By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer
Brouillet: One of a Kind Terroir in Champagne
Since I first met Caroline and Paul Vincent Ariston of Champagne Aspasie in Brouillet, I have never gone to France without visiting them. The Ariston’s make top class Champagne at very reasonable prices, and were the very first that we brought in direct here at K&L. When I first met them, they just had their daughter Bertille- now she is 14… Time goes by much too quickly! Cinnamon and I just returned from a short (only four nights!) trip to Champagne, and we spend the day with the Ariston’s. As usual, we had a great time and also learned many new things about what makes their wines so special.
Brouillet is in the far Northwest corner of Champagne, between Reims and Soissons. This area could not be more different than the intensively planted mono-culture of the Cote-des-Blancs and Mountain of Reims. Here, polyculture is still the rule, with wheat and canola making a patchwork with the vineyards. Only hillside sites with the right soil are granted the appellation here and abundant chalk is found here alongside sand and clay. This area is one of the last in Champagne to be harvested, and Paul Vincent likes to pick ripe, so he often harvests 10 days after most of the appellation.
On this trip I learned something that I did not know about the Aspasie wines. They are in fact an RM, and sell their wines as such within France. Because of the complexities of exporting, and in order to fairly compensate the members of his family, Paul Vincent set up a negociant business for export. The only wine sold under this negociant label is their estate grown Champagne.
The Ariston Aspasie "Carte Blanche" Brut Champagne ($27.99, $15.99 375ml) has always been our number one selling direct import Champagne. This is for great reason- no producer is as patient with their entry level wine, ageing it for five years before selling it. The value for money is off the charts. This wine has plenty of richness and weight, but keeps its balance with excellent refreshing qualities as well. The toastiness of this wine is all natural and arrived at by long ageing.
For me, one of the most special wines from this estate is the Ariston Aspasie Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($34.99, $79.99 magnum) which is almost all from the old vine Chardonnay in the Gouttes d’Or parcel. This is the second steepest vineyard that I have walked in Champagne- only the Clos des Goisses was steeper. Unlike most Chardonnay in Champagne, the Gouttes d’Or faces West, and on this trip it was a furnace. When we got back to the car, the thermometer read 41 Centigrade- 105 in old money!
Returning back to the house, Paul Vincent treated us to a comparison of the 2008 based Blanc de Blancs and the recently disgorged 2009. The last of the 2008 just docked here in California, and it is simply spectacular. Looking back at my notes from tasting the wine as vin clair on May 25th of 2009, I found it to be both racy and rich at once. On June 17th of this year, that had not changed- it had snap and refreshment that cannot be beat while also filling the mouth with rich, creamy texture. This bottle reminded me of the quote “A bottle between four of us, thank God there aren’t more of us” and went down very quickly! Later on, just before dinner, we had the Blanc de Blancs from magnum, and this batch is still based on 2007, with a full extra year on the lees. The magnum gained a lot in complexity without losing any of the freshness of the 2008. If you have more than two people, this is the way to go!
It is hard for me to say more about the Ariston Aspasie "Cepages d'Antan" Brut Champagne ($99) than I have already said- it is simply one of the best Champagnes that money can buy. Not only does it offer the kind of incisive cut that one finds in Salon, but it is nearly exotic enough to be Condrieu. The Viognier like fruit expression on the nose also has flinty, bready elements and the palate is a kaleidoscope of complexity. The finish, which lasts and lasts has the brightness of the best of the appellation. Paul Vincent calls it “a wine for squirrels” as the high acidity raises his cheekbones! It is based on 2006 and composed of 40% Meslier, 40% Arbanne and 20% Pinot Blanc.
A toast of Aspasie to you!