Carr drives House of Arras to new heights

House of Arras winemaker Ed Carr (Photo: House of Arras)

Pinot meunier is known as the lesser of the three Champagne grape varieties, but Arras chief winemaker Ed Carr is a fan.

“We’re planting all the available land at Bay of Fires with meunier now,” he told me recently.

Bay of Fires is the Hardy’s winery in northern Tasmania’s Pipers River district, which is where the grapes for Arras are partially processed.

The current release of Arras Brut Elite No. 1301, which is possibly the best Brut Elite I’ve tasted to date, has 8% meunier. Carr plans to increase that percentage in future.

There isn’t much meunier in Tasmanian vineyards so he has to plant it.

“It’s underrated,” he adds. “It’s a cold site, which suits meunier.”

Why is there so little in Australia, when more than a third of Champagne is planted to it?

“I think people in Australia looked at Champagne and said, we’ll plant the two varieties they prize the most (pinot noir and chardonnay), and we won’t plant the less-favoured variety.”

Meunier is well-suited to non-vintage wines because it matures and softens earlier, desirable traits in a wine that’s marketed relatively young.

The Brut Elite 1301 is AUD $40-$50 in retail shops. As the number suggests, it’s based on the 2013 harvest (70% in fact), the rest being wines from earlier vintages, 2010, ’11 and ’12, which these days are stored in foudres – large oak barrels. The blend is about 35% chardonnay and it receives three and a half years on the yeast lees. Fresh citrus fruit characters meld with creamy, nutty lees-aged nuances.

I tasted the current releases with Carr and especially loved the 2006 Rosé (AUD $87), which has spent seven years on lees. It won the trophy for best sparkling at the Canberra National Wine Show this year. Very pale-coloured, it’s full of complex smoky, quince-paste and faded rose petal aromas.

The 2008 Arras Blanc de Blancs (AUD $87; eight years on lees) is a beautiful wine, which won the sparkling wine trophies at Perth and Adelaide this year.

The 2008 Grand Vintage (AUD $80, trophies at Sydney and Brisbane this year and gold medals at Decanter World Wine Awards and International Champagne & Sparkling Wine Challenge) is a rich and satisfyingly full-flavoured style, which has an unusually strong sulphide note on the bouquet, which may polarise tasters. Obviously, the show judges loved it.

Finally, the one Australian sparkling wine that seriously competes with deluxe Champagne is the E.J. Carr Late Disgorged (the 2003 is AUD $190; 12 years on lees and two years under its final cork). This extraordinary wine has a wonderful array of aromas and flavours and is truly a special-occasion wine. Just 2200 bottles were produced.

Even more astonishing is the 2001 E.J. Carr Late Disgorged. About 100 magnums have been released at AUD $399 each. After 13 years on its lees, the bottle I tasted had spent 30 months on cork. Carr believes time on cork is essential for the wine to develop the tertiary characters of bread, toast and brioche that we enjoy in aged Champagne and sparkling wine. It is a miraculous wine. Expensive, but worth it.

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