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Burgundy’s Wealth Of Riches: Shopping List Of Thirteen Packages Of Red ‘Premier-Cru vs. Village’ Pairs To Gift Wine Lovers, Or Explore. Thirteen Intrepid Producers In Thirteen Côte-d’Or Communes.

We can accept that each plot of land on earth is handed a certain microclimate, and whereas climate change may alter some aspects of its character, an acre’s terroir is written in stone… and soil, and elevation, and exposure. But it is very much a human endeavor to make the most of every hand we are dealt, and as such, although the complex and highly-specific Burgundian classification system rarely offers upgrades for loyal service, the efforts of winemakers, combined with changing weather patterns, often raises the bar in areas deemed Village-level rather than Premier Cru to create wines that are superlative.

In this week’s overview, we will take a look at the similarities and differences in a few familiar names when they set their mind to producing a bottling from various hallowed plots of Burgundian territory, both Village-designated and those that wear the Premier Cru label.

Take advantage of these Holiday Packages to explore and discover; treat yourself to a unique opportunity to try several of these appellations—Village level and Premier Cru level—side by side, or gift an example to a wine-lover among your circle of friends and family.

The Notion Of Terroir: Earth Is Given Voice

Above all, terroir is a concept; a flight of vinous fancy that insists a wine’s taste and aroma reflect its place of origin. This reflection may be subtle or overt, but there’s plenty of science behind it. Terroir includes specific soil types, topography, microclimate, landscape characteristics and biodiversity—all features that interact with a winemaker’s choice of viticultural and enological techniques.

Every square foot of earth that supports a vine has its own unique terroir, and wine appreciation is founded on the principal that not all terroirs are created equal. Thus, we find the hyper-division of vineyards sites from the most broad to the narrowest—some named climats are only a few rows in size, but produce wine markedly different than their neighbors. In Burgundy, this obsession with small, precisely delimited parcels is probably more defined than anywhere else, and we will always seek out the best of those wines and share as much information about the vineyards as we can unearth… pun intended.

Decoding The Burgundy Hierarchy

Nowhere does terroir count more blatantly than in Burgundy’s classification system, which has four distinct levels, Grand Cru, Premier Cru, Villages and Régionale, divided up into 84 separate appellations.

Grand Cru, the top of the pyramid, represent less than 1% of the region’s total production. All of the white Grand Crus are today found in the Côte de Beaune, while all of the red Grand Crus (with the exception of the Corton family) are found in the Côte de Nuits. To be consistently exceptional requires exceptional strictures; besides being the favored sites geographically, Grand Cru wines are made with a specified grape variety from a regulated patch of land, from vines of at least 3 years of age and below a certain maximum yield per unit area of land.

Premier Cru wines account for another 5% of Burgundy’s total production, and as such, is only a slightly larger drop in the bucket. There are a few that may outperform Grand Cru wines, but they are priced accordingly. The majority of Premier Crus are from named vineyards, and the climat name will appear on the label. For example, Puligny-Montrachet Premier Cru Les Folatières assures you that this wine comes from the Folatières vineyard in the village of Puligny-Montrachet.

Village level wine is a broad and encompassing swath of terroir recognition, but it is undeniably describable: Savigny is meaty, Volnay is elegant, Vosne-Romanée is spicy, Meursault is nutty. Wines at this level have a slightly higher allowed yield per hectare, but the varietal requirements are the same. This is a slot where Burgundy’s best bargains fit; any vineyard site, Grand Cru or Premier Cru can go into a bottle labeled only after a village. Although it might sound counter-intuitive for a domain to do this, it isn’t. Wineries declassify Grand Cru and Premier Cru wines frequently, and for a variety of reasons.

Régionale wines represent the bulk of wine produced in Burgundy; they are generic, have much more relaxed standards for yields and grape types. They may be labeled Bourgogne Rouge, Bourgogne Blanc, Bourgogne Pinot Noir, Bourgogne Chardonnay or Bourgogne Aligoté—even Bourgogne Passtoutgrains, which is Gamay mixed with a lower percentage of Pinot Noir.

Côte de Beaune

A Myriad Of Soils And Microclimates

A mnemonic device for remembering which shade of wine is best represented by the two subdivisions of the Côte d’Or, the Côte de Beaune and the Côte de Nuit: Bones are white, and the greatest of the Chardonnay-based white Burgundy (Corton-Charlemagne, Montrachet, et al) are from Beaune. Night is dark, and the greatest Pinot Noir-based reds (La Romanée-Conti, Chambertin, et al) come from the ‘Night Slopes’—the Côte de Nuit.

Of course, the two regions make wines of either color. The Côte de Beaune is the southern half of the Côte d’Or escarpment, hilly country where, like the bowls of porridge in Goldilocks, the topsoils near the tops of the elevation are too sparse to support vines and, in the valleys, too fertile to produce top quality wine. The Goldilocks Zone (the mid-slopes) are where the Grand and Premier Cru vineyards are found, primarily at elevations between 720 and 980 feet. Drainage is good, and when vines are properly located to maximize sun exposure, the greatest Burgundies thrive and produce, year after year. The lesser, often forgettable Burgundies (generic Bourgogne) comes from the flatlands beneath the slopes; the fact that these wines are also made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay is indication of why terroir matters. Likewise, the narrow band of regional appellation vineyards at the top of the slopes produce light wines labeled Bourgogne Hautes-Côtes de Beaune.

$91  Maranges  Village vs. Premier Cru

f the name ‘Maranges’ (at the southern tip of the Côte de Beaune) strikes you as unfamiliar, it’s understandable: It has only existed as a stand-alone appellation since 1988 and encompasses the three villages of Cheilly-lès-Maranges, Dezize-lès-Maranges and Sampigny-lès-Maranges, just west of the more well-known village of Santenay. It is situated in storybook countryside referred to by Burgundian writer Henri Vincenot as ‘gentle and warm-hearted, where the old-fashioned homes of the winemakers provide perfect subjects for a painter’s brush.’

Unlike much of the Côte de Beaune, the slopes of Maranges have a southerly to south-west exposure, although the make-up of the soil is nearly identical. Cheilly, in the valley of the Cozanne, has rather light pebbly soils while the climats of Sampigny and Dezize to the south of Santenay lie on brown limestone soils and limey marls. A handful of these are classified as Premier Cru, including Clos de la Boutière, Clos de la Fussière, La Fussière, Le Clos des Loyères, Le Clos des Rois, Le Croix Moines and Les Clos Roussots. Peppering these prime spots are numerous lieux-dits.

In general, the production is red, but Chardonnay plantings are on the upswing. The reds are fruit-laden and show blackcurrant and spiced—even preserved—red fruits, often tinged with licorice. The whites, still somewhat rare, offer hawthorn, acacia and honeysuckle when young, and with age, showcase notes of gunflint and honey.

Domaine Bertrand Bachelet

Fourth generation in a line of Burgundy winegrowers, Bertrand took over from his father Jean-Louis in 2012, working 32 acres stretching from Maranges to Pommard. The estate itself is located in Dezize-lès-Maranges, which accounts for the greatest percentage of Bachelet’s production.

“I have always been passionate about our family tradition of producing high-quality wines, but I have opted to employ new techniques that come from modern viticulture and oenology, all with an aim of drawing the best from each terroir. My foremost emphasis is on the meticulous work in the vineyard required to grow healthy grapes. From the pruning stage right up to the harvest, all work is done manually.”

He adds that vinification is still carried out in a traditional manner with little intervention, to highlight the uniqueness and complexity of the region.

Domaine Bertrand Bachelet, 2019 Maranges ($41)
Bechelet’s Village-level wine comes from two localities, Aux Artaux and En Crevèches, both situated in the Cheilly-lès-Maranges area. Bertrand considers this a wine to reach its peak within a few years of harvest; it is particularly aromatic, with a nose reflecting raspberries, blackcurrants and candied cherries.

Domaine Bertrand Bachelet, 2019 Maranges Premier Cru La Fussière ($50)
Located in the Cheilly and Dezize-lès-Maranges, La Fussière is the main climat of the Maranges appellation. It is planted 100% to Pinot Noir on clay, marl and limestone rocks. The grapes for this wine are rigorously sorted before being partially or totally destemmed; vatting lasts for about three weeks, with regular temperature controls. Extractions are done with very little intervention beyond pigéage and rémontage. The wine is aged for one year followed by several months in vats to stabilize the wine before bottling. The concentration of 50-year-old vines is evident in the wine’s refined texture and sustained finish where notes of black tea and fresh leather mingle with black cherry, wild raspberry and currant.


$115  Monthélie  Village vs. Premier Cru

Author Pierre Poupon describes Monthélie as being “…prettily nestled into the curve of the hillside like the head of Saint John against the shoulder of Jesus. Monthélie resembles a village in Tuscany.”

The appellation is home to 15 Premier Cru climats concentrated in one area to the east of the village, bordering the more prestigious vineyards of Volnay. A rose is a rose, but not all Premier Cru sites are created equal, and traditionally, those of Monthélie are not considered among Burgundy’s finest. Classic Monthélie wines are similar to those of neighboring Volnay (the villages are only a mile apart) but are not quite as full flavored or elegant, but they are generally considered to be superior to the red wines of Auxey-Duresses, also just a mile away in the other direction. Again, these are ideal terroirs to stir in a little extra warmth via global warming and follow the improvements with a corkscrew and glass.

Domaine Monthélie-Douhairet-Porcheret

The triumvirate of names each has its own special significance to the estate. Named first for the 300-year-old southern Burgundy village in which it is located, Monthélie-Douhairet was run by the Douhairet family for many years. In the early 1970s, the two sisters Armande and Charlotte Douhairet inherited the vines and decided to separate; Armande fought to keep her share while Charlotte sold hers. Then, in 1989, Madame Douhairet asked renowned winemaker André Porcheret to take charge and subsequently, added his name to the domain.

André Porcheret has been one of the great figures in Beaune; prior to overseeing Domaine Monthélie-Douhairet he was the cellar manager at the Hospices de Beaune, then worked for Lalou Bize Leroy to make wines at the newly created Domaine Leroy—whereupon, he returned to the Hospices de Beaune for another five-year stint. Today, with his granddaughter Cataldina Lippo, he produces wines on M-D-P’s fifteen acres that are classic, elegant and true to the terroirs of Pommard, Volnay, Meursault and Monthélie.

Domaine Monthélie-Douhairet-Porcheret, 2019 Monthélie ‘Clos du Meix Garnier’ Monopole ($46)
‘Clos du Meix Garnier’ is a vineyard entirely owned by the estate—making it a monopole. From these three acres, about 8000 bottles are produced annually; the grapes are 100% de-stemmed and treated to gentle, old school fermentation and maceration before being aged for 18 months in barrels (10% new). Aromas of blood orange, raspberries and plums introduce a satiny wine with tangy acids and chalky tannins.

Domaine Monthélie-Douhairet-Porcheret, 2019 Monthélie Premier Cru Les Duresses ($69)
The 16 acres of Les Duresses is the only Premier Cru vineyard on the western side of Monthélie between Volnay and Meursault. Les Duresses is planted to 82% Pinot Noir, although there is some Chardonnay on the upper slope. Soils are pebbly marl with a good proportion of clay, especially lower down the slope. Argovian (Jurassic) limestone provides the minerality for which these wines are famous. The wine displays a depth a similar depth to the Meix Garnier, but is fruitier, like ‘Miss Armande’. There is more muscle, too, with raspberry and strawberry notes showing above slight oak and leading to a lengthy finish.


 $129 Auxey-Duresses  Village vs. Premier Cru

There was a time when the wines of Auxey-Duresses were sold under false premises—the reds were named Volnay and the whites, Meursault. In fact, experts could easily tell the difference. Yet, the differences have begun to evaporate as a new generation of winemaker in the appellation, coupled with a changing climate, has realized that Auxey-Duresses grapes may have the breeding to rival their hallowed neighbors without the need of fraud.

The first obstacle they had to overcome was geography. Unlike Meursault and Volnay, Auxey-Duresses vines cling to a variety of high slopes and have traditionally produced a hard red wine that is frequently sold to négociants for Bourgogne Rouge blends. But with patience, these same grapes, when bottled at estates within the appellation, improve immeasurably and become silken gems that may rival nearby powerhouses at a fraction of the cost.

Likewise Auxey-Duresses whites that may initially produce the hazelnut whiffs familiar to fans of Meursault, are beginning to produce wines of increasing depth that improve exponentially in the cellar. The warmer weather has been a godsend to intrepid vignerons who have raised the value of Auxey-Duresses far beyond its current price tag.

Domaine Florence Cholet

The Platonic idea of this package’s theme may be Domaine Florence Cholet, an estate formed Florence’s father Christian in 1976 (as Domaine Christian Cholet-Pelletier) who was joined in 1982 by his wife Anne. Located in the tiny village of Corcelles-les-Arts east of Puligny Montrachet and directly across from Meursault, the 18.5 acres of marl and limestone are planted to 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir; vines range from 25 to 75 years old and the estate bottles about 1400 cases per year.

Having gained work experience across France (Chapoutier), the United States (Walla Wall, Washington) and Australia, daughter Florence studied biology and biochemistry at the University of Burgundy in Dijon where she earned a license in viticulture and a Master’s degree in oenology. In 2019, she returned to Corcelles-les-Arts to take over the estate from her parents, renaming it Domaine Florence Cholet. Among the innovations she brings to the domain is a policy against herbicide and pesticide; she ploughs by horse and allows natural fermentation on native yeasts. New oak is used sparingly at a maximum of 25% and wines are bottled using only a minimum of filtration.

Domaine Florence Cholet, 2020 Auxey-Duresses ($61)
From 60-year-old vines grown between Meursault and Monthélie; Cholet’s penchant for gentle pressing and prolonged fermentation makes this a modern-style Burgundy filled with freshness and perfume. On the palate, there is cranberry crunch with wild strawberries and a touch of dried herb.

Domaine Florence Cholet, 2020 Auxey-Duresses Premier Cru Les Ecussaux ($71)
Les Ecussaux is a Premier Cru vineyard on the Montagne du Bourdon, just to the east of the Auxey-Duresses village, between the roads to Beaune and to Meursault, whose junction forms its most westerly point. To the north lie the Premier Crus Les Duresses and Bas des Duresses. The wine displays firm tannins, crisp blackberry and mulberry, a touch of white pepper and a fleshy finish.


$130  Savigny-lès-Beaune  Village vs Premier Cru

Chances are, you love wines from the Rhine and are passionate about wines from the Rhône, but at first glance, ‘wines of the Rhoin’ may look like a typo. In fact, this small river flows from the cliffs of Bouilland through the commune of Savigny-lès-Beaune, and alluvia from the overflow adds fertility to the lower slopes of the hills of Beaune. With nearly nine hundred acres of vineyard, the appellation is one of Burgundy’s largest.

Savigny’s terroir features a gentle gradient that becomes steeper as the altitudes approach 1300 feet, where the geology is similar to that of the great Grand Cru hill of Corton. Favored exposures face the south, where the soils are gravelly and scattered with oolitic ironstone. Near the river valley, the red-brown limestone becomes more clayey and pebbly, while the east-facing slopes consist of sand and limestone.

As rich in history as it is in Premier Cru vineyards (there are 22), Savigny-lès-Beaune was once a social hub where the nobility and clergy rubbed shoulders, and the near mythical regard for the quality of its wine is reflected in a stone carving on a Savigny château:  “The wines of Savigny are nourishing, theological and keep death at bay.”

Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret

The name ‘Mongeard’ first makes an appearance in Burgundy in 1786, where records show a Mongeard working as vigneron for Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Skip forward to 1945, when at the age of 16, Jean Mongeard (whose mother was from Famille Mugneret) made wine which he sold by the barrel to négociants. The entire 1945 crop was purchased by Baron le Roy, Marquis D’Angerville, and Henri Gouges, who suggested that the young Mongeard start bottling the wines himself.

In 1975, Jean’s son Vincent began working alongside his father and became responsible for viticulture and vinification of the domaine’s wines. He persuaded his father to return to the traditional method of bottling without filtration and filtering only in certain vintages. Upon his retirement in 1995, Vincent assumed complete leadership of the domain, which now covers more than 75 acres split among 35 appellations.

Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret, 2019 Savigny-lès-Beaune ($58)
From vines with an average age of 36 years, the wine sees around 15% new oak. Youthful and intense, this brilliant ruby-colored Pinot displays characteristic aromas of spice and violet mingled with wild blackberry; nice length and elegance.

Domaine Mongeard-Mugneret , 2019 Savigny-lès-Beaune Premier Cru Les Narbantons ($72)
From their 8.4-acre parcel in Les Narbantons, Vincent Mongeard drew from vines more than a half century old, hand harvesting and sorting the grapes, then aging the wine in 30% new oak. The wine shows a deep and complex bouquet of cassis, fresh wild berries, wood smoke, cola with some hazelnuts and citrus rind. A muscular mouthful, it’s layered with powdery tannins, lively acids and a long, sapid finish.


 $153 Volnay  Village vs. Premier Cru

No red wine appellation is more synonymous with ‘perfume’ than Volnay; the wines have historically checked all the boxes for quality, vigor and longevity but with an aromatic delicacy traditionally referred to as ‘feminine.’ The appellation has existed since 1937, and is reserved for Pinot Noir-based red wines exclusively. Although the region contains no Grand Crus, more than half of the vineyards covered by Volnay’s 526 acres are rated as Volnay Premier Crus. Just across the boundary that delimits Meursault, Volnay-Santenots is grown on terroir better suited to Pinot Noir than Meursault’s legendary Chardonnay.

The appellation stretches across a narrow band of oolitic limestone on the hill of Chaignot, with vineyards facing south-east. At the top of the slope, the soil is pink in color with pale green inclusions overlain by schist. As the ground descends, white, chalky-textured argovien limestone takes over, with a third layer of reddish Bathonien limestone finally giving way to deep gravel soils at the foot of Chaignot.

These varied soils combine to give relatively small Volnay a remarkable number of recognized lieux-dits (24) and climats classified as Premier Cru (34), each unique in expression, but yoked by an inimitable Volnay style: Spicy fragrance, elegant structure and silken mouthfeel, qualities that transcend producers, both of the traditional old guard and the innovative new.

Domaine Georges Glantenay

With 27 acres of vineyards in Volnay, Pommard, Meursault, Monthélie and Chambolle-Musigny, Domaine Georges Glantenay is the result of five generations of winegrowers passing along land and artistry from father to son.

Currently, 27-year-old Guillaume is in charge of viticulture and winemaking, while his sister Sarah is an ambassador for the estate. Guillaume describes his philosophy this way: “We practice lutte raisonnée, involving ploughing without the use of pesticides or herbicides. In the cellar, our grapes are almost all destemmed, then given a short cool maceration, following which fermentation occurs using natural yeasts. Extraction mainly consists of pumping over, with a little punching-down. Our Premier Cru sees 30% new oak on average, our Village wines 20%. Most of our production is red and we focus on wines with silky tannins are the key here, making for elegant, refined wines which are also age-worthy.

Domaine Georges, 2019 Glantenay Volnay ($54)
This Village-designated assemblage comes from multiple plots covering the appellation from north to south and located just below the Premier Crus, including Les Aussy, Les Petits Gamets, La Gigotte, Les Buttes, Robardelles, Les Grands Poisots, En Echards and Les Combes. Ripe raspberry and candied violet on the nose; a crisp and bracing wine styled as a fully modern Volnay, from bouquet to the fresh, crunchy finish.

Domaine Georges Glantenay, 2019 Volnay Premier Cru Les Brouillards ($99)
Brouillards is the domain’s flagship wine, and their largest Premier Cru holding. It is on the Pommard side of the village, to the north of Mitans and across the road from Les Angles. With about 25% whole-bunch fermentation, most of the vines date to 1950 (2 acres) and 1999 (3/4 acre). The wine is delineated and focused, and shows vibrant raspberry, black plum, sous-bois and a hint of allspice in a peppery finish.


 $192 Aloxe-Corton  Village vs. Premier Cru

The appellation of Aloxe-Corton stands guard near vinous gates of the Grand Crus of Corton and Corton-Charlemagne, enjoying (if not the prestige) many similar growing conditions, producing almost exclusively red wines known for both a depth of color and an intensity of flavor. With vines facing east, the terroir is soil driven, with flint and limestone rich in potassium and phosphoric acid lending supple firmness to the wines, especially those from the appellation’s southern end.

Whereas white wines from the region exist, they are rare. The deep soils are better suited for Pinot Noir; the terroir is a geological cradle for this prima donna varietal. At altitudes averaging 800, the vineyards are planted in reddish earth with flint and limestone debris known locally as ‘chaillots’ mixed in, and likewise rich in potassium and phosphoric acid. Such soils favors supple, highly-bred wines, while clay and marl breeds firmness and complexity. Anticipate wild berry notes that intensify with age and evolve into peony and jasmine, brandied fruits, pistachio, prune and truffle.

Domaine du Pavillon

Located south of Pommard, the Côte de Beaune’s Domaine du Pavillon is under the umbrella of the Bichot family, who settled in Burgundy in 1350. Albéric Bichot took over management in 1996, and although he fully respects traditions, he remains focused on the future, comparing himself to the ‘conductor of an orchestra, proud to bring people and their talents together over a common project.’

Among the talented people he has brought together is head winemaker Matthieu Mangenot who brings to Beaune a wealth of experience from estates in South Africa, Lebanon and Bordeaux. After his first experience in the Mâconnais/Beaujolais region, he joined Albert Bichot in 2007 as manager of Domaine Long-Depaquit in Chablis. His dual training as an agronomist and an oenologist allows him a comprehensive approach to winemaking, from vineyard management to bottling. His knowledge of soil formations and his pragmatic, transversal approach benefit the development of the House’s productions and pair well with its concern for authenticity and sustainability. “The wines of the Pavillon will bear the certified ‘organic wine’ label starting with vintage 2018,” he promises.

Viticulture is handled by Christophe Chauvel, assisted by Dominique Bon. Chauvel arrived in Burgundy in 1982 to study at Beaune’s viticultural secondary school, and after gaining experience under Sommelier Jean-Luc Pouteau at the restaurant Pavillon Elysée Lenôtre in Paris, he decided to go back to school to follow a 4-year winemaking program in Bordeaux. He joined the Albert Bichot estates in 1999.

Domaine du Pavillon, 2020 Aloxe-Corton ($82)
From the south end of Aloxe-Corton; the unlovely-sounding ‘Crapousuets’ is actually a one-acre lieu-dit that produces deeply serious Pinot Noir: This one shows a dark, ferrous nose with spiced cherry and cassis notes behind sweet damson and ripe, soft tannins. Only 3000 bottles made.

Domaine du Pavillon, 2020 Aloxe-Corton Premier Cru Fournières ($110)
From a one-acre plot on the eastern fringe of Aloxe-Corton at the base of the Corton hill, with some vines creeping up the lower slope. These 40-year-old vines are planted on scree overlying limestone. The name comes from the practice of clearing parcels by a burn-out process in stoves where the dried clods of kindling are called ‘fournières.’ The wine offers up a vibrant nose of ripe cherries and quintessential Corton spices with an appropriate touch of bonfire and supple tannins.


 $288 Pommard  Village vs. Premier Cru

The Pommard appellation covers only red wine, and as such, its renown is based on the lusciously ripe, deeply intense richness that Pinot Noir seems only able to achieve in Burgundy. With primarily mid-slope vineyards, Pommard boasts 28 Premier Crus which run almost uninterrupted from the commune boundaries of Beaune in the north to Volnay in the south. In fact, the only break in this belt of prized mid-slope vineyards is provided by the streets and houses of Pommard village itself.

Pommard’s terroir is somewhat typical of Burgundian red wine country. At the lower elevations, the soil is ancient alluvium, while mid-slope, the clay-limestone soils are well drained thanks to the inclusion of rock debris. Higher up are Jurassic (Oxfordian) marls, brown calcic soils, and brown limestone soils where in places, the soil is reddened by the presence of iron. Of the roughly 850 acres of vineyard, roughly one-third are Premier Cru, of which the most famous are Les Rugiens and Les Épenots.

Domaine de Courcel

Essentially built around Premier Cru sites, de Courcel’s 26 acres are peppered across Le Grand Clos des Épenots, Les Rugiens, Les Frémiers and Les Croix Noires. Le Grand Clos des Épenots, which accounts for 50% of the Domaine’s production, and Les Rugiens, are in a climat class of their own. The estate is currently managed by Gilles de Courcel, Anne Bommelaer and Marie de Courcel.

Marie is justifiably proud both of her family’s place in Burgundian history and the estate’s commitment to terroir and ecology: “We plough in such a way as to encourage intense biological activity, enabling the vines to better assimilate the minerals contained within the soil. The ploughing also helps the root of the vine penetrate deeper into the ground for a better expression. We optimize ripeness by pruning techniques, including de-budding and green harvesting in early August. We are after a delicate equilibrium in the fruit, and our final harvest is done relatively late so that the September sunshine increases the sugar intensity.”

Yves Confuron, de Courcel’s winemaker has always worked organically, believing that anything else would not be true to the expression of the site. Far from being a nod to the current fashion of biodynamics, it is an understanding each site must be treated naturally and maintained immaculately in order to wrest everything that it has to offer in a given vintage. He argues. “You cannot do this by picking anything but fruit as ripe as the vintage can make it, and that the whole bunches must go into the vat because that is all part of the origin.”

Domaine de Courcel, 2019 Pommard ‘Les Vaumuriens’ ($135)
Pinot Noir from forty-year-old vines grown organically and planted on a 3.5-acre Village-level lieu-dit plot above the Premier Cru Les Rugiens. Vinification is done with whole bunches and cold maceration, and 21 months maturation in oak barrels, a third of which are new. Neither fined nor filtered. The wine shows rich black tea notes and herbs behind the dominant blackberry and black cherry profile.

Domaine de Courcel, 2019 Pommard Premier Cru Les Croix Noires ($153)
Les Croix Noires (‘The Black Crosses’) is a small Premier Cru vineyard entirely surrounded by other Premier Cru vineyards—Les Chaponnières lies on the slope above and to the west; Les Poutures and Les Bertins lie below and Les Frémiers to the south. Domaine de Courcel owns about half of it. Ripe red berries are in the forefront of this silken wine, shored up by warm earth and background nuances of humus and sweet flowers before concluding in a dusty, firmly structured finale.


Côte de Nuits

Terroir Lives Here

Named after its principal town, Nuits-St-Georges, the Côtes de Nuits produces the greatest red wines of Burgundy. As in its counterpart, the Côte de Beaune, not all the wines are created equal; the best are from a narrow, mid-slope band of limestone and from vineyards facing south-east to maximize exposure to the sun. This precise mix of soil and sunshine allows Pinot Noir to showcase an extraordinary range of textures and flavors.

Côte de Nuits is subdivided into eight designated village; Chambolle-Musigny, Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Marsannay (which also has a separate designation for rosé), Morey-Saint-Denis, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vosne-Romanée and Vougeot. The area includes 24 superlative vineyard sites clustered around six communes and designated Grand Cru and over a hundred Premier Cru sites. In addition, there are two district appellations: Côte de Nuits-Villages, which are wonderfully elegant and affordable reds that are ready to drink upon release, and Bourgogne Hautes Côte de Nuits, which consists of some 20 villages in the hills west of the vineyards of the Côte de Nuits that produce wines with this appellation.

 $198 Fixin  Village vs. Premier Cru

Situated just north of Gevrey Chambertin—and often compared to it stylistically—Fixin is a small, predominantly Pinot Noir appellation whose wines are generally well-regarded. Along with its neighbor Marsannay, it is one of the most northerly appellations of the Côte de Nuits, covering roughly 250 acres of vineyards spread evenly between Fixin itself and its southern neighbor, Brochon.

There is a group of vineyards on the slopes immediately above Fixin where the terrain rises quite rapidly from 950 to 1150 feet, providing relatively steep, well-drained sites with the limestone-rich soils so characteristic of classic Burgundy. In this region, six Fixin Premier Cru sites are found, most of them located around the western side of Fixin village itself.

Domaine Bart

Sixteen years ago, the winegrowers of Marsannay started the process of having part of the appellation upgraded to Premier Cru. At Domaine Bart, which produces as many as nine different Marsannay bottlings in a given vintage, it is believed that 25% and 30% of the appellation is up for this bump upstairs. Pierre Bart, the sixth generation to run Domaine Bart, says, “We are trying to show which climats would be of interest and which ones should remain in the village appellation. My guess is that there will be five or six Premier Crus. probably the largest ones like Champs Perdrix, Champ Salomon, Clos du Roi, Longeroies and Montagne.”

The Bart domain covers 54 acres, mostly in Marsannay, but with a few parcels in Fixin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny and Santenay.

“My grandmother comes from the same family as Domaine Bruno Clair,” explains Pierre Bart. “Part of the vines come from that side of the family, part from my grandfather’s side. The Bonnes-Mares and the Chambertin-Clos de Bèze mainly come from my grandmother. 35 years ago, when my uncle arrived at the domain, the style of the wines changed. He increased the size of the holding, mainly in Marsannay. He chose to improve quality, both in terms of equipment and in winemaking. Since then we haven’t changed our vision a single iota.”

Domaine Bart, 2016 Fixin ($88)
Dark raspberry, sour cherry and dried herbs and the characteristic woodsy ‘sous bois’ lift this wine which has found its stride after several years of impeccable bottle aging.

Domaine Bart, 2016 Fixin Premier Cru Hervelets ($110)
Among Fixin’s Premier Cru vineyards—Clos de la Perrière, Clos du Chapitre, Arvelets, Clos Napoléon, Le Meix Bas and Hervelets, Hervelets is known to produce heavier and longer-lived reds This one is spicy, revealing sandalwood, sweet baking spices and light pepper aromas framing cherry and raspberry, with a soft dusting of tannins on the finish.


 $207 Nuits-Saint-Georges  Village vs. Premier Cru

With the village of Nuits-St-Georges itself as the fulcrum, the robust appellation extends to the north as far as the border of Vosne-Romanée, while the southern section lies partly in Nuits-Saint-Georges and partly in Prémeaux. The wines from each section are unique in style and according to experts, with differences defined (in the main) by the lay of the land. The soils in the northern sector are built around the pebbly alluvium that washes down from up-slope, or in the low-lying parts, around silty deposits from the river Meuzin. In the southern sector the alluvia at the base of the slopes originate in the combe of Vallerots where there are deep marly-limestone soils, while at the top of the slope, the soil has nearly all eroded away and the rock is near the surface. In both regions, favored exposures are mostly to the east or southeast.

Producing predominantly red wine, Nuit-Saint-George bottles display the muscularity and breeding most sought after in Burgundy—the ability to improve with bottle age. When young, the wine display aromas of cherry, strawberry and blackcurrant, and when matured, leather, truffle, fur and game.

Domaine Henri Gouges

Considered by many to be Nuits-Saint-Georges’ top domain, the estate has been passed down through many generations and is, to this day, a family affair, with four Gouges at the helm.

Grégory Gouges has been the domain’s winemaker since 2003; Pierre today runs the business end with his cousin Christian, son Grégory, and Grégory’s cousin Antoine. The vineyards cover 36 acres, including seven of the best well-positioned Premier Crus: Les Chaignots, Chene Carteau, Les Pruliers, the monopole vineyard of Clos des Porrets-Saint-Georges and nearly three acres each of each of the appellation’s most famous vineyards, Les Vaucrains and Les Saint Georges.

Maison Henri Gouges, 2019 Nuits-Saint-Georges ($81)
Domaine Henri Gouges makes this outstanding Nuits-Saint-Georges by blending estate fruit with neighboring organic vineyards and bottles it under ‘Maison’ Henri Gouges. A nose of wild blackberry drives the wine, which shows a touch of herb and musk that should become more pronounced with a bit of age.

Domaine Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges, 2019 Premier Cru Clos des Porrets St-Georges ‘Monopole’ ($126)
Clos de Porrets is a nine-acre lieu-dit within the wider Les Porrets Premier Cru; it is comprised of deep, stony soils with a good amount of clay covering a hard, limestone base that allows for plentiful drainage. Somewhat unique, beside Pinot Noir, the vineyard also contains a variety named for Henri Gouges. Pinot Gouges is a white-skinned mutation of the notoriously unstable red cultivar. The wine shows strawberry and rich black plum, and is brightly acidic behind a layered, dense texture. A wonderful wine for the long haul.


$238 Gevrey-Chambertin  Village vs. Premier Cru

As those schooled in Burgundian lore know, during the nineteenth century it became fashionable for villages in the Côte d’Or to adopt double-barreled names, adding a hyphen followed by the name of their most famous vineyard: Thus Chambolle added Musigny and Gevrey added Chambertin.

In minimalism, less may be more, and in wine—especially those with a hyphenated name—more may be less; a village-level Gevrey-Chambertin, for example, does not seek to compete with the quality of ‘Le Chambertin’ itself. But if nothing else, its name reminds you that it comes from a rarefied zip code. And to be sure, the region is hallowed grapeland, graced with the Holy Trinity of terroir—elevation, climate and soil structure. Contained within the appellation are nine Grand Crus and 26 Premier Crus (whose name on the label may be followed by the name of the climat of origin) as well as well as nearly a thousand acres of Village wine.

Domaine Heresztyn Mazzini

Florence and Simon Heresztyn-Mazzini hail from different winemaking regions—Florence from Burgundy and Simon from Champagne. After ten years of working Heresztyn-owned vineyards in Gevrey-Chambertin, the couple decided to start their own venture on 14 acres spread across the villages of Gevrey-Chambertin, Morey-Saint-Denis, and Chambolle-Musigny. 2012 was their first vintage.

Florence maintains, “We are closely attached to the Côte de Nuits and its unique terroirs and work relentless to bring out the region’s best qualities. Simon and I make it a point of personal pride to respect the region’s soils and natural environment.

Domaine Heresztyn Mazzini ‘Vieilles Vignes’, 2016 Gevrey-Chambertin ($89)
Using grapes taken exclusively from older vines, team Heresztyn-Mazzini relies on 35% whole bunch with wild yeast fermentation, then pre-ferments using cold maceration. Punch downs take place three to four times a day, and the wine is aged in 30% new wood oak barrels for 16-18 months, then bottled at the estate without fining or filtering.

Domaine Heresztyn Mazzini, 2016 Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru Goulots ($140)
Les Goulots is a five-acre Premier Cru climat at the northern end of the Gevrey-Chambertin vineyard; it is one of the most elevated sites in the Côte de Nuits, and is planted entirely to Pinot Noir. the steep vineyards on the edge of the Côte d’Or face almost due east, giving vines an exposure that is quite different to the climats further south. Les Goulots shares this characteristic, and the mesoclimate here is much cooler, as shade comes to the vineyard much earlier in the day than in the south-facing vineyards directly west of Gevrey-Chambertin village, including the famed Clos Saint-Jacques vineyard. The wine is tight and focused, glossy quality, showing cool red fruit on the palate and a long finish with nice tannin support, both from the grapes and the oak.


$270 Vosne-Romanée  Village vs. Premier Cru

Originally named just Vosne, the village took the suffix Romanée in 1866 in honor of its most prized vineyard, La Romanée—a habit of many Burgundy communes of the era. From the perspective of a wine lover, it may be grouped together with neighboring Flagey-Echézeaux; while the villages are entirely separate, their finest vineyards are clustered together immediately north of Vosne-Romanée and take that latter title.

The entire surface area of Vosne-Romanée Grand Crus vineyards (excluding Flagey-Echézeaux) is 67 acres, about half the size of the single Clos de Vougeot climat just across the commune boundary. Even so, the commune of Flagey-Echézeaux with the Echézeaux and Grands-Echézeaux sites included, has more Grand Cru surface area than the Premier Crus and Villages combined. Vosne-Romanée is divided between six individual climats—La Grande Rue, La Tâche, Richebourg, La Romanée, Romanée-Saint-Vivant and the most famous, Romanée-Conti. The best vineyards lie on the mid-slope of the Côte d’Or escarpment. Around these prestigious sites are dotted the Premier Cru vineyards and some entirely unclassified land—the difference between a Grand Cru vine and one deemed worthy only of the regional Bourgogne appellation is sometimes a matter of a few feet.

Domaine Richard Manière

Domaine Manière, located in the heart of Vosne Romanée, has been managed by the Manière family for three generations. Richard Manière (a former rugby player) now owns the 20 acre vineyard, having taken over from his parents in 1998.

With plots from Nuits-Saint-Georges to Fixin in the north of the Côte de Nuits, Vosne-Romanée is the flagship appellation represented in Richard’s portfolio. He farms . Richard’s vineyards are farmed using the ‘lutte raisonnée’ method, with manual soil tillage, 100% manual harvesting and traditional Burgundian vinification.

Domaine Richard Manière, 2014 Vosne-Romanée ($110)
A beautiful expression of Vosne’s characteristic smoky aromas, with raspberry, mocha and roast coffee leading to a sweet-tannin finish and good length.

Domaine Richard Manière, 2014 Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru Les Suchots ($160)
Planted entirely to Pinot Noir, Les Suchots is the largest Premier Cru climat in Vosne-Romanée; the vineyard separates Echézeaux and Romanée-Saint-Vivant. The 32 acre vineyard sits along the northern border of the Vosne-Romanée commune, although this is something of an academic distinction given that vineyards on the other side of this administrative line in Flagey-Echézeaux adopt the Vosne-Romanée name by convention. The wine is ethereal, showing the mature edge of dried cherry, mushroom, umami and spice.


$339 Chambolle-Musigny  Village vs. Premier Cru

Along with Vosne-Romanée, the communes of Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin round out the ‘Big Three’ of Burgundy reds. Much has been written to compare the last two, perhaps best summarized by Nadine Gublin of Domaine Jacques Prieur: “Chambertin has a colder climate and tends to have more structure than Musigny; Musigny is more forward and elegant; it has a body that is very silky and satiny, while Chambertin has greater finesse, but needs more time to reveal itself—it is more serious and discreet.”

There is a marked difference in size, too: Chambolle-Musigny is relatively small, covering five hundred acres, of which 180 are Premier Cru—the appellation has 24. There are also two Grand Cru climats, Bonnes-Mares, which links its vineyards to those of Morey-Saint-Denis, and Musigny, overlooking the Clos de Vougeot. The prestigious Premier Cru site Les Amoureuses, however, is doubtless on their level.

Domaine Lécheneaut

Having been founded in the 1950s by Fernand Lécheneaut, the domain launched modestly, with five acres of vineyard in Nuits-Saint-Georges, Chambolle-Musigny and Morey-Saint-Denis. During these early years, Lécheneaut sold bulk wine to négociants, but in 1985, his sons Philippe and Vincent took over and brought with them an expanded vision. They grew their vineyard holdings while they began to bottle at the estate. The new Lécheneaut plots, including several Premier Cru vineyards in Chambolle-Musigny and Gevrey-Chambertin, speckle the map of the Côte de Nuits from north to south, but judiciously—many of the holdings are under an acre. With vines in 23 appellations, the total land under their management is around thirty acres.

As the Lécheneaut brothers approach retirement, Vincent’s son Jules has joined the team with a view toward combining lessons learned in his experiences working vines in Oregon with the exceptional terroir his family nurtures.

Domaine Lécheneaut, 2018 Chambolle-Musigny ($126)
From a single acre site of 63-year-old vines across several Villages-level lieux-dits, Chardannes, Herbues, Maladières and Babillère. Most feature thin bedrock soils where cracks in the limestone encourage root exploration, and ensure a marvelous complexity. The bouquet of violets and rose petals introduces a wine which is beginning to age into spicy maturity with prunes and truffles and a palate that has evolved with rich, silken tannins. 2400 bottles made.

Domaine Lécheneaut, 2018 Chambolle-Musigny Premier Cru ($216)
A tiny plot (smaller than a quarter-acre) of 70-year-old vines in ‘Les Plantes’ and ‘Les Borniques.’ These lieux-dits are located on the alluvial cone of the Ambin valley and the substratum is composed of Periglacial red silt enriched with breccias of the Bathonian limestone that forms the plateau. Sophisticated and elegant, the wine presents rich aromas of blackberry, blueberry, redcurrant and ripe plum which over time should develop into leather, chocolate and pepper notes. 1000 bottles made.


$270 Morey-Saint-Denis  Village vs. Premier Cru

Forming a stylistic bridge between the firm, fleshy wines of Gevrey-Chambertin and the perfumed wines of Chambolle-Musigny, Morey-Saint-Denis is a wealth of Crus, including twenty Premier Crus and five Grand Crus: Clos de Tart, Bonnes-Mares, Clos de la Roche, Clos Saint-Denis and Clos des Lambrays. The best sites are planted on thin, well-drained, oolitic limestone soils that date from the Middle Jurassic, and occupy the middle slopes while lesser quality wines are produced on the highest and lowest elevations.

Even among Burgundy enthusiast, the Premier Cru climats are sometimes unfamiliar, due in part to the practice of blending several vineyards as a generic Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru bottling, something that is somewhat more common here than in other communes.

Domaine Lécheneaut, 2018 Morey-Saint-Denis ($126)
A textbook Morey-Saint-Denis blend of parcels from Pierres Virants, En Seuvrey, Les Cognées and Les Porroux, where the vines are rooted in limestone and chalky-clay soils from the Jurassic period; Bathonien white oolite on the top of the hill and Bajocien chalk on the downslope. The wine is rich and assertive with Gevrey-Chambertin’s muscle and Chambolle-Musigny’s grace—its tone is suggestive of tart cherries, rose hips, violets and walnuts and fills out with stony persistence.

Domaine Jean-Michel Guillon & Fils

Local boy makes good’ is a common enough tale in Burgundy, where land—which can command a price tag twice that of Bordeaux—is generally held by families. Most success stories involve inheriting it or marrying it. Rare is the breakthrough of an outsider who can, for example, step off a train in Gevrey-Chambertin without connections or formal wine training and forge a Burgundian empire within an enclave already pretty imperialistic.

Enter Jean-Michel Guillon. Born into a military tradition, Jean-Michel Guillon chose to settle in France after his past service in the Polynesian Islands and in 1980, without much formal training, planted grapes on five acres of land. What began as a nascent fascination grew into an overarching passion, and the estate today covers nearly forty acres spread over more than 20 appellations. It is work that, like the best Gevrey-Chambertin wines, took years to peak, both stylistically and critically: 2020 turned out to be Jean-Michel Guillon’s best vintage ever.

He explains: “It is all the result of my love for this land, and any acclaim I have received is based on innovative production processes and more importantly, taking into account the ecological needs of the vine. The climate crisis and the scarcity of natural materials is taken very seriously at the winery. Global warming is at the heart of the destruction of habitat destruction and the appearance of certain diseases. In order to facilitate cultivation and harvesting, we have worked diligently worked to reduce our carbon footprint by using phytosanitary products that respect the environment.”

Domaine Jean-Michel Guillon & Fils, 2018 Morey-Saint-Denis Premier Cru La Riotte ($144)
La Riotte is one of 20 Premier Cru climats in the center of tiny Morey-Saint-Denis, and like most of the others, it is planted entirely to Pinot Noir. The six-acre vineyard runs alongside one of the roads running east, out of the village of Morey and down the slope towards the road that runs the length of the Côte d’Or vineyards, and the name is believed to be a corruption of la ruotte—‘the road.’ Riotte’s terroir is built around limestone-based soils containing a good proportion of clay in the soil, which stores sufficient water to keep vines hydrated without being excessive. The wine shows classic Morey-Saint-Denis structure, being medium-bodied and complex with a floral, spice-inflected nose and a chiseled, red-fruit palate.


A Gift That Keeps On Giving
Membership To ‘The Champagne Society’
Bimonthly Subscription

Not only is Champagne the quintessential drink of celebration, it has traditionally been a gift given with ramped-up sentiments. This year we are offering a couple of variations on this theme, beginning with an opportunity to gift a special someone a six-month or twelve-month membership to The Champagne Society. Our pick for December will be packaged in a wrap-ready gift box along with a congratulatory certificate explaining what lies ahead in bi-monthly installments. For more information please visit our website page: A Holiday Gift: ‘The Champagne Society’ Membership 6-Month ($299) or 12-Month ($589) Subscription.




Vintage Journal

2020 – Classical And Age Worthy

François Labet, a négociant whose family has lived in Beaune for 300 years, summarizes the 2020 vintage like this: “An intellectually-challenging vintage; the reds in particular defy easy categorization because the impact of that season varied considerably by terroir. Producers had key decisions to make, especially when to pick and that significantly affected both the style and quality of the resulting wines.

And this is because the most notable feature of this vintage was its early and rapid harvest: Many domains began picking the week of August 17th and while August harvests have been frequent in the 21st century (there were none in the prior century), this was for many domains the first time they had not only started, but completed a harvest before the end of August.

The resulting wines (particularly from earlier harvests where sugars were high and acids intact) are remarkable, both for whites and reds. The season was hot and dry, but water tables were healthy from the mild and wet preceding winter.

Beaune was particularly fortunate and Chef de Cave Frédéric Weber (Bouchard Pere et Fils) describes 2020 as a concentrated and strong vintage: “It reminds me of 2016 for its vibrancy and energy; the wines are voluptuous and structured. A great vintage for the future, like the ‘18s.

2019 – Concentrated And Vibrant

2019 is a vintage that had already generated excitement in Burgundy by harvest-time, and the accolades have grown since. The winter was extremely mild, but the spring was chilly, with April frosts cutting yields, especially in the Mâconnais. Flowering was uneven due to a cooler than average June and some bunches suffered from millerandage, further cutting yields. Temperatures then warmed up rapidly, so that surviving grapes were highly concentrated and produced a small but brilliant vintage, well-balanced and with great potential. The red wines carry a particular punch, classic in style, but with rich fruit and structure promising a broad drinking window.

2018 – Powerful, Voluptuous With Immediate Appeal

Calescent and copious—big words to describe a big vintage, equally fascinating and enjoyable for those who like potent, youthful Pinots and for those willing to wait out a prolonged span of aging. A hot, dry summer generally requires a wet preceding winter to top up groundwater reserves, and 2017/18 was just that. Conditions warmed up in time for a beautiful early flowering—another requirement for a bountiful harvest. The summer, as indicated, was hot and dry, although the farther north you went, sporadic rainfall was welcomed. The only anomaly during the season was hail in Nuits St Georges; two storms striking the south of the village and Prémeaux-Prissey at the end of June and the beginning of July, wiping out as much as 40% of the crop in some vineyards. Due to the heat, the picking window for Pinot Noir was short, as levels for sugars, acids and phenolics rose quickly and called for an early harvest.

2016 – Supple And Accessible

A classic vintage in which the best producers seized victory from the jaws of defeat. In general, the harvest was extremely small (for some it was the tiniest on record) but the grapes that survived the year’s barrage of frosts, rot and heat were generally of exceptionally high quality, renowned for producing wines with balance and poise. The reds, in particular, are rich, ripe; the whites suffered the most, with many producers being hit so badly that releasing a wine became impossible. Overall, what was made in the 2016 vintage tends to be very good, even excellent, but extremely limited quantities means that prices may be on the high side.

2014 – Classic Burgundy, Very Pleasing Reds

Whereas 2014 failed to provide enough showstopper wines to make it legendary, it remains and concentrated and well-structured vintage that rates as excellent. Although much of the summer was lukewarm and drizzly, there were heat spikes and dry spells that, by September, allowed for a leisurely harvest.  Work in the cellar separated those bunches affected by damp-weather rot and although yields were lower than normal, quality was high—especially among the reds, which have the character for long-term aging.



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Posted on 2023.12.02 in Volnay, Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Savigny-lès-Beaune, Monthélie, Aloxe-Corton, Auxey-Duresses, Morey-Saint-Denis, Maranges, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Santenay, Vosne-Romanée, Pommard, France, Burgundy, Wine-Aid Packages  |  Read more...


A Holiday Gift: ‘The Champagne Society’ Membership 6-Month ($299) or 12-Month ($589) Subscription + Recent Champagne Arrivals

Champagne Enters ‘New Era’

Dear Friends,

Our brick-and-mortar may be in Birmingham, but here at Elie Wine, our eyes are always cast toward our spiritual home in French and Spanish wine country. Keeping up with the zeitgeist of vinology is a fascinating, ever-changing endeavor, and nowhere is this more true in Champagne, which has undergone more philosophical changes in the past two decades than in the past two centuries. Not only has a steadily warming planet offered once-marginal terroirs a chance to shine, the focus needle is gradually shifting to an appreciation of Champagne as, first and foremost, a wine. In a culture shift sometimes called the ‘Burgundianization of Champagne’, less attention is being paid to big-name brands (who will always have their share of the market) and more to relative newcomers who are showcasing the terroir of individual vineyards, and even plots within that vineyard, rather than simply lauding a Premier Cru village. There is no question that the quality of Champagne overall is improving with single-site expressions and riper grapes that still retain Champagne’s characteristic acidity.


Join The Champagne Society: Bimonthly Club

As a member of The Champagne Society, you’re in a select community of like-minded folks who appreciate the exceptional in life and recognize that sparkling wine is a superlative among man’s culinary creations. A bottle of Champagne is selected for you bimonthly. You will be drinking some of the best Champagne ever produced.

All selected wines are from passionate grower-producers or small houses deeply connected to the subtleties of each of their vine parcels and who believe that wine is made in the vineyard. Many of these wines are highly allocated, many bought directly, and we quite often only have access to a few cases of a particular cuvée. For more information visit The Champagne Society webpage.

A Gift That Keeps On Giving: Membership Subscription To ‘The Champagne Society’

Lily Bollinger once said, “I only drink champagne when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company, I consider it obligatory; I trifle with it if I’m not in a hurry and drink it when I am, otherwise I never touch the stuff unless I am thirsty.”

Not only is Champagne the quintessential drink of celebration, it has traditionally been a gift given with ramped-up sentiments. This year we are offering a couple of variations on this theme, beginning with an opportunity to gift a special someone a six-month or twelve-month membership to The Champagne Society. Our pick for December will be packaged in a wrap-ready gift box along with a congratulatory certificate explaining what lies ahead in bi-monthly installments:

Six-Month Membership Gift ($299)

You will take home a pre-packaged, ready-for-gift-wrapping box containing The Champagne Society December Selection bottle, Champagne Marguet, with a certificate congratulating the recipient on their new membership to the Champagne Society, a select community of like-minded folks who appreciate the exceptional in life and recognize that wine is a superlative among man’s culinary creations. Then, in February and April, they are eligible to receive two more installments, one Champagne bottle each month (described in detail, in advance, by email), which they can stop by the store to pick up in person or have shipped directly to their home at no additional cost.

Twelve-Month Membership Gift ($589)

A full year’s membership in the Champagne Society includes a pre-packaged, ready-for-wrapping gift box containing The Champagne Society December Selection bottle, Champagne Marguet, along with a congratulatory certificate informing the recipient that they are now part of the Champagne Society, whose members are eligible for discounted prices on highly allocated Champagne, many bought directly, and many available only through Elie Wine Company. Then, in February and April, June, August and October, they are eligible to receive five more installments, one bottle of Champagne each month (described in detail, in advance, by email), which they can stop by the store to pick up in person or have shipped directly to their home at no additional cost.



Newly Added Champagne Producers

Over the past year, we have had the privilege of speaking to many Champagne producers located in what were once lesser known and (in terms of quality) marginally productive regions where warmer, dryer weather in the north of France has allowed a sort of renaissance. More and more growers, once under contract by international brands to produce a specific style of yield, are opting to exhibit instead their own unique microclimates and site-specific flavors. By shedding the yoke of corporate direction, they are able to choose their own pathways and bottle under their own labels. Interestingly, this includes more and more still wines as well as non-traditional blends, along with a growing emphasis on Meunier.

Many of the producers we now feature are the scions of old Champagne families who have taken a nonconformist and occasionally radical approach to an ancient craft. Most notably, biodynamics is increasingly mentioned in their techniques; in Vallée-de-la Marne, André Heucq and his daughter Fanny use the phases of the moon to bring cosmic significance to their vineyard. Grande-Vallée’s Laurent Bénard eschews the use of Sulfur and Olivier Langlais of La Petite Montagne-de-Reims’ Champagne Solemme does not blend wines from previous vintages—almost a rule in the region—releasing only wines from a single harvest.

These are wines we are grateful to add to our portfolio, not only because we admire the product, but because we are impressed with and gratified by the producers and their approach to a sustainable industry facing unprecedented climate challenges.

Champagne Pertois-Moriset (Côte-des-Blancs)

For some of us, a match made in Champagne is synonymous to one made in Heaven, and for Champagne Pertois-Moriset, it is family history. The house was born in 1951 with the nuptials of Yves Pertois from Cramant and Janine Moriset from Mesnil, both third-generation growers, who soon began bottling under their own label.

Today, the couple’s granddaughter Cécile and her husband Vincent Bauchet manage 50 acres divided between Chardonnay grown on Grand Cru sites in the Côtes de Blancs, plus a 60/40 split of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the Côte de Sézanne (including one parcel that borders Olivier Collin’s famed Les Maillons). Joined at the hip to organic and sustainable practices, Pertois-Moriset has become known for single-village expressions of renowned terroirs like Oger, Villeneuve, Cramant, and Chouilly, plus single-parcel bottlings from lieux-dits including Les Jeamprins, Les Jutées, and Les Hauts d’Aillerands. Members of Club Trésors de Champagne in Reims—a select group of 28 grower-producers, each authorized to produce a Special Club bottling that often involves blocking malolactic fermentation and extended bottle aging.

Vincent Bauchet, Champagne Pertois-Moriset

Vincent maintains that in every endeavor, the estate is attentive to the biodiversity that surrounds it: “If the years allow it,” he says,” no chemical inputs are applied on the vine. The vines are naturally grassed in winter, and in summer the soil is ploughed.”

Cécile adds: “We added a pressing center in 2009 equipped with two stainless-steel membrane presses, two thermo-regulated stainless-steel tanks, and a vat room for barrels and big oaks. The wine is bottled in June/July, in order to give the wine time to fully develop in tanks and barrels. The bottles then rest on the cellar, at least 20 months for the main vintages, and much longer for the vintages, thus guaranteeing wines with our signature aromas and flavors.”

Champagne Laurent Bénard (Grande-Vallée)

The tale of third-generation Champagne growers being wed and then bottling under their own name is echoed with the tale of Michelle and Laurent Bénard-Pitois. Located in Grande-Vallée, the estate has been organically certified since 2012 and, along with their son Charles, the couple produces about 10,000 bottles annually.

Laurent says, “When I took over the estate, I realized the imbalance in the vines translated to a lack of character and personality in the wines. The application of more thoughtful viticulture has allowed greater exchanges between the vines and their ecosystem, thus offering greater richness in our Champagne. We have worked sulfur-free since 2010 to ensure that the purity of the wine is not inhibited, while each pressing is vinified in the container which we believe allows it the most beautiful expression, whether it is wood, enameled steel or stainless steel.”

Michelle and Laurent Bénard, Champagne Laurent Bénard

His son Charles, with a double engineering degree in agronomy and oenology, joined in 2020. “Two choices were available,” he says. “Either I will look elsewhere and work for others, or come back as soon as possible in order to take full advantage of the experience of my parents and the domain team. I chose transmission; might as well have fun at home.”

Michelle adds, “The average age of our vines is now over 30 years; we gradually renew them with massal selection—cuttings are taken from several vines of the same variety that have collectively demonstrated desirable traits in order to preserve our genetic heritage and prepare for the future.”

Champagne André Heucq (Vallée-de-la Marne)

In the heart of the Marne valley is the tiny commune of Cuisles (population 150) which happens to be the epicenter for the green illite clay unique to Cuisles and two surrounding villages. It is arguably the terroir where Meunier feels most at home. According to André Heucq, who—along with his daughter Fanny— specializes in Pinot Meunier grown on fifteen acres of estate vineyards, “Green clay retains water better than chalky soils, this type of soil needs less water than classic clay-limestone soils. Generally speaking, the Marne Valley is prone to downpours of rain, and this is where Cuisles’ unique position in the hollow of the valley plays a fundamental role: Showers are much less frequent, so soil and climate are in perfect alchemy for optimum ripening of the Meunier.”

Alexandre & Fanny Heucq, Champagne André Heucq

Fanny says that the terroir, so vital to their wines’ purity and elegance, is enhanced by a commitment to biodynamics: “Production that respects the environment reactivates the vine’s natural self-defense mechanisms, allowing us do away with the use of chemicals and use very low doses of copper and sulfur.

Among the strictest (and most interesting) cosmos-oriented techniques the estate relies on is the ‘500’—a preparation is obtained by fermenting good quality cow manure in the soil over the winter, introduced via cow horns. Fanny explains, “This preparation is aimed at the soil and plant roots. Its name comes from the fact that it contains over 500 million bacteria per gram. The silica from the horn is equally important. it is complementary to and acts in polarity with the 500. It is not aimed at the soil, but at the aerial part of plants during their vegetative period. It can be said to be a kind of “light spray”, which can promote vegetative vigor or, on the contrary, attenuate excessive luxuriance. It brings a luminous (crystalline) quality to plants, and reduces their tendency to disease. Not only does it reinforce the effects of sunlight, it also enables a better relationship with the cosmic periphery, with the entire cosmos. This preparation is essential for the internal structuring and development of plants. It promotes vertical plant growth. It makes plants firmer and more supple. It increases the quality and resistance of leaf and fruit epidermis.”

Champagne Solemme (Montagne-de-Reims)

The name Solemme is a combination of ‘sol’ for the sun, with the addition of a feminine suffix. “My goal,” says cellar master Olivier Langlais, “is to make delicate Champagnes that are bright like the sun.”

La Petite Montagne-de-Reims, to the west of the road between Reims and Épernay, boasts steep slopes and chalky soils, making it the home of some of the best Premier Cru vineyards in Champagne—Savart, Brochet, Egly-Ouriet, etc. Also calling the region home is Olivier Langlais, who farms fifteen acres of organic vineyards in the terroir around Villers-Aux-Noeuds. A true exception in Champagne region, he makes wines using only the product of the harvest year.

His dedication to biodynamics and agriculture according to the cycles of the moon began with the Chardonnay plot in 2009 and finished the transition with his oldest vines of Pinot Noir in 2015. The vineyard is composed of 50% Meunier, 25% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir divided between six villages—five of them Premier Cru. Most of the plots, as is the case of most Petit Montagne de Reims vines, are southeast/east oriented.

Olivier Langlais, Champagne Solemme

“Everything is happening in the exchange between the soil and the grape”, Olivier points out. “That’s why the difference of terroir between all parcels determines variety and process. Villers-aux-Noeuds has a classic chalky soil, bringing a lot of minerality to the Chardonnay and Meunier growing there. Clay-limestone dominates Chamery and Vrigny, with a bit more clay in Vrigny, where Meunier gets better results—clay gives more ‘gras’, or roundness to the grapes. Often not mentioned is the sandy soils of Villedomange and Eceuil, which gives Pinot Noir a concentrated and elegant form.”

Once in the cellar, Olivier is a champion of a hands-off approach. He never chaptalizes and uses only natural yeast from his vineyard. “In the chai, you won’t find any barrels,” he says. “We do not or filter, there is no addition of SO2 and all the cuvées spend between 36 to 48 months on the lees as a means of better expressing the terroir. 90% of the time, I don’t do any malolactic fermentation, because I prefer to let the natural minerality shine.”

Champagne Ullens (Montagne-de-Reims)

Whereas Champagne backstories may sometimes seem a bit cookie-cutter—long time grower families determined to start producing and labeling under their own name—but Champagne Ullens is a true iconoclast. Launched in 2012 by Belgian architect Maxime Ullens, he and his wife Anna purchased Domaine de Marzilly at the northern-most tip of the Montagne de Reims, intending only to renovate the abandoned farmhouse and barn. But tasting wine with the locals convinced them that they owned some fabulous terroir as well as old rootstocks that had been spared from phylloxera, and shortly, Maxime enrolled in the viticultural school in Avize.

Maxime Ullens, Champagne Ullens

Also somewhat rare among Champagne producers, Maxime is somewhat obsessed with wood and ages his wine in 205 liter barrels, the original size in Champagne; the lumber for this is felled in the forests directly surrounding the vineyards and made into barrels by a local cooper.

Champagne Ullens uses exclusively organic methods in the care of their vineyards, and Maxime waits a minimum of twelve months in barrel and thirty-six months in bottle before disgorging his wines.

Champagne Jacquinet-Dumez (Montagne-de-Reims)

Champagne Jacquinet-Dumez first saw light in 1935 when Henri Dumez planted seven acres Pinot Noir in the Premier Cru village of Sacy. The family notes that he delivered his first cuvée to Paris personally, the bottles in the back of his van.

Aline, Diane and Olivier Jacquinet, Champagne Jacquinet-Dumez

Today, Aline and Olivier Jacquinet tend the property, having expanded the winery and invested in the success of multiple vintages. Their daughters Agathe and Diane work alongside them, bringing with them an interesting set of skills; Agathe has a Master degree in Marketing Perfumery and Cosmetics, having developed Ajnalogie, an innovative olfactory label. Diane has stuck closely with the vines, earning a National Diploma in oenology.

The philosophy of the House considers Champagne as an invitation to dialogue; they view their cuvées as the perfect trigger for sharing and exchange.

Champagne Vincent Couche (Côte-des-Bar)

Most Champagne folks spend a bit of time glorifying the past, but Vincent Couche is less about the roots and more about the fruits. With eyes facing steadily forward, he has taken his family’s 32 acres in the heart of the Côte-des-Bar and created his own dynamic, organic Shangri-La quite a distance from the mass-produced Champagnes of the region, embracing the natural wine movement and its obsession with healthy soils in the vineyard. He has practiced biodynamics since 1999 and maintains, “Picking is by taste and touch, with harvests often a week later than most of my neighbors. I refuse to chaptalize, so my grapes need higher sugar levels and higher levels of ripeness. Champagne is a cold place and our cellars are deep; natural fermentations take a long time, sometimes well into the spring after harvest. I ferment and age in oak without added yeast or nutrients—these wines don’t see any additions. All wines go through full malolactic fermentation and everything in the winery is done by gravity, without pumps and all the wines are unfiltered with dosage (final sugar addition) kept to a minimum, if any is added at all.

Vincent Couche, Champagne Vincent Couche

Couche’s vines are split into two distinct terroirs: He has roughly seven acres of Chardonnay in Montgueux planted on thin, chalky soils from the Cretaceous era and another 25 acres in Buxeuil planted primarily to Pinot Noir, where the soil consists of clay-limestone and clayey marls, depending on the parcel. The planting density is high and the vineyards are mainly south and west facing on steep hillsides with the Seine lying below. This area enjoys its own high temperatures microclimate and relatively good humidity thanks to the presence of the river near the vines.

Notebook ….

Drawing The Boundaries of The Champagne Region

Having been defined and delimited by laws passed in 1927, the geography of Champagne is easily explained in a paragraph, but it takes a lifetime to understand it.

Ninety-three miles east of Paris, Champagne’s production zone spreads across 319 villages and encompasses roughly 85,000 acres. 17 of those villages have a legal entitlement to Grand Cru ranking, while 42 may label their bottles ‘Premier Cru.’ Four main growing areas (Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, the Côte des Blancs and the Côte des Bar) encompass nearly 280,000 individual plots of vines, each measuring a little over one thousand square feet.

The lauded wine writer Peter Liem expands the number of sub-regions from four to seven, dividing the Vallée de la Marne into the Grand Vallée and the Vallée de la Marne; adding the Coteaux Sud d’Épernay and combining the disparate zones between the heart of Champagne and Côte de Bar into a single sub-zone.

Lying beyond even Liem’s overview is a permutation of particulars; there are nearly as many micro-terroirs in Champagne as there are vineyard plots. Climate, subsoil and elevation are immutable; the talent, philosophies and techniques of the growers and producers are not. Ideally, every plot is worked according to its individual profile to establish a stamp of origin, creating unique wines that compliment or contrast when final cuvées are created.

Champagne is predominantly made up of relatively flat countryside where cereal grain is the agricultural mainstay. Gently undulating hills are higher and more pronounced in the north, near the Ardennes, and in the south, an area known as the Plateau de Langres, and the most renowned vineyards lie on the chalky hills to the southwest of Reims and around the town of Épernay. Moderately steep terrain creates ideal vineyard sites by combining the superb drainage characteristic of chalky soils with excellent sun exposure, especially on south and east facing slopes.



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Posted on 2023.11.29 in France, Champagne  | 


Thanksgiving Feast Wine Matchup Pack: Eight Alsace Picks To Flatter The Food, Reawaken The Appetite And Renew Weary Taste Buds ($296) + RECENT ARRIVAL 2020 Domaine Albert Boxler

A true masterpiece is composed of many elements, and all the details must be in precise balance: The forearm musculature on Michelangelo’s ‘David’ for example—the intake of breath in the nostril of Sanmartino’s ‘Veiled Christ.’ This is as true for a magnificent meal as it is for a sculpture, and any constituent of your Thanksgiving Day spread that’s treated as an afterthought may glare more than the successes.

Naturally, we consider wine to be an indispensable part of this annual meal, not only to reinforce the overall sensory enjoyment, but as a nod to a greater sense of appreciation for things that we, as human beings, get right.

It’s possible to overanalyze your wine choices, of course—many of the other elements of a Thanksgiving feast are as fixed as the solar system. Wine is one factor that is not only less preordained, but can (and should) change with vintages and tastes. Our suggestions for Thanksgiving 2023 is an array of Alsatian wines, and are offered as interval highlights at various stages of the meal. They reflect the balance that all cooks, winemakers and artists strive for in rhythm, emphasis, unity and variety.

Alsace: A Region Of Many Talents

To paraphrase Churchill, “Nowhere else in the field of vines is so much owed by so many to so few.”

In fact, Alsace—ground-zero for some of the world’s most iconic wine flavors, has about 2000 growers, but about 80% of Alsace wine comes from fewer than 200 of them. For contrast, Napa produces fifty times the amount of wine that Alsace does, and Bordeaux, sixty times as much. But you may, at times, find that these two Cab/Merlot powerhouses emulate one another in style, weight and direction, whereas Alsace stands apart from the rest of the wine world as a unique bastion of climatic and geological diversity that makes their distinctive treatment of familiar grape varieties unparalleled.

These are wines to fall in love with, both supple and delicate simultaneously.

Gastronomic Versatility: Alsatian Wines For All Dishes

The key to successful wine/food pairs is hardly rocket science, but it can boil down to science nonetheless. And herein lies the rub: You’ll find as many scholarly analyses that tell you to pair tannic wines with roasted meat as will tell you to pair fruity, slightly off-dry wine with the same course. Tart, slightly sour courses can be matched with a high-acid wine… or a wine that is on the sweet side. At the core of the dichotomy, of course, is the ‘compliment or contrast’ paradox.

Fortunately, Alsace produces wine in such a spectacular array of styles that with a little labor-of-love practice, you’ll discover your preferred solution. From the crisp sparkle of Crémant d’Alsace to the dry and distinct mineral notes of Grand Cru, to the mellow sweetness of Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) and Sélection de Grains Nobles dessert wines—each treated with equal importance by vignerons—there is taste to suit virtually any mouthful.

Prelude To The Meal

When your guests arrive, an icebreaker does not need to contain ice, but the appropriate chill is always appreciated. Red wines, in particular, tend to be served too warm. In this case, Domaine Schoffit ‘Vieilles Vignes Vendange Entière’ hits its refreshing high-water mark at around 55°F, somewhat lower than the typical household room temperature. Likewise, the tendency is to transfer white wine directly from refrigerator to glass, which is too cold to appreciate the nuance of an Alsatian white. Give it ten or fifteen minutes to pick up some ambient room warmth—it will show much better.


•1• Domaine Weinbach, 2020 Alsace Pinot Blanc ($31)
Made of hand-picked, organically grown grapes from the Clos des Capucins climat (first planted in 1612—that is not a typo) and another plot in the Cuvée Laurence vineyard. And now for the odd news: This wine is 70% Auxerrois; a low acid, full-bodied varietal most at home in Alsace where laws permit it to be used anonymously in wines labeled Pinot Blanc—to the extent that wines that are 100% Auxerrois may, in fact, be labeled Pinot Blanc without falling afoul of rules. In this wine, 30% is Pinot Blanc, and it shows intense, very ripe pear notes behind some butter and rum raisin balanced by lots of juicy acidity that resolves into a contrast of sweet honey and salty minerality.


Domaine Weinbach

Named after the little stream which runs through the property, Domaine Weinbach was first planted with vines in the 9th century and established as a winery by Capuchin friars in 1612. After being sold as national property during the French Revolution, it was acquired by the Faller brothers in 1898, who then left it to their son and nephew, Théo Faller. Following his death in 1979, his wife Colette and daughters Catherine and Laurence continued the family’s passion for the great wines of Alsace until the untimely deaths of Colette and Laurence. Since 2016, Catherine has led the estate winery with her sons, Eddy and Théo.

Domaine Weinbach owns 65 acres of vineyards in the Kaysersberg valley in the Haut-Rhin of Alsace at between 600 and 1300 feet above sea level. Vines are grown organically with a view to quality rather than quantity and grapes. Unlike most producers in Alsace, who purchase from négociants, Weinbach vinifies only estate grown grapes, and their aging philosophy is best described as passive, carried out in huge old oak foudres, a technique they believe allows each climat and each terroir (along with the other unique characteristics of grape and vintage) to shimmer through and produce elegant and sophisticated wines.


•2• Christophe Lindenlaub ‘En Équilibre’, 2021 Alsace Riesling ‘natural’ ($35)
100% Dorlisheim Riesling comes from 25-year-old vines. The grapes are cold-soaked and direct-pressed into stainless steel tanks, then aged ‘sur lie’ for eight months in stainless steel. This is a wine well-anchored in the ‘natural’ category, unfined and unfiltered and shining with elegant liveliness, crunchiness and notes of white flowers and citrus fruits, leading to a mineral-driven finish.



Christophe Lindenlaub

When (in 2014) Christophe Lindenlaub forwent the use of Sulfur in the cellar, his wines were said to take on his personality: Unfined, unfiltered and brimming with energy. Not that his family had not been producing outstanding grapes all along—the Lindenlaubs have been farming since 1759 in the large village of Dorlisheim in the Bas-Rhin, located along the Alsace wine route to the west and a touch south of Strasbourg.

Christophe’s father Jacques started bottling the family’s wines in the 1970s; at the time, they were still raising livestock, and it would be another decade before they plunged fully into winemaking. Christophe arrived on the scene in 1999 to work alongside his father with a specific direction in mind: Organics. The twenty-acre estate, built upon clay and limestone with scattered sandstone, was officially certified thus in 2012.


•3• Domaine Schoffit ‘Vieilles Vignes Vendange Entière’, 2018 Alsace Pinot Noir ($32)
‘Vendange Entière’ refers to whole-cluster fermentation—a cellar technique intended to make a given wine more complex, weaving in spicy and herbal tones while adding candied and airy fruit and tannin structure, and also, to smooth out high acidity. In short, it is a method winemakers use to override anything lacking in a cool climate Pinot. Here, it works, and the wine is finely knit, featuring crushed black cherry, mandarin orange peel, Herbes de Provence and anise notes.


Domaine Schoffit

As the southernmost Grand Cru, Rangen de Thann is a fitting ‘ciao’ to Alsace; ‘ciao’, of course, can translate to either ‘hello’ or ‘goodbye’ depending on the direction you are heading. With Bernard Schoffit, it is high time the world gave him a hearty hello and never mind the rest; he is a star who has not yet supernovaed in the wine universe, and as a result, his gems are extremely affordable.

To call a man a ‘pioneer’ who cultivates wine country that has been famous for eight hundred years (vintage 1228 was described as ‘extremely good; so hot you could fry an egg in the sand’) may seem a stretch, but the spirit that impelled Bernard Schoffit to purchase 16 acres around Clos Saint-Théobold belongs to a frontiersman. Previously abandoned because the slopes were deemed too steep to work, the vines in question (in Rangen de Thann AOP) grew on a plot of soil that has been likened to Montrachet and Chambertin. And from this forbidding site, relying on extremely low yields, he is making extraordinary wine with each cépage.

In addition, Schoffit raises grapes in the lieu-dit Harth, an alluvial terroir close to the commercial area of Hussen in northern Colmar, and three acres in the granitic Grand Cru Sommerberg to the south of Katzental and to the north of Niedermorschwihr. In Harth, Schoffit tends 80 years old Chasselas vines, of which a few percent are replanted each year as an illustration of Schoffit’s long-term perspective.

Based near Colmar, Bernard took the winery over from his father Robert and his son Alexandre is now a co-owner. Demonstrating the estate’s commitment to sustainable agriculture Alexandre maintains, “All our vineyards are organic, and we also started to work biodynamic a few years ago. In order to show more transparency, I decided in 2016 to launch the official certification process, but for administrative reasons it was stretched over different years. The first wines officially labeled fully organic will be some cuvées of the 2019 vintage (Harth Riesling and Harth Pinot Gris for example), and the rest of the classic range will follow in the 2020 vintage. For the Grand Crus, it will be from the 2022 vintage. The official certification for biodynamic is in progress and we are still waiting to know from when we will be able to use it on the labels. But for now, Domaine Schoffit gives the assurance that we are both bio and biodynamic!”

Thanksgiving Toast

Today’s planet has as much to toast as it has to mourn, so take a moment with your guests to raise a glass to our survival and perhaps, to commemorate those who have not been so fortunate.

France’s ingenious Méthode Champenoise makes the quintessential toasting wine, but such singular improvements have been made throughout the world of bubbles that now is an ideal time to expand your horizons beyond the familiar world of Champagne. As in the Grand Crus of Alsace, Crémant AOP is riddled with rules, some even stricter than Champagne’s. Among them, Rosé may only be made from Pinot Noir. Additionally, the harvest must come from vines into its 3rd growing season and the wine may not be bottled for the second fermentation before January 1 of the year after the harvest. The wine must then spend at least 12 months ‘sur latte’ before disgorging. It is—like Champagne—required to be made via Méthode Traditionnelle.

•4• Domaine Valentin Zusslin, Crémant d’Alsace Rosé Brut Zéro ($37)
A perfectly dry Brut Zéro, and since it is forbidden for Crémant producers to blend red and white grapes to make rosé, this one is 100% Bollenberg Pinot Noir, created and bottled without sulfites. It is an elegant saignée rosé with red berry aromas on the nose, intense fruit-skin intensity and a striking mineral profile to the finish.




Domaine Valentin Zusslin

Aligned with the same winemaking traditions it first established in 1691, Zusslin is located in the southern part of Alsace in Orschwir on the Bollenberg, Clos Liebenberg (a Zusslin monopole) and the hillsides of Pfingstberg Grand Cru.

Early to the Crémant game, the domain was also an early practitioner of biodynamics, having introduced this philosophy to viticulture in 1997. Says Valentin: “We plant cover crops to encourage good insects and microbial life for the soil, encourage bees to pollinate the beneficial plants and we grow trees to attract the birds that eat the harmful bugs. This way of thinking carries through everything we do in the fields and in the winery.”

In addition, his wife Marie insists that their lifestyle goes far beyond a philosophy, and as evidence, she indicates the wall on the property that bears names of 13 generations of Zusslin winegrowers: “We represent not only history, but the circle of life.”

To Accompany The Meal

When the curtain rises on the main event, cast and crew must be on cue; no more dress rehearsal holidays, this is opening night. And although we’d only recommend diva wines for this important matchup, the fact is that fancy-costume labels should not be a deciding factor when there are plenty of remarkable main-floor wines available for mezzanine prices. Roast turkey is synonymous with Thanksgiving of course, although it is by no means a mandate. Not only that, but the accompaniments—traditional or novel—represent a wide variety of textures, flavors and attitudes, from crunchy to sweet and unctuous to salty. It’s often wise to curate a selection of wines rather than look for a perfect pairing to a single wine, or even a single style. These three selections offer a range of options, a weight for every side course and a flavor for every palate.


•5• Domaine Valentin Zusslin, 2018 Alsace ‘Bollenberg’ Pinot Noir ($47)
A biodynamic and 100% Pinot Noir from the long-awaited 2018 vintage, the wine is from vines planted on the slopes of the Bollenberg lieu-dit, where the limestone equates to finesse and a salty undertone. The vineyard sits at the foot of the Vosges Mountains in one of the driest places in France with only about 15 inches of annual rainfall. Supple and silky, showing tones of cherry and minerality.



•6• Domaine Meyer-Fonné, 2017 Alsace Altenbourg Pinot Noir ($48)
Among the best of Alsace’s new guard of Pinot Noirs, this seductive wine (with notes of tea leaves, strawberries and blackberries) is in the class of many Premier Cru Burgundies. It is spectacular now, and should improve for a decade.





Domaine Meyer-Fonné

Félix Meyer is one of those winemakers whom you sense is a star that will grow ever brighter with every vintage. He is the third generation in his family to be making wine since his grandfather founded Meyer-Fonné in the late 19th century and, since taking over 1992, Félix has modernized equipment, developed export sales and is currently driving the family’s holdings deeply into the best vineyards of Alsace.

According to Félix: “Our vineyard covers eighteen hectares and seven communes, where the nature of the soils, the relief of the land and levels of exposure are varied. The soils range from poor quality filtering alluvial deposits (Colmar) to rich, deep clayey sandstone land in Riquewihr, with granite in between in Katzental, while the reliefs range from the flats of Colmar to the steeply sloping Katzental. The degrees of exposure are also very varied, ranging from the cooler western part which is suitable for the earlier vine types to the south-facing part which is very warm and sunny. This great variety of terroirs constitutes a distinctiveness and a richness in relation to many of the French vineyards.”

A stickler for detail with an overriding sense of responsibility, both the family and the earth, he makes his home in Katzental, known for its distinctive granite soils. With this remarkable terroir beneath his feet, Meyer has developed a knack for mixing wine from various of his parcels into complex and balanced cuvées. Among his cellar tricks is leaving wine to age on lees in large, older foudres, as was once the tradition in Alsace. All of Meyer’s bottlings are characterized by their stunning aromatics and signature backbone of minerality and electric acidity.


•7• Domaine Mann, 2017 Alsace Letzenberg Pinot Gris ($35)
Letzenberg means ‘last mountain’ and the lieu-dit is on an elevation created by long-ago glacial activity; the site is clay and limestone that leaves a pronounced minerality to the wines. A beautiful example of Alsatian Pinot Gris, the wine shows floral notes, citrus and bruised apples while the palate is ripe with orange blossom and honey with a long acid-rich finish.




Domaine Mann

After stints in Côte-Rôtie and Champagne, where he learned the value of biodynamics from Bertrand Gautherot, Sébastien Mann has been making wine at the family estate since 2009 after taking over for his father. He says, “I think that, thanks to biodynamics, we have succeeded in bringing an additional element to our vines. My father made wines essentially linked to the earth; I have an even more holistic style, linked to the stars.”

Domaine Mann’s 32 acres were founded upon the theory that in order to produce terroir-driven wines with aging potential, legally allowable yields have to be cut in half. From the outset, the estate produced 35 cuvées, one for each parcel.

“The style of the wines changed very quickly when I came on board,” Sébastien maintains. “95% of the wines we produce now are dry. It was not an easy task, since Alsace is one of the warmest and driest regions in France. Grapes can easily ripen with a high sugar level. I don’t think my father could imagine that with biodynamics we would be able to achieve such a great evolution, achieving phenolic maturity while making dry wines.”


•8• Domaine Albert Mann, 2020 Alsace Riesling ($31)
100% biodynamic Riesling offering juicy fresh green apple infused with orange and lime peel on the nose, lively acidity and lift on the palate along with notes of apricot, violets, and tangerine with the slightest seductive hint of petrol on the palate and hints of salt and chalk on the finish.





Domaine Albert Mann

According to David Schildknecht of ‘The Wine Advocate’, “The Barthelmé brothers, Jacky and Maurice, have maintained their position near the forefront of Alsace viticulture by farming relatively far-flung and outstanding vineyards as well as offering excellent value virtually throughout their range.”

The fifty acres for which the Barthelmé are responsible are highly regarded throughout Alsace. Headquartered in the village of Wettolsheim near Colmar, the spirit animal of the operation is Albert Mann, Maurice’s father-in-law. He was the first to hit upon the idea of using modern production tools without neglecting the constraints of the land and his philosophy was to make wine using the elements of the soil, without the help of fertilizers. The Barthelmé brothers have embraced his beliefs and are now at the forefront of organic/biodynamic Alsace producers. The goal of the estate is to produce wine that is in harmony with nature: “Wine is the memory of the grape and is capable of transmitting the taste of the earth.’

The brothers began practicing biodynamic viticulture in 1997 in three of their Grand Crus vineyards, receiving certification from Biodyvin in 2015. This labor-intensive technique is intended to give the wine the purest reflection of its terroir and own identity. Says Maurice, “In ploughing the vineyards, we encourage the roots to descend to a maximum depth to capture the beneficial mineral elements from degraded rock below. Our holdings are divided up into a myriad of distinct plots, thus ensuring that each wine is reflective of their precise origins, while remaining as complex and multi-faceted as possible.”

The domain owns vines in five separate Grand Cru sites. Hengst and Schlossberg are two of the better known. Hengst (meaning stallion) has a southeast orientation and shallow stony/calcareous soil while Schlossberg, with its steep, terraced slopes of granite, sand and shale, yields particularly expressive wines with pronounced floral bouquets. Both sites produce wines that age superbly.

For or With Dessert

On Thanksgiving, there are those who consider dessert an entirely separate meal, generally offered after a breather and, in the case of football fans, a nail-biter game. Hedonism is a given, and a sugar blast from confections is as easy as pie or as complex and elaborate as your inner pastry chef can concoct.

Fortunately for the wine decision, Alsace offers two categories of dessert-style wine; Vendanges Tardives is made from late harvested grapes and must be made from Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris or Muscat.

Domaine Albert Boxler, 2018 Alsace ‘Boland’ Vendanges Tardives Gewürztraminer ($71) – 500 ml
Jean Boxler of Domaine Albert Boxler owns some of the most highly sought-after vineyard land in Alsace, including plots in the storied Grand Crus Sommerberg and Brand. Boland is a lieu-dit directly adjacent to Brand, a steep limestone slope that has, over the years, yielded mesmerizing expressions of Gewürztraminer. In truly special years such as 2018, Boxler plays a game of patience and harvests late for a Gewürztraminer Boland Vendanges Tardives. A deep and luscious dessert wine for the ages, it is loaded with aromas of flowers, spices, and dripping honey—an utter masterpiece of Alsatian viticulture.




Domaine Albert Boxler

Fastidious And Painstaking Viticulture In Quest of Purity And Verticality Of Expression

The list of storybook names in Alsace does not always include Domaine Albert Boxler (who produces a scant 5200 cases of wine per year) but it should; there are few serious critics who would take exception to the statement that Jean Boxler, Albert Boxler’s grandson, is responsible for producing some of the most complex and terroir-driven white wines not only in Alsace, but in the world. In an equal blend of nature and nurture, Boxler’s portfolio contains a remarkable roster of racy, intensely structured and very long-lived wines.

The Boxler family’s 32-acre holding is centered around the ancient village of Niedermorschwihr in the Haut-Rhin, dominated by the imposing granite hillside Grand Cru, Sommerberg. “At the conclusion of World War II, my grandfather Albert returned to Niedermorschwihr from Montana, where he had been busy enjoying the natural gifts of Big Sky country.” Jean says. “He was in time to harvest the 1946 crop. He became the first generation to bottle the family’s production himself and commercialize it under a family label—in fact, the wine still wears a label drawn by our cousin. My father Jean-Marc continued the tradition for several decades until passing the baton to me in 1996.”

Jean Boxler, Domaine Albert Boxler

Jean vinifies micro-parcels separately, de-classifying some into his Réserve wines and producing multiple bottlings of Sommerberg from the different lieux-dits depending on the vintage. Sommerberg Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc are the specialties of the domain, while Boxler also produces one of Alsace’s best Crémants (and Edelzwicker), an incredible Gewürztraminer grown in limestone, and some of the most hauntingly pure Vendanges Tardives and SGNs in all of Alsace. If that weren’t enough, the Boxlers also own land in the powerful Grand Cru Brand, the ultimate counterpart to their holdings in Sommerberg.

“The Sommerberg hillside terminates in my driveway,” Jean laughs, “making it easy to basically live in the vineyards and ensure exceptionally healthy fruit year after year. After harvest, our wines are vinified and aged in old foudres in a small cellar underneath the family home until bottling. Not much has changed over the centuries because not much has needed to.”

2020: A Highflying Vintage

Global warming is playing into virtually every vintage report, and 2020 is no different. In Alsace, it began with an unusually warm spring, which saw both an early budburst and flowering. The heat followed through developing into an extremely hot, dry summer and drought became a serious issue for some vineyard plots, as the delicate nature of Alsace white grapes means they are particularly sensitive to heat stress.

There was enough intermittent rainfall to prevent the grapes from becoming completely parched although the high temperatures inevitably sped up the growing season and prompted an early harvest, which began during another heatwave, meaning that pickers had to be careful grapes were brought in under suitably cool conditions.

Overall, despite the problems with drought, the grapes tended to be in good condition, with their essential aromatics and acidities preserved, making for many nice, high-flying wines.

Domaine Albert Boxler ‘Réserve’, 2020 Edelzwicker d’Alsace ($35)
‘Edelzwicker’ is a term that throws newbies to the world of Alsace, but it indicates a blend of the allowable white grapes of the region. Here, Jean Boxler ‘steals’ from his Grand Cru Riesling and Pinot Gris and adds Pinot Blanc and Sylvaner to produce a honeyed and luscious nectar with pineapple and lychee on the nose and a soft mid-palate with green apple and pear, a nice assertion of the superb Pinot Blanc.




Pinot Blanc d’Alsace

Pinot Blanc is often thought of as understudy to Chardonnay (especially in Burgundy, where it is still permitted in many Grand Cru vineyards), but it takes on the diva’s role in Alsace. It is the region’s favorite mutant, the ‘white sheep’ of the Noir family since it is a genetic anomaly that originated as Pinot Noir, but with a smaller concentration of color-producing anthocyanins. Alsace puts the grape to work in the production of still, sparkling and sweet dessert wines, although it is frequently overshadowed by more popular Alsatian gems made from Gewürztraminer and Riesling.

Pinot Blanc d’Alsace frequently displays toasted almond aromas with hints of pie spice; nutmeg especially. On the palate they show a range of creamy applesauce flavors, and may display some light mineral characteristics, although these are generally muted by the oak treatment that Alsatian winemakers tend to favor.

Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Pinot Blanc ($40)
A domain flagship, from 40-year-old vines. It shows clean and crisp peach aromas with a hint of almonds and pale chamomile within a creamy texture that resolves itself with the coolness of damp stone.







Domaine Albert Boxler ‘Réserve’, 2020 Alsace Pinot Blanc ($54)
Blending very poor plots of the Grand Cru Brand with a parcel next to the domain that contains 50-year-old vines, the 2020 Pinot Blanc Réserve offers an elegant nose with lime notes and apple aromas in which the stony terroir takes the forefront.






Riesling d’Alsace

With little space for argument, the statement can be made that Alsace produces some of the most terroir-reflective Rieslings on earth, echoing precisely the mix of granite, limestone, schist and sandstone on which they are grown. The wine is rarely oaked and only produced in off-dry versions labeled Vendanges Tardives (late harvest) or Sélection de Grains Nobles (from grapes affected by botrytis). In general, it is the most prolific grape among Alsatian vineyards, accounting for 22% of planted acreage. Average annual Riesling production is about 33.6 million bottles by some 950 producers.

The wines are intensely linear, and have a distinctively complex acid structure and high concentration. Aromatic and expressive, they display intense aromas of citrus, peach, pear, white flowers and a steely minerality and are particularly well-suited to aging, where the fruit recedes and yields to aromas of beeswax, lanolin, butter, smoke, pine, honey, butterscotch, mushroom, lemon candy and especially, overtones of gasoline, which is more delectable than it sounds.

Domaine Albert Boxler ‘Réserve’, 2020 Alsace Riesling ($72)
Sourced from the Dudenstein lieu-dit within Sommerberg (because the other two parcels normally added to the Réserve were too low in acidity), the 2020 Riesling Réserve is bright and aromatic with ripe peach and mango intertwined with soft smoke. Slightly piquant in the style of the best Alsace Rieslings, the finish is structured and dense, yet maintains its signature cleanliness on the palate.




Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Sommerberg Riesling ($99)
The granitic soils of Sommerberg are further shaped within the wine by allowing the élevage time to develop in well-seasoned foudres. The wine, with the potential to become even better over the years, shows perfectly ripe fruit rife with the beautifully flinty and herbal terroir notes of the super-steep vineyard.





Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Sommerberg ‘Eckberg’ Riesling ($117)
From 45-year-old vines in a steep mid-slope lieu-dit in the geographic center of the Sommerberg, the Eckberg parcel is vinified separately by Boxler only in exceptional years; 2020 certainly qualifies. The wine boasts vivacious acidity combined with saline undertones that set off apricot, citrus, wet rock, honeycomb and freshly-cut jasmine.





Pinot Gris d’Alsace

Another mutation within the Pinot family, Pinot Gris is a sibling of Pinot Noir and Pinot Blanc, and perhaps among the most double-faced grapes on earth: It creates the light, crisp, often forgettable Pinot Grigios of northern Italy and (without undergoing any mutations whatsoever) becomes rich and unctuous in Alsace. Location, location, location… and restricted yields.

Most identifiable by ripe poached pear notes, in Alsace the grape also reveals a floral, flinty, smoky, spicy and honeyed profile, allowing winemakers to revel in the possibilities.

“In the past, Grand Cru Alsace Pinot Gris was usually made in an off-dry or sweet style, but today, it is possible to make it in a dry style,” says Alsatian winemaker Samuel Tottoli. “For me, it is necessary to vinify it dry. Low yields from stony vineyards ensure the wine is concentrated, while prime sites with well-drained soils further promote ripening before too much sugar develops in the grapes.”

Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Brand Pinot Gris ($99)
No spot on earth is better suited to Pinot Gris than the Turckheim Grand Cru of Brand, where steep southern exposure on granite allows the vines to deliver grapes with the rich, smoky depth of which this varietal is capable. The bright aromas of orchard blossoms on the nose ease into white peach notes livened by bolts of lime. Fresh and spicy throughout, the structure shows the depth and breeding of the vineyard with the intense attack of fully-ripened fruit.




Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Florimont Pinot Gris ($99)
Meaning ‘Hill of Flowers’ and true to its name, the south-facing Florimont vineyard delivers beautifully aromatic white wines. The 2020 is remarkablely ripe while maintaining its refined purity, offering aromas of lime marmalade, sweet peaches, toasted almond with honeycomb and orange zest around a crisp core of minerality.





Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Sommerberg ‘Wibtal’ Pinot Gris ($117)
Wibtal is the highest-altitude lieu-dit in the Sommerberg vineyard, an amphitheater that clings to the very top of the vineyard’s steep granite slope—when Jean Boxler looks out his kitchen window in the morning, he sees the sun glinting off its trellises. The site produces sumptuously rich and perfumed Pinot Gris that maintains vibrant acidity and a stony backbone to shore up the stewed apples, candied lemons and almond cake palate.



Gewürztraminer d’Alsace

If ever a grape variety can be thought of as an ‘acquired taste’, it’s Gewürztraminer, whose unctuous, oily, often musky scent is (at least) easy to recognize. It is a white wine, although the grapes themselves are pink and impart a slight tint to the juice, making it a wine identifiable not only by bouquet, but by color alone.

Gewürz performs best on the heavier, clay soils of Alsace’s Haut-Rhin department, and can quite easily attain the sort of ripeness needed for the sensational late-harvest bottlings labeled Vendanges Tardives and Sélection de Grains Nobles. That said, the variety ripens so fast it needs to be planted somewhere relatively cool if it is to develop any discernible perfume but must be harvested while acid levels remain high enough to balance sugars.

Domaine Albert Boxler ‘Réserve’, 2020 Alsace Gewürztraminer ($61)
A blend of young vines from Heimbourg and Pfoeller vineyard, which has predominately limestone soils, producing the great acidity, pinkish hue and ethereal quality of the variety. The nose offers passionfruit and hints of rose, while in the mouth, the attack is supple and fresh, with spicy notes of pepper and ginger accompanying lychee and pink grapefruit.





Domaine Albert Boxler, 2020 Alsace Grand Cru Brand Gewürztraminer ($99)
A blend of vines from the granite soils of Brand with an average age of 40 years. The wine is a remarkable concentration of candied lemon and lychee aromas with notes of crushed stones and lemon peel. The Grand Cru breeding is proven by the lush tension of the palate, reminiscent of bitter oranges and kumquat.


Pinot Noir d’Alsace

Pinot Noir in Alsace—the only red wine grape permitted by AOP law—is a poster child for the upside of climate change. Once capable of producing only highly acidic, thin-bodied wine except in rare vintages, the slow creep of temperature increases throughout the region has seen a remarkable make-over for Burgundy’s pet red: Pinot Noir d’Alsace is currently producing rustic wines that showcase the varietal’s classic cherries, cranberries, strawberries and raspberries cloaked in supple, soft tannins. In the hands of top producers in particularly warm seasons, these wines are as earthy and complex as Cru Burgundy.

Domaine Albert Boxler ‘S’, 2020 Alsace Pinot Noir ($99)
Grapes come from Grand Cru Sommerberg (that’s what the ‘S’ stands for); only about seven barrels are made each vintage. After a two-week maceration, it is gravity-racked into Burgundian barrels, then aged for 18 months ‘en barrique.’ As the vines are grown in granite soils that retain even less water than their limestone-rooted counterparts, the grapes tend to be small and concentrated, leading to a marvelous robustness, from the smoky nose to the palate ripe with black cherry woven into herbs and flint, with a fresh, clean acidity that makes for a long finish.



Domaine Albert Boxler, 2018 Crémant d’Alsace Brut ($45)
50% Pinot Auxerrois, 30% Pinot Blanc, 20% Pinot Noir, aged in bottle ‘sur latte’ for a minimum of 24 months. The notes of peach, pear and quince that appear so often in Boxler’s wine are here wreathed in a fine, biscuity bead. Dosage is at the level of extra brut,approximately 3 grams/liter.






These Lively, Versatile Ciders Are Perfect For A Crowd. Don’t Worry About Pairing, These Will Go With Anything.

A few bottles from the previous special offer are still available: Hard Cider That Takes Its Cues From Wine: A Taste Of Fall In Artisanal Pure Heirloom Apple Cider From Normandy, Brittany and Catalunya To Pair With Holiday Meals.

Cider that’s ‘hard’ contains alcohol, although generally much less than wine, making it (perhaps) a wiser choice through a holiday season that often involves driving from one celebration to another. In Normandy, for example, sweet ciders have a minimum of 3% abv, while drier styles must reach 5% or 5.5% for Cidre Bouché.

With a choice of dry or sweet styles, food pairing is rife with opportunity. There was a time, of course, when the ciders available to Americans tended to be fizzy, fun and largely uninteresting, but with the arrival of complex and sophisticated ciders from France and Spain, they have an obvious place with a large and multi-course meal. Perhaps surprisingly, cider may be a better main-course accompaniment since richer wines can steamroll turkey.

While every holiday table is different, a few pointers and tips that should help:

Since the French have long treated fermented apple juice with the near-reverence of wine, passing laws that restrict apple varieties (winnowing 750 varieties grown to about fifty) and delineate appellations, as an opening salvo, a high-end cider makes a quaffable alternative to Champagne.

Cider fermented on wine yeast results in a somewhat vinous cider, with flourishes of acidity and rusticity, a fine alternative to a bright white like Sauvignon Blanc.

Most high-end ciders gravitate toward dryness, but a touch of sweetness can buoy a cider’s complexity, especially tannic and ‘sauvage’ characteristics that might feel unbalanced on their own. These are enjoyable as a swap for an off-dry white like a Riesling.

Cider aged in oak barrels rounds out the edges of tart cider with notes of vanilla, making it hold up against heavier courses much as a barrel-aged white wine might.

Sweet with sweet is a rule of thumb, but the beverage should never overpower the food. For dessert courses (especially pie) a fruity cider works best.

Happy Holidays!




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Posted on 2023.11.20 in France, Wine-Aid Packages, Alsace  |  Read more...


Hard Cider That Takes Its Cues From Wine: A Taste Of Fall In Artisanal Pure Heirloom Apple Cider From Normandy, Brittany and Catalunya To Pair With Holiday Meals

Cider country, in northern France, is not like the rest of the country: For one thing, they tend to love Americans—holdover relief from when troops came ashore on D-Day and played a critical role in the liberation. For another, not much wine is produced here— the area known for its production of hard cider, called cidre, is around five hours west of Épernay and much closer to the sea.

About even split between Normandy and Brittany, the rivalry between these two cider-producing regions is legendary. Both claim to have invented the stuff and, naturally, both claim to have the best—a contention that also extends to their crêpes. In general, like most such infighting, it comes down to loyalty or taste. Ciders from Normandy are often more fruity than their Breton counterparts, with varieties containing citrus fruit or pear.

Technically, Brittany ciders are labelled with an Indication Géographique Protégée (IGP), a European label certifying that the drink is made from apples grown in the region, while ciders produced in French Cornouaille – an historical region on the west coast of Brittany – are protected by the Appellation d’Origine protégée (AOP) label, which vouches for the geographical origins of the product and protects the name across the EU. Cidre de Cornouaille AOP unites around 30 cider producers in Brittany.

Normandy cider is also protected by both the IGP and AOP labels; the IGP label indicates bottles with Cidre de Normandie or Cidre Normand. The AOP was labelled for ciders of the Pays d’Auge, an area that takes in parts of the Calvados and Orne departments.

Cidre “Terroir” Or Sense Of Place

When fifteenth century Cistercian monks in Burgundy first began to document the difference in wine quality from various vineyards, they believed that it was a sign from above; that terroir expressed the variegated contours of God’s creation. Although in the modern era, the science of fermentation and a winemaker’s skill in applying and refined production methods have supplanted a monastic explanation for the differences in wine, the quest for a ‘sense of place’ remains alive and well.

In cider production—especially when compared to wine—terroir has traditionally had a less firm hold on the thought processes. For most of the world, cider is a year-long industrial manufacturing process, while in France, especially in controlled appellations, cider is typically made seasonally, following the apple harvest. But like wine from grapes, cider can be redolent not only of the fruit used, but of the locality where it’s grown; the soil, the aspect, the geography and the climate of the orchards. In addition, the age of the orchard is appearing in more and more tech sheet.

All of which is precisely what winemakers call terroir.

The Styles Of French Cidre

The dream-state of most French cidre is to be rich, lush, amber and full of bittersweet apple character; most are low in acidity but well-balanced between the full-bodied fruitiness and tannin. They range from dry to sweet. ‘Fermier’ is farmhouse cidre made where the apples are grown (similar to ‘mis en bouteille au château’ in Bordeaux) and ‘bouché’ refers to the cork stopper, often caged when the cidre is effervescent.

Cidre can be made still or sparkling, desert-style or fortified, or even co-fermented with hops or other fruit juices. So far, the cidres that have impressed us the most have been made from pure, farm-pressed apple juice and electrified with a natural mousse created inside the bottle.

It’s a delightful journey of discovery to the style that best suits your palate, but to take the challenge most authentically, cidre should be sipped from wine glass. Traditionally, country folk could not afford glass, so they used terracotta. The favored receptacles looked like small bowls known as ‘bolées.’

Like wine, many cidres benefit from age. You’ll find that young cidre tends to show strong aromas of fruit ranging from citrus fruit, linden and anise flowers; when fermented in a barrel, notes of caramel, honey and fresh butter appear. In matured ciders have aromatic notes principal among them being vegetal, woody or spicy.

Pairing Cider With Holiday Meals

Cider that’s ‘hard’ contains alcohol, although generally much less than wine, making it (perhaps) a wiser choice through a holiday season that often involves driving from one celebration to another. In Normandy, for example, sweet ciders have a minimum of 3% abv, while drier styles must reach 5% or 5.5% for Cidre Bouché.

With a choice of dry or sweet styles, food pairing is rife with opportunity. There was a time, of course, when the ciders available to Americans tended to be fizzy, fun and largely uninteresting, but with the arrival of complex and sophisticated ciders from France and Spain, they have an obvious place with a large and multi-coursed meal. Perhaps surprisingly, cider may be a better main-course accompaniment since richer wines can steamroll turkey.

While every holiday table is different, a few pointers and tips that should help:

Since the French have long treated fermented apple juice with the near-reverence of wine, passing laws that restrict apple varieties (winnowing 750 varieties grown to about fifty) and delineate appellations, as an opening salvo, a high-end cider makes a quaffable alternative to Champagne.

Cider fermented on wine yeast results in a somewhat vinous cider, with flourishes of acidity and rusticity, a fine alternative to a bright white like Sauvignon Blanc.

Most high-end ciders gravitate toward dryness, but a touch of sweetness can buoy a cider’s complexity, especially tannic and ‘sauvage’ characteristics that might feel unbalanced on their own. These are enjoyable as a swap for an off-dry white like a Riesling.

Cider aged in oak barrels rounds out the edges of tart cider with notes of vanilla, making it hold up against heavier courses much as a barrel-aged white wine might.

Sweet with sweet is a rule of thumb, but the beverage should never overpower the food. For dessert courses (especially pie) a fruity cider works best.



Normandy, which most of us associate with the D-Day invasion of 1944, gets a failing grade in being French: They tend to love Americans. They also love apples, and harvest nearly half a million a year, many (but not all) destined to be transformed into Norman Cidre. Throughout the regions of Calvados, Eure, Manche, Orne and Seine-Maritime, cidre is king, although the menu also includes world-class apple juice, pectin jelly and phenomenal apple-based pastries. In the 9th century, Charlemagne ordered more apple trees to be planted in the region, which is too far north and too sunshine-challenged for world-class grape cultivation. In fact, the Normandy AOP contains a single vineyard: Les Arpents du Soleil.

The Norman apple harvest begins in mid-September, when ripe fruit begins to fall from trees naturally. More than 200 varieties of apples are legally permitted; the most common is the Frequin Rouge, followed by distinctive Michelin and Muscadet de Dieppe.

Marie-Agnès Hérout
Maison Hérout

The Contenin Peninsula, part of the staging area for Operation Overlord (the codename of the Invasion of Normandy) pokes its nose far into the English Channel, and was chosen as a landing site for this very reason. Maison Hérout, known for producing some of the driest and most complex ciders made anywhere, has seen many such incursions—the Hérout family tree goes back to the Vikings, who settled in this area around the ninth and tenth centuries. In fact, many Cotentin village names in the still flaunt Norse roots, like the beautiful Briquebec and Quettetot.

Marie-Agnès Hérout, Maison Hérout
© Hérout Cidres & Calvados

The Hérout estate is located near the town of Auvers, where apples thrive in a lush oceanic climate. The Hérout family began producing cider in the 1940s; today, Marie-Agnès Hérout has taken over the farm and remains true to her heritage by producing some of the finest ciders available from this region. After picking, the apples are grated, macerated, and then pressed with the help of a rack press dating back to 1920, whereupon the juice is left to ferment for four to seven months, often in used Calvados barrels.

Marie-Agnès also continues the family tradition of planting apple trees for future generations and in 2000, began a campaign with the Syndicat de Promotion du Cidre du Cotentin to earn the region’s certification for Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée Cotentin status. In May of 2016, after 16 years of hard work and perseverance, the quest succeeded.

Maison Hérout ‘Micro – Cuvée No 1’, 2019 AOP Cotentin ($23) (Effervescent Brut – Cidre Bio 6.5% abv)
Micro-Cuvée n°1 is an organic cidre distinguished by its orange-yellow color and a fermentation of at least 3 months in used Calvados barrels, which slightly reinforces the alcohol and tannins. Built around Rouge de Cantepie apples from trees between ten and 65 years old, the cidre is fermented for three to five days.





Maison Hérout ‘Micro – Cuvée No 1’, 2020 AOP Cotentin ($23) (Tranquil – Cidre Bio 5.5% abv)
An experimental, still version of the effervescent Brut.





Maison Hérout ‘Micro – Cuvée No 4’, 2020 AOP Cotentin ($23)  (Effervescent – Cidre Bio 4% abv)
A micro-cuvée made of 80% Grasse-Langue, a native Cotentin variety traditionally used for baking. The cuvée is complemented by a blend of bitter and bittersweet varieties to provide structure and balance. The cidre offers aromas of citrus fruits and sour candies behind a balance of bracing acidity.





Maison Hérout ‘Cuvée Tradition’, 2020 AOP Cotentin ($18)  (Effervescent – Cidre Bio 5% abv)
Nicely balanced between sweetness and acidity, the cidre offers subtle aromas of butter and dried herbs; acidity is discreet and the palate expresses bitter, integrated tannins.




Cyril Zangs

Jazz-aficionado Cyril Zangs was a book sales rep in Paris before returning to his native Normandy and jumping into the cidre game with both feet. Of the 200 apple varieties approved for cidre making, he uses 69 of them, and in keeping with the natural wine movement, he ferments on native yeasts, unfiltered and without added Sulfur.

After apple quality, Zangs says, it is all about process: “Each of our varieties possesses a particular characteristic (sweet, bittersweet, bitter, slightly acidic or sour) and are harvested from high-stem orchards which range from fifteen to sixty years old. We harvest by hand between early October and mid-December, when apples are the ripest. Our manual selection process ensures that only the best apples are picked—we then separate the apples by variety and store them in our barns to continue ripening for up to six weeks.”

Cyril Zangs

What happens next? In his own words: “Once sorted to obtain the best flavor balance, the apples are grated to create a marc. This is put through to our hydraulic press and the juice is transferred to vats, and racked during the 6 months long fermentation process. It is left undisturbed apart from infrequent racking, or ‘soutirages’. The unfiltered cidre is bottled with no sulfites added and stocked horizontally for two to three months to capture the sparkle. The bottles are then stored on A-racks and regularly turned for three weeks; we then disgorge every bottle by hand, a process that naturally removes the sediment. Each bottle is topped up with the same disgorged cider, with nothing else added.”

Cyril Zangs ’14 Glos’, 2019 IGP Cidre de Normandie ($27)  (Effervescent Brut – Cidre Bio 5.5% abv)
From the tiny commune of Glos in Calvados, Cyril Zangs produces this IGP cidre—IGP, for reference, is an EU quality classification that became valid in 2009; it means Indication Géographique Protégée and supplanted Vin de Pays. ‘14 Glos’ shows a creamy and rich texture, and displays notes of star anise, orange peel and unsurprisingly, bittersweet apple.





Guillaume & Thierry Desfrièches
Cidrerie Léon Desfrièches et Fils
‘Le Père Jules’

“In 1923, my father distilled his first Calvados”, says Léon Desfrièches, current head of the Desfrièches clan, and who has (since 1949) carried on the cidre and distilling traditions put in place by ‘Père Jules.’ In 1976, Léon’s eldest son Thierry joined him, followed by Guillaume, Thierry’s son, in 2002. Jules, Léon, Thierry and Guillaume—four generations of Desfrièches.

Léon, Thierry & Guillaume Desfrièches, Cidrerie Léon Desfrièches et Fils

Located in the Norman village of Saint Desir, the flagship cidre is made in honor of the late patriarch Jules. Now 85, Léon says: “I would have really liked my father sees what we have accomplished. As for myself, I hope I am like my Calvados: Serene and not afraid of aging with elegance, grace and roundness.”

Cidrerie Léon Desfrièches et Fils ‘Le Père Jules’, IGP Cidre de Normandie ($16)  (Effervescent Brut – 5% abv)
Very mature apple notes do homage to the titular Father Jules, showing white flowers and honey. Upfront in the first mouth, it develops an earthy, rich and fruity bouquet with interesting tannins for a long aftertaste.








Like Normandy, the apple is emblematic of nearby Brittany; there are over 600 varieties grown (though not all are approved for use) and Breton farm cidre is the ultimate local drink. Orchards abound throughout the region, but sites around Dol-de-Bretagne, the Rennes and Vitré valleys, through the length of the Rance valley and the Vannes region are some of the most heralded. Of somewhat lesser importance to the economy, but still vital to the culture are Pommeau de Bretagne AOO and Eau de Vie de Cidre—a vague Breton answer to Calvados.

Like wine, Breton cidre celebrates outstanding vintages, and there are a number of officially sanctioned terroirs: Among them, Cidre de Cornouaille was the first product from Brittany to be granted an Appellation d’Origine Protégée. It comes from an area that covers 38 communities around Quimper that meet certain criteria such as hours of sunshine, rainfall or altitude. Cornouaille is a semi-dry cidre made from 100% pure juice and has a golden color, very fine bubbles and a slight hint of bitterness.


Marc Abel & François Desforges
La Cidrerie du Golfe

In 1998, Marc Abel pointed his future away from the cleanliness of a photograph development lab to the dirt of an apple orchard and found a whole new level of pristinity within his soul. After leaving Paris and relocating in Bretagne (for fresh air and an escape from the city rat race) he continued to work as a photographer until 2010, all the while searching for a job that would respond to his inner farmer. In 2011, he happened upon an abandoned cidery four kilometers from his house and took it as a sign.

Marc Abel & François Desforges

With the help of his friend François, Marc plunged headfirst into cidre making. An earlier encounter with natural wine convinced his that natural cidre—made without additives—was the route to take. Now, with partner Max, he has created a cidre that embraces natural wine’s philosophy and practices to create a cidre that has gained international notice.

Cidrerie du Golfe ‘Cidre d’Ici’, IGP Cidre de Bretagne ($24)  (Effervescent Brut – Cidre Bio 5.5% abv)
Twenty different varieties from old ‘found’ orchards combine to create Cidre d’Ici, the flagship cuvée of the cidery. Balanced and fruit-forward with notes ranging from bitter to bittersweet to sweet and sour, the cidre is an ideal accompaniment to sophisticated meals.






Cidrerie du Golfe ‘Hors-Norme’, 2021 IGP Cidre de Bretagne ($24)  (Effervescent Brut – Cidre Bio 5.5% abv)
Meaning ‘Extraordinary’, Hors-Norme is made with Marie-Ménard, Douce-Coet, Douce-Moen and Judor apples grown in a 23-year-old orchard planted in sandy clay. The cidre is spicy, slightly bitter, and very food friendly.





Cidrerie du Golfe ‘P’tite Cuvée’, IGP Cidre de Bretagne ($26)  (Effervescent Brut – Cidre Bio 5.5% abv)
A monovarietal, meaning that it is made exclusively with one variety of apple; in this case, Guillevic, which is hyperlocal to the region. It results in a crystalline cidre emblematic of the southern Morbihan. It is a ‘cidre de soif’, finely effervescent with delicate acidity and a nice integration of fruit.





Cidrerie du Golfe ‘X-Tra’, 2021 IGP Cidre de Bretagne ($28)  (Effervescent Brut – Cidre Bio 7% abv)
A dozen varieties— Marie-Ménard, Douce-Coet, Douce-Moen, Kermerien, Avrolles, Guillevin, Peau de Chien, Pomme de Moi, Bedan, Petit Jaune, Petit Amer and Judor—make up the cuvée; it is aged two years in tanks and barrels and results in a highly complex, bone-dry cidre with a long, persistent finish.





Cidrerie du Golfe ‘Baphomet’, 2021 IGP Cidre de Bretagne ($37)  (Effervescent Brut – Cidre Bio 7% abv)
Baphomet is a symbol of balance in various occult and mystical traditions; here, recycled lees (used for making Pommeau) form the core of the fermentation process for the cuvée, resulting in a cider of profound depth and rich aromas with a slight woodiness and an intriguing licorice finish.





Cidrerie du Golfe ‘Gueule de Bois’, IGP Cidre de Bretagne ($37)  (Effervescent Brut – Cidre Bio 7% abv)
Translated colloquially to ‘hangover’, Gueule de Bois uses a solera-like method of fermentation, where several generations of apple cider aged between one and nine years create a cider of exceptionally rare complexity.







Hervé Seznec
Cidrerie Manoir du Kinkiz

Hervé Seznec found his calling at an early age and has dedicated himself  to  produce world-class cidre. At the age of 19 he replanted his 74 acres of family orchards with 25 varieties of cidre-friendly apples. The core of his passion was the creation of natural cidre; as such, he uses no herbicides and allows indigenous plants and grass to grow between the trees.

Maugane & Hervé Seznec with their son Louis-Maël, Cidrerie Manoir du Kinkiz

“From the ladybugs that rid our orchards of insects,” he says, “to the almost mystical darkness of the cellars where our AOP Cornouaille cider is aged in huge oak casks, we are making a genuine attempt to return to the hands-on, artisan production methods of our ancestors.”

Cidrerie Manoir du Kinkiz ‘Cidre de Fouesnant’ AOP Cornouaille ($15)  (Effervescent Brut – 5% abv)
Fouesnant is a commune on the south coast of Brittany renowned for its orchards, regarded as the source of some of the very best Breton cidres. Hervé Seznec maintains, “Our Fouesnant cidre is assembled from old apple varieties, all harvested by hand. The apples are then sorted manually, and pressing is done only when the fruit is at its peak ripeness, from late September to December. The fermentation is slow and ends with a second, 2½ month bottle fermentation, giving the cidre its very fine bubbles. This cidre has a lot of personality and is well-defined by its roundness, persistent flavors of freshly cut apple, complemented by notes of butter and hazelnut.”




François Séhédic
Cidre Séhédic

A recipient of the Prix d’Excellence by the French Ministry of Agriculture for the quality of its product, Séhédic cidres are all certified organic. Located in western Brittany, only the traditional apples of the region are used in production. Although they may sound like a cornucopia of the weird and unpronounceable—Dous Moën, Dous Coët, Marie Menard, Kermerlen, Stang Ru, Trojen Hir and Mad Koz—they all contribute to a complex and age-worthy beverage.

François Séhédic, Cidre Séhédic

Cidre Séhédic has three apple orchards across 45 acres; some of the trees are more than 40 years old. All cidre is made without the addition of sugar, water or SO2. The Séhédic family has been producing cidre since 1950, with the second generation Marie Laure Séhédic and her husband Christian Danielou now running the operation.

Cidre Séhédic ‘Fouesnant’, IGP Cidre de Bretagne ($15)  (Effervescent Brut – Cidre Bio 5.5% abv)
Produced from 30 heirloom varieties: Rich aromas of ginger and cinnamon spiced apple-sauce followed by a finely-textured palate; more savory stewed apple with an appealing acid-driven tartness on the finish, and lasting notes of baking spices and stony minerality.







Cédric Le Bloas
Cidrerie du Léguer

Du Léguer is located six hours directly west of Paris; so far that to go any further west, you’d get your feet wet. In this apple-friendly maritime region, Cédric Le Bloas farms 15 acres, raising artisan varieties like Marie Ménard, Jeanne Renard, Peau de Chien and the sharpest apples, Judor, Locart Vert, Rouget de Dol and Petit Jaune.

Cédric Le Bloas, Cidrerie du Léguer
© Le Trégor

According to Cédric, “Each cuvée is made according to my taste, however the same process is followed time and again. The trees are hand harvested three times between October and December, before further ripening in crates before pressing up to four weeks later. The cidres go through two ferments: the first lasting five months before bottling, followed by a three month fermentation in bottle. The cidres are bottled with no Sulfur, just pure juice, naturally sparkling and spontaneous, no collage, only racking and filtering when required.”

Cidrerie du Léguer ‘BrutBrut’, IGP Cidre de Bretagne ($17)  (Effervescent Brut – Cidre Bio 6.8% abv)
Sourced from two different orchards, the cidre is made with an apple blend that is 5% bitter, 50% bitter-sweet, 25% sweet, 20% sharp. As with all of Cédric’s cidres, it is made from apples that have fallen and were allowed to further ripen in wooden crates. Cédric uses the old-school process of “keeving” to clean the musts (thus they are not filtered) and all fermentations are natural. The cidre is woody and vinous, showing aromas of dry apples, mild barnyard notes and earth along with a touch of vanilla.




Hard Cider With A Catalan Attitude

‘Sidra’ gets less press than Sherry or Cava, but fermented cider has been a staple throughout Northern Spain—which sees far more rainfall than the vine-loving south—since the first century. Although 80% of Spanish ciders are made in Asturias in the northwest, sidra from Catalunya (like everything Catalan) has its own special personality.

Sidra Catalana is made primarily in the provinces of Girona and Lleida, and unlike some Spanish ciders, tends to have slightly sparkling profile. The town of Olot in the Garrotxa region is known for its cider production and its annual Festa de la Poma.


Marc Fuyà
Serps Sidra

Joanetes in La Vall d’en Bas is a four-acre orchard now under the care of Marc Fuyà and provides the source material for Serps—a treasure trove of Catalan sidras as unique and idiosyncratic as Marc himself.

Marc Fuyà, Serps Sidra

After stints cooking in London and Barcelona and playing music throughout the continent, Marc succumbed to the gravitational pull of Girona, where the biodiversity of its environs convinced him that ‘Serps’ would be his retirement plan, a cidery dedicated to rescuing local apples on the verge of extinction. He also draws fruit from several orchards around Girona and the Pyrenees, including some located in a national park and sourced in collaboration with a conservation project.

Noting that many wild varieties of apple only produce in alternate years, Marc jokes, “Apples are much more clever than humans. If you work a lot one year, the next year you go on holidays.”

Serps Sidra ‘Gos Com Fux’, 2021 Catalunya (Spain) ($26) (Effervescent Brut – Natural 6.5% abv)
Made with Clon Pink x Gala, Reineta Gris, Golden Russeting, Pink Lady, Judor, Granny Smith apples sourced from coastal orchards in Empordà, the sidra undergoes a 12-hour maceration before pressing. Varieties are co-fermented and undergo a second fermentation after being bottled by hand without fining or filtration.




Serps Sidra ‘Lord’, 2021 Catalunya (Spain) ($29) (Effervescent Brut – Natural 7.2% abv)
A blend of Story Inored, Mandy, Crimson Crisp, Opal, Fengapi, Golden and Manzana Silvestre apples co-fermented on native yeast after a short maceration and press. It is bottled before first fermentation finishes to capture the bubbles in the bottle; no filtration or Sulfur is used.






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Posted on 2023.11.10 in Cidre, Cider, France  | 


The Whole Of The Sum And Its ‘Still’ Parts: Lelarge-Pugeot’s Coteaux-Champenois Premier Cru Vrigny in Red, Rosé & White + Single-Premier Cru Champagne Vrigny & Gueux Five-Bottle Pack (3 Coteaux-Champenois + 2 Champagne $359)

It’s a cosmic, back-to-the-future shift in thinking, and it is a change sweeping Champagne in both attitude and aesthetics. For the past fifty years or so, the editorial focus on sparkling wine has tended to focus on the cellar; blending regimens and methodology. However interesting these conversations are, most winemakers have never lost sight of the fact that their product draws its primary identity from the vine. And it this expression of terroir—an afterthought through much of the twentieth century—that has moved to the front of the bus in modern discussions of Champagne as a wine, it’s first and foremost obligation.

This week’s package consists of a five-bottle sampler from one of the Montagne de Reims most forward-looking producers, the ‘Two Dominiques’—winemakers and owners Dominique Lelarge and Dominique Pugeot—of Lelarge-Pugeot. These eighth-generation winemakers feature certified organic and biodynamic vineyards, making Meunier-focused wines from lesser known lieux-dits in somewhat obscure terroirs.

Champagne Tapestry: Blending The Parts For The Whole

As the emphasis on individual terroir begins to supplant homogeneity in Champagne talking points, it is no wonder that more attention is being placed on ‘vin clair’—still Champagne prior to the added bells and whistles of cellar work. Even when a final blend is the goal, Houses like Roederer will vinify plots individually. Says Chef de Cave Jean-Baptiste Lécaillon, “I work with 410 individual parcels of vines and use 450 different vessels to ferment them. It creates a lot of work, because each of these wines is held in a separate tank until they are ready. But for me, it is vital that each plot is able to fully express its individual character.”

Blending is a Champagne paradigm; it was a blended wine even before it sparkled. Because of the cool, often inhospitable climate, combining batches from different villages and lots from other vintages was insurance against a poor harvest. Terroir, therefore, takes on a slightly different role here than it does in Burgundy, where climat blending is forbidden by law. In Champagne, an intricate tapestry is woven from villages—and vineyards—that produce still wine with contrasting, but ultimately harmonious personalities.

Far from diluting terroir, this method proves its value.

The Montagne de Reims, Grande & Petite: Variations Of Soil

Located between Reims and Épernay, the Montagne de Reims is a relatively low-lying (under a thousand feet in elevation) plateau, mostly draped in thick forest. Vines find a suitable home on the flanks, forming a horseshoe that opens to the west.

So varied are the soils, topographies and microclimates here that it is not possible to speak of the region in any unified sense. Grande Montagne de Reims, which contains all of the region’s Grand Cru vineyards, covers the northern, eastern and southern slopes of the viticultural area, and Pinot Noir plantings dominate at 57%, followed by Chardonnay (30%) and Meunier (13%). Its vineyards face a multitude of directions, and soil type varies by village, giving rise to a breadth of Pinot Noir expressions, as well as exceptional Chardonnay.

To the west, the Grande Montagne de Reims gives way to the Petite, whose bedrock is chalk, but softer than the chalk found further south on the Côte des Blancs. This sort, called ‘tuffeau’, is an extremely porous, sand-rich, calcium carbonate rock similar to what is found in wine regions of the middle Loire Valley.

The Petite Montagne: The Primary Home of Meunier

In French, the word ‘petite’ often to refers to a ‘lesser’ commodity, but with La Petite Montagne, the reference is to elevation. This lower elevation means warmer weather, even in Champagne’s northerly climate, and in certain villages, the soils contain more sand, making it an ideal environment for growing Meunier.

Meunier accounts for approximately half of the plantings in the Petite Montagne, with Pinot Noir making up 35% and the rest Chardonnay. It is a growing conviction among growers of the modern era that Meunier is a Champagne grape whose time has come, especially as an age-worthy variety. Emmanuel Brochet of Villers-aux-Noeuds says, “People claim that Meunier ages too quickly, even faster than Chardonnay. I disagree. The curve of evolution is different. Meunier is quick to open and more approachable in youth, but then it becomes quite stable. Chardonnay tends to open later, but old Meunier remains very fresh and lively.”

Champagne & Domaine


‘Everything Starts in The Vineyard’

In 1985, when Dominique Lelarge took over his family estate, his first order of business was to improve the quality of the soil in the vineyard, and this began with a more sustainable farming approach. To this day, he views the use of pesticide an inherent threat to nature, and treats this understanding as a wake-up call: “Life is a gift from nature,” he says. “Everything starts in the vineyard, so it is important for us to respect what nature handed us.”


Although the Lelarge family has grown grapes in Vrigny since 1799, the last two decades have seen the leadership of the two Dominiques (winemakers and owners Dominique Lelarge and Dominique Pugeot) embrace and encourage diversity in both their ecosystem and in their outlook on Champagne production. Nestled in the Premier Cru village of Vrigny on the Montagne de Reims slopes—a mere 15 minutes west of Reims—their 21 acres are planted primarily to Meunier (11 acres), but a percentage of Pinot Noir (7 acres) and Chardonnay (3.4 acres) also figure into their blended wines.

Certified organic since 2014 and biodynamic since 2017 by Demeter, Lelarge-Pugeot encompasses 42 distinct parcels flourishing at elevations averaging 400 ft.

“We do not make wine so much as we farm vines, meticulously looking after every single step of the growth to produce the most natural Champagne possible.”

Soil Is Alive

To adopt a pesticide/herbicide free vineyard, certain concessions must be made. The beautiful thing is that they can be purely natural. When Dominique decided to stop the use of insecticides, he was able to reestablish the natural cycle of predatory wildlife in his vineyard, including ladybugs and lacewing larvae regulating spiders and caterpillars. In addition, he started growing grass between the vines for cover crop and to experiment new techniques in ploughing.

He says, “Most of this is common sense—a desire to let nature take its course—as well as a genuine concern for the next generations. We still relay on trace elements, sulfur and copper, to fight diseases. A horse ploughs our parcels in order to avoid soil compaction. We practice the green harvest, with all of the work taking place in the vineyard done meticulously and methodically.”

A third Dominique figures into the picture: “We attended a variety of classes by Dominique Massenot, who develops the Herody method to nurture the plant. Pierre Masson taught us biodynamic principles and Eric Petiot, aromatherapy, which uses of essential oils and plants to protect vines against disease. We have also started experimenting with some of our parcels in coordination with students from the Chamber of Commerce and the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne.”

Premier Cru Vrigny

Exhibit A: The Evidence Of Things Vrigny

At its best, whether blended or not, Champagne expresses the site(s) upon which it is grown, and this is a wine fundamental that does not change because further processing adds carbonation. And it’s a fact that long before that carbonation is added, the still wine (vin clair), is evaluated at face value and many major houses isolate individual vineyards with specific characteristics at this point, the better to create a more complex and predictable final product.

Still Champagne, of course, released as a regional wine without effervescence, is the domain of a dedicated Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée: Coteaux Champenois.

If It’s Still Champagne, Is It Still Champagne?: Domaine Lelarge-Pugeot’s Premier Cru Coteaux-Champenois

Vrigny, in the northwestern part of the Montagne de Reims, is but one of a string of Champagne villages, and the last one to achieve Premier Cru status before the échelles des crus was retired. Of the 224 acres of vineyard, 71% is Meunier, 19% is Pinot Noir and 10% is Chardonnay divvied up between 40 exploitants, or vineyard owners.

1- Domaine Lelarge-Pugeot ‘Rouge de Meuniers’, 2015 Coteaux Champenois Montagne-de-Reims Premier Cru Vrigny ($70)
A still, 100% vintage-dated Pinot Meunier of astonishing power, it showcases Meunier’s ability to weave together bold fruit, earthy aromas, and elegant minerality. From 40-year-old vines grown in chalk, limestone, clay loam and sand, it spends 20 months ‘en barrique’ before release.





2- Domaine Lelarge-Pugeot, 2020 Coteaux Champenois Montagne-de-Reims Premier Cru Vrigny Meunier Rosé ($67)
A zero-zero Coteaux Champenois, the family’s first ever attempt at making a still rosé made exclusively with Meunier. The Meunier is from two parcels with tiny concentrated clusters, creating a highly aromatic wine (one of Meunier’s loveliest features) of high-toned pink grapefruit, watermelon, pomegranate and tarragon with the soil’s characteristic salinity.




3- Domaine Lelarge-Pugeot, 2020 Coteaux Champenois Montagne-de-Reims Premier-Cru Vrigny ‘La Côte des Glaises’ Blanc Chardonnay ($79)
Fewer than one thousand bottles of this rich, textured, experimental still wine made from 30-year-old Chardonnay vines grown on a historical lieu-dit parcel of clay (glaise) and loam in Vrigny. Another zero/zero wine vinified with native yeasts and no added sulfur or manipulation, it shows sweet white peach and nectarine with overtones of honeysuckle and almond.



Exhibit B: Perspective. He Said, She Said

Louis Pasteur is credited with having said, “There is more philosophy in a bottle of wine than in all the books in the world.”

Sensory experiences like taste, smell and mouthfeel, on which we wax poetically in wine descriptions, are all subjective sensations. It is a relative declaration; what we believe to be true may not be the same to everyone. When it comes to Champagne, philosophically speaking, ‘quality’ isn’t necessarily objectifiable nor a separable element, but that does not make discussions of our own perceptions of quality less valid. Yet, nearly all of us fall under the spell of magic that the beverage elicits.

Champagne is a mind sport; although in our notes we call out memory-triggers (like brioche and green apple), in fact, we do not pretend that they are separate components as would be the case, say, if you spread a warm brioche with green apple jelly. They are harmonious constituents that we recognize as ultimately unified within a whole. It is perhaps this unification of disparate but complimentary elements that make up the Champagne experience, and, in fact, of all gustatory exclamations.

Revealing Vrigny: Lelarge-Pugeot Single Premier-Cru Champagne

The following wines are built around Premier Cru Vrigny terroir which express their individuality while building to a whole that speaks to the nose, the tongue and ultimately, the mind.

4- Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot, Montagne-de-Reims Premier Cru Vrigny Blanc-de-Blancs Extra-Brut ($66)
Built from a blend of different Chardonnay parcels grown on sandy loam; 60% of the wine comes from the 2014 harvest and the rest from the reserve. The wine ages for six months in tank before bottling, then spends four years on the lees in bottle. The grapes from these parcels create a regal and precise expression of the terroir, full of floral aromas, ripe pear, peach and citrus notes complemented by a subtle twist of orange peel and dried fruit complexity. Disgorged September 2021.



5- Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot ‘Saignée de Meunier’, 2015 Montagne-de-Reims Premier Cru Vrigny Rosé Brut-Nature ($79)
100% Meunier from the 2015 harvest, drawn from 50 year old vines; saignée style, with 32 hours of skin contact and six months of barrel-aging followed by six years on the lees in the bottle. Zero dosage and no filtering. A fine bead and an elegant raspberry/salmon pink that suggests strawberries and Morello cherries on the nose, with an electric mouthfeel and a long, mineral-driven finish. Disgorged June 2021.



Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot ‘Tradition’, Harvest 2018 Montagne-de-Reims Premier Cru Vrigny Brut ($66)
Lelarge-Pugeot’s entry-level, non-vintage Champagne from the 2018 harvest—a blend of 30 different plots in Vrigny. 50% Meunier, 40% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay, the wine was aged for six months in tank before bottling, then spent three years on the lees. A nice textured wine behind notes of citrus, apricot, white toast and lime zest. Disgorged July 2022.




Trilogy: ‘Destination Moon’

As a child, I remember treasuring a Tintin cartoon where Hergé (Tintin’s Champagne-loving father), sent a bottle of Champagne (Brochet-Hervieux, now called Champagne Vincent Brochet) to the moon. It somehow seems fitting that the image captured by Dom Perignon’s famous exclamation, “I’m drinking stars,” found another outlet in the night sky. This celestial beverage has captured my imagination—and that of most of us—ever since.

Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot pays tribute to the moon throughout every lunar cycle; one of the components of biodynamics centers around applying holistic preparations and herbal teas based on the lunar calendar. With the trilogy of ‘Lùna’ wines from the Vrigny Premier Cru, Dominique Lelarge and Dominique Pugeot are paying their own homage to the power of the heavens.

Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot ‘Lùna Volume I’, 2018 Montagne-de-Reims Premier Cru Vrigny Brut Nature ($144)
An even split of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the first of the moon trilogy is meant to be the culmination of the family’s work in biodynamics and continued experiments in natural vinification—indigenous yeast, zero added sulfur, only natural sugar. The vines are between 25 and fifty years old, grown on chalk, limestone, clay loam and sand. Vinification relies on spontaneous fermentation followed by six months of aging in tank or barrel before bottling, then three years on lees in the bottle. The wine shows generous notes of apple, brioche, almond and a precise minerality at the finish. Disgorged April 2022.



Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot ‘Lùna Volume II’, 2015 Montagne-de-Reims Premier Cru Vrigny Brut Nature ($144)
From the glittering 2015 vintage—notable for being the hottest season ever recorded in Champagne. Despite smaller than average yields, conditions were such that both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay excelled; ‘Lùna Volume II’ is an even split between the two varieties. The wine has a razor’s edge of acidity; it is crackling, bright and perfectly ripe with yellow citrus, crushed rocks, and notes of yeasty freshly-baked bread. Disgorged April 2022.



Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot ‘Lùna Volume III’, 2018 Montagne-de-Reims Premier Cru Vrigny Rosé Brut Nature ($144)
85% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir from a superb, sunny vintage where the crop was large and healthy, rich in sugar, with all varieties performing well. Volume III saw a short maceration and nine months of barrel-aging followed by three years on the lees, resulting in a wildly complex Champagne with aromas of candied strawberry and a long, rich mineral-driven finish. Disgorged April 2022.



Cru Gueux

The Village Next Door: Lelarge-Pugeot Site-Specific Cru Champagne

The commune of Gueux comprises about 2000 acres of gentle slopes in the northwestern portion of the Petite Montagne in the Montagne de Reims. 85% of the fifty planted acres is Meunier. The area remains somewhat obscure, but with its mix of sand, calcareous clay built around tiny marine fossils fifty million years old, it produces Champagnes that are remarkably terroir-centric, often showing saline notes and a spectacular tension on the palate.

Champagne Lelarge-Pugeot ‘Les Vignes de Gueux’, 2016 Montagne-de-Reims Cru Gueux Extra-Brut ($79)
75% Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir, 5% Chardonnay; Gueux is a short hop from Vrigny, the wine comes from two lieu-dit parcels: Le Linguet and Le Patenais. The former is a south-east facing plot of Pinot Noir planted on sandy soils in 2005, and the latter, an east-facing parcel of Meunier and four rows of Chardonnay on sandy loam and clay soils. Chardonnay was, in fact, a horticultural error dating back to 1965, but the grapes from these rows allow for even more complexity. Previously sold to négociants, the 2016 vintage shows aromas of preserved lemon, almonds and ginger tea with a laser-focused salinity on the finish. Disgorged June 2021.



Notebook …

Drawing The Boundaries of The Champagne Region

Having been defined and delimited by laws passed in 1927, the geography of Champagne is easily explained in a paragraph, but it takes a lifetime to understand it.

Ninety-three miles east of Paris, Champagne’s production zone spreads across 319 villages and encompasses roughly 85,000 acres. 17 of those villages have a legal entitlement to Grand Cru ranking, while 42 may label their bottles ‘Premier Cru.’ Four main growing areas (Montagne de Reims, Vallée de la Marne, the Côte des Blancs and the Côte des Bar) encompass nearly 280,000 individual plots of vines, each measuring a little over one thousand square feet.

The lauded wine writer Peter Liem expands the number of sub-regions from four to seven, dividing the Vallée de la Marne into the Grand Vallée and the Vallée de la Marne; adding the Coteaux Sud d’Épernay and combining the disparate zones between the heart of Champagne and Côte de Bar into a single sub-zone.

Lying beyond even Liem’s overview is a permutation of particulars; there are nearly as many micro-terroirs in Champagne as there are vineyard plots. Climate, subsoil and elevation are immutable; the talent, philosophies and techniques of the growers and producers are not. Ideally, every plot is worked according to its individual profile to establish a stamp of origin, creating unique wines that compliment or contrast when final cuvées are created.

Champagne is predominantly made up of relatively flat countryside where cereal grain is the agricultural mainstay. Gently undulating hills are higher and more pronounced in the north, near the Ardennes, and in the south, an area known as the Plateau de Langres, and the most renowned vineyards lie on the chalky hills to the southwest of Reims and around the town of Épernay. Moderately steep terrain creates ideal vineyard sites by combining the superb drainage characteristic of chalky soils with excellent sun exposure, especially on south and east facing slopes.



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Posted on in Coteaux Champenois, France, Champagne  | 



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