Hôtel du Marc, Reims 25 May 2012
The impetus for this occasion realised by Veuve Clicquot was the raising in 2010 of venerable bottles of champagne from the bottom of the Baltic Sea, off the coast of the Åland archipelago. Though theVCP ‘1839’ was the intended climax of the day, the bottle we tasted was not in the condition we had hoped for. Luckily, the showing of some of the Widow’s greatest wines from the 20th century made this a great moment indeed. And all in the presence of the current Chef de Cave Dominique Demarville and his two great predecessors, Jacques Péters and Charles Lahaye, now in his 91st year.
The Tasting (in sequential order)
Yellow label (blanc) Base 2008 -Luminous green gold –a fine medley of life-giving acidity ripe fruit and multi-layered mineral flavours. Classic balance. More expressive than Yellow Label Blends of recent years pre- 08 - the re-introduction of a soupcon of oak fermentation seems to have done the trick. Excellent. 17
Yellow Label (Rosé) Base 2008 – rose-petal/salmon. As you’d expect from one of the two best vintages of the’noughties forming the base, there’s a lot of wine here for your dollar. Yet typical of the unhurried pace of Pinot Noir to express itself, the latent richness of red orchard fruits is still tight and contained. But what vigour and vinosity lie ahead- behind the veil of youth today. A lovely bottle, come2013/ 2014 . 17.5
La Grande Dame Rosé 1988 - subtle evolving colour, salmon ceding to mature tuile rim. Complex nose, acidity melding with crystallized red stone-fruits (cherries?) and a Burgundian touch of undergrowth . Exceptional poised vinosity, like fine Volnay (with bubbles), perfect balance. Great wine 19
La Grande Dame
La Grande Dame (blanc) 1962 - old gold, reflects its fermentation in oak in this first vintage of Grande Dame. As Charles Lahaye says “ the main impression is one of walking down into the cellar, the whiff of oak unmistakable.” Still a complex Champagne, citrus character as evident as orchard fruits, reflecting the slightly higher proportion of Chardonnay. Makes excellent drinking now 17
Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label NV1953 Base – luminous green-gold. Aged sur lie under a clamped cork. Late-disgorged November 2008. Amazingly fresh, vital and alive – black grapes power and chardonnay delicacy in textbook balance with a swirling mousse. Remarkable, in the fullness of its life. 18
Veuve Clicquot Rosé 1947 – russet/bronze, tawny rim. Extraordinary density and ripe maturity of grapes (12◦ + natural abv!) typical of this wonderful sunny vintage. Impressively unctuous but not cloying; the vinosity of great old Pinot sings to the taster, a real vino di contemplazione. Still a giant. 18.5
Veuve Clicquot 1904 - disgorged mid 1950s. Good colour, still clearish gold. Tertiary aromas, peat-like with a fine whiff akin to old malt whisky. Rich arresting palate, vinous, a touch of caramel, still fresh. Holding up 17
Veuve Clicquot de la Mer Baltique circa. 1839. This wine had to be re-corked with 11 others; one suspects considerable bottle variation. This one emitted an off-putting whiff of old Champenois cheese (Brie de Meaux or an overripe Maroilles). It did have some fizz, popping when opened. Intensely sweet (dosage 149 grams of sugar/litre) with flavours unfamiliar to the modern drinkers. Charles Lahaye says that it could well have had elements like Pinots Meslier and Blanc and Arbanne, common in this pre-phylloxera period 14
© Michael Edwards
At last, this central grand cru village of Champagne’s Côte des Blancs has the delightful and original restaurant it deserves, complete with ten sumptuous bedrooms. It’s quite fitting that the driver of Les Avisés should be Anselme Selosse, Avize’s - even Champagne’s - most celebrated vigneron: a visionary who has inspired a whole generation of younger growers by taking Champagne back to its roots in, to use his own phrase, “the essence of earth”. Selosse’s leadership by example has staked a claim to a place at the top tables for the smaller Champagne producer-winemaker. That 1980s’ ambition is now a reality in the best restaurants and cafés of New York, Paris, London, Milan and Tokyo, causing the middling négoce some sleepless nights. Ironically, the white neo-classical mansion of what is now Les Avisés has always been a house of distinguished wine since 1805 – until recently it was the chateau d’accueil of Champagne Bricout, a far from middling maison.
Christophe & Stephane share a glass
Despite the grandeur of its setting, with lovely views of the Côte and the Montagne in the distance, there’s nothing formal or chi-chi about the place. It’s all about conviviality, conversation and friendship. You’re invited (but not obliged) to sit at a communal table, rather like London’s Garrick Club, where lunch is served, Wednesday to Sunday. There’s no or little choice, the menu is chalked on a blackboard and changes daily. But don’t worry, Chef Stéphane Rossillon and his wife, Nathalie, at front of house, have the confidence to keep it simple and imaginative in natural dishes that major on top –class ingredients full of flavour and finesse. Last month, I was lucky to be invited here by Christophe Constant of J-L Vergnon, a friend of Anselme’s and rising star in nearby Le Mesnil . We kicked off with oeuf confit, ecrassé de patates douces à la coriandre, hareng fumé, (a fine assembly of poached egg, mashed sweet potato, coriander and smoked herring), the flavours subtly merged to avoid upstaging a delicate mineral Mesnil blanc de blancs. Then a terrific cuisine de grand’mère entrée - tendons of veal, braised with capers, and poelée of spring vegetables, which drank perfectly with an intense but poised Saumur Champigny from the best producer. His name, which I scribbled on a piece of paper is illegible in my spidery scrawl; I’ll let you know next time. The wines from the board also sport some intriguing white burgundies, known to insiders (St Bris from Goiset, Philippe Charlopin’s Chablis Fourchaumes.) On such a sunny day, we ate out in the garden by a lawn that would not disgrace an Englishman’s home, closely watched by the Selosses’ Jack Russell, Ugo.
Le menu du jour
Anselme’s wife, Corinne, has masterminded the project in general and the décor of the lovely bedrooms in particular: each is different and individual, some traditional and plush, others modern, elegantly airy, all luxurious and cosseting. The showers all work on high pressure. As an old hotel inspector, I was immensely impressed by the attention to detail, with one device that passed my acid test, a short-wave/FM radio that could be adjusted minutely on a wheel insert-tuner – play it again, Wolfgang! None of these comforts come cheap but are certainly worth the asking price for two, from €235-00. I can’t think of a better place for a romantic weekend.
Hotel-Restaurant Les Avisés 59 rue du Cramant, 51190 Avize en Champagne
Closed Tuesday and Wednesday
Tel +33 (0)3 26. 57.70. 06
Writing freelance about wine hardly supplies a rich revenue stream, to use the money men’s jargon. But there are times when visiting one of the grandest names in wine makes up for all the lean moments. Such a high peak was climbed last month, when fourteen Krugistes, loyal chroniclers of the marque, gathered at the Clos du Mesnil, the most celebrated single-vineyard property in Champagne. As the cars disgorged their passengers, familiar faces emerged – Richard Juhlin from Stockholm and Tom Cannavan, Scotland’s finest. The United States was also strongly represented by a trio of fine tasters, new to me – John Gilman, author of A View from the Cellar, the respected New York newsletter; Roger Morris, a wise owl and experienced writer from Pennsylvania; and Dr Michael Apstein, a medico and subtle provocateur who finds time to pen a distinguished wine column for The Boston Globe.
I was feeling a little tense, as I’d just published an article reporting on a double vertical of Krug Vintages held in London ( December 2010) – in which I had been critical of the condition then of the Clos du Mesnil 1998. As I sipped the ’98 again in the courtyard of the Clos, I felt a sense of relief: it was showing much better in the warm bright air of June – surprisingly exuberant and à point -than on that previous freezing day the previous December. A reminder that any tasting of a wine is just a snapshot of one moment in its life, subject to changes brought by atmosphere (in every sense) and not least by the condition and mood of the taster! What followed today was a fascinating run through a decade of CdM vintages, with some glorious summits and the occasional valley, bringing home to us that where single-vineyard champagnes are concerned, Mother Nature really is in charge.
Clos du Mesnil
Vertical tasting of Clos du Mesnil, (CdM)
Le Mesnil-sur-Oger 16.vi.2011, 11.30am
The wines were, as below, in the sequence in which they were tasted:
CdM 1998 – lemon gold, good cordon of bubbles. Extrovert aromas and flavours of green, pebble- touched fruit, succulent but with fine mineral notes. However, this vintage tastes near its peak and I suggest should be drunk over the next year, overlapping the release of the 2000. Certainly the ’98 today is better than the sample tasted in December 010. ***(*) 16.5
CdM 1996 – Welsh gold, green tint, some honey (oxidative), and marked note of oak (nez). Strong bouncy acidity – a wrinkle to iron out : the high acid is still masking the fruit. Not perfectly classic but showing better than in December. *** 16+
CdM 1995 - ‘riper plots than in 1996’ – Olivier Krug. Lovely, svelte, ripe chardonnay scents – peche taking over from citrus. Fine integration of oak/acidity/terroir in balance. Perfect ripe palate – confit of fruits, citronelle, peche blanche. Acidity is quite sufficient. Superb. ***** 19
CdM 1992 - light-toned daffodil, with gold lights. Delightful floral notes interweaved with honeycombs. Tight, focused, yet ripe. Ethereal quality, very subtle and classy, very Krug in its ability to surprise. **** 18.5
CdM 1999- light, yellow gold, nice flowing chardonnay aromas but lacking something on the middle palate. **(*) 14.5
CdM 2000 - big hailstorms, tempestuous summer. Young healthy daffodil colour: épicé, expressive, potential for toasty development. Will give pleasure soon. ***(*)17