We passed by Nicolas Feuillatte when we were in Reims this May, driving out to lunch at Le Grand Cerf. They're the largest cooperative in Champagne, and are also known as Centre Vinicole de la Champagne, comprising about 85 members. Despite that, they do produce 4 grand cru bottlings under their own name. I had bought a few bottles of the 1997's a few years ago when they were released - both blanc de blancs (Chouilly) and blanc de noirs (Ambonnay).
The vintage declaration process is quite interesting in Champagne, as there really is no regulation, in the strictest sense. It really comes down to the cellar-master's decision, often with input from the house's marketing people. It is, after all, a business. I'm reminded of a story I heard from a very well-known Champagne house, during our visit. They're known as the wine drinker's Champagne . . . you really have to baby the wines as they're made in a very reductive style and demand a good 15 years of bottle age after disgorgement to really open up. I was told that the cellar-master had a drawn out argument with the company's dollars and cents people over whether a certain vintage should be declared. It was back in Y2K . . . the millennium meant big money, especially with the right vintage. But, the man stood his ground and said that there was no way in fuck that he would produce a vintage Champagne that year - the harvest just was not up to his standards. Very inspiring, but how many houses in Champagne are willing to sacrifice potential business to stay true to their principles of quality?
Vintage Champagnes present an interesting interpretation of what a wine is. The vast majority of Champagne is a nonvintage blend, with the point being to create a house style of wine that remains consistent. So is vintage Champagne truly an act of vintage expression? There still has to be an adherence to style . . . vintage or not, the wine still has to be recognizable as coming from a certain house. Or is vintage Champagne simply an indication of a particularly successful harvest, allowing producers to price the wines at a premium, with the understanding that they're made with from the best parcels?
In any case, 1997 is an interesting vintage. I've been trying to taste more of them over the past year or so, and in some cases, they're just starting to approach maturity. You're starting to get past that initial blast of yeastiness, with the autolysis character developing into a creamy richness, revealing minerality and depth. The Brochet-Hervieux I drank a few months ago was delicious. I've been sitting on this bottle for a few years now, pulling one to celebrate my father's birthday a few weeks ago. Beginning to turn gold, it's still reaching for its peak. Beginning to open up, rich autolytic aromas, roasted apples, cream. Fragrant, almost like caramelized butter. Follows on palate, rich yet very linear, with the pinot noir showing such a wonderfully structured acidity. Very fine indeed; destined for a long life.
Someone said that the premium on vintage Champagne was one of the great wine values of the world. As a forever lover of Champagne, I'm inclined to believe so, but this issue of terroir specificity in the big houses remains a question mark.
For Champagne Charlie is my name.
Champagne drinking is my game.
There's no drink as good as fizz! fizz! fizz!
I'll drink ev'ry drop there is, is, is!