The Italian Alps provide a dramatic backdrop to Piedmont which translates to “the land at the foot of the mountains”. Situated next to the French border in Italy’s northwest the Langhe, or “tongues”, are hills noted for magical landscapes and for grapevines planted on steep hillsides with their heavy soils of marl and clay. This land is home to the Nebbiolo grape, used for producing long-lived wines of exceptional character in the Barbaresco and Barolo districts. It is in the Langhe region that Angelo Gaja and his winemaker Guido Rivella developed their unique winemaking philosophy that has changed Italian winemaking forever.
In 1859, Giovanni Gaja founded the Gaja Winery in Barbaresco after originaly owning a trattorria in the region. In the past all restaurants in the country produced wines, but Giovanni fell in love with his wines and eventually closed his kitchen to focus solely on wine production and has been passed down from father to son now for four generations. But it was Giovanni’s daughter-in-law Clotilde Rey, Angelo’s grandmother, who established the Gaja philosophy of uncompromising quality. A philosophy that is evident in all aspects of Gaja wine production.
Angelo Gaja, the current owner of the Gaja properties, has been responsible for bold innovations in Piedmontese winemaking. He was the first to use 225-liter French barriques for the wine aging process, he pioneered in the production of single-vineyard-designated wines, and he also was the first to plant international grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc in the traditional Piedmont region. Most importantly he was instrumental in elevating the native Nebbiolo grape to world-class esteem.
Over the years, the Gaja family acquired some of the Langhe’s most highly prized vineyards. Currently, the Gaja Winery is the proprietor of 250 acres of vineyards in Piedmont. In the Barbaresco district are: Sori San Lorenzo (1964) named after the patron saint of the city of Alba, the capitol of Langhe, Sori Tildin (1967) which was the nickname of Angelo’s grandmother Clotilde Rey and Costa Russi (1967) named after the nickname of the vineyard’s former owner. In the Barolo district Sperss (1988) means “nostalgia” in Piemontese and Conteisa (1995) which is the Piemontese word for “quarrel” after the historic dispute of the land that between the communes of La Morra and Borolo in 1216. With these amazing growing locations, Angelo and his winemaker Guido, pioneered the single-vineyard production to highlight the extraordinary quality of these vineyards.
Not to be overshadowed by his single-vineyard wines is the winery’s flagship, the Barbaresco. Made of entirely Nebbiolo from fourteen Gaja estates in Barbaresco it is the powerhouse of Piemonte. Full bodied wine lush in aromoas of forest fruits, plums, licorice, and, black truffles, the Barbaresco is an ultra-complex and filled with silky tannins showing maximum finess in every sip, a benchmark Barbarasco.
In 1994 Gaja acquired its first wine estate in Tuscany, Pieve Santa Restituta in Montalcino. The property's forty acres of vineyards produce two Brunello di Montalcino wines called Sugarille and Rennina. In 1996 Gaja acquired a second property in Tuscany, Ca'Marcanda, located in Bolgheri. Of the property's 200 acres, 150 have been planted with new vineyards: primarily Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, as well as Cabernet Franc and Syrah.
For quite some time I wondered why my parents chose to name my sister after a winemaker. After having the priviledge to experience Angelo Gaja’s wine on numerous occasions and have read many of his philosophies on life and winemaking, I ask that question no longer.
I proudly invite you to experience our passion for Gaja.
Domaine de la Romanée-Conti
The domaine traces its history back to the monks of the Priory of St. Vincent who were bestowed the vineyard from the Dukes of Burgundy two centuries earlier. In 1232 they donated 1.8 hectares of land known as Cros des Clous to the local Abbey of Saint-Vivant, now known as Romanée-St-Vivant.
In 1631 it was sold to the de Croonembourg family who changed the name to "Romanée" and acquired the adjacent vineyard of "La Tâche" (which literally translates as "task".) The origin of the word "Romanée" is uncertain, perhaps in deference to the Romans? We may never know.
Throughout the 18th century its wines became renowned but in 1760 André de Croonembourg decided to sell the domaine. A fierce battle of ownership ensued between the king's mistress, Marquise de Pompadour and her nemesis Louis-François de Bourgon, Prince de Conti, first cousin of Louis XV, whom she had exiled from the royal court at Versailles. It was Conti who became the proud owner of the most esteemed vineyard in Burgundy for the princely sum of 8,000 livres, for which Conti duly appended his name. Henceforth Romanée-Conti and La Tâche were under separate ownership.
However the Prince de Conti decided to keep all the wine for his own personal consumption, to the chagrin of virtually every person in France, who responded by their deification of La Tâche instead. La Tâche was purchased by the Marey family in 1791, who already owned plots in Romané-Saint-Vivant, although at that time it only covered 1.5 hectares.
Fortunately for everyone except Conti (who eventually died in exile in Spain) the Romanée-Conti vineyard was sequestered by the State in 1793 and the bien nationale was eventually purchased by the Parisian Nicolas Defer de la Nouerre who sold it in 1819 to former banker of Napoléon, Julien Ouvrard for 78,000 francs, triple the value of Chambertin or indeed La Tâche. Ouvrard also owned the entire climat of Clos-de-Vougeot and vinified the wine there.
In 1869 it was sold again to Mon. Duvault-Blochet who Clive Coates MW desribes as "probably the most important vineyard-owner Burgundy has seen since the Revolution" He expanded the domaine's holdings, purchasing vines in neighbouring Grand Cru`s such as Richebourg, Grand Echézeaux and Echézeaux. He was honoured in the exceptional vintages of 1999 and 2002 by having a special cuvée named after him.
Up until the 1930`s, part of La Tâche was labeled as Les Gaudichots. Les Gaudichots was absorbed into La Tâche in 1936 after several lawsuits. In 1966, Domaine de la Romanée-Conti took over management of holdings by the Marey-Monge family (you can sometimes find the name mentioned on bottles to the confusion of many) and in 1988 they bought it outright.
Aubert de Villaine commenced his tenure at the domaine in 1953. He learnt the ropes from his father Henri, who co-owned the domaine with Henri Leroy. Leroy had acquired his share in 1942 when the domaine was facing financial difficulties (how absurd that seems now.)
When Henri Leroy passed away, his daughter, the redoubtable Lalou Bize-Leroy became Aubert`s partner, but conflicting personalities (de Villaine self-effacing, introspective and scholarly; Lalou ambitious, extroverted and tenacious), disagreements over distribution and Lalou`s personal acquisition of vineyards from Domaine Hudelot led to a somewhat volatile relationship and ultimately Lalou`s expulsion in 1992. Her nephew Charles Roch was granted her share but after his tragic death just one month later, his brother Henri-Frédéric became co-owner.
I am sincerely proud to offer you these very exceptional and extremly rare wines from the vineyards that reside within Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Please note that all of our bottles from the domaine have been purchased upon their first release and have aged in our cellar since our reception of the cases.
Williams Selyem Winery began as a simple dream between two friends, Ed Selyem and Burt Williams, who pursued weekend winemaking as a hobby in 1979 in a garage in Forestville, California, and made their first commercial vintage in 1981. In less than two decades, Burt & Ed created a cult-status winery of international acclaim. Together they set a new standard for Pinot Noir winemaking in the United States, aligning Sonoma County's Russian River Valley in the firmament of the best winegrowing regions of the world.
Burt and Ed were neighbors in the Russian River Valley, living across the river from one another. They both held down full time jobs, but were restless to delve further into the object of their mutual passion—wine. Burt was a 26-year veteran pressman for the San Francisco Newspaper Agency, publisher of the San Francisco Chronicle and Examiner, and Ed worked as the accountant and wine buyer at Speer's market in Forestville, in addition to making his own label called Hacienda del Rio. Burt had begun home winemaking on the weekends, and Ed had traveled the world without leaving Sonoma County by tasting and buying wines for the store.
As friends, they decided to make a go of winemaking together in a two-car garage on River Road. The concrete pad outside held the small dairy tanks that they used as fermenters. Through grower and winemaker Leno Martinelli, they sourced fruit for their first wines from the 84-year old Zinfandel vines of Jackass Hill, along with a small amount of Muscat grapes grown on the same property. Even though the winemaking equipment was very basic relative to some of the more modern wineries at the time, the combination of excellent fruit sourcing, hand harvesting in small forty-pound lug boxes, meticulous sorting at the winery and hand pressing of the grapes and skins proved to be a powerful formula in crafting intense wines of character and place.
The resulting single-vineyard designate Pinot Noir wines were truly distinctive in style and dramatic in their intensity. A small but growing cult following from a mailing list of friends of the winery bought everything they could make. They remained a well-kept secret until the 1987 California State Fair committee conferred upon the 1985 Rochioli Pinot Noir the title of sweepstakes winner and the winery won Winery of the Year concurrently. Williams Selyem was thus thrown into the national spotlight and officially launched into the arena of world-class wines.
Today, the winery still carefully executes the Williams Selyem philosophy of "respecting the juice." From fermentation to bottling, including the no pumping and filter-free methods, the winemakers use these processes to ensure that the quality of the wine is not compromised. Fortunately, they seem to have none of the typical pressures that many wineries do today and are therefore able to focus strictly on quality. This almost ceremonial approach to creating these wines can be tasted in every bottle.
Adrian Fog was born from the idea that Pinot Noir should have a sense of place and that the vineyard is the birthplace of great wine. All of our vineyards are selected for their individuality.
By hand selecting cool climate fruit from small vineyards, Adrian Fog is able to maintain the unique signature and personality of the vineyard. Each vineyard is selected by considering the effect of coastal fog patterns, clonel differences, age and vine orientation to the sun. Picking, fermentation and barrel ageing are done by keeping all clones and blocks separately. By this madness, we are able to learn and appreciate each wine's nuances and style intimately. Our bottlings are determined by the wine's individuality, our largest bottling is 330 cases and the smallest is 23 cases. Picking, racking, and bottling are scheduled as close to the night of the full moon as possible. We have found that she (Adrian Fog) likes and enjoys the effects of the lunar cycle.
We encourage you to drink Adrian Fog on the night of a full moon to enjoy her full seductive essence.
Owners Jane Farrell & Stewart Dorman Savoy Vineyard
Anderson Valley, Mendocino County
Located just north of the small town of Philo, Savoy Vineyard’s influence is the cool coastal climate coupled with plenty of sun exposure. The vineyard is planted on the east slope of Anderson Valley supplying a small steep terrace, rolling hills and a bit of valley floor. These variations in the land aid in working with the five clones and seven sections we have selected, giving her depth and complexity. Each section is individually field tested and then picked separately to ensure the personality of the section is not compromised. Tonnage is thinned to 1.5 to 2 tons per acre, concentrating the decadence of the fruit.
~300 cases produced annually.
Anderson Valley, Mendocino County
She is one tasty treat, full of pomegranates, blueberries, currants and just a note of hibiscus flowers. Janey says this would be the wine she would choose to have in a desert island scenario. A Hummer wrapped in a juicy berry pie, big, powerful and a touch obnoxious. The vineyard is just a stone’s throw for the tiny one store town of Comptche, 40 minutes north of the Savoy Vineyard and at a slightly higher elevation. The 2004 is comprised of 5 different clones from two different sections of the vineyard. The clones aid in the complexity and overall richness of the wine.
~160 cases produced annualy.
Sonoma Coast, Sonoma County
She shows the signature deep red fruit character of the Sonoma Coast appellation. Hunnicutt is located between Sebastopol and Freestone just a few miles from the California coast. This area is noted for its complex soil composition, cool climate, and great sun exposure and is comprised of three sections from two different clones.
~120 cases produced annualy.
Two Sisters Vineyard
Russian River Valley, Sonoma County
Located at the northern end of the Russian River Valley Appellation, Two Sisters vineyard (exclusive to Adrian Fog Winery) was planted in 1955, making it one of the oldest Pinot Noir vineyards in California. The plot is very small, broken up into a northern and southern section. Each section is picked, fermented and aged separately. The northern section has more concentration of deep fruit (black cherries) while the southern section has complexity and spice. Together they compliment each other and add to the overall personality to her. Black and red cherries combined with a spicy Earl Gray character are hallmarks of the Two Sisters Vineyard.
~90 cases produced annualy.
Maison Leroy was founded in 1868 by François Leroy in the small village of Auxey-Duresses. It was his son Joseph Leroy, assisted by his wife Louise Curteley who expanded the business and established Leroy's reputation as a source of fine wine, many of which were awarded gold medals at the end of the 19th century.
Henri Leroy entered the family business in 1919 and expanded the portfolio of Leroy to include eau-de-vie at Gensac La Pallue, establishing a distillery near Segonzac. During the 1930`s he became a valued customer of Domaine (Domaine de la Romanee-Conti) and a close friend with its co-owner Edmond Gaudin de Villaine. It seems hard to believe now, but at that time many winemakers were impoverished and it seemed inevitable that the owners would be forced to sell its monopole holdings. In 1942, the other co-owner Jacques Chambon sold his share to Henri Leroy, which meant that the Domaine (Domaine de la Romanee-Conti) could continue unchanged, although it was not until the 1950`s that he took a hands-on role in its management.
Henri had two daughters the younger of whom Marcelle took a great interest in her father`s negotiant business that she eventually took over in 1955, by which time she was know by her present name: Lalou. She was just 23 years old: ambitious, temperamental, pugnacious and gifted. In 1974 she took over co-management of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, working alongside the placid Aubert de Villaine. The relationship was volatile, with two such diametrically opposed characters forced to inhabit the confines of one domaine. The walls must have eavesdropped on many protracted quarrels about how the Domaine (Domaine de la Romanee-Conti) should be run and in particular, their distribution of wines around the world. In 1991 Lalou was unceremoniously fired: one of the persons voting her off the board was her own sister. Just to rub salt into the wounds, her daughter is in the employ of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
But Lalou was not left high and dry. In April 1988 she had acquired significant holding (around 12 hectares) of prime vineyard from Domaine Charles Noëllat including rows of Grand Cru vines that had been left moribund over many years. Such soil does not come cheap, so she had to find financial backing, which came from the Far East, the Japanese company Takashimaya. Lalou had the bit between her teeth and in the following year augmented her acquisition with vines from Domaine Philippe Remy that included prize plots in Chambertin and Clos-de-la-Roche.
This created a conflict of interest with Domaine de la Romanée-Conti and it was only a matter of time before they parted ways. Subsequent to her departure from the Domaine, Lalou made further purchases of land that had belonged to her uncle, including a farm above Saint Romain where she now lives with her husband. The wine produced on this land is sold under the name Domaine d`Auvenay and included vines in Chevalier-Montrachet, Bonnes-Mares and Mazis-Chambertin. The wine under the d`Auvenay label is vinified separately from that of Leroy.
During the 1990`s, the wines of Domaine Leroy became some of the most sought after not only in Burgundy but in the world. With Robert Parker enamoured with her plethora of climats, many of which are produced in miniscule quantities (we are talking literally one or two barrels here) it was inevitable that prices spiralled into the stratosphere. The tiny quantities were not only a result of the small acreage, but of Lalou's draconian practices of minimizing yields to unprecedent low quantities - often less the 20hl/hc, through rigorous pruning and sorting in the vineyard and the fact that many plots of vines are between 50 and 80 years old.~ Biodynamism ~
It was her conversion to biodynamic viticulture that grabbed many headlines. Following an epiphany at Nicolas Joly's "Coulée de Serrant" vineyard in the Loire, Lalou returned and implemented the tenets of biodynamie to the letter and becoming perhaps its most conspicuous advocate. The conversion to biodynamie was carried out in one fell sweep, unlike Domaine Leflaive which converted gradually over the year.
"The vines go deeper and can absorb more minerals from the soil."
Eschewing all chemical fertilizers and pesticides, she observed the cycles of the lunar calender and the cosmic rhythms of the universe to guide her vineyard practices. As much as the scientists might ridicule the philosophy, her wines spoke for themselves.
Leroy practices massale selection, with no de-stemming and a prolonged period of fermentation up to comparitively high temperatures (32° to 33°) in temperature-controlled stainless-steel vats. The wines are matured entirely in new oak and are bottled without filtration or fining.
“At Domaine LEROY, we have been cultivating our vines under biodynamic conditions since 1989.
This means that our wines are free of all chemical treatments, weed killers, pesticides, fungicides, insecticides and artificial fertilizers. Instead, we have stepped back in time and use cosmic rhythms to ensure correct soil tilling and recuperation as well as effective vine care through all phases of the year's cycle.”
Mdm Lalou Bize-Leroy
Dusky Goose Winery
Dusky Goose Winery is a collaboration between winemaker Lynn Penner Ash and owners John and Linda Carter. The Carters are completely dedicated to making a small amount of wine that epitomizes the best the Dundee Hills terroir can produce.
Dusky Goose makes wine exclusively from the Dundee Hills AVA, using grapes from Dusky Goose's own vineyard, Rambouillet Vineyard, and Winderlea Vineyard. The Carter family named the wine for the rare Dusky Goose that migrates to the Willamette Valley from Alaska each winter.
Dusky Goose maintains a low profile and very limited production. The Carters own a vineyard in the heart of the Dundee Hills. Surrounded by Arcus, Maresh, Bergstrom, Weber, Ana, Le Pavillon, and Winderlea, the Dusky Goose Estate vineyard, Rambouillet Vineyard, produced fruit included in the 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007 vintages of Dusky Goose, and will play an increasingly important part in the wine's composition in years to come. The first Rambouillet Reserve Pinot noir, the 2006 vintage, was released in early 2009.
Dundee Hills AVA, Oregon
In 2001, John and Linda Carter purchased 13 acres of land in the heart of the Dundee Hills. The Dundee Hills are located in the heart of Oregon's North Willamette Valley, west of the town of Dundee. The area is now a sub-AVA called the "Dundee Hills". The Dundee Hills are known for their red volcanic Jory soil and their famous vineyards.
The Carters hired winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash and Dundee Hills vineyard manager Andy Humphrey to plan and plant the new vineyard. Their experience makes them them best possible people to develop the property.
~900 cases produced annualy.
Dundee Hills AVA, Oregon
Rambouillet Vineyard, owned by John and Linda Carter, is ideally located in the Dundee Hills, Oregon’s premier grape growing AVA (American Viticultural Area). The location of the Rambouillet Vineyard was selected for its southern exposure, ideal elevations for ripening fruit and Jory soil. The Rambouillet Vineyard was planted with a selection of Pinot noir clones chosen with great care for compatibility with our soil type and coastal climate to be used exclusively for the production of Dusky Goose Pinot noir.
~100 cases produced annualy.
A MOMENT WITH TERRY THEISE – WINE IMPORTER
WHAT IS THIS THING CALLED “GROWER CHAMPAGNE?”
The Champagne region in France is dominated by a handful of brand names. These négoçiants and coopératives produce 80% of the total output in Champagne, yet they only own 12% of the vineyards.They may, by law, purchase as much of their grapes or pressed juice or already made sparking wine(known as sur-lattes) as they wish from all over the region. They bring to market a mass produced commodity - the most successful processed agricultural product in human history - a Champagne made in a “house style.” This is a sparkling wine made in a highly interventionist and formulaic waywith swift pressing, extensive use of chaptalization, acidification, cultured yeast strains, enzymes, nitrogenous yeast nutrients and rapid temperature controlled fermentations. They produce many millions of cases annually. By contrast, Small Growers, or “récoltant-manipulants,” may purchase only 5% of their fruit andhandcraft their limited quantities of Champagne from individual villages and parcels where the inherent qualities of the vineyards imprint themselves into the wines. These winemakers are brave souls in an industrialized age: growing, crafting and bottling their own Champagne, offering it to the world as their life’s work.
WHY DRINK GROWER CHAMPAGNE?
You should drink grower Champagne if you've forgotten that Champagne is WINE. You should drink "farmer-fizz" if you'd rather buy Champagne from a farmer than a factory. You should drink it if you'd rather have a wine expressive of vineyard, and the grower's own connection to vineyard, than a wine "formed" by a marketing swami who's studied to the Nth-degree what you can be persuaded to "consume. You should drink it because it's honest REAL wine grown and made by a vintner—by a FAMILY just like yours—by a "him or her," not by an "it." You should drink it because it's better to buy wine from a person than from a company. You should drink it because its price is honestly based on what it costs to produce, not manipulated to account for massive PR and ad budgets, or to hold on to market-share. You should drink grower-Champagne because, like all hand-crafted estate-bottled wines, it is not a mere Thing but is indeed a BEING, expressive of where it grew and who raised it. In drinking it you help protect DIVERSITY, and diversity leads to VITALITY. And if you'd rather eat a local field-ripened summer tomato rapturous with sweetness instead of some January tomato you buy at the supermarket hard as a stone and tasting of nothing, then you should be drinking Grower Champagne!
WHAT DO YOU GET WITH GROWERS’ CHAMPAGNES IN THE BOTTLE?
First, you get character. You get the taste of a small slice of terroir. In general I’d say you get a younger wine than you do from a Grande Marque, as the small grower hasn’t the wherewithal to amortize the costs of maintaining large inventories. Yet with few exceptions, I don’t believe the soleras of the Houses are nearly as complex as they’d have us believe. Attentive drinkers of Champagne know there are peaks and valleys of quality among brands, notwithstanding vagaries of shipping and storage. When good vintages are available for N.V.’s, everyone’s quality spikes up, Houses and growers alike. This immediately distinguishes Grower Champagnes from the “product” of the Houses, who’d rather cloak the details of their blends in shrouds of masonic secrecy. Blends do change and there are small but significant variations from this year’s N.V. Brut to the next one. The maintenance of a grower’s style has more to do with whether the base wines do malo, with the amount and type of dosage, with the length of time on the lees, and with all the basic issues of winemaking. The village or terroir styles have to do of course with soil components and structure, with the choice of grape and with the proportion of those grapes in blends, and with an indefinable habit of thinking, an aesthetic template that takes hold in the communal mind and tells the growers how the wines “should” taste. And then, for better or worse, you get the character of the vintner himself. I’m sure many of the two thousand growers are pretty run-of-the-mill people who make pleasant, unexceptional wine. The crème de tête, so to speak, is the same as everywhere; a few utopian winefreak types who are driven to make superlative hooch. Once that’s established (and a prayer of gratitude uttered) then it gets real interesting. You start to get into the palate of the vintner, the kinds of wines he himself likes. There’s more than one way to make great wine, remember. One man likes high-strung, nervy wines, likes them tense and dashing. His neighbor, equally conscientious and quality-driven, likes wines more creamy and elegant. Each can tell you why Champagne “should” taste the way he himself makes it. Some are tolerant, even embracing of differing styles. This is how your humble author defines FUN. Fun is the finding of creative diversity, by which we celebrate the human foible. Fun is not the search for THE BEST or the ONLY way or the RIGHT way. Fun is discovering that you’re ticklish in more than one place.
Yes and no.There are seventeen Grand Cru villages in Champagne (out of several thousand altogether) and, as you might expect, there are opinions on the subject! There are a few Grand Cru villages which ought to be demoted, and a few 1er Cru villages which ought to be promoted, but by and large the classification is supportable. It was done, correctly, based on geological and exposure parameters. Yet oddly, it is not individual vineyards but instead entire communes which are classified, and no one supports this inexplicable oversight. It isn’t likely to change, alas. The genie is out of the bottle, and it’s easier to live with a flawed system than to undergo the dreadful task of classifying site by site. Cuis and Cramant are contiguous villages. And every honest grower will tell you the best of Cuis — which is 1er Cru — is better than the least of Cramant — which is Grand Cru. Meanwhile, there is little doubt that most of the time, the Grand Cru pedigree will show, all things being equal. And that’s where it is significant for the drinker, because a good grower in a Grand Cru village offers simply the VERY best value in all of Champagne. Contrast to the Reims-Épernay dinosaurs, with whom you have to trade al-l-l-l-l the way up to their “luxury” brand and even then you sometimes don’t get 100% Grand Cru juice. With a good grower in Grand Cru villages you get it with his basic N.V.!
WHAT IN GOD’S NAME IS UP WITH ROSÉ?
You can’t get enough, we can’t get enough, tout le monde can’t get enough—and no one knows why. In truth Rosé Champagne is often an afterthought for merchants and growers alike, a brand-extender for the niche who appreciate it. Only a few Rosés receive the same care the “white” Champagnes receive, and these are (properly) most highly prized, and the kind I try to offer. Remember, Champagne can’t turn on a dime. If one perceives a demand now, it takes at least three years before one can respond. By which time we’re all on to the next thing. There’s rather a dichotomy of approaches to Rosé. Some growers insist on using the saignée method (i.e. bleeding the juice of red grapes), claiming it gives them more fruit. Others demur, saying saignée creates inconsistencies of both style and color. This group would rather blend still red wine into a white fizz; they can fine-tune and calibrate, and they can use mature wine to add stature. Having tasted both good and not-sogood examples of both types, I have no preference. I only ask that a grower take all his wines seriously. Champagne for them is a wine with which they live, and live solely; it is no sort of lifestyle accoutrement. No picnics on the grass at Wimbledon or toasting the winners in a polo tournament here! If we want to remove some of the twit-appeal from Champagne, perhaps we can support the vignerons with dirt under their fingernails.
CHAMPAGNE AT THE TABLE
I have always disliked bombast and ostentation in any aesthetic object, and wines that scream to be noticed are exactly those I find easiest to ignore. But wines which slide smoothly onto the palate and dance in sync with food are the wines which, paradoxically, have the most to say to us. And Champagne, among such wines, is perhaps the most refined and sensuous. Plus, hey; Chardonnay’s got to be good for something, right? In fact, if you’ll permit a digression, I think I’ve discovered the one thing for which Chardonnay is indispensable. You can make good Champagne, even quite interesting Champagne with red grapes only—but you rarely make great Champagne without Chardonnay. Concomitantly, it is quite possible to make great Champagne using only Chardonnay. I have tasted a lot of vin claire now, and I can tell you they give more Chardonnay JOY than many, many of their more ostentatious cousins from elsewhere. Tasting in Oger I found the nearest resemblance was to Riesling: the still Chardonnay was flowery, gracious and limpid, even before the influences of yeasts and autolysis. Chardonnay adds not only flavor but also backbone and raciness, and it has a synergy with Pinot Noir which creates new flavors when the two are blended. Invariably, whenever a grower has two quality grades (e.g. an N.V. Brut and another superior N.V. Brut) the better wine has more Chardonnay in it, apart from longer time on the lees and lower dosage.