14 April 2019 – One tasting, one Appellation, 16 personalities rooted in the multiplicity of terroirs of Champagne, 32 hands guiding each day the nature and the wines with respect and love. Under the beautiful sun of the season, the professionals from all over the world had rendez-vous with the unmissable group called Les Mains du Terroir de Champagne. A friendly, relax and instructive tasting at the Hotel de Ville of Rheims to discover or rediscover the philosophy of each estate and this year, the event was full of surprises…
Grape variety by Grape variety – a tasting by Geoffrey Orban
One of the things attracting the professionals every year at Les Mains du Terroir de Champagne tasting is the Flash tasting by Geoffrey Orban – terroir specialist, French Ambassador and Vice-European Ambassador of Champagne in 2006. One cuvée for each winegrower presented in depth and the opportunity for the professional visitors to have an overview of the diversity of terroirs within the group but also to sink in the individuality of each estate. Through a tactile and olfactory tasting, Geoffrey explained the influence of the terroir and the sensibility of the winegrower on the expression of the champagne as the sensory profile of the wines is closely related to the subsoil elements on which the vines feed on – always guided gently by the hand of the crafter of the course.
For the Chardonnay for example, the Champagne Ambassador introduced different cuvées coming from various types of soils, starting with the Blanc de Blancs of Champagne Vazart-Coquart. An Extra-Brut Blanc de Blancs made with Chardonnay exclusively coming from chalky terroirs. A frank and taut wine with an elegant structure, a delicate freshness and an impressive chalkiness. Geoffrey takes the visitor to flint, chalk and clay lands with the Blanc de Blancs of Champagne Marie-Copinet. A well-balance wine with a lot of finesse and expressive floral notes. Coming from the soils of fine chalk of Le Mesnil sur Oger village, the Roy Soleil Blanc de Blancs from Champagne Philippe Gonet is ample, aromatic and fruity with a beautiful acidity and some spicy notes of ginger whereas the emblematic cuvée from Champagne De Souza, Micorhize, coming from the not very far terroirs of Avize made chalk and very fine limons, is elegant and complex with oxidative notes from the vinification in wood as well as hazelnuts notes and a nice grip. As for the Blanc de Blancs of Champagne Aspasie, it comes from tuf and sandy terroirs of Brouillet. The wine expresses well balanced exotic aromas as well expressive mineral and elegant saline notes. Last Blanc de Blancs, the Chaillots Hautes Vignes cuvées from Champagne Lacourte Godbillon located in Ecueil with its sandy terroirs. The champagne is fresh, creamy and pure with a salty minerality and pleasant pastry notes.
1, 2, 3 MasterClasses
But this year, Geoffrey’s Flash tasting was not the only spice of Les Mains du Terroir de Champagne tasting. Indeed, the group organized three different wine experiences through MasterClasses. The opportunity to understand a bit more the complexity about the different shades of Champagne minerality as well as the philosophy of two of the members.
With David Lefebvre, it’s all about understanding the minerality • Oenologist and journalist specialized in oenology, the expert brings an original and scientific lighting on this aspect of the wine through a technical and exclusive MasterClass around the discovery of soils and minerality. The opportunity for the professionals to have a grasp of the fact that the organic components of wines come originally from the soil as well as the approach in the vineyard or during the vinification. For instance : the fermentation plays a role in the mineral expression as it concentrates minerals.
The experience started with a first tasting. A first experiment with waters with different minerality consisted in testing the fact that the cations and anions from the minerality have a real effect on the taste and are masking (or harmonizing) the basic taste perception like glucose, tannins tartaric acid or ethanol :
- First, water and tartaric acid but with different amounts of mineral salts (potassium) – 2g/L versus 20g/L. The tasting clearly showed that the lower the amount of mineral salt, the more the more acidic and sharp the perception is – which means that the amount of mineral salt influences the perception of acidity in wine.
- Same experience but with sugar and calcium, then ethanol and magnesium. The tastings pointed out as well that with a mineralized soil, the perception of alcohol and sugar is lower.
As the experience continues, David explains that the fermentation is a phenomenon of decomposition of organic matter – also called mineralization. The more mineralization processes there are, the more the wines will be mineral. And there is a semantic coherence between the terms minerality, mineral salts and mineralization. A coherence which is after all logical … This common point lies in a physical characteristic, which is the thermodynamic stability. The mineral matter is stable as opposed to the organic matter that breaks down. Mineralization reflects an evolution of a matter, from a thermodynamically unstable state to a stable state. And David adds that the mineralization can be a guiding principle for pairings, which is exactly what David demonstrates with the next tastings :
- First, the same Pinot Noir vin clair, but one vinified in stainless steel tank and the other in wood barrels. A still wine from Champagne Coessens paired with Comté cheeses – one highly mineral (40 months) and the other with only 15 months of aging. The pairing works perfectly between the wine vinified in tanks and the 15 months cheese. However, the wine is wiped away by the 40-month cheese, which largely prefers the wine with the vinification in barrels.
- Then, same champagne, but one vinified with caps – Grand Bouquet cuvée – and the other with cork – Spécial Club cuvée – from Champagne Vazart-Coquart paired with dried goat cheese (highly mineral) and fresh goat cheese. While the dried cheese gets the upper hand on Grand Bouquet, the younger cheese is wiped away by the Special Club.
- Next, the tasting of a 1976 vintage wine from Champagne Maurice Vesselle paired with two organic saucisson, one soft (not much mineralized) and one dried (highly mineralized). Both strong minerality accompany themselves perfectly.
- Finally, the experience is completed with an organic wine with malolactic fermentation from Champagne De Sousa – younger, floral and highly expressive – which pairs perfectly with the younger saucisson.
The mineral experience was followed by two Winegrower MasterClasses :
Two winegrowers, two philosophy, two different personalities… Eric Rodez and Alexandre Penet were offering brief asides during which they presented their approach in terms of vines and wines.
Champagne Éric Rodez, wine crafter from Ambonnay • The man talks about “Vins libres” – i.e free, liberated wines – opposed to the rational, supervised wines ; two different conception and vision existing about wines. But what is a “great wine” ? For Eric who works hand in hand with Mickael, his son, it is simply when we like the music of the wine.
When he defines his profession, he explains that he is a wine grower ! Since 1995, Eric made some major changes regarding the plant and for 15 years now, he has been working with essential oils. He crafts wines with strong personality – not very astonishing when you meet the guy ! – divided into different ranges : Author champagnes which are the mariages of vintages, terroirs and/or grape-varieties ; parcel champagnes which are the single vineyard expression of a terroir and presented as anti-champagnes as champagne is also a blended wine ; and finally terroir champagnes which are the expression of the work of a man on his soils.
While the Rosé is delicate like a perfume with an ethereal finish the Blanc de Noirs is vigorous and elegant at the same time with a lot of finesse. Éric presented two new cuvées as well : Les Jeunettes 2012, coming from the heart of Ambonnay, revealing the soil and subsoil relationship. A wine with an impressive fruit and minerality expressivity. Empreinte Blanche 2007 on the other hand is a blend of 6 to 7 plots, with only 40mg of sulfites added during the press and maturation in wood. A sensual and elegant wine with intense and generous character as well as a delicate acidulous on the finish.
Champagne Penet-Chardonnet, a micro-terroirist from Verzy • The ancestors of Alexandre are settled on the terroirs of the Montagne de Reims for 4 centuries now. 5th generations of winegrowers at the head of the estate, Alexandre developed a passion since his childhood with his grandfather and his father. Engineer and oenologist, the winemaker has a great attention to details and do not hesitate to think outside the box as he chose a very meticulous parcel approach using single plot wines in order to highlight the personality of each lieux-dit of the estate vineyard. The purity and the authenticity of this micro-terroir culture is emphasized by zero or very low dosage. Like an obsession for soils, Alexandre implemented the best practices in Champagne and elsewhere to extract the best of his lands. As expected the wines are the fresh and pure embodiment of the place they come from.
As an introduction, the tasting starts with the 2018 vin clair and a pure Pinot Noir vintage both harmonious, delicate and fresh with an elegant minerality. Les Epinettes 2009 – from a plot with thin colluvium on limestone soils – is highly mineral, fresh and taut whereas La Croix l’Aumonier 2010 – from a parcel with thicker colluvium – is richer, ample, complex but delicate at the same time.
Table by table, style by style, wine by wine
After diving deeper into the understanding of terroirs with David, as well as the philosophy of the winegrowers, it is time to go back to the main room and exchange a bit more with each of the members… From table to table, each meeting allows to have a grasp of the diversity of the Champagne Appellation – its terroirs, its grape varieties (7 in total) and its different approaches regarding the viticulture as well as the vinification, but also the individualities of its crafters… and strangely, the wines bear ressemblance with their makers…
At Champagne Fallet Dart, it is Paul who is presenting his family estate where he works hand in hand with his father, his uncle and his cousin. Since 1610, the estate perpetuates the tradition revealing the best of craftsmanship and terroirs of the Domain. Discrete at first glance and yet very generous and with complex character, the champagne are offering finesse and structure. Among the wine at the tasting : Grande Selection cuvée – complex with dried fruit notes -, the 2012 vintage – fresh with brioche notes -, the Clos du Mont 2004 cuvée – floral, complex and smoky.
For Champagne De Sousa farming organically has been self-evident since 1999. The biodynamic approach allows the family to express all the finesse, elegance and vivacity of their terroirs. The champagnes are wines of precision as well as the vin clair Avize 2008 – freshness, refinement and subtlety. Charlotte and Valentin presented different version of the iconic Caudalies cuvée : Caudalies 95-2014 – fresh, frank and harmonious with light wood notes – Caudalies 95-2008 – buttery and rich with exotic notes – and Caudalies 95-2005 – complex with toast notes and honey aromas.
When you meet with Jean-Pierre and Caroline, two passionate producers, there is no doubt that their wines are crafted to bring people together. At Champagne Vazart-Coquart, the importance for Jean-Pierre, a dedicated winegrower, is to create champagnes for good times but not without a great respect of nature. Smile, feel alive and discover the cuvées of this family house of Chouilly like the ones presented that day : Grand bouquet 2013 – fresh, chalky and warm -, 82/13 cuvée – an elegant and yet complex and joyful perpetual wine -, Grand bouquet 2004 Magnum version – fresh, pure and subtle.
For Richard and Géraldine, things are done with common sense, emotion and humility but with a lot of sincerity and conviction as well. Dedicated to their lands and their wines, they bring out the intrinsic character of each plot allowing the terroir to express itself. The cuvées of Champagne Lacourte-Godbillon are elegant, perfectly balanced and unpretentiously refined. The strong-willed couple presented an insight of their champagne range with Terroirs d’Ecueil – fresh, frank, intense and delicate at the same time -, Mi-Pentes cuvée – chiseled and sharp with pastry notes -, Chaillots 2012 bottled with cork – saline and complex with blood orange aromas – and the Rosé cuvée – fresh, delicate and seductive.
Pierre and Sophie do not things by half. Dedicated to their heritage and to perpetuate the quality thanks to the balance between tradition and technology, the winemakers craft with a lot of enthusiasm, and always with a touch of humour, the cuvées of Champagne Paul Déthune. No doubt of their energy and dynamism when you take the time to exchange a bit more about their philosophy that are the origin of their gastronomic wines. Pierre and Sophie brought three champagnes that day : the Brut Grand Cru – mineral, elegant with structure -, the Blanc de Noirs – ample, buttery and perfectly balanced – and the “Cuvée à l’ancienne” 2011 vintage – complex, elegant and full-bodied with spicy notes.
Located on the white lands of Sézanne region, Marie-Laure and Alexandre creates champagnes from and for emotions. Focusing and guided by the respect of their terroir as well as the natural aromas provided by nature, they favor through their approach the biodiversity flourishing. The wine of Champagne Marie-Copinet are frank, mineral and elegant with a certain style like the ones presented for the tasting : La Croix du Balai cuvée – fresh, frank, expressive and precise -, EA Epreuve d’Artiste La Cocarde – saline, chalky and complex – and La Ruelle des Loups – expressive, supple and elegant.
At Champagne Gatinois, Louis is the winegrower, the winemaker and the tradition keeper…and yet, it is with an impressive modesty – and always with a lot of elegance – that this producer host the wine lovers from all over the world. Twelfth generations of growers in his family, it is essential for the young winegrower to craft the soul, the style and the identity of this Maison perpetuating the history of this estate but not without playing his part. The wine are chic, timeless and aromatic. Louis chose to present the Gatinois Brut Tradition – refined, elegant with aromatic fruity notes -, the Gatinois Brut Rosé – mineral with an impressive purety, morello cherry and light spicy notes – and the Prestige Gatinois 2011 vintage – generous and full-bodied with candied and ripe fruit notes.
With Jérôme, everything is about choosing the best… When you meet this winegrower located on the champagne lands of the Côtes des Bars, it is easy to feel the influence of another prestigious region of wines as Champagne Coessens is located just an hour and half from the Burgundy wine area. Big personality, Jérôme has at heart to express the individuality and singularity of his terroir through a range of wines with a great diversity. Coming from a single climat with a unique geographical purity, the restricted production is already famous among the wine professionals as the winemaker managed to produce cuvées expressing the richness of the Kimmeridgian soils through vinous, expressive and precise wines. That day, Jérôme was pouring his Largillier Blanc de Noirs champagne – ample, fruity and fresh -, his Largillier Brut Nature Champagne – powerful, mineral, pure and precise – and the Largillier Les Sens Boisés cuvée – a vinous, highly individual wine with pepper and mineral notes -, as well as the whole bunches Coteaux – complex, full-bodied, energetic and burgundy stylish wine.
There is a lot of energy with a zest of life at Champagne Janisson Baradon. Cyril and Maxence, two brothers, work hand in hand in a smoothy way as each of the winegrower has its own responsibility and trust the other on its expertise. And for good reasons, as the well-being of the vineyard and the pleasure of the taster are the first preoccupation of the brothers. But make no mistake about it : Cyril and Maxence have a blast through their passion and their wines are the expression of it. Among the champagne at the tasting : 7 cépages cuvée – frank and generous with ample pastry notes -, Tue Boeuf 2012 vintage – aromatic, saline and elegant -, Conges 2012 vintage – energetic, ample and generous.
Not less than 7 generations that the family of Champagne Philippe-Gonet is settled on the chalky lands of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. Today, Pierre and Chantal manage with an iron fist in a velvet glove the family estate with ambition and gentleness shaping with precision and style mineral and pleasure wines from the chalky and precious terroirs of the Côtes de Blancs. While explaining the approach of the Domain, Pierre was pouring the 2011 vintage – mineral, nuanced and complex -, the TER Blanc cuvée – elegant, subtle and fresh – as well as the TER Noir cuvée – generous, opulent and silky.
Energy and dynamism for Isabelle. Quiet and gentle strength for Benoist and Henry, and good humour for the all family… At Champagne Perseval-Farge the desire to share conscientiously their passion through highly individual wines is essential. This way, the winegrowers can convey the message of their terroir to the tasters with a great respect for nature and mastering every step of the creation of the different cuvées. Isabelle, Benoist and Henry were presenting the single plot cuvée called La Pucelle – frank, harmonious and fresh -, C. de Chardonnay – mineral, elegant and saline – and C. de Pinots – intense, structured and savory.
Paul Vincent is well supported with his wife Caroline and his children. It is easy to feel the family spirit prevailing on the estate of Champagne Aspasie. Proud of their land and their history, the winegrowers craft champagnes with the right balance between tradition and modernity – actually Paul Vincent just bought the very first viti-robot of the region ! Know-how, skills, commitment and balance, tradition, terroir and signature are the magic words of this generous family Domain. Paul Vincent chose to shine a light on three wines for the tasting : Cépages d’Antan cuvée – generous, acidulous and highly individual -, the Brut Blanc de Blancs – fresh, taut and mineral – and Brut de Fût – subtle, complex and woody with a lot of elegance.
Sturdy, wise and bon vivant, those are the words coming to mind when you meet Didier. 4th generation of growers, with his brother, to till the soils with deep ploughing, buttage and more… At Champagne Maurice Vesselle, the gesture is focusing on bringing out the character of the terroir on a long term basis. It is this handiwork that allow the two men to craft terroir champagnes with impressive aging potential… Didier chose to offer an overview of the wines of the estate through the Brut Réservée Cuvée – rich, fresh and opulent -, the Hauts Chemins cuvée – ample, mineral and complex – and the Brut 2007 vintage – full-bodied, persistent and saline.
Maxime is a young passionate, dynamic, enthusiast and modern winegrower, but the man does not forget the common sense and the traditions through his philosophy. At Champagne Maxime Blin, the modern labels hold respectful wines as Maxime took the corner of the organic approach since 2018 in order to highlight even more the terroirs of Trigny through his champagnes. For the tasting, the winemaker chose the Carte Blanche cuvée – fresh, delicate and persistent -, the Onirique Extra-Brut cuvée – harmonious, frank and complex – and the Rosé cuvée – ample, generous and fleshy.
Back to Alexandre from Champagne Penet-Chardonnet for more micro-terroir cuvées withe the Alexandre Penet Grand Cru cuvée – rich with an impressive purity and minerality -, the Penet Chardonnet Grand Cru TerroirEscence cuvée – fresh, refined and concentrated – and Penet Chardonnet Monovillage Verzy cuvée – delicate, harmonious and saline.
As for Éric and Mickael from Champagne Eric Rodez, the two authors of “vins libres” were pouring in addition to the Master Class their Dosage Zero cuvée – complex and mineral with strength and finesse -, the Lieux-dits Beurys 2012 cuvée – silky, expressive and rich in an elegant way -, the Lieux dits Fournettes 2012 vintage – harmonious, generous and subtil – and the Empreinte Noir – finesse, elegance and energetic.
One tasting but this funny impression that we went all over the terroirs of Champagne discovering a glimpse of the countless identities of the Appellation…