New Horizons Champagne October 2016
Welcome to a new direction in discovering domain bottled grower Champagnes direct from the vigneron at pre-arrival prices.
Champagne Stephane Coquillette – Chouilly Grand Cru
Champagne Coquillette (6 hectares) is situated in Chouilly, a village classified as Grand Cru in the Côte des Blancs. Stéphane Coquillette (pictured above) is a fourth generation Champagne winemaker, following in the footsteps of his father, Christian, who runs Champagne Saint-Chamant. The majority of the grapes come from Chouilly, Cuis, Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ . The vineyard work is sustainable with ploughing and bark ground cover to stop erosion and weeds. Herbicides are avoided at all costs. Fermentation is all classic stainless steel. The juice is then stored in their new winery built in 2001. More than ten different parcels contribue to the cuvées of Champagne Coquillette, among them “Le Chemin d’Avize,” “Les Clés,” “Les Carelles,” “La Mutry,” “Les Sorsous,” “La Pouplot.”
I first came across Stephane in 2014 at one of the ‘April Champagne week’ tastings. Certainly I thought they were the best wines at that particular tasting but at the time I was not in a position to pursue the range. This year again, the wines were sensational – and I was apprehensive about pursuing further, since I thought the range would be very expensive. As I was staying in a Gite in Chouilly, 100 metres from the Coquillette cuverie, I made an appointment to visit. The entire range is precise, complex, savory and intense, and the prices are very reasonable. Chouilly is a very large Grand Cru and sits in awe of neighbour Cramant. Also the mega-huge co-operative Nicolas Feuillatte is in Chouilly and its dominance does take some lustre away from Chouilly Grand Cru status. It is far too easy to sell grapes to the co-op. This attitude keeps the prices reasonable until Chouilly gets fully discovered. Of course, like all Champagne villages, some vineyards are better placed and better managed. The vigneron is all important. I have included some of Burghounds notes for previous disgorgements. The stylistic descriptions of the cuvees are still very relevant and accurate. These are prestige premium quality Champagnes at still bargain prices.
Champagne Stephane Coquillette Carte d’Or 1er Cru NV $72.00
A blend of Grand Cru and Premier Cru. There is 2/3 of Pinot Noir from Aÿ and Mareuil-sur-Aÿ and 1/3 of Chardonnay from Chouilly and Cuis.Dosage 5 g/l. Based on 100% 2013 with no reserve wines. Beautifully crisp and savory. All sherbet and minerals. A perfect dosage keeps this wine alive and interesting. A delightful intense approachable style that balances red fruits with minerals. Drinks nice now and can cellar for a year.
Burghound 91 points | NV Carte d’Or 1er Cru
An agreeably fresh, high-toned and pure nose features notes of citrus peel, yeast and soft baked bread nuances. There is good vibrancy to the utterly delicious, crisp and nicely intense flavors that terminate in a markedly dry finish that is borderline austere but not aggressively so. This displays plenty of yeast character on the finish where more of the citrus elements exhibited by the nose appear. While not super complex I very much like the style as it’s a “drinker’s Champagne” meaning that it’s refreshing and something that is easy to sip on in the sense that the first glass invites the second. Note that while this could certainly be enjoyed now I would suggest holding it for a few years first with the goal of allowing a bit more depth to develop.
Champagne Stephane Coquillette Cuvée Diane Blanc de Blancs NV $82.50
100% Chardonnay from Chouilly, from vines planted in 1964.Dosage 5g/l. This is a beautifully structured elegant Chardonnay – amazingly complex from old vines – lovely acidity with a precise dosage. Hints of floral and tropical overtones. Based on 100% 2013 with no reserve wines. Can be enjoyed now or cellared. Great length on the palate.
Burghound 91 points | NV Cuvée Diane Blanc de Blancs
A discreet, cool and airy nose offers up soft notes of citrus and yeast along with even more discreet floral and spice nuances. The vibrant and very fresh middle weight flavors possess a refined mouth feel that is enhanced by the relatively fine mousse, all wrapped in a delicious and agreeably toasty finale. This is a lovely and decidedly understated effort that could be enjoyed now or held for a few more years first. Good stuff.
Champagne Stephane Coquillette Cuvée Les Clés Blanc de Noirs NV $81.00
Grand Cru from Aÿ, yes 100% Pinot Noir. Mostly from vines planted in 1960. Dosage 5 g/l. The red fruits are subtle, and we get some classic funkiness I associate with Aÿ Pinot. Again 100% 2013 with no reserve wines. Ridiculously delicious Grand Cru Pinot from old vines Aÿ at a bargain price. Anything from Aÿ is expensive! Bargain.
Burghound 92 points NV Cuvée Les Clés Blanc de Noirs
A relatively elegant, pure and markedly yeasty nose features notes of red apple, pear, brioche and discreet notes of mandarin orange. The delicious and intense flavors are sculpted by a full-on mousse where the effervescence is really quite fine and this aspect contributes to the refinement of the impressively complex and beautifully persistent finish. For my taste this beauty needs a few more years of bottle age before it arrives at its full potential though it’s already quite satisfying.
Champagne Stephane Coquillette Cuvée Marie-Aimer Rosé $108.00
100% Pinot Noir “Rosé de Saignée” is neither fined nor filtered. Dosage 5g/l. From a 48 hour saignee. Lovely red fruits and sour cherry – all entwined in savoury minerals. 100% 2013 with no reserve wines. From old vines mainly from Aÿ and a hint of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ for some strawberry overtones.
Burghound 92 Points NV Brut Marie Aimer Rosé
(from grand cru grapes though not noted as such on the label; 100% pinot noir). An overtly fruity but not simple nose is comprised of cherry, strawberry and raspberry plus a hint of yeast. The delicious, round and generously effervescent flavors are quite forward yet carry excellent complexity on the moderately dry, clean, crisp and lingering finish. I quite like this as it’s easy to like but with lovely depth and length. A very full flavored rosé that is ready now.
Champagne Lilbert et Fils – Cramant Grand Cru
Bertrand Lilbert is one of the super stars of Cramant and indeed of the Cote des Blancs. 3.5ha of vineyard parcels spread across Cramant, Chouilly and Oiry. The wines are made in a classic structured style with abundant acid to guarantee long aging potential. But that said, they are certainly very enjoyable in their youth. The Lilbert property was established in 1746 and consists of only 3.5 ha Grand Cru Vineyards in the Cote des Blancs, 60% in Cramant, 30% in Chouilly and 10% in Oiry. Bertrand used to work in an Epernay viticulture testing laboratory before taking over the management of this property. Michel Bettane, France’s top wine critic, names Lilbert as the reference point for long-lived classic Cramant. As Andrew Jefford observes in his book, The New France, “This tiny 4-ha Cramant domaine is the source of some very fine and long-lived Blanc de Blancs made by Georges Lilbert and his son Bertrand. The style is less soft, creamy, and flowery than the Blanc de Blancs of most large houses might leave the drinker expecting: Cramant here has a taut, steely, rigorous quality….”. Overall production is tiny with only three cuvées being produced for a huge total production of a tiny 30,000 bottles!
The Lilbert family are traditional vignerons in the true sense of the word. All processes are performed by the family themselves. Hand riddling of course, and the final disgorgement is done manually without the use of ice to freeze the dead yeast cell plug in the neck of the bottle – ‘a la volée’. The style is tight, mineral, chalky, citrus and piercing elegance. Stunning rare Chardonnay. Also Bertrand has a new labelling machine which allows him to create a precise back label accurately describing disgorgement dates, dosages and blend compositions.
Michael Edwards – Finest Wines of Champagne.
The dynamic, racy Champagnes of the hilltop village of Cramant, have no finer exponent than the Lilbert family, who have lived here since the mid 18th Century. In the perfectionist, uncompromising hands of the Lilberts, the wines have the purity and hardness of a diamond when young, but given enough time, they are revealed as exquisite, crystalline expressions of great Chardonnay.
Champagne Lilbert Blanc de Blancs Brut NV $87.00
From Cramant, Chouilly and Oiry fruit. Blend of 35% 2012, 30% 2011 and 35% 2010. Dosage 6g/l. Lovely acidity and elegance. Creamy purity with elegant perfume. One of the best ever standard Bruts from Bertrand. Taut and steely with precise structure and minerals – along with amazing length.
Champagne Lilbert Blanc de Blancs Perle NV $108.00
10% 2013, 45% 2012, 45% 2010, Dosage 5g/l. From a rigorous old vine selection. Perle is the demi-mousse lower pressure cuvee. Regular Champagnes are bottled at 6 atmospheres of pressure, and we see lower pressure versions at 4 atmospheres. The lower pressure delivers a more elegant, purer mouth-feel. The finesse and minerality is enhanced with the consumer being none the wiser. Lemon/citrus/chalk in spades. This may be the best ever release of this cuvee. Highly sought after. Limited. Stunning quality!
Burghound 94 points NV Brut Blanc de Blancs Perle Grand Cru:
(From old vines from all three communes, Oiry, Chouilly and Cramant; dosage 4.5 g/l, 165 cases, SRP $86). This gorgeous effort begins with a notably restrained nose that only reluctantly offers up shy scents of lemon rind, green apple and cool pear. The refreshing and equally cool flavors are strikingly refined and energetic with an exceptionally fine bead to the supporting mousse, all wrapped in wonderfully authoritative, balanced and focused finish that lasts and lasts. This understated and ultra-pure effort is flat out terrific combining power and finesse. This could easily be enjoyed now but a few more years of bottle age will only add to the depth. 94/2014+
Champagne Lilbert Blanc de Blancs Millesime 2010 $132.00
From two extremely old vine parcels “Les Terres des Buissons” and “Moyens du Levant”. Dosage 4g/L. Refer to photo – Bertrand has just picked the old vines Chardonnay in 2016. The balance here is perfection personified. I like 2010 as a vintage. I see purity and elegance across many 2010 Champagnes. The intensity and power has been ramped up. Concise, precise, mouth-filling. Chalk and minerals – palate staining. But that is the Lilbert style. Very limited.
Champagne Voirin-Jumel – Cramant Grand Cru
The Voirin-Jumel household is typical of many vigneron relationships in France. Patrick Voirin’s family had vineyards in Grand Cru Cramant, and Valerie Jumel’s family owned vineyards in Chouilly. So the synthesis is a happy mix. They own 10 hectares of vines spanning the villages of Cramant, Avize, Oger, Ay, Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, Vertus, Verneuil and Chouilly – and vines have an average age of 30 years. All this helps them to produce a small range of very individual and elegant wines.
In 2013, Alice Voirin won the ‘Les Jeunes Talents du Champagne’ Chardonnay category – with the Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs NV. It is a prestigious award, Emmanuel Fourny won it in 2012. The judging is very tough with many industry sector professionals as judges. Now we see much demand for these Champagnes on famous Michelin starred restaurants across Europe.
Harvest has finally finished in 2016 at Voirin-Jumel with the last plot, a very steep old vine parcel, directly behind the cuverie being picked by the team. The photo shows the big team walking down the hill towards a well earned refreshment! The range has become very popular and this is now the third shipment this year.
Champagne Voirin-Jumel Blanc de Noirs 1er Cru NV $64.50
Based on the 2013 vintage with 20% reserve wines, dosage at 7gm/litre is perfect. From a single 1.48 hectare Pinot Noir vineyard in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ – Les Carelles. Mareuil-sur-Aÿ is Billecart Salmon territory, and here the Pinot is always delicate and subtle, hints of strawberry and red fruits, perfume and spice. The novice Champagne drinker may recoil at the notion of drinking a 100% Pinot Noir Champagne, but this wine reveals the purity and elegance of the terroir and competent wine making. A bargain basement wine from a great base vintage, extremely popular and very well received. In the scheme of things, this wine is way under priced. It simply delivers! A new shipment.
Champagne Voirin-Jumel Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV $73.50
Based on 2012 with 20% reserve wines, from Cramant, Chouilly, Avize and Oger. Dosage 6g/litre. The Chardonnay terroir speaks, more chiseled and steely, with citrus and minerals, hints of white fruits and floral. Very precise and elegant as always and excellent value. The creaminess of Cramant sets the tone for a fine and elegant Champagne, with the Avize component adding some gentle spice. Again this cuvee has been very popular – another new shipment. Drinks well now. More approachable now than compared to the Lilbert.
Lots of Chardonnay!
There appears to be heaps of Blanc de Blancs in this offer and from Cramant and Chouilly vignerons. I like Chardonnay in summertime, and these growers offer tremendous value for money compared to vignerons in the other villages Avize, Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. In terms of the style from the different Cote des Blancs villages, Chouilly has richer tropical overtones compared to its Cramant neighbour which is more steely and creamy. Avize has spice and broad shoulders. Oger is quite pure with floral overtones, and Le Mesnil-sur-Oger has almost white burgundy purity and weight.
There is always lots of discussion about ‘vintage ratings’. Some journalists have maligned 2011 as one of the worst vintages on record, yet this year one of my absolute top class grower Champagnes was a 2011 bio-dynamic. Also there is much hype about 2008. Certainly 2008 has the potential to be a great vintage. Some producers have released the 2009’s ahead of the 2008. In most cases this has worked, in some cases this has back fired with the longer aged 2008 now losing some freshness and taking on evolved heavy ponderous overtones. I love 2010. Real purity and freshness. There is talk about rot in 2010, but from the great growers I have seen zero impact. Hard work in the vineyard always wins. 2012 and 2013 should bring us nice vintage wines. But again – the grower is more important than the vintage.
Time on lees.
I had an interesting discussion with a top Ambonnay grower and a top Pierry grower. They were questioning the merits of ageing on lees after bottling, versus aging in the bottle after disgorging. Most of the autolysis effect happens in the first 15 months in the bottle. Then it has more to do with bottle aging, Preservation of terroir maybe more precise if you disgorge early, and age on cork. The cork can be a highly dense Mytik variant. Old traditional methods and practices are being challenged by the new wave radical thinking vigneron.
Well luckily I advanced my travel arrangements one week and arrived the day vintage started and departed when it was just finishing. Meunier was harvested early in good condition and Chardonnay was harvested late in good condition. After a cold and wet dismal spring and summer, the harvest was saved for traditional growers by a long period of warm sunny days in August and September. Bio-dynamic producers were less successful with yields way down. The varieties ripened at different times and many growers who normally would take 7 days to complete a harvest were still juggling harvest at 12 days or even longer. Chardonnay in the Cote des Blancs appears successful in terms of quality and quantity. There is optimism in the air!
Champagne de Vigneron