Grower Champagnes worth seeking out
Robert Walters, whose book ‘Bursting Bubbles’ I reviewed last week, imports some of the finest grower Champagnes, and recently led a large and fortunate group of wine retailers, sommeliers and a few representatives of the Fourth Estate through a comprehensive tasting of his two stand-out producers: Larmandier-Bernier (tastings) and Egly-Ouriet.
These two small, family-owned enterprises are both great producers with many similarities, which happily complement each other in one critical way. Larmandier-Bernier is on the Cote des Blancs, the main white-wine region of Champagne, and hence Pierre Larmandier makes mostly blanc de blancs (pure chardonnay) styles; Egly-Ouriet is at Ambonnay, one of the best villages on the Montagne de Reims, the pre-eminent pinot noir growing region of Champagne. Francis Egly’s wines are mostly pinot noir dominant and some are 100% black grapes or blancs de noirs.
What they have in common is fastidious attention to detail and a particular emphasis on the vineyard, with much lower yields than normal, later harvesting of riper grapes than usual in the region, and — critically — low dosage levels.
I tasted 10 Larmandier and six Egly wines (the notes are all on the app now) and came away with a feeling of euphoria that lasted hours. And it wasn’t the alcohol – I was spitting!
There were many superb wines and some great wines. Sadly, great Champagne comes at a price, but Walters would argue that if you buy Egly’s 2006 Grand Cru Millésime at AUD $290 or his NV Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs Vieilles Vignes at AUD $325 (both of which I rated 98), you are getting more bang for your bucks than if you buy some grand marque deluxe cuvées at these prices and sometimes substantially more.
“Francis Egly starts the harvest when the others in his village have finished.”
Picking late is usually a risky business because of weather and disease threats, but Egly is determined to let his grapes ripen fully in his quest for greater flavour. Some tasters may find the aldehyde levels challenging: these wines are usually largely oak-fermented and this combined with long ageing on lees and low levels of liqueur after disgorgement can mean more sherry-like aldehyde than usual (Krug – tastings – and Bollinger – tastings – are not immune to this). I have limited tolerance for aldehydic Champagne but these wines were well within my limits.
The Egly wines have tremendous richness and multi-layered complexity, leaning towards nutty, smoky, strawberry and toasty characters, while the Larmandier wines with their chardonnay delicacy are more a matter of stone fruits, spices, bready, buttery nuances; sometimes citrus zest, honey and vanilla.
They are not cheap wines (and neither should they be), so I recommend these more affordable wines as entry-points:
- Larmandier-Bernier Longitude Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs NV (AUD $100)
- Egly-Ouriet Grand Cru Brut Tradition NV (AUD $150)
You’ll find the odd bottle in the best independent wine shops.
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