In view of the mushrooming sparkling wine and champagne presentations in Germany, it was good to see that the number of exhibitors at the Falstaff Gala in Berlin remained constant compared to the previous year at 20. Because the first-time participants Lobenberg and Kierdorf represented two and six producers respectively, the total number of champagne houses on show actually increased. In my top picks, I refrain from selecting champagnes from the houses of Roederer, Piper-Heidsieck, Pascal Doquet and Le Brun de Neuville, which sur-la-pointe recently reported on. Although Kierdorf brought along an exciting range (Agrapart, Henri Giraud, Pertois Moriset, Pierre Paillard, Cordeuil Père et Fille and Jean Philipp Trousset), there were only the entry-level wines to try, none of which made it onto my list. Nevertheless, Cordeuil‘s Brut Millésime 2009 was probably the champagne with the best price-performance ratio of the evening (24.97 euros).
1. Laurent-Perrier Grand-Siècle Itération 26
Among the great prestige cuvées, Laurent-Perrier’s Grand Siècle was probably the first concept champagne. Not a vintage wine, but not a classic assemblage either. In 1960, director Bernard de Nonancourt created the formula of the 3-vintage assemblage. One vintage for structure, one for finesse and one for freshness. One year, with a good 60 per cent, forms the basis and the other two the reserves. Today, this is called multi-vintage. Until 2019, the Maison kept customers in the dark as to which composition was actually in each bottle. Then a new labelling system was introduced, the “Itération”. It bears the consecutive number of the cuvée after its introduction in 1960 on the bottle neck. The number 26 is the outstanding 2012 (65%), 2008 (25%) and 2007 (10%). A great cuvée, with power, complexity and (with a good 58% Chardonnay and 42% Pinot Noir) formidable freshness (96 P.).
2. Laherte Frères Les 7 Extra Brut
By now, word has at least got around that more than just three grape varieties are authorised in Champagne. In recent years, winegrowers in the “Wild South” of the region in particular have reminded us of the grape diversity of Champagne with exciting cuvées. In 2003, however, Thierry Laherte also planted a 1.7-hectare vineyard in the village of Chavot near Épernay with the seven grape varieties permitted by law at the time as a kind of “test plot”. When his son Aurélien took over in 2005, he not only switched to biodynamic cultivation, but also vinified the grapes together and bottled the cuvée as “Le Clos”. At the same time, however, he also created a continuous reserve (or: Solera) from 2005 onwards, from which the “Les 7” was to emerge.
In the current cuvée, it extends from 2005 to 2019 and the proportions of the grape varieties are as follows. Chardonnay 18%, Pinot Meunier 18%, Pinot Blanc 17%, Petit Meslier 15%, Pinot Noir 14%, Pinot Gris 10% and Arbanne 8%. I must confess that I appreciate cuvées of “forgotten grape varieties” above all for their cultural significance. But at Laherte, the cuvée clearly stood out, ahead of the similarly very good Empreintes 2016 and Les Beaudiers Rosé de Saignée made from Pinot Meunier. Pure, multi-layered and with a very good acidity curve, which is thanks to the great 2019 vintage (94 P.). Will there soon be a “Les 8” following the authorisation of the Voltis hybrid grape in Champagne?
3. Lanson Le Black Reserve
Lanson is probably the most underrated of the traditional champagne brands. In the 1960s, the house still owned over 200 hectares of first-class vineyards. These formed the basis for the high quality of its champagnes. However, this ownership brought it into the focus of large corporations. From 1970 onwards a series of changes of ownership began, which reached its low point in 1990 when LVMH took over the house, only to sell it again four months later – and kept the vineyards for itself. The turnaround did not come until 2006, when the BCC Group took over Lanson and invested in quality again. In 2023, the house – like Jacquesson, Krug and Roederer before it – took the step of transforming its vintage-free entry-level champagne into a multi-vintage, starting with Le Création 257.
However, I appreciate Le Black Reserve even more. Two things come together here. Firstly, the consistent rejection of malolactic fermentation, a fundamental stylistic decision by Lanson. This leads to a pronounced and very precise acidity. And then there is the long ageing on the lees, in this case a good seven years. This results in a champagne that hardly shows the dominant 2015 base vintage. This often turned out to be quite cumbersome, especially with Pinot Noir. The blend (50% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier, 20% Chardonnay) is almost perfectly balanced. An excellent food companion at a very fair price (94 P.).
4. Pierre Gerbais La Loge Extra Brut
The Champagne house from Celles-sur-Ource in the Aube department did not make it into my Champagne book in 2021. However, it is undisputedly one of the increasing number of companies that have transformed the long-ignored south of the region into an engine of innovation for the appellation.
Aurélien Gerbais, now the director of the winery founded in 1930, studied in Burgundy and worked with cult winemaker Olivier Lamy. It is therefore not surprising that Gerbais is not a big fan of the traditional assemblage approach of the Grandes Marques. Except for the entry-level Grains de Celles, he follows the Burgundy philosophy. And as we know, this means: single-varietal wines from single vineyards. Bochot from 100% Pinot Meunier, for example, Beauregard from Pinot Noir. And La Loge from Pinot Blanc Vrai, as the grape variety is called here to distinguish it from the Auxerrois from Alsace. In contrast to Burgundy, however, it is matured as a Solera, here from 2011 to 2019. The wine is precise and very clear as an Extra Brut thanks to just 3 grams of dosage. Only the somewhat soft acidity reveals that this Blanc de Blancs is not made from Chardonnay grapes after all (93 P.).
5. Leclerc Briant Abyss 2017 Brut Zéro
The Leclerc Briant house is best known because it was a pioneer of biodynamic cultivation under Pascal Leclerc Briant and consultant Hervé Jestin. After the death of the owner and the sale of the house by the heirs, almost all of the perfectly cultivated plots were lost. It was only with great effort that the current owners, the US couple Mark Nunelly and Denise Dupré, were able to reacquire their own areas, some of which are now cultivated separately as single vineyards.
The estate attracted a great deal of attention when they sank a Champagne from the 2013 vintage with zero dosage at a depth of 60 meters off the Atlantic coast of Brittany and only brought it to the surface a year later to market it. Not least the many imitators proved them right, the whole thing was more than just a marketing stunt. The current 2017 vintage consists of 34% Pinot Noir, 33% Pinot Meunier and 33% Chardonnay. It comes across as very ripe, dense and exotic, but also very luxurious with its velvety texture (95 P).
Fotos: Stefan Pegatzky / Time Tunnel Images