Friday, March 06, 2009

Friday Night Bubbles

NV Benoît Lahaye Brut, $40, Jeffrey Alpert Selections. Last summer I was in Portland with my wife on a quick vacation and we had dinner with Peter Liem and some of his friends. He brought a few truly special bottles of wine from France for this dinner, one of which was the 2002 Benoît Lahaye Brut Champagne Millésime. This wine was so delicious that I made a promise to myself to buy Lahaye's wines whenever I could find them.

Turns out that finding them is no small feat. I do not mean to say this rudely, but have you ever heard of Jeffrey Alpert Selections? I haven't. There is no website for the importer that I could find - an interweb search turned up more Herb Alpert (the genius musician behind, among other things, the cantina scene music from Star Wars, at the bar in Mos Eisley) than Jeffrey Alpert. But I finally found a NYC store that sells the NV Brut and I pounced. The vintage wine, the Brut Nature, and the other cuvées - nope, not to be found around here, which is such a shame.

Benoît Lahaye's estate is located in the village of Bouzy in the Montagne de Reims, in Pinot Noir country. There are some great growers and producers in Bouzy, such as Andre Clouet, Camille Saves, and Paul Bara. Among wines that I've had at home with dinner (where you can linger over a meal and watch the wine grow up over the course of an evening), this NV Brut from Lahaye is the finest Bouzy wine that I've ever tasted. I've never had a Paul Bara wine, and I haven't tasted the entire lineup of wines from Saves or Clouet, but I've drank some of their wines, and I think that Lahaye's NV Brut is just better. This version is, anyway, which I am guessing is based on 2005 grapes, bottled in 2006, and disgorged in August of 2008 based on the hard-to-spot code on the back label that reads "08 2008." Again - give us more info on the labels please...

The best description of Benoît Lahaye is again on Peter Liem's website, but I will summarize: Benoît Lahaye's vineyards are farmed organically and his wines are made naturally with minimal intervention. The estate is small at under 5 hectares, and yet Lahaye vinifies individual parcels seperately in order to produce the best possible blends. This wine is 85% Pinot Noir and the rest Chardonnay, using 30% reserve wines. It is such a beautiful wine, really stunning. The nose is airy and pure, very gentle, and reveals layers of ripe fruit, roast nuts, and minerals. It is vinous and intense, round and rich, ever so slightly smokey. This is one to get lost in, and I refused to drink the last bit so I could keep smelling it. The fruit is generous and ripe on the palate - anyone who thinks that grapes don't ripen in Champagne should drink this wine. The fruit is completely infused with chalk, and there is a racy streak of acidity that cuts through and cleanses the palate. The finish is fragrant and long, and tickles the cheeks. And it's clear that I opened it too young, as there is ample structure and acidity and although the wine is completely delicious, it seems like it hasn't fully discovered its inner harmony.
If it sounds like I'm waxing rhapsodic about this wine, I am. It's a true beauty, one of the best NV Pinot Noir based Champs that I've had. And it's interesting to compare this to, say the NV Billiot Brut from the neighboring village of Ambonnay, also a grand cru village. I love Billiot's wines, but whereas they seem more exuberant and muscular to me, Lahaye's wine seems more controlled, with more finesse, yet equally intense. I'll have to test that theory one day by drinking them together.

4 comments:

peter said...

I'll bring the Billiot...

Brooklynguy said...

deal.

Do Bianchi said...

Tracie B and I have been trying to wrap our minds around Billiot and will revisit... and we will most definitely seek out Lahaye after reading this post... may the Schwartz be with you...

spume said...

For me, this was love after first glass (bottle?), which Peter nicely brought along with him when he came to visit in 2007. Alas, I haven't seen these wines here in the Bay Area at all.

- wolfgang