Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday Night Bubbles

I have a special treat for us all to share this week. Peter Liem, the finest Champagne blogger there is (and his other writing isn't bad either), has most graciously written today's Friday Night Bubbles installment. The good news is, you'll learn far more about wine by reading Peter's post than you do when you read typical Friday Night Bubbles posts. The bad news is, I have not yet been able to convince Peter that he should simply assume command of the ship over here on Fridays. He makes it sound as though he has better things to do. Anyway, check this out: Peter Liem doing Friday Night Bubbles.

NV Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Blanc de Blancs, $55, Louis/Dressner Selections. Non-dosé champagne is highly fashionable in the Champagne region right now, but few people really do it right. The problem is that in order to make good non-dosé champagne, you have to work exceptionally well in the vineyards, to achieve fruit that is ripe enough and complete enough in feel to stand on its own. You can't just take your regular brut NV and decide that you won't add any sugar to it. One producer who knows how to consistently get it right is Pierre Larmandier of Larmandier-Bernier, with his Terre de Vertus blanc de blancs.

This wine is a monocru champagne, coming entirely from the village of Vertus, but even beyond this, it's all grown in a very specific area in Vertus: the chalky heart of the gentle, east-facing slope on the northern side of the village, in the direction of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. This area makes the most overtly minerally wines of the village, wines that can echo those of Mesnil in their racy, focused structures but that carry less overt weight, making them feel even more linear and energetic, with an intensely pronounced chalkiness. Comparing the wines of Vertus to his wines from Cramant, farther north, Pierre Larmandier says, "It's the same minerality, but Cramant has more power and more body. In Vertus the minerality is a little more naked."

The Terre de Vertus is not technically a single-vineyard wine, as it comes from three adjacent parcels: Les Barillées, Les Faucherets and La Vieille Voie. However, the terroir remains fairly homogenous over Larmandier's 2.5 hectares in these three plots, so for all intensive purposes this functions identically to single-vineyard champagne, expressing the particular characteristics of a highly specific site. As with all of Larmandier's wines, this is grown biodynamically, picked at an elevated degree of ripeness and fermented with indigenous yeasts. A portion of it is fermented in barrique, another portion in large oak foudre and another in stainless steel tank—Larmandier likes the respiration that wood provides, but doesn't want the wine to be influenced by the flavor of oak, so he adds some tank-fermented wine into the blend. He's been very pleased with his foudres so far in the way that they allow the wine to breathe without imparting too much of a flavor imprint, so if he can solve the problem of physical space (those suckers are big), look for Larmandier's champagnes to involve more wine vinified in foudre in the future.

Although the Terre de Vertus has always come entirely from a single year (the first was 1995), it cannot be vintage-dated as it's released too early to qualify for a vintage champagne. The bottle that Brooklynguy and I drank together this week was from 2004, disgorged in April of 2007, meaning that it spent about two years on the lees. I always think that Larmandier's wines need a lot of post-disgorgement aging to show their best, and even tasting this one, 20 months after disgorgement, I felt that it could still use a little more time to put itself together. It started off very compressed and austere, taking about half an hour for the nose to unwind and reveal its fruit, although the palate was more generous, with aromas of sweet apple and citrus peel, infused by fragrant chalkiness and finishing with light notes of clear honey. Silky in texture and tone, it felt driven by the taut, lively character of the terroir, and while it demonstrated a good deal of depth and concentration on the mid-palate, the overall impression was one of raciness and energy. We didn't decant it, but I don't see why it wouldn't have benefited from decanting—after drinking about two-thirds of the bottle, I told Brooklynguy to put it in the fridge and save it for the next day, when it would likely be showing even better (and he confirmed later that this was indeed the case). While it's not a wine to age for a tremendously long time, I would be interested in seeing how it develops over the next three to five years, at least. Back in February of 2007, I wrote in my notebook that the 2004 "will vie with the 2002 as the greatest Terre de Vertus that Larmandier has made so far." I see no reason to amend this statement, and I suspect that there is even more complexity and character contained within this wine, waiting to emerge.


Director, Lab Outreach said...

This is great! Like when they guys from Law & Order went to Baltimore to solve a crime with the guys from Homicide.

Weston said...

Decanting Champagne? Eh? How long till the bubbles disappear?


Anonymous said...

An amazing blog entry, a wine I also love, and a blunderous phrase...

Vinogirl said...

Just had our annual bubbly tasting/team building event at the winery where I work. This was a fab post...lurrrvvvv bubbles.

Brooklynguy said...

Peter did write an excellent post, i agree. and you;re right anon - it is intensive purposes, not intents and purposes. we both missed that.

weston - the bubbles go away faster than in the bottle of course, but if you use a decanter that's shaped sort of like a bottle instead of one of those wide bottomed ones, they linger for enough time to share the bottle with another person.