Benoît Lahaye is probably the best grower/producer in Bouzy right now. I use "probably" because I haven't sat down recently with a bottle of Champagne by Camille Savés or Paul Bara. But I feel pretty confident on this one. Lahaye is making excellent wines, mostly of Pinot Noir from Bouzy.
Lahaye is a smart winemaker, strategically varying in his use of wood for fermentation, using naturally occurring versus selected yeasts, cork or crown capsules for secondary fermentation, presence or absence of malolactic fermentation, and deftly blending wines. There are 8 cuvées, I think, which sounds like a lot for a guy who owns fewer than 5 hectares of land. There's just not a large supply of any of the wines. He is also ultra-conscientious as a grape farmer. The first paragraph of Peter Liem's profile of Lahaye on ChampagneGuide.net describes this:
A passionate advocate of natural winegrowing, Benoît Lahaye took over his family’s estate in 1993 and has been bottling wine under his own label since 1996. He became interested in natural viticulture early on, and inspired by Patrick Meyer in Alsace, Lahaye completely stopped using systemic herbicides in 1994. By 1996 he had begun to work organically, in addition to using cover crops in the vineyards and experimenting with biodynamic treatments; the estate was fully converted to organic viticulture in 2003, and certified organic in 2007. Lahaye has noticed a pronounced difference in his wines since the transition to organic farming. “It’s not really a question of being better,” he says, “but my wines attain higher levels of ripeness now, while retaining the same level of acidity.”I first tasted a Lahaye wine on the same day that I first met my good friend Peter - he brought a bottle of the 2002 vintage wine back from France and shared it over dinner in Portland. Since that day I drink the wines at every opportunity. Bottles are not easy to find, but there were always a few places. I used to drink the rosé off the list at Vinegar Hill House when it was something like $55. I could find a bottle here and there at places like Chambers Street and Crush. Peter always told me that a decade from now there are a few Champagne producers who will be widely recognized as superstars, and Lahaye is one of them. buy the wines now, while you can, he said.
I am not an expert with Lahaye wines. But here is my take: like many Champagnes, they show better when they are opened well ahead of drinking them. I've never had a mature bottle, so I have no idea how they age. But the young bottles - open them a few hours before you want to drink them, if you can. And if you cannot, consider decanting, although that can change the texture of the wine. Lahaye's wines generally show great intensity of character, as opposed to opulence or overt richness. The best bottles show vivid and detailed aromas and flavors, and provide hours of interest and deliciousness. I find these to be particularly food-friendly Champagnes, too, working well with a good variety of dishes.
All of that said, I've never tasted the lineup of wines in one sitting. I've never opened more than one Lahaye bottle at a time - I've never done anything with Lahaye wines other than to enjoy them bottle by bottle. Not that there's anything wrong with that. But I was excited, then, when a few friends agreed that it would be good fun to find as many bottles as we could and to drink them all together, over dinner.
We did this on a recent night and it happened that the weather turned entirely weird, reaching over 60 degrees on a December day, and poured rain in buckets. There are some evenings when the wines show beautifully. This was not one of them, my friends. The wines were fine, but did not show much of the intrigue and beauty that made us fans in the first place. There were things to appreciate and I very much enjoyed them. But some of the folks at the table who had not previously had a lot of Lahaye wine - those folks perhaps think that the rest of us are weird for loving this producer.
Here are the wines we drank, along with some notes (we found everything except for the Brut Nature and the Blanc de Noirs):
So, that's it - our evening with Benoît Lahaye's Champagnes. Although this was not a great night for the wines, I heartily recommend them if you like soil-expressive red grape heavy Champagne.