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Bruno Michel "Blanche" Brut Champagne $34.99One of our best non-vintage Champagnes, this organically grown blend of half each Chardonnay and Meunier comes entirely from Bruno Michel's estate. It has been aged for six years on the lees and shows wonderful natural toasty quality as well as incredible vibrance! This was the big hit of our most recent staff Champagne tasting and we think you will love it too.

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Entries in sparkling wine (38)

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
Apr192013

Champagne Friday: Visit to Billecart-Salmon

By: Gary Westby | K&L Champagne Buyer

Earlier this month, Antoine Rolland-Billecart hosted my father and me at Champagne Billecart-Salmon in Mareuil-sur-Ay. This house rightly has one of the most famous names in all of Champagne, but produces relatively little in terms of quantity- about 2 million bottles a year. The family has been in the business a very long time, and will celebrate their 200th year in 2018. We started our tour with a walk in his Clos St. Hilaire, featured in today's video.

Walking with Antoine at Billecart-Salmon.

Of the 750 acres that Billecart-Salmon works with its 30 vineyard workers, only 25 acres are owned by them. They rent 300 acres and contract the rest of their supply, making them very much a traditional negociant. Of that land, over 42 acres are dedicated to growing Pinot Noir for red wine for their rose. These vines average over 50 years old and are located in the grand cru villages of Ay and Ambonnay as well as in Billecart’s own premier cru village, Mareuil-sur-Ay. In these special vineyards they prune extra short and even employ green harvesting to get the concentration needed to make the most famous rose Champagne in the world. For the rest of the vines, they are most concerned with picking at the right acid level, and look for a very high total acidity of 10 grams per liter at harvest.

The caves at Billecart-Salmon.

This high acidity is something that they seek to preserve in the wines, and fresh clean flavors are the focus of the house style at Billecart-Salmon. Antoine Roland-Billecart's grandfather was a brewer, and in 1950 they were the first house to utilize cold stabilization to clarify the must before fermentation. The alcoholic fermentation is done at a very cold temperature here- so cold that they have developed their own selected yeast strains that can operate in an environment that never goes above 57 degrees Fahrenheit. This primary fermentation is very slow- three weeks- creating less than half a degree of alcohol per day!

They do not have a specific policy on malolactic fermentation at Billecart, and have the cellar split into three separate zones so they can choose to allow certain lots to go through the process and block others. I was surprised to learn that Billecart-Salmon is now the fourth biggest house for the use of wood, behind Bollinger, Krug and Alfred Gratien. Only 3% of their production is done in barrel, and you can see the lots in the picture below. This goes to show that Champagne is still primarily a tank appellation!

Billecart barrel list.

Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne The most famous wine from this great house is the Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé Champagne ($74.99). It has earned its reputation as the benchmark for all rose 2000 Billecart-Salmon "Cuvée Nicolas-François- NFB" Champagne Champagne with its ethereal elegance, purity and lightness.

My personal favorite is the 2000 Billecart-Salmon "Cuvée Nicolas-François- NFB" Champagne ($89.99) which is less than 3% of their total production. This is classy, understated Champagne with just the right amount of nutty, bready richness to balance out its bright fruit. The bead and texture is near perfect- if you feel like a treat you will not be disappointed by the NFB!

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

 

 

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