year are made.

2008 Elevage Blanc – 70% Sauvignon blanc, 30% Sauvignon gris

Medium-plus intensity nose of tropical fruit with a savory, smokey component. Proscuitto wrapped melon-balls comes to mind. Along with the melon is some noticeable spiced pear.

On the palate, the pear and oak spices (nutmeg, clove) come through with a little cardamon. The slightly salty, savory, smokey notes are there as well but less pronounced than they were on the nose. The full-bodied mouthfeel is well balanced with medium-plus acidity–giving a lot of life to this wine. But the moderate finish lingering on the spice shows that its time is nearing the end. Still quite impressive for a 10+-year-old white wine.

2014 Elevage Blanc – 54% Sauvignon gris, 46% Sauvignon blanc

High-intensity nose. Intense fresh and grilled peaches. Less noticeable oak than the 2008 with the smokiness being more flinty. This one was also the most floral of the three with a mixture of elderflower and white lilies. Very mouthwatering bouquet.

On the palate, the peaches carry through joined by apples that also have a grilled component. Again, the oak is far less noticeable with maybe some subtle vanilla creaminess to go with the full-bodied richness. However, the high acidity keeps this wine well in check. The mouthwatering grilled peaches continue throughout the long finish. The highest proportion of Sauvignon gris and one of the best wines I had on the entire trip.

2016 Elevage Blanc – 79% Sauvignon blanc, 21% Sauvignon gris

Medium-plus intensity nose–apple and citrus-driven (star fruit, lemon). It’s the only one of three without a smokey, savory component. However, the oak is noticeable with pastry dough and clove spice. With air, tropical mango emerges as well as very ripe apricot.

On the palate, the toasty pastry and ripe tree fruit (apple & apricot) carry through. While not as heavy and oaky as a Chard, this one definitely feels the weightiest with the pastry tart element. Medium-plus acidity helps keep the full-bodied wine balanced. It also highlights more of the citrus flavors from the nose, bringing some pomelo to the party. Those more defined fruits offset the oak flavors, letting the citrus dominant the medium-plus length finish.

Takeaways

2014 Elevage Blanc

Definitely was one of my top wines of 2019. Such a stellar white that still has several years to go.

While 2014 was my clear favorite, each of these Elevage Blancs was well worth a premium $50 price. They had complexity with each vintage showing its own distinct and unique personality.

It’s clear that Sauvignon gris, itself, adds interesting elements when blended with Sauvignon blanc that you don’t always get with Semillon or Muscadelle in white Bordeaux. Most notable for me was how Sauvignon gris seems to deal with oak, steering the wine towards more savory flavors as opposed to just “oaky” notes.

In contrast, I feel like Semillon and Sauvignon blanc tend to absorb oak flavors like a sponge–making the wine feel more Chardonnay like. It was notable that as the quantity of SG decreased, the oak in the Elevage Blanc became more noticeable.

Blend vs. Varietal

Only the 2016 vintage of Elevage Blanc could be labeled as a varietal Sauvignon blanc. But maybe ditching the varietal designation is the answer to avoiding that muddled middle which plagues these Napa white wines? While a New World “white blend” aisle probably doesn’t get as much traffic as the Sauvignon blanc section, it doesn’t come with the baggage either.

A premium Napa white blend isn’t competing with the value-driven options from New Zealand, Chile and elsewhere. Instead, it can pull more of the “halo effect” of the Napa name as it stands out from various white blends from Lodi, Paso Robles, Sonoma, Washington State, etc.

There is still the question of regional identity, but not many regions have staked a claim to Sauvignon gris. No matter which style you go with–crisp, stainless or lavish, oak-driven–Sauvignon gris adds its own “twist” to the wine. This is something that Napa can sink its teeth into, crafting a distinct regional style of Sauvignon blanc/Sauvignon gris blends.

Though, they better hurry before someone else beats them to the punch.

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In Defense of Jargon

If you’ve been floating around the Wine Twittersphere anytime the last few weeks, I’m sure you saw The Tweet.

Taxi Photo by Cristian Lorini. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Like a Chia Pet doused in Miracle-Gro, the brew-ha over wine lists, anti-intellectualism, gatekeeping and winesplaining kept sprouting into sub-threads and subtweets.

A few readers asked for my take on the ordeal but I was too busy studying for upcoming exams to give it much thought.

Besides, the many different angles of this Twitter-controversy were more than covered by Robert Joseph, Esther Mobley, and W. Blake Gray‘s excellent summaries. I’ve never been a fan of regurgitating “hot takes” that’s already been aptly taken by folks more talented than me.

So I wasn’t going to write anything unless I could move the conversation forward, or maybe in a slightly different direction.

Then a recent cab ride took me by surprise.

Asking to go to St. Pancras for my train home, my cabbie responded by offering his congrats. In a split-second of paranoia, I wondered if he somehow worked part-time on the WSET Awards Panel, but no.

Instead, he was impressed that, despite my very clear American accent, I didn’t ask to go to St. Pancreas–a daily occurrence for him. (Though, apparently, this is not a mistake made by only Americans.)

The linguistic compliment was out of the blue because, usually, I am that American who horrendously mispronounces everything.
Gravois Park sign by Paul Sableman. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Ah, GRAV-oize Park–or GRAV-oy if you’re fancy.
Definitely not how the French (or most anyone else) would say it.

Growing up in Missouri, my tongue was certainly not taught the Queen’s English. It took many years of living in other areas, such as Washington State and Paris, to learn to stop “warshing the dishes” or that places like Creve Coeur and Carondelet are not pronounced as Creeve Core and Cah-ron-duh-let.

Lord knows that I’ve baffled more than a few London cabbies asking to go to the WSET School on Beer-mond-see. But eventually, I started getting the hang of Bermondsey (Berm-zee) and those interactions got easier.

Beyond pronunciations, I also got used to standing in a queue, instead of a line, and asking where the toilets are instead of the restroom, ladies’ room or bathroom. I learned that an entrée is only a bite or two, not the main course as it is in the US.

When someone in Europe tells me something is on the second floor, I know that’s a bloody lie because it’s actually on the third floor. But if I need help with my bags, I should use the lift instead of the elevator. While seeing dates like February 1st written as 1-2-2020 will still have me backtracking to January, I’m slowly starting to adopt those habits too.

All of these things are the “jargon” of everyday life.

And while it is embarrassing, intimidating and even shame-inducing to make mistakes, those moments are fleeting. Just because I’m not familiar with Britishisms and European quirks of language, doesn’t mean that they’re wrong.

The important thing is whether or not the interaction produced results. Did I get my cab to Bermondsey? Was I directed to the bathroom? Do I have the right ticket for next Saturday’s train ride or do I need a time machine back to January 2nd?

Now, yes, a dickish cabbie, waiter or ticket attendant could amplify the shame, panning my ignorance of the local jargon and customs. But they’re probably going to be a dick anyways even if I had perfect pronunciations and total acclimation. That’s just how some people are.

It’s not the jargon or customs that are wrong. Sometimes an asshole is just an asshole.

And sometimes a crappy wine list is just a crappy wine list.

Wine List pic by Iwona Erskine-Kellie. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Bold typeface is your friend.

Going back to the Helen Rosner tweet, many people noted that simple design fixes like bolding keywords and a better layout would have helped.

Folks like Robert Joseph brought up that the thread was a good reminder that we shouldn’t forget what the purpose of a wine list is.

Ultimately, it’s to sell wine. It’s a tool to communicate.

So is jargon.

Like any tool, it can be used poorly or effectively.

On the sales floor, I actively listened for jargon from my customers. Because it clued me in on what level of familiarity they might already have with wine. This better focused my questions and gave me a good idea of how I should proceed.

In this way, jargon is like shorthand or a schema.

Someone coming in and telling me that they don’t like “bretty wines” gives me a completely different starting point than someone telling me that they don’t like wines that “smell weird.” Or they use terms like acidic and sour compared to bright, fresh or “crunchy.” (That last one provoked another interesting Twitter thread which eventually won me over to the value of “crunchy wines.”)

It’s the same thing when people tell me that they love “Burgs.” Their shorthand familiarity lets me know that I probably don’t need to insult their intelligence by making sure they know that Pinot noir and Chardonnay are the grapes of Burgundy.

However, if someone says they’re a Chard fan, I may still need to feel around more to see where they’re coming from. Here too, peppering my words with a measured amount of jargon (minerally, malo, oaky) could help in seeing how they respond.

But the onus on me, as the salesperson, is ultimately to understand and communicate with my customer. Especially if I want to actually make a sale. Just as it doesn’t help the London cabbie wanting the fare to get dickish or “play dumb” over St. Pancreas or Beer-mond-see, there’s no value in a sommelier or wine steward belittling a customer who isn’t familiar with our language and customs.

Yes, wine is complicated.

Crunchy Australian red

If you want the perfect example of a “crunchy wine” seek this out. A crazy delicious Pinot noir, Pinot Meunier and Pinot gris (yes, really!) blend from the Adelaide Hills.

Yes, it’s littered with neologisms and strange parlances that make normal folks want to flee. There’s always going to be a cottage industry trying to make wine simple and accessible to those normal people.

We should be mindful of the language we use and whether or not we’re communicating effectively. But that doesn’t mean we have to ditch the jargon completely to be able to talk to less wine-savvy folks. Likewise, Europeans don’t need to “Americanize” the pronunciations of places or change their terminology to accommodate tourists and transplants.

Instead, we should be like cabbies–trying to understand just enough so we can get our consumers to their wine destinations. Eventually, if they keep coming back, they may pick up a bit of our jargon–making future interactions easier.

And who knows? Maybe someday they’ll even enjoy a Burg on Bermondsey.

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60 Second Wine Review – Lindstrom Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon

Note: This wine was a sample during a press trip.

A few quick thoughts on the 2012 Lindstrom SLD Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley.

Lindstrom 2012 SLD Cab

The Geekery

The tiny 4-acre Nicali Vineyard of Greg and Carol Lindstrom is literally above it all. Perched on a hilltop overlooking the vineyards of Shafer, Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, Odette and Joseph Phelps’ SLD vineyard, the Lindstroms have some of the steepest slopes in the district. Because of this steepness, everything is done by hand with meager yields of sustainably farmed grapes.

Despite being 100% Cab, the uniqueness of the Lindstrom’s vineyard gives them ample opportunity to make a complex and characterful wine. Taking a very Bordelais approach, the Lindstroms identified 11 distinct blocks with vastly different exposures and soil types. With vineyard manager Michael Wolf (of Araujo, Harlan, Duckhorn and Scarecrow fame), they matched each to specific rootstocks and clones.

Since 2005, winemaker Celia Welch (Scarecrow, D.R. Stephens, Staglin and Corra) harvests, ferments and ages the blocks separately to use as blending components. What doesn’t make the cut goes to their second wine, Nicali, or is sold off. Each year only around 250-600 cases are produced.

The Wine

Star anise pic by THOR. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

The wide array of spices, like star anise, adds Old World complexity to this very ripe, full-bodied SLD Cab.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Lots of rich dark fruits–plums, cassis. But most intriguing is the melange of spices–anise, black pepper, clove, cinnamon.

On the palate, the dark fruit still leads the way with a very full-bodied mouthfeel. Medium-plus acidity keeps it fresh and with its high, ripe tannins suggest that this wine has a lot of aging potential. A little tertiary tobacco is starting to emerge but the long finish is very spice-driven–particularly with the black pepper and anise.

The Verdict

At around $131 (WS Ave), this is very much in line with its SLD peers. It probably should be closer to $150 as the new releases are.

While it’s hard to find deals in Napa, this small family estate is definitely under the radar.

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Geek Notes — The Best Podcasts on Blind Tasting

Just a quick post today as I’ll be traveling and studying over the next few days. I’m heading to London for my Sparkling and Fortified wine exams on the 22nd. (Wish me luck!) While I might be able to sneak in a 60 Second Review, I’ll wrap up my series on the superlatives and exceptions of Champagne when I get back.

However, as part of my studies, I’ve been reviewing several of my favorite podcasts on blind tasting that I thought I’ll share. If you know of anyone having blind tasting exams coming up, this is a great list to email them.

Screenshot of Interpreting Wine

Interpreting Wine with Lawrence Francis

I haven’t written a full review of an Interpreting Wine episode yet. But after being recommended this podcast by Noelle Harman of Outwines, I’ve been really digging it.

Francis conducted an excellent series of interviews on blind tasting sparkling and fortified wines with (now) Master of Wine Christine Marsiglio and Jim Gore of the Global Wine Academy. They are absolute “must-listen” for anyone taking WSET Diploma exams.

Ep 263: Prosecco | Sparkling tasting with WSET (20:48)

Ep 264: Cava | Sparkling tasting with WSET. (19:47)

Ep 265: Champagne | Sparkling tasting with WSET (25:57)

Ep 353: Jim Gore, The Science of Taste, Blind Tasting Series. (43:23)

Ep 354: Jim Gore, Fortified Tasting, Blind Tasting Series. (27:03)

UK Wine Show with Chris Scott

I did a feature on the UK Wine Show covering episode 111 with Ian D’Agata. Chris Scott is a WSET educator for Levels 1-3, so his episodes give a good idea of what examiners are looking for. While not speaking to the Diploma level, these podcasts are still a very useful review of the WSET’s systematic approach to tasting.

Decoding the WSET L3 SAT Part 1 – Eyes (8:58 with interview only)

Decoding the WSET L3 SAT Part 2 – Nose. (15:15)

Decoding the WSET L3 SAT Part 3 – Mouth. (25:02)

Decoding the WSET L3 SAT Part 4 – Conclusions (11:48)

Godfrey Spence series

Godfrey Spence is a WSET educator and Decanter World Wine Awards judge. He’s also the author of The Port Companion.

How to taste wine the WSET SAT L3 way with Godfrey Spence Part 1 (14:35 with interview only)

How to taste wine the WSET SAT L3 way with Godfrey Spence Part 2. (16:28)

How to taste wine the WSET SAT L3 way with Godfrey Spence Part 3 (10:17 )

How to taste wine the WSET SAT way with Godfrey Spence.  The Nose. (12:50 with interview only).

How to taste wine the WSET SAT way with Godfrey Spence The Mouth – Part 1 (14:08)

How to taste wine the WSET SAT way with Godfrey Spence The Mouth – Part 2 (14:59)

GuildSomm

I’ve featured the Guildsomm podcast on a couple of Geek Notes about Champagne. For wine students, it’s truly one of the best wine podcasts you could subscribe to.

The episodes below tend to take a very technical approach. While there are notable differences between the blind tasting exams for the Court of Master Sommeliers and those of the WSET/MW programs, piecing together the underlying theory is still the same.

As I mentioned in my post on the Top 5 YouTube Videos on Sherry Wine, GuildSomm also has a YouTube channel. This is another tremendous resource which often has videos on blind tasting. I’ll share below the first part (7:05) of a great series on playing 20 questions with blind tasting.

2013 Blind Tasting Series Part 1/3 (30:51)

2013 Blind Tasting Series Part 2/3. (33:31)

2013 Blind Tasting Series Part 3/3 (1:00:29)

Three Approaches to Blind Tasting (57:50)

Blind Tasting Questions (1:03:14)

Podcast: Interview with John Hoskins, MW on the tasting exam for the Masters of Wine (45:49)

Blind Tasting & Poetry with Master of Wine Nick Jackson on his book Beyond Flavour (51:36) – I was lucky enough to get a copy of Jackson’s new book and I highly recommend it.

Know of any other great podcasts on blind tasting?

Post them in the comments. I’m always on the hunt for more recommendations.

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Geek Notes — Champagne superlatives and exceptions (Part III) Why no Pinot in the Côte des Blancs?

We’ve covered the exceptions of the Montagne de Reims and Vallée de la Marne in parts I and II of this series. Now we turn our focus to the Côte des Blancs, the “hill of whites.”

Avize coat of arms image by infofiltrage. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Coat of Arms of the Grand Cru village of Avize. Note the color of the grapes.

It’s almost an understatement to say that this region is universally known for world-class Chardonnay. Of all the superlatives in Champagne, this is one you can absolutely take to the bank.

So pretty short article today, eh?

Well, not quite.

I’ve still got a few geeky tricks up my sleeve–including one notable exception. But more importantly, we’re going to look at the why behind the superlative.

Why Chardonnay? And why does no one talk about planting Pinot noir here? After all, it’s also a highly prized noble variety. So why is the entire Côte des Blancs region planted to 85% Chardonnay with only 7% Pinot noir?

To answer that, we need to cut deep as we look at the sub-regions of the Côte des Blancs.

Côte des Blancs (Heart of the region with the Grand Crus and all but one premier cru.)
Val du Petit Morin (The exception worth knowing about.)
Cote de Sézanne
Vitryat
Montgueux

That last one, Montgueux, is a bit of a wild card. I can see why it is officially grouped with the Côte des Blancs. But it’s in the Aube department, just west of Troyes. In comparison to the other subregions, Montgueux is 60 km away from Sézanne and over 100km away from Avize. So I’m going to put this one aside till Part IV.

Côte des Blancs map

Map of the Côte des Blancs from the UMC website

A couple more whetstones.

In Part I & II, I gave a few recommendations of helpful wine books and study tools. Today, I’ll add two more that I’ll be relying heavily on for this article.

Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay’s The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste – This is the perfect companion to Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s World Atlas of Wine. While the latter goes into geeky encyclopedic detail, The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste ties those details back to how they directly influence what ends up in your glass. Great book for blind tasting exams.

James E. Wilson’s Terroir: The Role of Geology, Climate, and Culture in the Making of French Wines – Not going to lie. This is not a bedtime read. Well, it is if you want a melatonin boost. While chockful of tremendous insight, this is a very dense and technical book. You want to treat this more as an encyclopedia–looking up a particular region–rather than something you go cover to cover with. But if you want to sharpen your understanding of French wine regions, it’s worth a spot on your bookcase. (Especially with used copies on Amazon available for less than $10)

When you think of the Côte des Blancs, think about the Côte d’Or.

Butte de Saran photo by October Ends. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons underCC-BY-SA-3.0

Vineyards in the northern Grand Cru of Chouilly with the Butte de Saran in the background.

The Côte des Blancs is essentially Champagne’s extension of the Brie plateau (yes, like the cheese). Over time it has eroded and brought the deep chalky bedrock to the surface. Like the Côte d’Or, both the heart of the Côte des Blancs and Cote de Sézanne have east-facing slopes capped by forests with a fertile plain at the bottom.

This prime exposure is the first to receive warmth from the early morning sun. During the cold spring nights of flowering (after bud break), Chardonnay is most vulnerable as the earliest bloomer. It needs to get to that warmth quickly for successful pollination.

It’s a similar reason why growers in the Côte des Blancs avoid planting near the very top of the slope where there is more clay. The soils here are cooler and don’t heat up as quickly. Plus, being so close to the misty forest cap encourages wetter conditions that promote botrytis. As we covered in Part II, both Chardonnay and Pinot noir are quite sensitive to this ignoble rot.

Echoing back to Burgundy, we see that the most prized plantings of Chardonnay (notably the Grand Cru villages) in the Côte des Blancs are midslope. In the sparse areas where we do find Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier, it’s usually the flatter, fertile plains that have deeper topsoils.

The Tiny Exceptions.

This is the case with the premier cru village of Vertus. While still 90% Chardonnay, the southern end of the village sees more clay and deeper topsoils as the slope flattens and turns westward. This encourages a little red grape planting with fruit from the village going to houses like Duval-Leroy, Larmandier-Bernier, Delamotte, Louis Roederer, Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot.

The village of Grauves is also an interesting case. In his book, Champagne, Peter Liem argues that this premier cru should actually be part of the Côteaux Sud d’Épernay. Looking at a good wine map, you can easily see why. It’s on the other side of the forest cap from the rest of the Côte des Blancs villages–opposite Cramant and Avize. Here most all the vineyards face westward. While Chardonnay still dominates (92%), we see a tiny amount of Meunier (7%) and Pinot noir (1%) creep in.

Likewise, in Cuis–where vineyards make an almost 180 arch from Cramant and Chouilly to Grauves–we see a range of exposures that adds some variety to the plantings (4% red grapes). The home village of Pierre Gimonnet, Cuis is still thoroughly Chardonnay country as a fruit source for Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger and Moët & Chandon.

This video (3:08) from Champagne Pierre Domi in Grauves has several great aerial drone shots of the area.

But why not more Pinot noir?

For years, plantings of Chardonnay have steadily increased. Part of this has been driven by market demand–particularly with the success of Blanc de Blancs Champagne. Another reason could be climate change with the search for more acidity and freshness.

So you could say, why bother planting Pinot noir when you have such great Chardonnay terroir?

But there are other viticultural reasons for the Côte des Blancs to flavor Chardonnay over Pinot noir. For one, despite the topographical similarities to the Côte d’Or (and Côte de Nuits), the soil is much chalkier in the Côte des Blancs. While Pinot noir likes chalk, it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

Chalk has many benefits, but it also has a significant negative.

It’s high calcium content and alkaline nature encourages reactions in the soil that make vital nutrients like iron and magnesium scarce. Both are needed for chlorophyll production and photosynthesis. A lack of these nutrients can lead to chlorosis–of which Pinot noir is particularly susceptible.

The effects of chlorosis can be seen in the yellowing of leaves due to lack of chlorophyll. Considering that all the sugars that go into ripening grapes come from the energy production of photosynthesis, this isn’t great for a wine region that often teeters on the edge of ripeness–especially with Pinot noir.

https://www.champagne-oudiette.com/en/01-the-terroir/

There is also more lignitic clay down in the Val du Petit Morin and Marne Valley.
This picture is from the website of Champagne Oudiette who has vineyards in both areas.

As James Wilson notes in Terroir, the “magical ingredient” to help balance these soils is lignite. In Champagne, lignitic clays are known as cendres noires or “black ashes.” Essentially compressed peat mixed with clay, the cendres noires helps hold these critical nutrients in the soil.

The Montagne de Reims, particularly around Bouzy and Ambonnay (which are home to quarries of cendres noires), naturally has more of this “magical ingredient.” While chlorosis can be an issue for Chardonnay as well–requiring the use of fertilizers or cendres noires to supplement the soil–the risk isn’t as grave.

However, there is one red grape stronghold in the Côte des Blancs.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the Val du Petit Morin.

While still paced by Chardonnay (52%), this is the one area of the Côte des Blancs where you’ll find villages dominated by something else. If you have a good wine map (and read Part II of our series), you’ll see why.

Cutting between the Côte des Blancs and Côte de Sézanne, the Petit Morin is an east-west river that brings with it a fair amount of frost danger. Also, like the Marne, we see more diversity in soils with alluvial sand and clay joining the chalk party.

The Petit Morin also flows through the marshes of Saint-Gond–which played a key role in the First Battle of the Marne during World War I. Swampy marshland (and the threat of botrytis) frustrates Chardonnay and Pinot noir just as much as it frustrated the Germans.

Among the notable villages here:

Congy– (50% Pinot Meunier/28% Chardonnay) The home village of the renowned grower Ulysse Collin. This estate was one of the first to bring attention to the Val du Petit Morin.

Étréchy – The only premier cru outside of the heart of the Côte des Blancs. Neighboring both Vertus and Bergères-lès-Vertus (so away from the river), this follows the narrative of many of its 1er and Grand Cru peers by being 100% Chardonnay.

Villevenard – (53% Pinot Meunier/37% Chardonnay) Along with Sainte-Gemme in the Vallée de la Marne Rive Droite, Leuvrigny in the Rive Gauche and Courmas in the Vesle et Ardre of the Montagne de Reims, this autre cru is a source of Meunier for Krug. It’s also the home of Champagne Nominé Renard whose relatives help pioneer Champagne production in the village.

The video below (6:15) tells a little bit about their story with views of the vineyards starting at the 2:14 mark. You can see here how different the soils look compared to the heart of the Côte des Blancs with the Grand Crus.

Côte de Sézanne

Just about every wine book will describe the Côte de Sézanne as a “warmer, southern extension of the Côte des Blancs.” The region certainly upholds the Chardonnay banner with the grape accounting for more than 75% of plantings.

But most of those wine books are going to ignore the Val du Petit Morin mentioned above. And they’re certainly going to ignore the influence that the swampy Marais Saint-Gond has on the northern villages of the Côte de Sézanne. Here we see villages like Allemant and Broyes, which, while still Chardonnay dominant, have more diversity than the near monovarietal heart of the Côte des Blancs.

Even going south to the namesake autre cru of Sézanne, we see nearly a third of the vineyards devoted to red grapes. Here, further away from the Val du Petit Morin, we still have a fair amount of clay in the soil. This, combined with the warmer climate, shapes not only the Chardonnays of the Côte de Sézanne (riper, more tropical) but also paves the way for red grape plantings.

In the village of Montgenost, south of Sézanne, we get firmly back to Chardonnay country (94%). This is the home turf of the excellent grower Benoît Cocteaux. While the video below (2:12) is in French, it does have some great images of the area.

Vitryat

If the Côte de Sézanne is the southern extension of the Côte des Blancs, then the Vitryat is its southeastern arm. And it’s even more of a “mini-me” than the Sézannais.

Of the 15 autre crus here, four are 100% Chardonnay-Changy, Loisy-sur-Marne, Merlaut and Saint-Amand-sur-Fion. Another four have 99% of their vineyards exclusive to the grape with no village having less than 95% Chardonnay. Yeah, it’s pretty much a white-out here.

Among the teeniest, tiniest of exceptions worth noting are:

Glannes – 97% Chardonnay/3% Pinot noir with fruit going to Moët & Chandon.

Vanault-le-Châtel – 99.1% Chardonnay, 0.3% Pinot noir with 0.6% other (Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Arbane and/or Petit Meslier). Louis Roederer purchases fruit from here.

Vavray-le-Grand – 99% Chardonnay/1% Pinot noir. A source of fruit for Billecart-Salmon.

Takeaways

Montgueux photo by Superjuju10. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under  CC-BY-SA-3.0

The village of Montgueux (which we’ll cover in Part 4) shares the same Turonian era chalk as the Vitryat sub-region. Both are different from the Campanian chalk of the Côte des Blancs and Côte de Sézanne.


Even as the Côte des Blancs exhibits the supreme superlative in its Chardonnay-dominance, looking under the covers always reveals more.

But the biggest takeaway that I hope folks are getting from this series is that both the exceptions and superlatives make sense. The combination of soils, climate and topography lend themselves more to some grape varieties over the other.

This is the story of terroir. The problems come when we start thinking of regions as monolithic and accepting, prima facie, the butter knife narrative about them. Even when the superlatives are overwhelmingly true (i.e., the Côte des Blancs is known for outstanding Chardonnay), the reasons why cut deeper.

We’ll wrap up this series with a look at the Côte des Bar.

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60 Second Wine Review — Graham’s 1985 Vintage Port

A few quick thoughts on the 1985 Graham’s Vintage Port.
Graham's Vintage Port 1985

The Geekery

William and John Graham founded their eponymous Port house in 1820. Since 1970, it’s been part of the Symington family’s extensive portfolio along with Dow’s, Warre’s, Cockburn’s and Quinta do Vesuvio.

Five vineyards provided fruit for this vintage. The most notable is Quinta dos Malvedos, located on the border of the Cima Corgo and Douro Superior regions. Acquired in 1890, this was Graham’s first estate vineyard.

Peter Symington, widely considered one of the all-time great master blenders, crafted the 1985 as part of a 45-year career that lasted till his retirement in 2009. Still involved in winemaking, Symington tends to his estate, Quinta da Fonte Branca in the Baixo Corgo.

I couldn’t find the exact blend of this wine. Looking at the plantings of the vineyards gives some clue. It’s going to be primarily Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz–as most Ports are. But there are varieties like Sousão and Tinta Amarela (from Malvedos and Quinta do Tua) as well as Alicante Bouschet (Malvedos)–along with assorted “old mixed vines”–that could be in here.

The Wine

Black peppercorns by Jonathunder. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Not sure if the black pepper note is from grapes or fortifying spirit. Since Port uses a 77% abv grape spirit (as opposed to 95% abv used for Sherry and Madeira), you pick up more of the spirit’s influence.

High-intensity nose. An intriguing mix of fresh black fruit–plums and cherries–with dried spices like anise and cinnamon.

On the palate, the fresh fruit is still lively with medium-plus acidity. But there are more concentrated fig flavors. The medium tannins are incredibly soft, wrapping around your tongue like velvet. Still quite full-bodied with the concentrated fruit. The spices from the nose carry through but are accompanied by very distinctive black pepper. Long finish lingers on the spice.

The Verdict

Remarkable freshness and life for something approaching its 35th birthday this year. But that’s vintage Port for you.

In the US, this is averaging around $108 and is worth every penny.

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Geek Notes — Champagne superlatives and exceptions (Part II) Vallée de la Marne

Welcome back! To get the lowdown on the series check out Part I where we explore the exceptions of the Montagne de Reims. In Part III and IV, we’ll check out the Côte des Blancs and the Aube/Côte des Bar.

As for today, we’re heading to the Vallée de la Marne.

Marne & Epernay postcard. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by G.Garitan under CC-BY-SA-4.0

The Marne river flowing past Épernay in the early 20th century.

If you’re one of those folks who “know enough to be dangerous” about Champagne, you’ll peg the Vallée de la Marne as the Pinot Meunier corner of the holy triumvirate of Champagne. However, as we noted in part one, neatly pigeonholing these regions with a single variety cuts about as deep as a butter knife.

To really start to “get” Champagne, you have to move beyond the superlatives (and the BS of so-called “Champagne Masters”). This requires looking at legit sources but also getting your hands on detailed maps.

Having good wine maps is an absolute must for any wine student.

Yes, you can find some online. For today’s journey through the Vallée de la Marne, this interactive map from Château Loisel will be useful. But sometimes clicking between computer tabs is annoying compared to a physical map in front of you.

I mentioned the Louis Larmat maps yesterday. But let me give you two more excellent options.

Map from https://maisons-champagne.com/en/appellation/geographical-area/the-marne-valley/

Map of the Vallée de la Marne from the UMC website.
In the lower-right, you can see the start of the Côte des Blancs with the Grand Cru village of Avize noted.

Benoît France’s Carte des Vin. This is an entire series covering French wine regions–including a detailed map on La Vallée de la Marne.

Unfortunately, these maps are mostly only available in France. However, I was able to buy several when I lived in the US through Amazon for around $11-13 each. You will still need to pay international shipping. But buying multiples at once helps offset that a little.

Hugh Johnson and Jancis Robinson’s World Atlas of Wine is always a reliable resource. It will list many of the villages and show topographical details. The only negative is that it doesn’t highlight the 17 subregions within Champagne.

There are six in the Vallée de la Marne.

Grande Vallée de la Marne
Vallée de la Marne Rive Droite (Right, or northern, bank of the Marne)
Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche (Left bank of the river)
Côteaux Sud d’Épernay
Vallée de la Marne Ouest (Western valley)
Terroir de Condé

Across the 103 villages of the Vallée de la Marne, it’s no shock that Pinot Meunier reigns supreme. The grape accounts for nearly 60% of all plantings.

Marne river at Hautvillers photo by Dguendel. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-4.0

The Marne river meandering by the premier cru village of Hautvillers.

As with many river valleys, frost is always going to be a hazard as cold air sinks and follows the rivers. Compared to larger bodies of waters such as lakes or estuaries, the relatively narrow and low-lying Marne doesn’t moderate the climate as dramatically.

That means that drops in temperature during bud break can be devastating for a vintage. A perfect example of this was the 2012 vintage.

This risk is most severe for Pinot noir. It buds the earliest followed soon after by Chardonnay. Then several days later, Pinot Meunier hits bud break–often missing the worst of the frost.

As we saw with many of the exceptions in the Montagne de Reims, the threat of frost in river valleys tilts the favor towards Meunier. It also helps that the grape is a tad more resistant to botrytis than Pinot noir and Chardonnay. This and other mildews thrive in the damp, humid conditions encouraged by the morning fog following the river.

Finally, while there is limestone throughout the Vallée de la Marne, it’s more marl (mixed with sand and clay) rather than chalk. Pinot noir and Chardonnay can do very well in these kinds of soils. However, Pinot Meunier has shown more affinity for dealing with the combination of cooler soils and a cooler, wetter climate.

But, of course, there are always exceptions–none more prominent than the Grande Vallée de la Marne.

In many ways, the Grande Vallée should be thought of as the southern extension of the Montagne de Reims. Its two Grand Crus, Aÿ and Tours-sur-Marne, share many similarities with its neighbors, Bouzy and Ambonnay.

Along with the “super premier cru” of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, these south-facing slopes produce powerful Pinot noirs with excellent aging potential. Notable vineyards here include Philipponnat’s Clos des Goisses, Billecart-Salmon’s Clos Saint-Hilaire and Bollinger’s Clos St.-Jacques & Clos Chaudes Terres (used for their Vieilles Vignes Françaises).

Jamie Goode has a fantastic short video (1:55) walking through the two Bollinger vineyards. One thing to notice is that the vines are trained to stakes and propagated by layering.

Compared to most of the Montagne de Reims, the vineyards here are slightly steeper. They’re also at lower altitudes as the land slopes towards the river. However, in contrast to most of the Vallée de la Marne west of Cumières (the unofficial end of the Grande Vallée), the climate is warmer here–tempering some of the frost risks.

Also, the topsoils are thinner with the influence of chalky bedrock more keenly felt. This is particularly true in the eastern premier cru village of Bisseuil, which is planted to majority Chardonnay (66%) and only 6% Pinot Meunier. These grapes go into the cuvées of many notable Champagne producers. Among them, AR Lenoble, Deutz, Mumm and Gonet-Médeville.

Though Chardonnay is mostly a backstage player in the Grande Vallée, the premier cru Dizy (37% Chardonnay) joins Bisseuil as notable exceptions. This is the home turf of Jacquesson with Perrier-Jouët and Roederer also getting grapes from here.

Across the Grande Vallée, Pinot noir reigns supreme.

It accounts for nearly 65% of all the plantings among the 12 villages of the region. Here Pinot Meunier is a distant third with only around 15% of vineyard land devoted to it.

Meunier slowly starts to creep up in importance the further west you go. Here the soils get cooler and clay-rich with more sand. In the premier cru of Champillon, Pinot Meunier accounts for 31% of plantings and is an important source for Moët & Chandon.

Likewise, in its neighbor to the west, Hautvillers (the historical home of Dom Perignon), Meunier also accounts for around a third of vineyards. Of course, Moët & Chandon sees a good chunk of Hautvillers’ grapes along with Veuve Clicquot, Roederer, Jacquesson and Joseph Perrier.

The vlogger Ben Slivka has a 2-minute video of the area taken from a vista point near Champagne G.Tribaut.

Côteaux Sud d’Épernay

Across the river from the Grande Vallée is the city of Epernay. The hills extending south and slightly west make up an interesting transition area between the Vallée de la Marne and Côte des Blancs.

The chalky bedrock is closer to the surface, with far less sand than most of the Vallée de la Marne. However, there is considerably more clay (and less east-facing slopes) in the Côteaux Sud d’Épernay than the Côte des Blancs. The area is slightly dominated by Pinot Meunier (45%), with Chardonnay close behind at 43%. The city of Épernay, itself, is an autre cru with considerable Chardonnay plantings (60%).

There is also quite a bit of rocky–even flinty-soil in the Côteaux Sud d’Épernay. This is particularly true around the premier cru village of Pierry which was the home of the influential monk, Frère Jean Oudart.

Dom Perignon likely spent his career trying to get rid of bubbles. However, his near-contemporary Oudart (who outlived Perignon by almost three decades) actually used liqueur de tirage (sugar and yeast mixture) to make his wines sparkle intentionally.

Except for Pierry, all the villages of the Côteaux Sud d’Épernay are autre crus.

Les 7 by Laherte Frères

Another geeky cool thing about Laherte Frères’ Les 7 Champagne is that it’s made as a perpetual cuvee in a modified solera system.

However, there are many notable villages, including Chavot-Courcourt–home to one of Champagne’s most exciting wine estates, Laherte Frères.

While the plantings of Chavot-Courcourt are slightly tilted towards Pinot Meunier (51% to 44% Chardonnay), in Laherte Frères’ Les Clos vineyard, all seven Champagne grape varieties are planted. Here Aurélien Laherte uses Pinot blanc, Pinot gris, Arbane and Petit Meslier to blend with the traditional big three to make his Les 7 cuvée. This is another “Must Try” wine for any Champagne lover.

Further south, we get closer to the Côte des Blancs with thinner top soils leading to more chalky influences. Here we encounter a string of villages all paced by Chardonnay–Moslins (58%) Mancy (52%), Morangis (52%) and Monthelon (51%).

Going back towards the northwest, the soils get cooler with more marly-clay. We return to Meunier country in villages such as Saint-Martin-d’Ablois (80% Pinot Meunier) and Moussy (61% PM)–home to the acclaimed Meunier-specialist José Michel & Fils and a significant source of grapes for Deutz.

Vallée de la Marne Rive Droite and Rive Gauche

As we move west, the superlatives of the Vallée de la Marne being Pinot Meunier country becomes gospel. The cold, mostly clay, marl and sandy soils lend themselves considerably to the early-ripening Meunier. Accounting for more than 75% of plantings, it’s only slightly more dominant in the Rive Gauche than the Rive Droite (70%).

Because of its location, there are more north-facing slopes on the left bank of the Rive Gauche. Conversely, the right bank of the Rive Droite has mostly south-facing slopes. This topography plays into the narrative that the Meunier from the Rive Gauche tends to be fresher, with higher acidity.  In contrast, those from the Rive Droite are often broader and fruit-forward.

However, there are several valleys and folds along tributaries running into the Marne. This leads to a variety of exposures in each area. But with these tributaries comes more prevalence for damp morning fog. Along these narrow river valleys, the risk of botrytis-bunch rot increases. While Pinot Meunier is slightly less susceptible than Pinot noir and Chardonnay, it’s still a significant problem in the Marne Valley. The 2017 vintage is a good example of that.

Though not about Champagne, the Napa Valley Grape Growers has a great short video (3:30) about botrytis. While desirable for some wines, it usually wreaks havoc in the vineyard.

Since there are few exceptions in these areas, I’ll note some villages worth taking stock of.

Damery (Rive Droite) – Located just west of Cumières, Damery is on the border with the Grande Vallée. With over 400 ha of vines, it’s the largest wine-producing village in the Vallée de la Marne. Planted to 61% Meunier, Damery is an important source for many notable Champagne houses. Among them, AR Lenoble, Billecart-Salmon, Joseph Perrier, Taittinger, Roederer, Bollinger and Pol Roger.

Sainte-Gemme (Rive Droite) – With over 92% Pinot Meunier, this autre cru is one of Krug’s leading sources for the grape.

Mardeuil (Rive Gauche) – With 30% Chardonnay, this village has the highest proportion of the variety in the Rive Gauche. Henriot gets a good chunk of this fruit along with Moët & Chandon.

Festigny (Rive Gauche) – A solitary hill within a warm valley, this village reminds Peter Liem, author of Champagne, of the hill of Corton in Burgundy. While there is more chalk here than typical of the Marne, this area is still thoroughly dominated by Meunier (87%). Festigny is noted for its many old vine vineyards–particularly those of Michel Loriot’s Apollonis estate.

Gary Westby of K & L Wine Merchants visited Loriot in Festigny where he made the video below (1:12).

Vallée de la Marne Rive Ouest and the Terroir de Condé

We wrap up our overview of the Vallée de la Marne by looking at the westernmost vineyards in Champagne. I also include the Terroir de Condé here because it seems like the classification of villages is frequently merged between the two.

Saâcy-sur-Marne (Ouest) – One of only three authorized Champagne villages in the Seine-et-Marne department that borders Paris. In fact, Saâcy-sur-Marne is closer to Disneyland Paris (50km) than it is to Epernay (70km). Going this far west, the soils change–bringing up more chalk. Here, in this left bank village, Chardonnay dominates with 60%.

Connigis (Ouest) – This is the only village in the western Marne Valley where Pinot noir leads the way. It just scrapes by with 45% over Meunier (41%). On the left bank of the river, Connigis used to be considered part of the Terroir de Condé. Today, Moët & Chandon is a significant purchaser of grapes from this autre cru.

Trélou-sur-Marne – Like all of the (current) Terroir de Condé, this village is overwhelmingly planted to Pinot Meunier (72%). However, it’s worth a historical note as being the first place where phylloxera was found in the Marne. This right bank village also helps supply the behemoth 30+ million bottle production of Moët & Chandon.

Kristin Noelle Smith has an 8-part series on YouTube where she focuses on notable producers of Champagne.

In episode three on Moët & Chandon (26:35), Smith touches on the impact of phylloxera in Champagne.

Takeaways

Though the Marne flows westward, the best way to think of the Vallée de la Marne is as a river of Pinot Meunier that changes as you go east. In the west, it truly lives up to the superlative of Meunier-dominance. This is because of the influence of the river and abundance of cold, clay and sand-based soils. But as we go east, and the river widens by the city of Épernay, the story changes considerably.

The part that “forks” north, the Grande Vallée, shares similarities with the southern Montagne de Reims. Here the terroir takes on more of the characteristics of the Pinot noir-dominant Grand Crus of Bouzy and Ambonnay. Whereas the south fork of the Côteaux Sud d’Épernay becomes gradually chalkier. This explains why you see more Chardonnay-dominant villages the closer you get to the Côte des Blancs.

Nailing these two big distinctions (as well as understanding why Meunier thrives in the Marne) is truly dangerous knowledge. Especially for your pocketbook!

So drink up and I’ll see you for part III on the Côte des Blancs!

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Geek Notes — Champagne superlatives and exceptions (Part I) Montagne de Reims

Be sure to check out Part II on the Vallée de la Marne and Part III on the Côte des Blancs.

I want to do something a little similar to my post on the 8 Myths about the Sherry Solera System that even Wine Geeks Believe. Rather than myths per se, we’re going to tackle the “Butter Knife Knowledge” that a lot of folks have about Champagne.

19th century map Grande Montagne from Wikimedia Commons

19th-century map of the Montagne de Reims. Most of the Grand Crus are visible on the right side of the map, following the tree line down to the Marne river.
Also featured are the villages of the Perle Blanche, Petite Montagne and part of the Vallée de l’Ardre which we’ll talk about below.

If you ask most wine geeks what are the regions of Champagne, you’ll probably get an answer like this:

Montagne de Reims – Known for Pinot noir
Côte des Blancs – Known for Chardonnay
Vallée de la Marne – Known for Pinot Meunier

If they know a little bit more, they’ll throw in the Côte des Sézanne (known for Chardonnay) and the Côte des Bar in the Aube (known for Pinot noir).

None of that is wrong.

But it’s very incomplete and could certainly use a few whetstones. For one, each of those regions that are known for something all have significant exceptions. There are villages or even entire sub-regions that are dominated by other grape varieties.

Map of Montagne de Reims

Map of the Montagne de Reims from the Union des Maisons de Champagne website.

Many times the exceptions are driven by changes in soils and topography.  This will consequentially impact the styles of wines coming from these areas. Understanding the exceptions–and why they are exceptions–is vital to having a sharper knowledge about Champagne.

So lets cut through the haze and geek out a bit. My tools for this journey are:

Union des Maisons de Champagne website which notes that there are actually 17 regions in Champagne and gives planting details.

Tomas’s Wine Blog which is, by far, one of the most extensive and worthwhile resource on the individual villages (all 319 of them) of Champagne. Seriously, if you love Champagne, you need to bookmark this page.

Peter Liem’s Champagne. It’s one of the Five Essential Books On Champagne precisely because it dives deep into the many subregions and exceptions of Champagne–giving you fantastic details on why they are exceptions. The box set also includes reproductions of Louis Larmat’s maps of Champagne which are a wine geek’s wet dream.

I’m not kidding about those Larmat maps. Below is a short YouTube video (2:57) made by someone from K & L wine merchants that got their hands on an old copy of the maps from Moët & Chandon. Liem’s book includes the same seven maps–minus the special Moët vineyard annotations.

Part I-Montagne de Reims

Note: Today we’re just going to cover the exceptions and unique terroir of the Montagne de Reims. Now would be a good time to have a map like this of the villages handy to follow the geekery.

The superlative about the Montagne de Reims is that the area produces powerful Pinot noir-based Champagne. It’s a reputation well earned by wines from the Grand Cru villages of Ambonnay, Bouzy, Louvois, Verzenay, Verzy, Puisieulx, Beaumont-sur-Vesle and Mailly. Here you’ll find some of the most highly regarded Pinot noir vineyards in Champagne. This includes names such as Krug’s Clos du Amobonnay, Egly-Ouriet’s Les Crayères, André Clouet’s Les Clos, Pierre Paillard’s Les Maillerettes and Mumm de Verzenay.

Champagne Mailly

Champagne from the northern Grand Cru of Mailly.

But the Montagne de Reims is far from monolithic. For one thing, it’s not even really a mountain. Rather it’s a broad plateau (the Grande Montagne) with a series of hills and valleys encircling Reims.

The Grand Crus on the north and eastern segment (Mailly, Verzenay, Verzy, Beaumont-sur-Vesle, Puisieulx and Sillery) have mostly north-facing slopes which produce distinctly different Pinots than those from the south-facing slopes of Ambonnay, Bouzy and Louvois.

While the northern Pinots are still powerful, the root of their power comes more from their firm structure. Among their southern brethren, that power comes from the rich depth of fruit. This is why you see more still red Coteaux Champenois coming from these southern Grand Crus.

But it’s those unique north and north-east facing slopes that brings us to our first notable exception in Montagne de Reims. Sillery.

Across the broader Grande Montagne de Reims we have around 57% Pinot noir, 30% Chardonnay and 13% Pinot Meunier planted. However, in Sillery, Chardonnay leads the pack with almost 60% of plantings. The Champagne house Ruinart, which is well known for its Chardonnay-dominant Champagnes makes Sillery Chardonnay a major component of its prestige cuvée, Dom Ruinart.

In this GrapeRadio video with the cellarmaster of Ruinart, Frédéric Panaiotis, they touch on the distinctiveness of Sillery Chardonnay (3:25)–as well as that of nearby Puisieulx and Verzenay–compared to the Côte des Blancs. These Montagne de Reims Chardonnays, grown in prime Pinot noir territory, have more depth and body which puts their own unique imprint on a wine.

BTW, if you want even more hard-core geeking, check out my Geek Notes on GuildSomm’s interviews with Ruinart’s Frédéric Panaiotis about the process of Champagne and follow up.

Perle Blanche

While not officially recognized as a sub-region of the Montagne de Reims, sandwiched between the northern & southern Grand Crus is a cluster of four premier cru villages known as the Perle Blanche.

Villers-Marmery
Trépail
Billy-le-Grand
Vaudemange

Like the Côte des Blancs (as well as Côte de Beaune), the Perle Blanche vineyards face east and southeast. Here they catch the gentle morning sun before the heat of the day. While there is a deep bed of chalk throughout the Montagne de Reims, its influences are felt more keenly in the very thin topsoils of these premier crus. Trépail and Villers-Marmery particularly stand out with more than 90% of their vineyards (nearly 100% in Villers-Marmery) turned over to Chardonnay grapes that are highly prized by producers such as David Léclapart, Pehu-Simonet and Deutz.

The vlogger, My Man in Champagne, featured David Pehu in an interview (1:54) among his vines in Villers-Marmery. This will give you a good feel for the Perle Blanche.

Backwoods Meunier

Pinot Meunier is such an underrated grape variety in Champagne even though it plays an important role in many of Champagne’s most successful non-vintage blends–most notably Krug’s Grande Cuvée and Moët’s Brut Imperial (up to 40% some releases). The calling card of this grape is its ability to bud late but ripen early. This helps it escape the viticultural hazards of bud-killing springtime frost as well as diluting harvest rains.

However, climate change and warmer vintages are stirring up concerns that maybe Meunier ripens a little too early. While blocking MLF may help to retain freshness, it’s likely that the sites with north-facing slopes that have a prolonged growing season will become even more treasured for Pinot Meunier.

Vineyards in Cigny Les Rose pic by CIJ Weber of INRA DIST. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-2.0

Vineyards in Chigny-les-Roses in the northwestern part of the Grande Montagne.

In the Grande Montagne de Reims, Meunier country starts just west of the Grand Cru village of Mailly with the notable premier cru of Ludes. The grape becomes even more important, accounting for almost 60% of plantings, in fellow 1ers Chigny-les-Roses and Trois-Puits.

While these villages don’t often show up on labels, their vineyards (and Meunier) are highly valued by large Champagne houses. Among them, notable names such as Cattier (Armand de Brignac/Ace of Spades), Canard-Duchêne, Laurent-Perrier and Taittinger.

Just a little southwest (heading towards the Vallée de la Marne) is the autre cru village of Germaine. Here Pinot Meunier makes up around 96% of all plantings and is an important source of grapes for Moët & Chandon.

These villages are so under-the-radar that’s it tough to find videos featuring their vineyards.

Instead, I’m going to show you a fun one (1:32) from Benoît Tarlant of Champagne Tarlant. This was filmed in the autre cru village of Œuilly, on the other side of the river from Montagne de Reims in the Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche.

We’ll talk about the Vallée de la Marne in part II of this series. The north-facing slopes of the Rive Gauche in this frost-prone valley is a natural home for Pinot Meunier. What I love about this video is that you can see how tiny Meunier clusters are. It also gives great insights into what a stressful vintage 2012 was.

Massif de Saint-Thierry

The most northern vineyards in all of Champagne are located northwest of the city of Reims. This is another area of prime Pinot Meunier real estate. The grape makes up around 54% of plantings, followed by Pinot noir (29%) and Chardonnay (17%).

The autre cru of Cauroy-lès-Hermonville is almost entirely planted to just Meunier (99.3%), followed by Villers-Franqueux (83%) and Pouillon (70%).

Even the Massif de Saint-Thierry’s most well-known village, the autre cru Merfy, is paced by Pinot Meunier leading the pack with 45% of plantings–trailed by Pinot noir (35%) and Chardonnay (20%). Here the acclaimed grower-producer Chartogne-Taillet makes several highly regarded Champagnes including the vineyard-designated Les Alliées made from 100% old-vine Meunier.

All of Chartogne-Taillet’s vineyard series wines highlight the unique sand and clay soils of Merfy and Massif de Saint-Thierry. In the case of Les Alliées, the topsoil is a type of black sand that is hardly ever seen in Champagne. Levi Dalton had a fascinating interview with Alexandre Chartogne during episode 209 of his I’ll Drink to That! podcast that is well worth a listen.

Vesle et Ardre and Petite Montagne

However, the true “heart” of Meunier country in the Montagne Reims is a little further west. Here you’ll find the river valleys of the Vesle et Ardre and the hills of the Petite Montagne. Across this entire region, Meunier holds sway–representing 61% of plantings.

Like the Vallée de la Marne, early spring frost is an issue. Similarly, you tend to see the proportion of Pinot Meunier increase the more west that you go. The grape reaches its apex in the westernmost vineyards of the Vallée de l’Ardre. Also, as in the Massif de Saint-Thierry and Marne Valley, sand plays a considerable role in the terroir.

All the premier crus are clustered in the Petite Montagne, located just west of the city of Reims. These include Pargny-lès-Reims (77% Pinot Meunier), Sermiers (69% PM) and Coulommes-la-Montagne (65% PM) as well as the 100% Chardonnay dominant village of Bezannes. (Note that the UMC curiously classifies Bezannes as part of the Massif de Saint-Thierry)

Jérôme Prévost’s La Closerie

Les Béguines from Jérôme Prévost’s La Closerie. Such a bloody gorgeous wine. Definitely one of the best Champagnes that I’ve ever had.

The only village of the Vesle et Ardre and Petite Montagne where Pinot noir has any sort of stronghold is the premier cru of Écueil. Planted to 76% Pinot noir, this village is an important source for the houses of Frédéric Savart and Nicolas Maillart.

A common denominator among most of these villages is the prevalence of north and north-east facing slopes.

This is true with the most notable village of the Petite Montagne, the autre cru Gueux. Pinot Meunier-dominant (84.5%), followed by Pinot noir (11.7%) and Chardonnay (3.8%), Gueux is the home of Jérôme Prévost’s La Closerie and his Les Béguines vineyard.

Prévost’s Les Béguines cuvée, almost entirely Meunier (some releases will have a tiny amount Pinot gris or Chardonnay blended in), is widely credited with reigniting interest in the grape variety. It’s certainly a wine that everyone should have on their “Must-Try” list.

Right after the Chartogne interview, Levi Dalton followed it up with an IDTT episode featuring Jérôme Prévost. Again, well worth a listen.

Monts de Berru

We’ll wrap up our overview of the exceptions to Pinot noir’s dominance in the Montagne de Reims by looking at the area’s most overlooked sub-region–the Monts de Berru. This tiny cluster of five villages, located in the hills east of Reims, are the easternmost vineyards of the Montagne de Reims.  Only a few villages in the Côte des Bar and the Vitryat sub-region of the Côte des Blancs extend further east.

Map from By Anonymous - Ludendorff, E. (1919) My War Wemories, 1914–1918, Vol II, London: Hutchinson OCLC: 609577443., Public Domain

Located just east of Reims, the Monts de Berru saw a lot of fighting during WWI, particularly during the Battle of the Hills.
The 5 Champagne villages are highlighted on this map which notes French offensive gains during April & May of 1917.

Now given their northern and easterly location, you can probably guess which grape variety thrives here.

Chardonnay.

Across the 5 villages, it represents 92% of all plantings with the autre crus of Pontfaverger-Moronvilliers (100% Chardonnay going almost entirely to Moët & Chandon) and Nogent-l’Abbesse (99% of plantings) virtually exclusive to Chardonnay.

The one outlier is the north-eastern village of Selles that is planted to 94% Pinot Meunier and 6% Chardonnay. Here, too, Moët & Chandon seems to be the most significant purchaser of grapes from this autre cru.

Another Champagne house that source grapes from the Monts de Berru is Pommery as well as Pol Roger which owns vineyards in the namesake village of Berru.

Takeaways

Don’t fret. The next few parts in this series covering the exceptions of the Vallée de la Marne, Côte des Blancs and the Aube won’t be nearly as long. However, the Montagne de Reims was the best starting point to reframe folk’s thinking about the regions of Champagne.

It’s entirely too simplistic to say that the Montagne de Reims is “known for Pinot noir.” This is particularly true when there are notable Grand Cru and premier cru villages that stand out for other varieties.

The biggest reason why this “Butter Knife Knowledge” of Champagne is so pervasive is that, historically, we don’t really think that deeply about the terroir of Champagne. This is largely because the big négociant brands of Champagnes–which dominate the market–rarely talk about terroir at all.

We’re so used to thinking of Champagne as a blend of dozens, if not hundreds of villages, that it doesn’t seem like it’s worth the bother. On back labels and tech sheets, the best you ever get from most large houses is that the Chardonnay came from the Côte des Blancs, the Pinot noir from the Montagne de Reims and the Meunier from the Vallée de la Marne.

The divorcing of Champagne from terroir was a major theme of Robert Waters’ book Bursting Bubbles and it’s truly a bubble that needs to be burst.
Chartogne-Taillet Champagne

Though only from an “autre cru”, the wines of Chartogne-Taillet exploring the terroir of Merfy shows that the Champagnes of the Massif de Saint-Thierry can stand up to any Grand Cru.

That’s a big reason why I wanted to do this series. I wanted to highlight the villages with distinctive terroir that makes them exceptions to the superlatives.

But beyond just reading about these exceptions, you need to taste. I highly encourage Champagne lovers to explore the many growers who produce single cru and single-vineyard wines. This is another area where Tomas’s wine blog is such a fantastic resource. Near the bottom of each village profile, Tomas lists many of the growers and négociants who produce wine from each place.

The Christie’s Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine will also list the villages of most growers in their producer profiles. Additionally, they note many individual growers that tend to be the most expressive of a cru’s terroir. These are all tremendous tools to help sharpen your understanding of Champagne.

Till next time! Tchin-Tchin!

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