Champagne had a difficult year in 2020 and a sensational year in 2021. In view of the continuing capacity bottlenecks at many houses, one could be curious about which wines the producers would present in Berlin. The visitors were all the more grateful that many houses also presented one or the other top in addition to the standard range. SLP presents 6 top picks and a surprise.
Alfred Gratien Brut Millésimé 2007
The Maison has its origins in Saumur and is now German owned (Henkell-Freixenet). And yet it is considered the high priest of tradition in Champagne. Classic craftsmanship, aging in wood and fermentation without malo make for “Old English Style” champagnes that are great with food. Chardonnay traditionally dominates, in this case 59%, plus 16% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier. 2007 is the current vintage of the Maison – and thus six years older than the Prestige Cuvée Paradis. That, too, is an unusual feature in Champagne. In any case, the Champagne is vinous, amazingly fresh and wonderfully pure.
Le Brun de Neuville Double Autolyse
There is a lot of movement among the cooperatives in Champagne. Le Brun de Neuville is currently one of the leaders. Founded in 1963, the cooperative’s vineyards extend across 12 villages on the Côte de Sézanne. These form something like the continuation of the Côte des Blancs to the southwest. Accordingly, Chardonnay, which dominates here with 90 percent, is also much sought after by the Grands Marques. Le Brun de Neuville has recently completely restructured its portfolio. Under the “Autolyse” label, champagnes with very long bottle fermentation are offered. In this case, Chardonnay base wines aged in wood from the 2010 vintage and disgorged in 2022. A powerful, vinous and complex Champagne.
Moutard Père & Fils Arbanne Vielles Vignes 2014
Champagne Moutard wants, in its own words, to create a bridge between the wines of yesterday and today. This includes the old, natural vineyard techniques in the south of Champagne, pruning and orientation to the phases of the moon, as well as the care of the old grape varieties. The family owns 1.3 hectares of vines of the exceedingly rare Arbane. This is said to have been first recorded in 1388 under the name Albane in the Aube department of Champagne. For a long time, the house of Moutard was the only one to produce a single-varietal cuvée from Arbanne. This was due not only to the scarcity of the grape, but also to the fact that the grape variety is known for its high acidity levels. In the sign of climate change, this is certainly welcome. Nevertheless, this Champagne from Polisy in the Côte des Bar is rare. Just 10,000 bottles are produced. The cuvée from the 2014 vintage is aged in wood and turned out very vinous, with an exotic bouquet and soft perlage.
Pascal Doquet Le Mesnil sur Oger Grand Cru Cœur de Terroir 2008
As one of the pioneers of the organic movement in Champagne, Pascal Doquet has excellent sites in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. In 2008, unlike in previous years, he aged his “Coeur de Terroir” from five of the famous middle slopes of the village (including Les Chétillons) completely in wood and drained the Malo to tame the uncompromising terroir and vintage somewhat. Doquet had brought to Berlin the same Champagne that I had featured for my Champagne book from Tre Torri Publishing. The tasting note is almost the same as 18 months ago: Admittedly, the wine is still ‘in the making’. Very restrained at the beginning, then the aromas clearly change under the influence of air: incisive pear, lime and slightly vegetal, but also noticeably woody. Rather powerful and vinous than elegant, delicately bitter and still quite closed.
William Deutz Brut Millésime 2013
The house from Aÿ with German roots had been taken over by the Maison Roederer in 1993 and had separated from the German sparkling wine production Geldermann shortly thereafter. William Deutz has been the classic prestige cuvée of the tradition-steeped house since 1961, although it has faded a bit into the background after the great success of Amour de Deutz. But Aÿ is, of course, a center of Pinot Noir in Champagne. The blend of 65 percent Pinot Noir, 32 percent Chardonnay and 3 percent Pinot Meunier reflects this. The trend toward lush, “solar” vintages of the recent past is diametrically opposed to 2013. In this relatively cool, late-ripening year with its long growing season, William Deutz presents itself powerful, sinewy and still completely closed. A champagne to be stored.
Leclerc Briant Cuvée 150ème Anniversaire Brut Zéro
This limited edition of just 3,000 bottles celebrates the 150th anniversary of the champagne house founded in Cumières on the Marne, later relocated to Épernay. Since 1964, the producer was a pioneer in organic, and in 1990 also in biodynamic farming. In 2008, the Maison was the first biodynamically certified négociant in Champagne. Then, however, Pascal Leclerc Briant passed away prematurely in 2010 at the age of 60, and in 2012 the Maison was taken over by U.S. couple Mark Nunelly and Denise Dupré. With the change of ownership came the loss of many great vineyards, particularly in Cumières. The Cuvée 150 is reminiscent of one of the most precious ones: In addition to base wines from the 2014 vintage (50 percent Chardonnay and 50 percent Pinot Meunier), it contains 10 percent reserve wines from the single vineyard Chèvres Pierreuses from 2010. One may call this sentimental. But this is how sparkling joie de vivre mixes with the tears of loss in this unique anniversary cuvée. Without even knowing it, this Champagne tastes fresh, salty and vibrant with energy.
The surprise: Maison Burtin Hommage à Gaston Burtin 2014 Brut
Champagne houses often bear the names of their founders. Some are legendary (like Veuve Clicquot), some are almost mythical (like Dom Pérignon) and some are the pioneers of the near past (like Jacques Selosse). This is also the approach of the Maison Burtin, which once again clearly emphasizes the founder’s name with its “Hommage à Gaston Burtin”. Indeed, Gaston Butin was a great man in Champagne, but anything but a shining light. The legendary wine journalist Pierre-Marie Doutrelant once wrote in the seventies: If Robert de Voguë of Moët & Chandon “had been the sun of the Champagne miracle, Mr. Burtin had been its moon.” Indeed, Burtin and the company he controls, Marne et Champagne, have done more than any other to expand Champagne through low prices and the distribution of fancy brands in supermarkets. At the same time, he has enabled the growth of prestigious brands that were struggling to keep up with production: By supplying them with ready-made champagnes, which they then labeled as their own. Neither Burtin nor Marne et Champagne survived the battles of past decades. In 2006, the brand came under the BCC group of Bruno Paillard and Philippe Baijot. The latter has made a remarkable comeback for some members of its portfolio. Recently, Maison Burtin also relaunched after a facelift. Of the series presented in Berlin, the Millésime was particularly convincing. Fresh, dense and juicy, with an excellent price-performance ratio. One swallow does not make a summer, but with this quality we reconcile ourselves with the memory of Gaston Burtin.