A day in Champagne

 A forgotten grape variety, the meunier provides us today with an original theme. Having been left aside for a long time, the meunier really takes center stage at Jérôme Prévost and Alexandre Chartogne! The two men, who follow suit to the great Anselme, are now leading the way in a movement aiming at producing lively, pure and shiny champagnes.

We get started in Gueux, at Jérôme Prévost’s, who welcomes us in the morning at his cellar, by the vineyards. The window faces the vines of a small slot planted with different varieties, destined to compose the blend of his cuvee “Béguines”. Two hectares, only harvested on deserving years, will have to suffice for a worldwide demand.

Tasting of « Les Béguines 2015: 94% meunier with massal selection. Neither exuberant nor austere, the first nose opens with clear notes of sage, verbena and skins of citrus fruits. The noble vegetal notes contrast with the fullness of the plump and richer palate.

This shows the simple evidence of a ripe and healthy fruit (a feat too rare in Champagne), the tannins of which provide structure to the wine, while achieving an amazing texture.

Fac-Similé 2016, the blended rosé, is to die for: the meunier from les Béguines accounts for the majority of the base wine. The fresh rose aroma mix with an almost sanguine sourness, and what length!

These bubbles having opened our appetite, we head into the village of Merfy, to meet Alexandre Chartogne. This young prodigy takes us to see the work site of his future vinification cellars.

Everything there is coordinated to step up the whole process, forbidding any unnecessary intervention on the musts. Alexandre nurtures a quasi-religious respect and passion for his soils, not unlike the philosophy that has prevailed in Burgundy for so long.

One could believe that elsewhere, a different champagne region has forgotten about its terroir. Through his different cuvees, the winegrower provides us with a precise account of the soil structure in champagne, expressing it with a grape variety, in a specific vintage.

Proof is made with this tasting of the great vintage 2012:

Les Couarres, a blend of pinot noir and chardonnay, has an expressive and seducing nose. It exhales frangipani notes, and flowers from cherry trees. The mouth is broad, far-reaching, like the true expression of a grape that has ripened facing south, with little dosage.

Les Barres is made from pre-phylloxéric vines of meunier, rooted in chalk and sand soils. The wine shows some austerity at first, and develops into a cathedral of tension, building up and deploying great length. Impressive!

On the road back to Paris, we make a stop in Vandières, at Flavien Novak’s. In this confidential part of the Marne valley, beyond the reach of the champagnes classification, Flavien humorously labels his cuvées “other crus”.

The 28-year-old boy finished his oenology school in Avize. Having played with a few of Dad’s barrels, he released his first vintage in 2012. Drawing his inspiration from hardcore winegrowers like Benoit Lahaye or Emmanuel Brochet, the winegrower has engaged from the get-go in a clean viticulture, keeping his interventions minimal, with a precise knowledge of his soils and a meticulous work on the lees.

The choice of a single-vineyard, and a unique grape variety approach was obvious. We were seduced by the micro-cuvee "Arpents Rouges" (658 bottles), a blend with a majority of meunier and chardonnay, on sandstone soils.

Vinous and infused, the champagne opens with a fresh, minty nose. The tannic structure is surprising, and we absolutely fall for the subtle and nice sour notes.

We ask for more, and we at La Cave du Château will follow this Estate very closely.

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