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One of the most serious English Sparkling producers. This historic estate has been in the Goring family since 1743. The tiny 16-acre vineyard is close-planted on a steep south-facing chalk escarpment described as 'similar to the Côte des Blancs' in Champagne. The fruit is picked very selectively with quality being the absolute focus. The grapes are pressed gently using a traditional Coquard press. After three years on the lees this wine, composed of 45% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay & 22% Pinot Meunier, is hand disgorged and balanced with a minimal dosage of just 4g/L. It has a fine counterbalance between toasty richness and power from the wines élevage in Burgundian French Oak barrels, with racy acidity, tension and a focused chalky minerality.

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Entries in Pinot Meunier (11)

Friday
Apr262013

Champagne Friday: Thienot - A Different Kind of Negociant

Garance and Alain Thienot in their winery in Taissy.

 

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Thienot- A Different Kind of Negociant

Visiting Champagne Thienot in Taissy just outside of Reims is a completely different experience from visiting other negociants and a refreshing change. I was shown around by Garance Thienot and later met Alain Thienot for the tasting along with chef de cave Laurent Fedou this month and I was very impressed. The facility is brand new, built in 1992- above ground with humidity control and air conditioning. It is the only negociant I have ever visited in Champagne that I did not have to worry about destroying my rental car when I pulled in…Most have ancient gates that don't look like they would accommodate a car! This new facility, with all the convenience of an open warehouse space is just a small detail compared to the impact the genesis of the business has had on the wines.

Most of the big name (and the unknown for that matter!) negociants in Champagne are very old operations. In contrast, Alain Thienot started his company in 1985, after working for decades as a grape broker for other houses. This is the perfect background for starting a Champagne house, as Mr. Thienot knew all of the vineyards and growers intimately. When he started, the prices for grapes were completely fixed by the cru rating of the vineyard sites each year - as he said, the price for the poor, the OK, the good and the great was all the same - and he was in the best position to know who was doing a great job in the vineyard. The prices are no longer fixed in Champagne, but this basic structure of pricing, by cru, is still very much the way business is done. So Mr. Thienot started small, buying the best of what was available, and shopping for vineyards of his own.

By the beginning 90s Alain Thienot had managed to collect up a number of gem vineyards, including a large parcel of Grand Cru Ay that belonged to Krug but was sold off when they were acquired by Remy. Now they have a little over 67 acres of their own estate and contract a further 32 acres from other growers. This large amount of prime estate fruit, and small amount of truly excellent contracts explains their very high quality in the bottle. Thienot also owns Canard-Duchenne, and this allows further flexibility in sourcing high quality grapes since it enhances their buying power.

The style at Thienot is very clean and fresh, and they use small stainless steel tanks for the fermentations to keep the various parcels separate. Alain Thienot is a huge believer in traditional assembelage and said that he is not wedded to using certain parcels in certain wines, but rather uses what nature gives him each vintage to create the style that he is after in each individual wine. The exception to this is the single vineyard “La Vigne aux Gamins”. This is a house making Champagne on the level of greats like Roederer and Bollinger, and very worth your attention. I hope that you will try some of these Champagnes! I brought in everything they have available and think the world of the wines- here is what we have got:

Thienot Brut Champagne ($39.99) This is a great way to check out the style of Thienot at a very fair price. It was the surprise of the Oscars- the small upstart house that kicked out Moet! It is composed of 45% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 20% Meunier. The light gold color and big brioche, cream and baked apple nose gives way to a wine that is packed with power and complexity on the palate. This full bodied Champagne has a luscious finish that is very impressive.

Thienot Brut Rosé Champagne ($64.99) This brassy pink Champagne is composed of 45% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay and 20% Meunier. The color comes from 7% red wine from old vines in the grand cru of Ay-one of the plots purchased from Krug in the 1980’s. The Champagne has a very creamy nose and absolutely outstanding Ay black cherry fruit. This rose is one of the best we have in the blended style with both clean, abundant fruit and chalky drive. If you love rose, don’t miss this one!

All of the vintage dated Champagne from Thienot are entirely estate grown, and exceptionally good:

2006 Thienot "Cuvee Garance" Blanc de Rouges Brut Champagne ($99) This bottling is named after Garance Thienot, who handles the communications and marketing for the family firm. They have chosen to call this Champagne “blanc de rouges” instead of “blanc de noirs” because of the effort that they put into keeping the wine feminine. This is 100% Pinot Noir and a large proportion of the fruit comes from the grand cru Ay that the family purchased from Krug as well as from Garance’s own personal vines in the village of Tauxieres, on the border with Bouzy. This is one of the most intriguing, delicate examples of pure Pinot Champagne that I have tasted, and the quality of the fruit reminded me very much of Volnay even if the wine was straw golden in color. This very elegant, lifted wine won’t make you doubt it’s all Pinot Noir composition and the long chalky finish will leave you wanting more. This was one of the discoveries of my 2013 trip!

2005 Thienot "Cuvee Stanislas" Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($99) The "Cuvee Stanislas" Blanc de Blancs is made entirely from Chardonnay from the Cotes de Blancs, all of them grand cru except for a little bit of premier cru from Vertus. This high toned, smoky Champagne has great focus and precision and superior, long, mineral finish.

1999 Thienot "Cuvee Alain Thienot" Brut Champagne ($99) This classy vintage Champagne is composed of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir. The Alain Thienot has so much aroma that I thought it would be giant Champagne from smelling the walnut bread and dark cherry fruit that was jumping from the glass. On the palate this is a very balanced wine with great clarity of flavor and a light bead. The long ageing of this Champagne has done so much for it- to think that the most famous names in Champagne are selling wine that is four or even 6 years younger shows the Thienot’s commitment to quality in the bottle. It is extremely focused and long on the finish and a must try for anyone who loves luxury cuvees!

2002 Thienot "La Vigne aux Gamins" Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne ($149) This rarity comes from a miniscule one and a quarter acre plot of the Thienot estate in the Grand Cru of Avize called the Vigne aux Gamins near the border with Oger. The vines were planted in the 1950s and are massal selected rather than clones. This wine blew me away with its fantastic combination of white flowers and candied fruit. If you are looking for a toasty Champagne, this is not it- the Gamins is completely fresh and chalky style for Champagne fans that like it live and direct. It is also a great cellar candidate and will be even more fabulous as a twenty or thirty year old bottle. This great vintage is going for a low price for what it is…future vintages are bound to be more expensive! Use the link above to add this to your wait list so you can be notified when inventory is available.

I hope you'll try some of these great bottles from Thienot!

A toast to you,

Gary

Friday
Apr122013

Champagne Friday: Visiting Bruno Michel

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Bruno Michel Visit

Always a K&L Staff Favorite: Bruno Michel "Blanche" Brut Champagne ($34.99)One of the highlights of my trip to Champagne this year was visiting the Michel family in Pierry. First we took a trip up to the Brousses vineyard at the top of the village, the two-acre plot that his single vineyard cuvee de la terre bottling comes from. This southeast facing site was planted in 1964 and is one of the sources for the plant material that Bruno propagates himself for his massal selection vineyard plantings. This chalky site is high on the hill in the already quite cool climate of Pierry, and makes the most high-toned, incisive Blanc de Blancs that we carry. This Champagne is a huge favorite of mine, so it was great to get acquainted with the vineyard.

Superb Blanc de Blancs for a special occasion: 2002 Bruno Michel "Pauline" Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne($69.99) After our trip to the vines, we came back down to the winery and tasted his 2012 vin clairs. Bruno explained that he lost half his crop in 2012 and that it was a very difficult year, especially for organic producers like him. All of the producers I spoke to, organic or not, had very low yields in this very difficult year. In the winter the temperature got so low that it killed some vines outright. In the spring, late frost on the 26th of April destroyed many of the buds, especially for the Chardonnay. During the flowering rain and cold temperatures interfered with the pollination of the plant further reducing yields. A rainy July caused mildew in the vineyard and the ensuing mud made getting into the vineyard to work almost impossible.

Last year, speaking to my grower friends in Champagne in spring and summer, they were all convinced that 2012 would be a near total loss. But mid-August brought a very fortunate turnaround, with sunny weather and some beneficial wind. While the sun began ripening the grapes at an even pace for a moderately late harvest, the wind dried out the vineyard and helped to get rid of the mildew. In late September Bruno, like most of the producers we visited, harvested a top quality, if tiny quantity vintage. I suspect that if the summer had been as bad with a generous amount of grapes on the vine, this quality would have been impossible.

Stunnin single vineyard Blanc de Blancc: Bruno Michel Premier Cru Brut Blanc de Blancs Champagne ($39.99)The 2012 vin clair samples that we tasted were very precise and aromatic. The Chardonnays were tightly wound; concentrated and very long while the Meunier was savory and round but still high toned and persistent. We also had the opportunity to taste the assembelage with the reserve wines added for his non-vintage wine, and I was impressed with the finesse even at this early stage. Bruno is obsessed with his wines, and his vin clair showed his attention to every detail.

Need a killer sushi pairing? Opt for the super dry Bruno Michel "Rebelle" Extra Brut Champagne ($39.99)After the still wines, Bruno started popping crown caps off of two flights of Champagne to do a dosage trial. First we tasted five different levels of sugar for the Extra Brut and after six examples of the regular brut. It was pretty dramatic to see the caps pop at a full six atmospheres- and you can see it in today's video.

The flights were done in random order of dosage level so we wouldn't be biased. Luckily, he didn't want us to guess which had more and which had less dosage, but rather just which ones we preferred. Bruno explained that it was perfectly normal for particular Champagne to taste sweeter with less sugar and drier with more on occasion, since the sugar mixture reacts with the other flavors in the wine in complex and unexpected ways. After tasting we found that the group consisting of his assistant wine maker, my father, his wife Catherine and I had decided on the same level of sugar in both wines as he and his oenologist had.

In my notes below, the first number is the order for the flight, and the bottom number (which is circled) was my preference. The dosage is abbreviated g/l for grams per liter.

 

At the top of the brut page I wrote MCR, which is rectified grape must, since this is the kind of sugar Bruno uses for dosage. Producers also sometimes use beet or cane sugar.

The fantastic 2002 Bruno Michel "Cuvee Millésime" Brut Champagne ($59.99) is better than ever.For the last part of our appointment we tasted through the current releases. The 2002 Bruno Michel "Cuvee Millésime" Brut Champagne ($59.99), which we have carried for almost four years is more impressive than ever. He has kept this wine he didn't sell right away on the lees so the batch that is for sale now has an extra 36 months of yeast contact, and it has become even more creamy and effortless. This blend of 80% Chardonnay from 45 year old vines and 20% Meunier from over 70 year old vines was one of the top wines of the trip.

For something to look forward to, we also managed to grab another importers batch of non-vintage rose in magnum- a batch based on 2006 that is full of spices and freshly baked bread. This excellent rose is completely different from his rose de rose that we carry in 750s even though they are both saignee Meuniers. The magnum is rich and has a subtle, laid back elegance and fantastic length. These should arrive in late summer.

I hope that you will taste some of the excellent Champagnes from Bruno Michel. His wines are among the most complex that we carry, and worth the effort to taste!

A toast to you,

-Gary

 

 

Friday
Mar292013

Champagne Friday: 2004 Moet Grand Vintage has arrived!

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Moet Grand Vintage- the 2004 has arrived!

2004 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne ($64.99) "Judging by the excellent structure and acidity of this wine and the history of older vintage of Moet, this wine will make a great candidate for the cellar!" This past Sunday I was lucky enough to be invited to Tamarine Restaurant in Palo Alto for the debut of the 2004 Moet Grand Vintage. The group was hosted by Moet winemaker Elise Losfelt who is part of the ten person team that oversees Champagne's largest producer. Elise comes from a long line of female winemakers, from the other side of France near Montpellier. She also has experience in Bordeaux, having worked at Chateau Beychevelle in St. Julien and was extremely qualified to speak on the subject of Champagne- not just as an insider, but also with great perspective.

Moet is a giant landholder in Champagne and owns more land than anyone else in the region by a long shot. They currently own just under 3000 acres of vineyard - easily over a billion dollars worth of land under vine. In addition, they have many long-term contracts with growers to supply the house more fruit for their very large production. If you take a look at the Larmat Maps that are available on this blog for free download, you can see the spots in red that they owned back in 1943. These have changed some in the past 70 years and their holdings have expanded, but the amount of vineyard marked red as belonging to Moet is simply amazing.

Moet & Chandon "Imperial" Brut Champagne ($37.99) "This was certainly the best Imperial I have drunk, with a discreet nose of bread dough and apple-like Meunier fruit. It was easy to drink, dry and clean and a nice way to start an evening."We started off with an aperitif of Moet & Chandon "Imperial" Brut Champagne ($37.99) which I learned got its name from Napoleon, who was close friends with the Moet family. This wine replaced the White Star in the US market in the fall of 2009, due to the fact that American Champagne lovers were demanding a drier style. The White Star was an Extra Dry, and curiously the first Imperial to arrive on these shores was as well - but not labeled with any style statement. If you see a bottle of the Imperial that does not say 'Brut' on it, snap it up… One day it will be a collector's item!

These first bottles were dosed at 13 grams per liter for the US market only. At the same time they were selling bottles to the Asian market at 11 grams per liter and the rest of the world at 9. Starting in the summer of 2012, all the Imperial began to be labeled 'Brut' with the dosage the same worldwide at 9 grams per liter. It is composed of what Elise describes as a “big third” of Pinot Noir a third of Meunier and a “small third” of Chardonnay. I thought this was a great way to describe the moving target- since they blend four batches of the Imperial a year, keeping the winemaking team and bottling lines busy. She also mentioned that since they use the produce of over 200 villages in the bottle, the blend of Imperial closely matches the percentages of plantings in Champagne as a whole. Elise explained that the first blend in January following the harvest uses the most reserve wines- around 30%, while the last blend of the year will use around 20% because of the better maturity of the base wine. Since they want a fresh style of wine at Moet, they only use one to two year old reserve wines. All Imperial produced is aged for 30 months on the lees before release.

This was certainly the best Imperial I have drunk, with a discreet nose of bread dough and apple-like Meunier fruit. It was easy to drink, dry and clean and a nice way to start an evening.

We sat down to dinner and the 2004 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne ($64.99) was served with lime coconut scallops. This wine, although significantly older than the Imperial that preceded it, smelled and tasted much younger. It is composed of 38% Chardonnay, 33% Pinot Noir and 29% Meunier and dosed at just 5 grams per liter- making it eligible to be called an 'Extra Brut'. It has a very fresh, chalky aroma and the classic drive of this very good 2004 vintage.

Judging by the excellent structure and acidity of this wine and the history of older vintage of Moet, this wine will make a great candidate for the cellar! The cut of the wine was perfect with the rich scallop, and those of you who would like to open some now will be thrilled with how well this 2004 goes with shellfish.

Next we were served a fantastic plate of spiced honey seared duck to accompany the 1993 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagne. This wine showed wonderful maturity at 20 years old and a great aroma of toast and oyster shells. This bottle was disgorged in October of 2011 as part of a special batch set aside for the future and aged on corks rather than the crown caps that they used for the initial vintage release in 1998. This was the first vintage that Moet started this program with, and Elise said that they have been thrilled with the results. The wine is dosed at 7 grams per liter of sugar and has plenty of toast and butter on the palate, flavors that the duck amplified. I loved the refreshing finish of this wine and loved the pairing with the duck.

The main course of the night was Lemon Grass Sea Bass served with both the 1983 and 1973 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" Brut Champagnes. The 1983 was never released commercially and only bottled in magnums for the wine making team (and luckily for a dinner or two). It is composed of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay and a small part of the wine was barrel fermented. This 1983 was very bright for a 30 year old with a white gold color. On the nose, the crushed oyster elements of the 1993 were here in even great quantity and the wine was a real belemnita fossil experience. In the mouth the wine is very rich and buttery and yet has the lift to clean up on the long, driven finish. What a treat!

I was very excited to taste the 1973 Moet & Chandon "Grand Vintage" since it is a great vintage in Champagne, and also my birth year. The records of the blend were destroyed in a fire at Moet, so Elise said the best we could do was guess. I was pleased that it was just the records that burned up and not the wine! She did note that at this time a portion of the wine would have been barrel fermented. This was a great bottle, and I loved the truffle infused, baked apple aroma that offered so much depth and complexity. On the palate this wine is so rich and intense and the sea bass brought out great sweet, clean fruit from this forty year old. This incredible Champagne had a very long finish that had hints of prosciutto to go along with its mineral drive. I hope I’ll get a chance to taste this again!

K&L’s great friend Wilf Jaeger, who is a partner in the RN74 restaurants, was kind enough to bring a bottle of the 1966 Moet & Chandon "Dom Pérignon" Brut Champagne to share with us at the dinner, and it was a huge treat for everyone in attendance. This bottle had no signs of slowing down at 47 years of age, and the hazelnut aroma that I always associate with grand cru of Verzenay jumped from the glass. On the palate the wine was seamless, nougaty, and had plenty of citric refreshment. This bottle had it all- savor, fruit and velvet like ease. No wonder Dom Perignon has earned such a big reputation!

This great evening reinforced how much ageing potential the wines of Champagne have- and Moet in particular. I have tasted Moet as old as 1914, and have never tasted a properly stored bottle that was over the hill. These wines are worth keeping!

A toast to you!

–Gary