Nyetimber, one of the UK’s most celebrated sparkling wine producers, has released the new vintage of its Tillington Single Vineyard, the 2010. At around £75 a bottle, this is ambitiously priced, but the debut 2009 was very well received. I reviewed it back in September 2013. So, how is the 2010? I think it’s quite brilliant. Here’s a note, followed by a video of me tasting it on camera with brother-in-law and fizz addict William.
Nyetimber Tillington Single Vineyard 2010 England
This is a blend of Pinot Noir with some Chardonnay from a single site. It’s very pure and really elegant, with a delicious fruitiness and a subtle hint of toast. Linear and fine with a lightness and transparency, as well as pure cherry and pear fruit with a bit of citrus on the finish. Very fine. 93/100
De Sousa is a small Champagne house with a Portuguese name. It’s run by Erick and Michelle Se Sousa, and was established by Erick’s father and mother in the 1950s. Erick’s dad was a Portuguese musician who fell in love with a French girl (her family name was Bonneville), and they decided to establish their own house together.
We met with Erick and his daughter Charlotte (pictured above) for a tasting and tour of the cellars. Their speciality is that they work organically and biodynamically, and also use quite a few barrels. Indeed, their cellar has a range of oak, including a large oak egg made by Taransaud.
They have quite a few wines in the range, which is sourced from 12 hectares of vines, 10 of which they own. Ferments are wild for the alcoholic fermentation, and malolactic is always done. There’s no filtration or cold stabilization.
I liked the Cuvée 3A quite a bit, which is a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir pressed together, from Avize, Aÿ and Ambonnay. The cuvée Umami is also lovely, made from old vineyards and fermented entirely in barrel, although it is quite expensive. The 2006 Caudalies is also very impressive, with nine years on lees, and powerful, distinctive flavours.
The final visit of the day was at Pierre Paillard, with Antoine, who works with his father Benoit. They are a grower Champagne house with 11 hectares around the village of Bouzy, in 25 separate plots.
Bouzy is known for its Pinot Noir (which covers 90% of the vineyards in the village). They use no herbicides in the vineyard, and work using organics and biodynamics, but without certification. ‘The idea is to make sure the soil is alive,’ says Antoine. They are also working on replanting vineyards with vines produced by selecting cuttings from their older vines, rather than using clones.
Vinification in 90% stainless steel and 10% barrel. ‘Bouzy gives rich and round wines,’ says Antoine, ‘so we want to keep the purity.’
We went down to the cellar where we had a look at the same reserve wines in different containers. It was a Pinot from 2014, and in a concrete egg it was very bright, direct and mineral, while from terracotta it was fruiter, more rounded and a bit shorter. ‘Terracotta is too up and down,’ Antione explains. ‘It can go from the worst wine to the best.’
We tasted a range of wines. The regular NV, called Les Parcelles, is a blend of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay with a low-ish dosage of 3.5 g/l. This wine, a blend of 2011 and 2010, is rounded, fruity, pure and very bright. Les Maillerettes Bouzy Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs 2010 is sensational: fine and expressive with Pinot fruitiness combined with a strong sense of terroir. Les Mottelettes Bouzy Grand Cru 2009 is a Blanc de Blancs and has a lovely citrus core as well as purity and texture. And the Oenothèque Bouzy Grand Cru 2004, disgorged in November, is complex, stylish, generous and also quite fine. These are lovely wines.
Antoine also makes a fabulous Bouzy Rouge called ‘Les Mignottes’. The 2012 is a pretty serious Pinot Noir that would be brilliant in a blind tasting.
Day three began with a brilliant visit with the engaging, smart Rodolphe Péters (above) of Champagne Pierre Peters. He explained that there are three critical elements for him in making his Champagnes: terroir, pressing and reserve wines.
He begins with terroir. He’s not organic or biodynamic, largely because he has 20 hectares spread across 72 parcels, and it makes no sense, says Rodolphe, to try to be biodynamic with such small parcels. He does work organically in his two largest parcels, and with consulting clients where the vineyards are usually much bigger blocks.
Nineteen hectares of these 20 are Chardonnay, with 16 in Grand Crus. There’s also a hectare of Pinot Noir in the Aube which he sells. He also sells grapes from half a hectare of young Chardonnay vineyards, so this means that his wines come from 18.5 hectares.
He says the harvest is a key moment, and with climate change it’s becoming harder to choose the right time to pick. It’s for this reason he has double the pressing capacity he needs, so that he can pick exactly when he wants. Farming is 80% of quality, he estimates.
Rodolphe is very careful about pressing. His approach is to pick perhaps 15% more grapes than he needs and then press less. This gives naturally clear juice, and because there’s no need for clarification with pectin or enzymes, nothing is lost, and he doesn’t have to add too much sulphur dioxide.
The wines are not racked and so they are kept on gros lees. He says his aim is to build his wines not on high acid but on three strands of bitterness: chalk/salt/iodine/marine, then citrus pith, and then fresh dried nuts (almond/hazelnut), which comes from the gross lees.
The reserve wines here are vary interesting, with a perpetual reserve. In 1997 he suggested to his father that they blend all the reserve wines together and then use it all, keeping a part of the non-vintage blend as a reserve for the next year. This is repeated each year, and the non vintage blend is half the current year plus half the reserve. The reserve wine is also stored in three kinds of vats: steel, concrete and casks, which adds complexity (we tried all three: concrete was the most mineral and interesting).
The wines? They’re excellent. We tried the NV with both the 2012 base and the 2013 (both lovely but the 2013 is exceptional), and then two vintages: the 2010 L’Esprit and the 2008 Chétillons. Both are truly wonderful, with a slight preference of mine for the latter, which is profound. Then we tried two special wines, the Reserve Oublié, which is the perpetual reserve from 2010 bottled in 2012, and the L’Etonnant Monsieur Victor Edition Mk 09. Both are really interesting, with elegance but also plenty of flavour.
Second visit was another brilliant one, with the dramatic, expressive Olivier Collin (above) of Ulysse Collin. He’s based in Congy, which is in the Coteaux du Sézanne, a little to the southwest of the Côte des Blancs. He got back his family’s vines from a large house back in 2003, and since 2004 has been making interesting terroir-driven wines of real intensity and depth.
Olivier had studied law for eight years before turning to winegrowing, and he completed a three month internship with Anselme Selosse before setting out on his own. As with Anselme, everything at Ulysse Collin goes through barrel. We looked at the 2015 wines from barrel, and then at some of the reserve wines. The approach here is one of working with discrete parcels and then seeking to express these terroirs.
Olivier tried working with organics in Les Enfers and Les Roises, and lost 100 and 70% of the crop in each during the 2012 growing season. So he’s abandoned that project. The most important thing is to plough, he says. After that, the protection of the leaves is your choice. He says that he now prefers to work the culture of the vines with his brain and the winemaking with his sensitivity. He works his way through the barrels from the current vintage and decides at the last moment what he will keep and what he will bottle.
Olivier makes five wines from four sites. He makes the wines with ageing in mind, and suggests that his wines have the potential to develop for a decade, although with such a short track record he says he can’t be sure. They have so much personality: I really like them. They all have low dosage, with a maximum of 2.4 g/litre.
Les Perrières Blanc de Blancs is powerful, precise and detailed with lovely acidity. Les Maillons is a Pinot Noir with a remarkable fruity personality, bursting with lemons, cherries and rose aromas. Les Enfers is a Blanc de Blancs with an amazing complexity, and was my pick of a very fine bunch. Les Roises Blanc de Blancs is also fabulous with intense toast, almond, honey and citrus notes. The outlier is the distinctive sappy Rosé de Saignée Les Maillons, with its intense fruitiness and fairly deep colour. This is a Champagne grower to watch.
I love Instagram. I post pretty much every day, and interact with quite a few folk there (here’s my Instagram account). What’s interesting is looking at which posts get the most likes. Yes, it’s shallow, but it’s fun to see which pictures resonate most with the people who follow me. So I went back a couple of months and pulled out the 12 most popular posts. Here they are.
These are the top 6. At number 1, with 363 likes is a drawer of Champagne. Following closely is a slightly out of focus picture of a piece of 30 month old Comte. Maybe cheese is the way forwards? Also popular: Lapierre, Tondonia, Daumas Gassac and Maximin Grunhaus. Interesting.
The next six are all wine bottle shots. in 7th place with 233 likes, some 2014 Bordeaux, followed by Jamet 99. Then some nice wines from a lunch, including another Jamet 99. Then it’s Champagne, with a couple of Gimonnets and a 2002 Comtes (the like count is obscured, but it’s 203 on last check).
So, well known fine wines, grower Champagne and hunks of cheese – that’s the way to go.
So, here’s a short film from the International Wine Challenge judging earlier this month. This was Tranche 2 (the other being in November) of the 2016 judging, and 200 judges gathered at the Oval to work their way through thousands of wines, carefully, methodically and accurately. I hope it gives you a flavour of the competition. Results are out May 11th.
Had lunch at Terroirs wine bar today with a friend. I haven’t been here for a while, but we were in the neighbourhood, it was just past noon, and the opportunity presented itself. We did a walk-in, sat at the bar and ordered oysters and a lovely fresh, natural Muscadet (Amphibolite).
It was a magical combination. The briney intensity and slippery texture of pure oysters coupled with the stony, rocky lemony character of the Muscadet. An uncomplicated wine elevating itself through a well-chosen pairing.
Then we ordered more food. Endive with walnuts, mustard and blue cheese, and also an artichoke with a mustard aioli. These were both beautiful. By coincidence, Caves de Pyrene founder Eric Nairoo and wine buyer Doug Wregg were both here, and Eric sent over a carafe of an unidentified white wine. It was really beautiful: not immediately obvious, but growing in charm and complexity with time in the carafe. It was the Belluard Gringet from Savoie, and in the 2014 vintage this wine is just singing.
Domaine Belluard ‘Les Alpes’ Gringet 2014 Savoie, France
Fragrant nose of tangerine and lime blossom with some pear fruit. Very fine and expressive. The palate is delicate and mineral with a rounded texture and also amazing freshness. So pure, with an attractive stony minerality. This improves with time in the glass, and is really delicate but has personality to. Lemony finish leaves you wanting more: quite profound in an understated way. 94/100
Day two in Champagne began at Bruno Paillard, someone who I have featured on this site before (here and here). Bruno began with an interesting statement: ‘The true richness of Champagne is the poverty of its soils and the poverty of its climate,’ a comment that was prompted by just how freezing it was, even at the end of April.
‘You will see plenty of old buildings and kilometres of underground cellars,’ he told us, regarding our upcoming appointments. But, he pointed out, there are particularities about Maison Bruno Paillard. ‘Like any maison the name on the label is the name of the founder,’ he stated, ‘and here it is also the name of the owner of the nose who creates the Champagnes.’
Bruno has a very sensitive nose, and it is this he uses in blending his Champagnes, not his palate. He doesn’t taste the vins clairs, but instead selects them by careful nosing. He took us through a range of still wines from 2015 which will soon be blended.
For a Champagne house, Maison Bruno Paillard has a lot of vineyards. All the money he has made since he started the house in 1981 has been ploughed back into buying parcels of vines in good sites: he now has 32 hectares in 89 parcels, from 14 crus – this is enough for 60% of his requirements.
Half of sales of this house are the NV blend, called Première Cuvée, which, like all the wines here is an extra brut. The one we tried is a really attractive wine with subtle toast and refined white peach, pear and citrus fruit. We also looked at the Nec Plus Ultra, Paillard’s top cuvée, from the 2003 vintage. This was a very tricky vintage with April frosts wiping out a lot of Chardonnay (this buds earliest), and then a super-hot summer leading to a very early harvest. Yet, by careful site selection, Bruno has managed to produce a remarkable, complex, textured wine of real profundity – albeit in tiny quantities (4200 bottles).
The next visit was a lovely one, with one of Champagne’s true super-stars – Anselme Selosse. Selosse is singular in his approach: everything is fermented in wooden barrels (although there are a couple of terracotta vessels in the cellars which were used for the first time in 2015). The juice goes from the press to barrel, and then ferments naturally before the second bottling. The juice goes to the vats for settling after pressing (this is a requirement), but afterwards he resuspends the solids and the resulting cloudy juice goes to barrel with nothing missing.
Selosse – uniquely, I think – stores some yeast from the first fermentation, freezes it, and uses it in the second fermentation in bottle.
He believes in minerality. He explained that the plant takes in mineral salts and water, and then photosynthesis creates organic matter. ‘I want a mineral product,’ he said. His goal in winemaking is to transform the organic material in the grape juice into mineral. He illustrated this by taking a bit from his cigarette packet and burning it. ‘After the organic parts burn the rest comes from the soil,’ he explained. ‘I am left with the mineral part.’
For Anselme, what really matters isn’t the smell, which changes quite a bit, but the feel of the Champagne in the mouth.
The wines are truly astonishing. Initial (a blend of 2009, 2008 and 2007) is mineral and intense; VO (9, 8, 7 again) is utterly breath taking with a lovely hint of bitterness and a linear, mineral character; Les Careilles (blending 2003 up to 2009) is structured, savoury and gastronomic; Sous Le Mont from Mareuil sur Ay (blending 04 to 09) is mineral, muscular and with a tart bitterness from the high magnesium; vintage 2005 is another astonishing wine; 2002 is beautifully keen and lemony; and 2003 is attractive and interesting but struggles to throw off the shackles of this vintage.
The final visit of the day was at Gosset. Gosset is a Champagne house that still manages to appeal to geeks who’d normally be running after grower Champagnes. This is because of the style of their wines, which is very linear and pure. No oak is used here. Production is around one million bottles, so they are not very small but not very large either.
The core of their range is a trio of non-vintage blends, which are the face of Gosset. There’s the Grande Réserve NV, which is a blend of all three main varieties and which shows well balanced cherry and citrus fruit with nice tension. Then there’s the pale, delicate Grand Rosé Brut, and finally the excellent Grand Blanc de Blancs. This is relatively new: Gosset relocated to Epernay from Aÿ a few years ago, and their previous home indicates that the emphasis used to be more on Pinot Noir than Chardonnay.
Then we tried a new product: 15 Ans, which is the minimum age of the wine in this bottling (it’s actually 17 years old). This is taking a spirits approach to Champagne, and this wine was originally laid down in the late 1990s. It’s intense, concentrated and lively with high acidity and a chalky, grainy savouriness.
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.
This is not a Champagne and sparkling wine blog, although if you’ve been scrolling through recent posts you could be forgiven for thinking that it is. It’s just I’ve been quite taken by fizz of late. So I was pleased to be able to try this South African sparkling wine recently, which is creating quite a stir in its home country, but which hasn’t yet made its way here to the UK (although some is on its way with Gudfish). it’s from Le Lude in Franschhoek, and it is made by Paul Gerber, a sparkling wine specialist.
While Le Lude is based in Franschhoek, the grapes are sourced from a range of regions, many of which are cooler climate. This wine, based on the 2012 vintage, is the first release and I was really impressed.
Le Lude Cap Classique Brut NV South Africa
12% alcohol. A blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in roughly equal proportions, this is taut, pure and linear, with lovely citrus and pear fruit. Fine and expressive with real precision. Zippy and fine with a lovely clean, lean personality, and real finesse. 92/100
I’m quite a Gimonnet fan, so I was delighted to find this in a wine shop in Reims at a sensible price. It’s just beautiful. 2005 isn’t the best ever Champagne vintage (it was actually quite tricky), but this wine has developed really nicely and is now at something approaching peak drinking I reckon, although you could store it for longer without any worries.
Champagne Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Oenophile 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 2005 France
This has no dosage. Really linear and taut, but this has developed a lovely toasty, spicy richness that accompanies the lemony fruit quite beautiful. Such a complex, tight, beguiling Champagne with real beauty and focus, and notes of hazelnut, roast almond, apricot and cream as well as a lovely lemon and grapefruit core. Quite sensational, and drinking perfectly now. 95/100