4th of JULY:
MORE CHAMPAGNES & BUBBLIES
3 hectares of vines in Moussy and 3 in nearby Chouilly, the small
Ruelle-Pertois winery has managed to stay below the radar screen of most
Champagne drinkers. When you make 40,000 (or so) bottles annually,
you're producing a half day's work at the big houses such as Mumm or Moet!
Michel Ruelle married Martine Pertois, hence the name Ruelle-Pertois.
Michel has been making Champagne since 1970, so he's not exactly a new kid
on the block, though he's only been in our shop for a handful of years.
His wines are imported by our pal Charles Neal who was introduced to
Ruelle-Pertois by his friends the Lafitte's at Domaine Boingnères, famous
Armagnac producers in the South-West.
In fact, when we first visited Boingnères, "Mom," Marguerite
Lafitte insisted upon opening a second bottle of this Champagne, even
knowing we were late for our next rendezvous! Charles, who's no
dummy, contacted Ruelle and now imports tiny quantities of very fine
There are some gyro-palettes in the cellar.
Here's Michel rotating the box and "riddling" the bottles.
Here's a photo of Michel opening a bottle of Champagne that's not yet been
Entering the cellar, you'll see this sign urging you to "Drink and
Forget, but don't forget to drink!"
The domaine owns approximately 15 acres of vineyards, so it's
quite small, producing perhaps 4,000 cases of Champagne annually.
They own some Grand Cru sites in Cramant, Chouilly and Oiry and these comprise
half of the estate's holdings. The other half are in the hometown of
Moussy along with Pierry and Vinay.
We've featured their "Premier Cru" Champagne, a Blanc
de Blanc bottling that's mildly yeasty and rather dry. The aromas hint at
citrus and stones, with a faintly floral tone there, too. New label
(as you can see above)...
An honest importer allows us to offer this at a very attractive price.
Currently in stock: RUELLE PERTOIS Blanc de Blanc
Premier Cru SALE $33.99
MAGNUMS SALE $79.99
TO SEE A HOME-COOKED CHAMPENOISE LUNCH Chez Ruelle-Pertois
(And Dinner, too, one winter's evening!)
We enjoyed a magnum of Ruelle Pertois recently...
It was remarkably effervescent and really nicely balanced...perhaps a bit
"finer" than usual?
Despite hosting a relatively small crowd, we finished this sized bottle with
- This is a small domaine with stories dating back to 1945 as the
turning points for each side of the family.
In that year, Uncle Jean Voirin's baskets of fruit were rejected by some
large Champagne house and he decided he's start making his own bubbly.
Meanwhile, Monsieur Jumel married Mademoiselle Richomme who had a small
parcel of vines. Jumel was more involved in the trucking business
but ended up selling his modest fleet of wagons and buying more
Fast forward a few years and
you have Monsieur Gilles Voirin from the grand cru village of Chouilly
marrying Mademoiselle Françoise Jumel. Since Champagne
tradition calls for the bride to remain in her hometown, the winery is
situated in Cramant, not Chouilly. This is a few kilometers south of
The estate comprises something like 12 hectares of vineyards
spread amongst several Cotes des Blancs villages...Cramant, of course. But
also Avize, Chouilly, Oger and Ay amongst the elite sites. Vertus, Mareuil
sur Ay and Cuis for premier cru sites.
We currently have their Brut Tradition in stock. This is
70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Nice and dry...mildly
yeasty...well-made, fresh and ideal as an aperitif.
Currently in stock: VOIRIN JUMEL GRAND CRU BRUT $39.99
you locate on a map the town of Polisot, you might notice that it's
actually closer to downtown Chablis than it is to downtown Epernay.
And Polisot is where you'd find the Champagne firm of Marie Courtin, in
all its glory.
This is in the vast region called the Aube, well south of the prestigious
addresses in the Champagne region. In fact, the Aube had long been
viewed as an area of secondary quality and grapes there were sought after
by the big Champagne firms, as fruit cost less. Having tasted many
Champagnes from the Aube I can't say the region produces second-quality
wines, but if you're accustomed to some top bottlings from vineyards
around Reims and Epernay, you may notice the Aube wines simple taste
The firms of Drappier and Serge Mathieu are good quality producers who
make wines which represent the region nicely.
But now there are numerous small grower/winemakers producing some good
quality wines as it may be financially a bit easier to establish a new
company in the Aube.
Every good wine merchant and sommelier is always looking for something
new, something different and maybe even something "good."
Once there's some "buzz" about a wine, all of these people play
"follow-the-leader" as they have to have a particular product
which enjoys a period of fame and maybe fortune.
As a result, some Aube wines now cost stratospheric prices as these are
trophies for sommeliers who believe having such wines makes a positive
statement about their restaurant and validates them as
"credible." An Italian sommelier told me every
American wine geek is thrilled to order a currently-fashionable,
trophy-of-a-Champagne from the wine list...expensive and maybe lacking in
character. The somm was not impressed as much by the wine in the
bottle as much as they were by the sales!
Marie Courtin may not have yet attained the designation of being a
"cult status" Champagne, but the various cuvees of this little
enterprise can, in our view, more easily rival the famous growers in the
Montagne de Reims, the Vallee de la Marne and the Cotes des Blancs.
The company is owned and operated by Dominique Moreau and she's dedicated
her firm to the memory of her grandmother, Marie Courtin. Moreau has
approximately 2.5 hectares of vineyards, predominantly Pinot Noir (it's a
tad warmer in this region, so Pinot thrives there), with a small planting
of Chardonnay and Pinot Blanc. The vineyards are farmed
biodynamically we're told.
Dominique uses this old, traditional Champagne press.
Dominique has a small cellar with wood cooperage...
Here's a bottle "in progress" showing the yeast has done its job of
completing the secondary fermentation. Now the wine is matured on this
yeast sediment and it becomes more complex, aromatic and flavorful as well.
We currently have a cuvee Moreau called "Resonance" and it
resonates well with us!
The local importer says the wine is mostly Pinot Noir with a bit of Pinot
Blanc and Chardonnay. Other sources indicate it's entirely Pinot
Noir. Dominique Moreau sent us a note saying it's entirely Pinot
Noir... No matter...what it is is really fine, elegant, crisp, snappy
Ms. Moreau offers two styles of Resonance and the local importer (who
actually married into a French Burgundy family) purchased the "Extra
Brut" as opposed to the regular Brut cuvee. And I think that is
why this wine, pardon the pun again, resonates with us: It's really
dry and you can taste the special character of a Champagne of great
We receive a few bottles of her other cuvvees and try to have these in
The base wine, made of Pinot Noir, is vinified and aged in 228
liter barriques which are about ten years old. The name refers to
something which is constantly changing and evolving. Dominique finds
this wine to be a perfect candidate for such a name since its evolution
begins in the barrel. The wine undergoes a secondary, malolactic
fermentation in wood and then spends perhaps ten months on the lees.
After about 3 years en tirage the wines is disgorged, never having
Further, there is no sweetening dosage, so the wine is in fact,
This is a Blanc de Blanc and a mere two barrels' worth of wine are made
for this. I find it even deeper and more toasty than the Efflorescence
with a fantastically complex fragrance. On the palate this is crisp, tangy
and yet full-flavored.
Our friends who import this wine receive a mere 60 bottles.
Dominique confesses she really doesn't move this wine after putting it
in a small tank to ferment the juice. "I simply press the grapes, put
the juice into a tank and it ferments. After the malolactic it's racked
and goes back into a clean tank. Then I leave it for about 10 months on
its sediment which helps protect the wine, as I don't add sulfur until
It's entirely Pinot Noir and the wine shows a crisp, tart apple-like quality
which might lead you to expect it's Chardonnay.
Currently in stock: MARIE COURTIN
"RESONANCE" Extra Brut CHAMPAGNE $57.99
MARIE COURTIN EFFLORESCENCE $74.99 (750ml)
MARIE COURTIN EFFLORESCENCE $179.99 (1.5liter magnum)
MARIE COURTIN EFFLORESCENCE $374.99 (3 liter Jeroboam)
MARIE COURTIN ELOQUENCE $89.99
MARIE COURTIN CONCORDANCE Sale $99.99
- You're probably wondering why a French fellow has the name
"José." I did.
It turns out José's grandmother was Spanish. In French they
pronounce it something like "Zho-zay."
Dhondt is an engaging fellow and a bon vivant. He makes a tiny
amount of Champagne, though, owning about 6 hectares of vineyards
scattered around the countryside. Some vineyards are near the winery
in Oger, while he has other parcels in Le Mesnil, Grauves (near Cramant)
and Saudoy (south of Sézanne). Total production tallies to, on
average, 42,000 bottles annually.
Dhondt cultivates one vineyard site simply to sell the grapes to Moet et
Chandon. "I am then invited to attend their seminars on
viticulture and sometimes I learn a thing or two about grape
growing. They also invite their growers to come taste tank samples
and experimental batches, so I can learn from that, too." he
Clearly he's a straight shooter and this was further evidenced by the
display on the wall in his warehouse above the underground Champagne
- Dhondt grows Chardonnay for the most part, though there's a small
planting of Pinot Noir which goes into his "José Rosé"
production. Most of the vines are in the range of 40 to 50
years old, with the most venerable being planted in the late 1940s, early
His base wines typically undergo a malolactic fermentation. "I
like a supple texture in my Champagne," Dhondt tells us.
"I attribute this to some degree to the old vines which produce a
wine with good intensity." It could also be the malolactic that
gives the wines some roundness, too. Dhondt keeps the dosage fairly
low, with the "Tradition" having 8 grams/liter of sugar and his
Old Vines' bottling having, typically, just 6 grams. The Rosé, of
which he produces just 200 cases annually, has 10 grams of
José Dhondt in the aging cellar.
Showing off a bottle "in progress."
Here's a bottle that's been in the gyropalette and you can see the wine is
quite clear, with the
yeast sediment now resting on the crown cap.
Most producers then freeze the neck of the bottle, turn it upright and
un-cap it, allowing the pressure of the sparkling wine to push the yeast
'plug' out of the bottle, leaving a brilliantly clear wine.
- The "Tradition" Champagne is made entirely of
Chardonnay. José says the base wine typically has somewhere between
30 and 40% "Reserve" wine blended into it as he tries to produce
a Champagne that is consistent from bottling to bottling. I like the
bright apple and pear notes in this wine...classic Chardonnay and it's a
wine with finesse. The acidity is noticeable, but it's not
especially austere. And, I recalled Dhondt's preference for making a
wine that's got a supple texture. So, indeed, he's made a wine to
his taste. (And mine, too, for that matter!)
- The Old Vines wine is labeled "Mes Vieilles Vignes" (My
Old Vines) and those are 64 years old. We liked Dhondt's Rose
Champagne, as well. He makes but 200 cases annually of his pink
wine...very good and nicely expressive.
Currently in stock: JOSE DHONDT
"TRADITION" Blanc de Blancs SALE $59.99
DOSNON & LEPAGE
is a new firm that's a partnership between Simon-Charles Lepage and Davy
These fellows are natives of the Champagne "outback" known
as the Aube region.
Dosnon is the wine guy, having worked at a couple of Champagne firms
(Serge Mathieu and Moutarde) as well as at a domaine in Burgundy (Rossignol-Trapet).
Lepage left Champagne to study criminal law in Paris before returning to
the scene of his crime: Dosnon & Lepage.
They have a couple of hectares of vineyards in the "La Cotes des
Bar" and they buy fruit from another 5 hectares' worth of vineyards
in the region. This is an area viewed by some as inferior to that of
the Champagne hills between the towns of Reims and Epernay. The
region was excluded in 1911, for example, from being a part of the
"Champagne" region. It was re-instated in 1927.
The area has a terroir that's quite different from that of the main part
of Champagne. Whereas the 'classic' area of Champagne has chalky
soils, the Cotes des Bar soils are more akin to those of Chablis:
Kimmeridgian, which is a mix of clay and chalk. The wines produced
from this terroir tends to be a bit fuller in body.
- And while many mainstream Champagne people speak disparagingly of the
Aube region in general, most of the large firms buy fruit there to add
body and reduce the average cost of their wines.
The vineyards for the Dosnon & Lepage Champagnes are cultivated
with an attention to detail. They farm in a responsible and
environmentally savvy manner. Further, they've borrowed the best viticultural
training and pruning methods from their neighbors to the north. No
chemicals in the vineyard...short pruning to minimize yields and maximize
In the cellar, they use barrels from Burgundy for vinifying the base
wines. They buy seasoned cooperage from the Cote de Beaune.
The best fruit is vinified in wood, while lighter lots see stainless
Recolte Brute is a Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend. Recolte Noire is
made entirely of Pinot Noir. Their Rose is made entirely of Pinot
Noir, while the Recolte Blanche is produced from Chardonnay. A
Grande Cuvee Alliance is, as you might expect, half Pinot Noir and half
We have their Recolte Noire in the shop presently. Ellen enjoyed a
bottle on New Year's and commented "Hey, a Champagne that tastes like
I found this to be a bit minerally and stony on the nose and palate...and
it's dry. We enjoyed a bottle with some fresh Dungeness crab...nice!
Currently in stock: DOSNON & LEPAGE "Recolte
- This label is now well-known to virtually all Champagne
"geeks," but it's a brand the average bear has not heard of.
Francis Egly and his father Michel run the domain. They have 12
hectares of vineyards, ten in red grapes and two in Chardonnay. Most
of the reds are in Grand Cru sites. The winery is in Ambonnay and
most of their holdings are close to the cellar, but they have a small
parcel in Bouzy and a modest-sized patch in Verzenay. There's also
an old vineyard of Pinot Meunier in the village of Vrigny.
The vineyards are cultivated in an environmentally-friendly manner and
they tend to have rather low yields, much less than most. The juice
is fermented in oak barrels and they're not fans of fining or filtering to
clarify the wine...low sulphur levels in the wines, as well. And
their Champagnes are kept on the lees for longer than normal, so you'll
find a nice intensity to their bubbly.
The house is viewed as one of the elite Champagne producers.
We've long been fans and recall when these were attractively priced and
viewed as good values. Today you'll pay a premium for them and
the quality remains high.
We have their Brut Tradition which comes from Grand Cru sites and it's
so noted on the label. The dosage is fairly low, so the wine is
quite dry and you'll taste the rather "full" impact of their
grand cru terroir.
Currently in stock: EGLY-OURIET BRUT TRADITION
"Grand Cru" CHAMPAGNE $64.99
- The Vilmart
name is one you'll usually find on a Champagne fancier's list of top
The Vilmart family has been in the village of Rilly-La-Montagne since the
1800s and today the winery is run by Laurent Champs. His mother
married Rene Champs, who worked in Vilmart's vineyards. And they are
"Champs," as you'll come to find out if you put a bottle of
their bubbly on your table.
Laurent's parents had advocated the use of small barrels for fermenting
their base wines, a more costly and labor-intensive process. It's
for this reason, in part, reviews of Vilmart Champagnes some years ago
would compare the wines (favorably) to those of Krug.
Laurent Champs with his Pop.
Laurent, though, goes a bit farther, as he uses new oak to ferment the
juice destined for their top bottlings, a move that has both its fans and
Vilmart owns 11 hectares of vineyards in the Premier cru village of Rilly.
They cultivate organically, with 60% of the vines devoted to Chardonnay
and the rest to Pinot Noir, with all of 3% planted with Pinot
After pressing the grapes, they let the juice settle for a day to precipitate
heavy sediment. Then it goes into the fermentation vessel...large,
fairly neutral wood for the basic bottlings and small, new oak for their
high end wines. These are aged in wood for several months,
too. You see, Vilmart is about "making wine" and then they
just happen to turn it into bubbly.
You can taste that behind the bubbles, there's "wine"
there. I tasted one bottling during my visit which had a lot of oak and
then Laurent opened an older bottle...remarkable to taste one that's got the
wood integrated into the wine...but all the bottles of Vilmart are a
We typically have Vilmart's "Grande Cellier" bottling in
stock. This is a rather dry, fairly full-bodied Champagne. We
find ripe fruit and some spice notes in the wine. It's best when
it's not ice cold, but allowed to warm up a bit from cold refrigerator
temperature. And it's interesting to taste how it blossoms in the
glass as it warms up and has a chance to blow off some of the carbon
The Grand Cellier D'Or is their normal bottling of a Vintage Brut
Champagne. It's predominantly Chardonnay and you can easily detect
the use of small oak here. It's about half small oak barrels and
half large wooden foudres...beautifully full and creamy with some wood
The 2004 Coeur de Cuvee is a remarkable bottle. This is a Champagne
for a true connoisseur of bubbly, not so much for those who revel in
drinking a wine with a famous name and a correspondingly famous high
price. It's typically about 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir.
Some new oak barrels are used for the base wine and yet the wood is so
well-knit in the wine, it's much less overtly oaky than the Grand Cellier
d'Or...And to spend a few moments with this wine is intriguing as there's
a noticeable change and evolution as the wine warms up a bit in the
glass. Truly complex...
Laurent makes a small quantity of Rose, the normal Cuvee Rubis assembled
by adding a bit of red wine to a white cuvee.
But there's a whole different Rose or "Rubis" bottling called
Grand Cellier D'Or and it's only made in years when there's an ample crop
of Pinot Noir and this will make a wine worthy of the Vilmart name.
And even then, only a tiny quantity is produced.
The 2009 is a 60/40 blend of Pinot Noir to Chardonnay, with the Pinot
getting a brief bit of skin contact. The wine then spends about 10
months in oak. It's a remarkably complex Rose, not the care-free,
refreshing little wine many producers make.
A "flute" glass doesn't do this justice, by the way, so if you
have some nice white wine stems, consider using those/
Currently in stock: VILMART "GRANDE CELLIER"
Non Vintage Brut SALE $72.99
VILMART 2007 GRAND CELLIER D'OR $99.99
VILMART 2004 COEUR DE CUVEE Sale $149.99
VILMART 2009 GRAND CELLIER D'OR CUVEE RUBIS $167.99 (Very
The press at Vilmart.
Heading down to the cellar...
Bottles off the riddling racks and ready to be
and Benoit Lahaye (she's from the Larmandier family, another famous name
in Champagne!) have a small cellar in the famous town of Bouzy with 4.5
hectares of vines keeping them occupied.
Bouzy is, of course, famed for its Pinot Noir and there's even an
appellation for the non-sparkling Pinot Noir wine: Bouzy
The Lahaye's vines, though, are not solely within the Bouzy area, but in
nearby Ambonnay to the east (another grand cru site for Pinot Noir) and
Tauxières to the west. By the way, in the classification of crus of
Champagne, Tauxières is a Premier Cru site, carrying a 'rating' of 99, so
it's a chip off the Grand Cru block, so-to-speak.
The Lahaye family has been in the Champagne business since the 1930s.
The first brand was grandpappy's and it was called "L. Waroquier."
Dad's brand was sold as "Lahaye-Waroquier." Benoit took over the company in
1993 and now it's simply Benoit Lahaye. Shortly thereafter, he began a
move to convert their vineyards to organic farming and they're currently
working biodynamically. The property is certified by Ecocert since
2007, for what that's worth.
All of his various lots are vinified in wood of some sort.
Most of their vineyards are planted with Pinot Noir and the vineyards
average approximately thirty-five, or so, years of age. And in 2010
they invested in a new piece of 'equipment,' an Auxois horse for plowing
The grapes are hand-harvested, as you might expect and the juice is
fermented in 60 gallon French oak barrels. Indigenous yeast
fermentations and Lahaye picks selectively to avoid having to chaptalise
(add sugar) the juice. Once fermented, he likes to leave the wine in wood
for something like ten months, leaving it on the spent yeast before
finally assembling a base wine for his several bottlings. The wines
typically undergo a malolactic fermentation, as well.
We currently have a stellar Rose Champagne called "Rose de
Maceration." This is made entirely of Pinot Noir and its name
suggests, it's made by giving the juice something like 24 hours of skin contact, not by blending
a bit of red wine into a white cuvee. The color is bright cherry red
and the fragrance is magnificent, showing nice Pinot (cherry and berry)
fruit. Lahaye says the fruit for this comes from the outskirts of
"It doesn't make especially good red wine, though, but it makes a
really good rose." notes Lahaye. "The vines are about 40
years old, too. I like the spic notes this wine has."
The wine is crisp and dry and Lahaye skillfully avoids
picking up too much tannin during the skin contact (which would make for a
bitter 'attack' on the palate). The dosage seems to be quite
low as this is seriously dry and seriously good. He explained it's
critical to get the dosage just right so it perfectly balances the wine.
"Too little and the wine is bitter. Too much and it's just not
right. I usually have two or three grams per liter...that seems to
The wines from this domaine are on the radar of many Champagne-savvy
sommeliers and consumers, so with less than 5 hectares of vineyards, the
Lahaye bubblies are hard to find.
Currently in stock: BENOIT LAHAYE "Rose de
Lahaye is a biodynamic producer and has not only a horse,
but a couple of donkeys.
That's why, in fact, they had a shed full of hay as feed for the animals.
Biodynamics...here's a little pot which will be used to make some sort of
natural spray for the vines.
- The Delamotte brand is one unfamiliar to most Champagne drinkers.
Yet it's a thought by many people to be a large house, as it's owned by
However, it's not even in the "Top 15" in terms of production
figures and the winery is run with an eye towards quality, not quantity.
Founded in 1760, or so the story goes, this was owned by the Lanson family
from 1830 until nearly a hundred years later when it became the possession
of a Lanson family member who was married to a de Nonancourt (which is the
family that owns Laurent Perrier). In 1988 the brand came under the
L-P umbrella, along with another famed marque, that of Champagne Salon.
Now Salon is a curious product in that it is produced maybe three or four
times in a decade. Maybe. It's entirely Chardonnay and since
its inaugural commercially-produced vintage of 1921, there have been less
than 40 vintages to see the light of day. Delamotte is manager
by the same fellow, Didier Depond.
In vintages that are not "declared" for Salon, the fruit from
those hallowed vineyards is typically incorporated into
Being situated in the village of Le Mesnil, Chardonnay then, of course, is
the foundation of the house. They own but perhaps 5 hectares of
their own vineyards. A friend of ours who's in the Champagne
business, confided that she was a bit shocked at how demanding the manager
is in terms of quality. Little viticultural details, we were told,
are of utmost importance at Delamotte.
Delamotte 2007 Blanc de Blancs
Non-Vintage Blanc de Blancs
In tasting through the line-up, all the wines were showing
The non-vintage is predominantly Chardonnay with 35% Pinot Noir
and 10% Pinot Meunier.
It shows a really good "Champagne" nose with a mildly toasty
note. It's rather dry, too...just 7 grams of sugar in the final wine.
We carry this in half bottle and magnum format typically.
are also enamored with the 2007 Delamotte Blanc de Blancs.
It comes from vineyards in Le Mesnil, Cramant, Oger and Avize according to the
winery crew (yet it's not labeled as a Grand Cru wine).
No matter, the wine is grand cru caliber!
With 6 or 7 years of aging on the spent yeast, this has taken on a beautifully
toasty character to add complexity to the pear-like Chardonnay fruit. It's
nicely complex and seems to have a low dosage, so it's rather dry on the palate.
I marked it as a two star+ quality wine when tasting the range of wines and it's
close in quality, frankly, to the 2004 Salon we tasted in the same flight.
Lallier family had owned this house until 2004 when it was purchased by
We've tasted a number of their bubblies from time to time but seem to
routinely prefer the one that's called Zero Dosage (meaning it does not have
any residual sugar or sweetening dosage).
The wine is a Grand Cru level Champagne. Some 70% is Pinot Noir from
Ay and the remaining 30% is Chardonnay from Avize and Cramant. The
wine then spends about 4 years on the spent yeast and when it's disgorged,
no sweetening dosage is added back...
As a result, it's Stone-Bone Dry. There's a chalky sort of
character here, too...austere and tart, to say the least.
Currently in stock: LALLIER "Zero Dosage" CHAMPAGNE
ON TO THE NEXT PAGE &
BACK TO THE 1st BUBBLY