Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Champagne News

This time of year there are a load of trade tastings, and even if like me, you only go to a few of them, you hear things. Some Champagne news to share with you, some of it I can directly confirm, some rumor:

Frank Pascal's wines are now available in the United States. The Dressner team (now distributed in NY by David Bowler) is importing the entire lineup, and let me tell you - this is exciting news.

Isabelle and Franck Pascal, and their name tags.

Vineyard work is thoughtful and very conscientious, and fully converted to biodynamic farming since 2002. The estate is located in the village of Baslieux-sur-Châtillon, in the part of the Marne Valley where Meunier does very well in the heavy clay soils. I cannot say that I have sufficient experience drinking these wines in order to give you a detailed summary, but I can tell you that they are clean and pure and extremely well made wines, wines that showcase the potential of Meunier when it is done right - dark fruit, expansive and broad, earthy. And in Pascal's hands these wines achieve a freshness and ripeness that allows the dosage to be quite low, and the wines still feel perfectly balanced.

The "entry level" wine is called Sagessse Brut Nature. It is almost a Blanc de Noirs - 57% Meunier, 38% Pinot, and 5% Chardonnay. The current release is based on the lovely 2006 vintage, and it feels substantial and ripe, and entirely under control, very fresh. At about $60 it is a bit more expensive than some entry level wines, but it is a very high quality wine that will delight the red grape Champagne lovers out there.

Cuvée Tolérance Brut Rosé is a truly lovely rosé of Champagne, the first Pascal wine that I tried. This wine is Sagesse but with the addition of Pascal's red still wine. It is absolutely delicious, and it doesn't smell or taste anything like Sagesse - as Franck Pascal said, " The addition of still red wine really changes the character of Sagesse." At about $65, this is a very good value in rosé. There are a few vintage wines and I cannot talk intelligently about them because I've had them only at tastings. My favorite so far is the exquisite 2004 Quinte Essence Brut, made of 60% Pinot, 25% Meunier, and 15% Chardonnay from vineyards in Belval-sous-Châtillon (if I understood correctly). All of the wines were very good, but this one stood out to me because of its precision and harmony, the elegance amidst the intensity of its flavors. At about $85 we're into vintage Champagne expensive territory, but here you're definitely getting your money's worth, in my opinion.

And I must mention the fact that team Dressner has wisely decided to bring in the still red wine, the Franck Pascal Coteaux Champenois Confiance. There won't be much of it and it will cost something like $70 a bottle. But Coteaux Champenois can be as beautifully perfumed, elegant, and hauntingly delicious as a lot of expensive Burgundy wine. If you think of this as a 1er Cru from a great producer, then $70 is not very expensive at all. There hasn't been a lot of Coteaux Champenois on the market and I'm very happy that there will now be this one. I've only tasted it, but I liked it very much. This release is mostly from the fantastic 2008 vintage, the balance is 2007. There is such brightness and energy, highly perfumed black currant and blackberry fruit, the texture is rich with the pulp of tiny berries, and the pungent mineral finish really lingers.

Other Champagne news:

--The Dressner team is now bringing in the interesting and delicious Champagnes of Francis Boulard. I think these are great wines and hopefully they will be easier to find on retail shelves now. They are very reasonably priced too.

--I hear that Marie-Noëlle Ledru's fantastic Coteaux Champenois will soon be available in New York. Charlie Woods who created Bonhomie Wine Selections tells me that he is bringing in 3 cases of the 2004 vintage sometime this year.

That's right...3 cases. 36 bottles of this wine will be available in New York. He says that the restaurant Corton has dibs on an entire case, but that the remaining 24 bottles will be allocated as widely as possible. My friends, this is a wine that you must find and purchase if you are even a little bit interested in Pinot Noir or Coteaux Champenois. Ask your favorite shop to buy the wine, and I hope you can get a bottle. I think I have dibs on one, and if I don't, I sincerely advise Charlie, his family, friends, and acquaintances to watch their step around me.

--I hear that Gatinois' Coteaux Champenois is now going to be available through Polaner. I've never tasted it and I don't know the price, but this producer has some of the most prime plots in Grand Cru Aÿ, and their Champagnes are so good, why shouldn't the still wine be great? Again, it's cool that we consumers will have the opportunity to try more still red wine from Champagne, a style of wine that I honestly think will interest many a Burgundy lover.


Louis/Dressner Selections said...

Thank you for referring to "the Dressner team" and not just Joe Dressner. These days, I'm a rather sick guy and it is very much the team that is moving things forward.

Charlie Woods said...

Just a mild correction here and let me note that I did say 2004 when we we're chatting the other day. My apologies for the mistake. The vintage of Champenois that I will be bringing in from Marie-Noelle LeDru is 2008. I don't think anyone will mind the 2008 much

Mathew said...

The Confiance took my breath away at the Dressner/Bowler tasting. In a room full of incredibly soulful wines, this one was THE ONE. I was worried that Frank thought I was putting on a show for him, but it honestly was a showstopper. If I remember correctly the blend is 80% Pinot Meunier and only 20% Pinot Noir. I found it fascinating to taste the different range of spice and texture the Meunier brings to the table.

You're right about the Gatinois Coteaux Champenois. They were pouring it at the Polaner tasting this week. I can't evaluate it fairly based on my one-ounce encounter, but I will admit it didn't pull me in as strongly as the Pascal. Maybe it just had stage fright.

Cindy McMichael said...

at $60, Sagessse Brut Nature is like you say, more expensive, but i believe it is worth the cost. i enjoy it from time to time as a nice evening drink