This Champagne trip started gently, with a weekend in Reims that contained just one vineyard visit: JL Vergnon, in Le Mesnil. We were hosted by Christophe Constant (below), who has been running things here for 15 years now. Vergnon have 5.5 hectares in the Côtes des Blancs, with 18 parcels in Grand Crus and 2 plots in Premier Crus. They work the soil rather than use herbicides, and while they are not organic, they are close.
Christoph says that organics is difficult in the region, so he wants to reserve the right to use systemics if the weather is bad. Vininfication is roughly 70% stainless steel, 30% wood for most of the wines.
I’d not tried these wines before, and I was impressed. The house style is one of precision and purity, which is a good thing. The Eloquence Extra Brut NV is the main wine, and it’s a pure, details Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs. I was thrilled with the ‘OG’, which is a 2010 vintage wine from Oger, but which can’t be labelled Oger because when Christophe presses he doesn’t distinguish it in the Carnet Pressoir for the customs. There are two more seriously impressive vintage cuvées: the Resonance 2008, which is all steel ferment from Le Mesnil, and the Confidence 2009, which is all barrel fermented.
Then in the evening we dined at restaurant Bocal in Reims. This was a near-perfect experience. It’s a small, unpretentious restaurant at the back of a fishmonger’s near the market hall. The menu, as you would expect, is exclusively seafood, with a superb selection of interesting Champagnes at prices close to retail. We ate lots of oysters: a comparative oyster tasting, no less. For those who love flavour (and oysters, and grower Champagne), this is close to heaven.
We had a couple of bottles, but the one I wanted to write about is the Cuvée Cep from Jean Michel, which is an equal parts blend of the three main Champagne varieties, made without added sulphur dioxide. It’s complex, citrussy and quite intense with a lovely core of acidity and a low dosage of 2 g/litre. This was a brilliant oyster accompaniment. Next time I come to Reims, I will be going to Bocal more than once. I quite fancy eating oysters and working my way through their entire list of Champagnes.