Corona Tasting vol. 1

coronamaskI visited my girlfriend in London to attend a majestic 4 hour Beethoven concert. I also had meals in prestigious restaurants like The Northall “Corinthia”, Céleste (not quite recommended though), Atelier Robuchon and shared romantic moments together. Such a pleasant surprise to find my favorite champagne producers on their menu’s! That was just before the corona lockdown and now I am basically stuck in London. Obviously everything is closed and I can’t go out as I really need a haircut because I start to look like Boris Johnson. My passion for fine wines and champagne has never abandoned me and during those critical and challenging times it is adding sparkle to my dull days. I stay now at my girlfriend’s place. Here I don't have my Zalto and Riedel glassware, so I taste with 1 small Lehmann Jamesse and 2 simple wine glasses with a rather thick border. It is sufficient to do my tastings and analyses of the wines. I have also purchased a pair of machine blown universal Gabriel glasses and I will use them for upcoming tastings. Finally, I’m back in business. Of course I miss the fun and the after tasting casse-croûtes with my team members and friends: Jan, Gomaar and François. However, in London I still can enjoy myself by having some fresh air by the Thames paths and ordering champagnes online. What an amazing selection I could find, lucky me!!! Apparently Brits have great taste in champagne and Belgians still have a lot to learn.

While in London we mainly do our shopping in Waitrose, I was astonished by the huge selection of quality wines they have. There are the big boys such as Winston Churchill, Comtes de Champagne, Dom Pérignon and Krug but also grower champagnes like René Jolly, Vilmart and their own brand that I will taste next month.

On Easter we kicked off with an old time favorite of mine: Paul Bara Comtesse Marie de France 2004. I tasted many vintages but the 2004 was still on my wish list. Finally, I had the opportunity to try it! Champagne Paul Bara is a reference in Bouzy. They are famous for their great rosés, Bouzy rouge red wines and spicy Pinot Noir champagnes. They are also a member of the Club Trésors de Champagne. Their Spécial Club champagnes are made in an old fashioned, rich style that I like a lot. I was fortunate to taste some gorgeous old vintages including one of my birthdate (1986) - very memorable! Comtesse Marie de France is their top cuvée. Its character is vinous, spicy and often packed with stone fruit flavors. A true delight…

 

Tasting note:

The deep color with shades of red copper gives away that this is a Pinot Noir based wine. This champagne has a perfect refined effervescence and an elegant mousse. The aromas are rich, spiced and layered with ripe quince, peach, pineapple, dried roses, ginger powder, dried berries, chicory powder, allspice, Burgundian wood, coffee, carob and a hint of tobacco. After a longer while in the glass you get a hint of Grand Marnier VSOP. In the mouth this is full bodied but also fresh and vibrant. The dried fruits return on the palate together with chocolate orangette, gingerbread, yellow dried raisins, baked apple, blood orange and fried onions. On the mid palate you get the smoothness of chestnut honey and a hint of chicken liver pâté. The finish is long with toast and baguette, raspberry, peaches, nutmeg, piment d'Espelette and an acidity of oranges seguing into apricot and a hint of lemon. We paired it with tapas and grilled artichoke hearts but this also pairs perfectly with spicy quail and garlic roasted potatoes. Delicious as always.
87 points

Technical specs:

Blend: 100% Pinot Noir
Harvest: 2004
Dosage: 6 g/l


 


I've visited the champagne domain Vilmart in RiIlly-la-Montagne several times. The winemaker Laurent Champs is a pioneer of working with new oak barrels in Champagne. His wines are mostly intense, racy and focused with lots of complexity and ageing potential. Dosages can vary depending on the harvest but they always block malolactic fermentation which is according to me not always a good thing. I was impressed with their full range of wines (except the Rubis Rosé that I’ve never tasted). The jewel of the range is Coeur de cuvée, although definitely not a wine to drink young. At first stage it is tight with a closed aroma but after years in the cellar it develops autolytic flavors, interesting oxidative overtones and a honeyed character. So as you can read I'm quite a fan of Vilmart but unfortunately my experience with the bottle I bought in Waitrose was very disappointing.

 

Tasting note:

This Grand Cellier has a light golden color with medium fine bubbles. The nose is complex with Granny Smith apple, pineapple, pine wood like walking into a Norwegian block hut, an unlighted cigarette (quite rare to find that in a champagne), vanilla and iron ore. The palate is tight and too dry. I taste Granny Smith apple, a lot of lemon, unripe gooseberry, kumquats, green coffee and metallic overtones. There is a rather unpleasant bitterness of apple peel, quinine and even a hint of cod oil on the mid palate. The finish is long and very acidic with lemon peel, a hint of melba toast, white pepper, lime with zest and limoncello sorbet. This wine lacks roundness, elegance and is way too acidic: it even burned on my hand! I don't see this champagne getting any better with age. I truly hope this was just an off-bottle due to bad storage but normally that doesn't change anything about the acidity. Such a pity, as Grand Cellier (and Grand Cellier d'Or) can be absolutely fabulous.
Rating: (50/100)


Technical specs:

Blend: 70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir
Disgorgement: August 2019
Aging process: ten months into large oak casks Dosage: 8 g/l

 


Roses de Jeanne is one of those domains that deserve to have a larger column here. Cédric Bouchard is among connoisseurs one of the greatest wine makers in Champagne. The Bouchards have been growers for three generations. In the year 2000, the young Cédric started his own brand. The modest man he is, he didn't want to have his name on the labels so he used the name of his grandmother (Janika) and refers to the roses that you see at the border of the vineyard. That was the birth of Roses de Jeanne. Together with his wife Emilie and his brother-in-law they manage the vineyards in Celles-sur-Ource. Cédric is a true rebel: he doesn't care about AOC regulations, bio certifications and even bubbles. Yes, that's right, Cédric isn't fond of sparkling wine therefore he has reduced the pressure in the bottle (4.5 bars instead of 6 bars). There is more than a wink towards Burgundy. Not surprisingly because he studied at Lycée Viticole de Beaune. His father was also a winemaker but he had a completely different vision on winemaking. Cédric makes mono-varietal single parcel wines. He works according to organic principles. The vines are on average about 40 years old. The yields are very small (about 1/3) because he is seeking highly concentrated wines with as much expression of the terroir possible. With 4000 kg per hectare they are the lowest in the region. Grapes are harvested only when they have reached perfect maturity. The wines are completely vinified in stainless steel or enamelled tanks although, oddly, some of my fellow champagne critics find his wines "too oaky". He has never experienced difficulties with the harvest so he has made vintage single parcel wines (mentioning harvest only because technical it is not a vintage) every year since 2000. The complexity of the wines doesn’t seem to have any limitations. All wines are zero dosage to show the expression of the harvest year without a mask. I'm particularly fond of his Blanc de Blancs from the parcel ‘La Haute Lemblée’. It reminds me sometimes of top contemporary Meursault like the ones from Arnaud Ente. The 2011 is one of the most peculiar wines that I've come across. It is extremely complex and mineral (almost vulcanic) with electrifying tension and an exquisite bitterness along with stunning acidity. The 2010 is one of those wine that makes me want to write poetic words and burst into tears of happiness. The wine that I’ve tasted now is the base cuvée: côte de Val Vilaine.

 

Tasting note:

This blanc de noirs has a pale straw color with a tiny hint of copper, a modest but elegant effervescence and nice tears on the glass. The aroma shows chalk, a Chablis-like minerality with sea breeze, red apples, peach, nutmeg and salted biscuits. After a longer while in the glass came marzipan, dark chalk, blueberry and something I would describe as fond de taint make-up. The texture is smooth but certainly not lacking in dynamics. On the palate you get white peaches, raspberry, grapefruit, orange but not too sweet, kumquats and lemon with zest. The finish is long and has bitter almond, dried red berries, a hint of oregano and a reverberating acidity of sweet lemon with peel. It’s a lovely aperitif that can accompany many kinds of amuse bouche appetizers… I’m thinking of something with sea urchin. Nevertheless, Côte de Val Vilaine is the affordable one from the range, not the most complex but a more than pleasant wine.
Rating: 81 points


Technical specs:

Harvest: 2016
Disgorgement: April 2018
Vinification: primary fermentation with wild yeasts, stainless steel tanks
Dosage: none
 

Champagne Clandestin is a newbie in the champagne world but already gaining a lot of success. It is a project of Bertrand Gautherot from the mythic domaine Vouette & Sorbée and his nephew Bénoît Doussot. The vineyards are located in Buxières-sur-Arce just like Roses de Jeanne in the Côte des Bars region close to Chablis. The wines are certified ECOCERT and vinified with the same care as the Vouette & Sorbée wines. After fermentation they are aged in neutral Burgundy barrels. The style is pure and reflects the Kimmeridgian terroir. None of the wines have dosage. The style is quite different from Vouette & Sorbée: it’s less wild and purer than vinous. I have only tasted Clandestin’s Chardonnay: “Les Grandes Lignes R15” and must say that I was quite impressed.
 

Tasting note:

This wine has a light golden color with fast streams of small bubbles and a delicate mousse. The nose is quite complex with pear, pure lemonade, pineapple, bread crust, salted chips, smoke, freshly cracked hazelnuts, orange peel, sea shells. After a longer while in the glass you get peaches, frangipane patisserie and honeysuckle with interesting oxidative overtones. The mouth feel is structured but also smooth. On the palate you get a lot of salinity followed by Boskoop apple, lemon, peach and a hint of asafoetida. On the mid palate you get creamy custard and almond paste. The finish is long but dry with turmeric, crystallized lemon, kumquats and a lot of saffron. I would pair this champagne with mussels, cockles, foam of oyster juice with grilled salsify, a vadouvan dressing and smoked ratte potato. This was a lovely introduction to Clandestin and I hope to taste more soon.
83 points with 85 potential


Technical specs:

Blend: 100% Chardonnay
Harvest: 2015
Disgorgement: 01/08/2018
Vinification: wild yeasts, ageing in neutral barrels
Dosage: none
 

Seven years ago I was in a restaurant in Lille (France) that is also a butcher: “Le Barbier qui Fume”. It was a perfect day to drink some bubbles on the terrace. Their house champagne was Hubert Paulet, new to me! I expected to drink a mediocre and probably badly stored junk wine (like in most French brasseries) but surprisingly it was such a pleasant champagne, even served in a decent champagne glass! Very refreshing, complex and mineral, especially when served cold. Later I’ve also tasted different wines and “vins clairs” still wines at the press event “Terre et Vins de Champagne” in Reims where I got to meet the winemaker. Olivier Paulet is the 4th generation. The domain is in Rilly-la-Montagne at the North of the Montagne de Reims. He has 8 hectares of vines in Rilly. The soil there is chalk and clay - expresses in the wines that have distinct chalky and saline minerality. Biodynamic and he controls the grasses and herbs in his vineyard to ensure biodiversity. The wines are vinified in a traditional way: stainless steel or enamel tanks. Oak used barrels are also for fermentation of the grapes, but only if the quality of the grapes and the vintage allows it. The wines are all fabulous: from his base cuvée to his vintage rosé and the in oak fermented top cuvée Risléus. Vintage 2002 was a great success. I tasted it on many occasions and I had the impression that the wine doesn’t age at all: tastes exactly the same anytime. Focus, tension combined with blood orange, vanilla, rich coffee notes, Krug smoke and ripe stone fruit. Risléus 2004 has become my girlfriend’s favorite champagne. There was something very strange to the wine: it worked like Viagra for women - dangerous. It seems even more effective than David Léclapart his biodynamic cuvée “L’Aphrodisiaque”... o lalaa...!

 

Tasting note:

The color is intense golden, the bubbles are small and the mousse is elegant. This wine has a gorgeous, sensual aroma of apricot jam, candied and fresh ginger, chicory root, caramelized endives, dried peaches, kiwi, cardamom, beeswax and tobacco. Later in the glass it showed bread pudding, delicate coffee, dried lemon potpourri and incense. The mouthfeel is rich and vinous but with tension, fabulous. On the palate you get baked apple, juicy pear, candied angelica root, blood orange, quince cheese, caramel, crème au beurre with vanilla – smooth and nothing too lactic and a hint of English allsorts. The finish is long exciting with yellow raisins, delicate lemon, toast, nougat and a hint of minerality. Use a large glass, treat it like a top white Burgundy and give it time to open up. A champagne that makes me euphoric and my girlfriend too excited. The perfect pairing for this wine would be truffle vol au vent with rooster chanterelle and sweetbreads, Bocuse style! I definitely see a bright future for this wine. I would love to try it again in 10 years. Personally I like it even more than 2002. What a lovely champagne to conclude Corona Tasting v1!
Rating 89 points with 92+ potential

Technical specs:

Blend: 33% Pinot Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir, 47% Chardonnay
Vintage: 2004
Vinification: in used oak barrels
Dosage: 9 g/l


 
Michiel Demarey
Michiel Demarey
Michiel Demarey is a blogger and journalist specialized in champagne. He is Knight in the order of Coteaux de Champagne.