I recently had the good fortune to pour champagne as a volunteer for the Skurnik Wines West annual fall Champagne and International Wines Tasting extrsvsgnza in LA. Many of the houses represented come from the Terry Theise portfolio of Champagnes.
This event had an interesting twist in that it also featured Sherry from Bodegas Tradicion and Barbadillo as well as a few sparkling wines mostly from European sources and a bevy of wines from a few other producers new to the Skurnik book.
For champagne, there were 13 tables with a total of 21 growers represented.
I was assigned to pour wines from the one house that I would have chosen if given that option, Vilmart & Cie. I have had many of their champagnes and loved them all.
Vilmart, a Recoltant Mahipulant, was founded in in 1890, now headed up by 5th generation Laurent Champs, and located in the Premier Cru village of Rilly-la-Montagne. An important aspect that distinguishes them from many others in this area is that their organically farmed vineyards, called Blanches Voies, are south facing as opposed to the more prevalent north facing vineyards. The 65 yer old ungrafted Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vines are used for the top wine, the Coeur de Cuvee and new single site blanc de blancs. Interestingly, the estate is made up of 70% Chardonnay, 29% Pinot Noir and 1% Meunier. I say interesting because they are located in the Montagne de Reims, 1 of the 5 subregions of Champagne, which overall averages 56% Pinot Noir, 28% Chardonnay and 16% Pinot Meunier. Also I find it`s interesting that they ferment and age everything in large oak foudre and demi-muid for the NV wines and smaller barrique as well as deni-muid for the vintage wines and block secondary fermentation [ML].
At the table, I had 5 wines to pour with a back up bottle for all but the “entry level” NV Grand Cellier Brut. I graciously accepted the pleasurable task of opening and tasting each to ensure a good bottle. My notes:
NV VILMART & CIE GRAND CELLIER BRUT- 1er Cru 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay; comprised of 2012, 2013 and 2014, disgorged 7/15 with 8 gpl dosage which is made, as for all of Laurent Champ`s wines, from still wines of the 2 best cuvées, Grand Cellier d’Or and Coeur de Cuvée, in the first 1-2 years after disgorgement; slightly toasty lemon, grapefruit, pear and apple notes sing out loud and yet gracefully with a streak of minerals and some honeysuckle coming in past mid palate; for an “entry level” wine, this nails it quite righteously and makes a statement as to the integrity of this producer.
2013 VILMART & CIE GRAND CELLIER `d`OR BRUT- 1er Cru 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir from Blanches Voies; 10 months on oak and 42 on the lees after bottling; disgorged 7/14 at 7 gpl dosage; this is a creamy rich, full bodied but elegant wine with ginger infused citrus and bright acidity expending lots of energy with a whole lot more to give.
NV VILMART & CIE CUVEE RUBIS BRUT- 90% Pinot Noir, 10% Chardonnay; disgorged 7/16 at 9 gpl dosage; a blend of 2013 and 2014; this was the first wine I tasted from this grower a few years ago and it quickly became one of our house roses resting next to Laurent-Perrier, Ruinart, Bollinger, Philipponnat, Charles Heidsieck and Billecart-Salmon to name a few; this is a superb wine with nice red cherry, blood orange and a bit of cranberry accented by spice and chalk; what gets my attention is that it has the perfect elegant taste profile of noticeable and tasty fruit, but not understated or overbearing.
2009 VILMART & CIE COEUR de CUVEE BRUT- 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir- from Les BlanchesVoies Hautes vines over 55 yers old whose must comes from the Coeur de Cuvée; disgorged 3/15 with 8 gpl; knowing the dosage, I was pleased that there was no discernible sweetness; on the palate, I got ginger and spice infused apple, pear, cherry and a streak of white pepper that was not detected in the first 3; it was full bodied, very rich and very giving at this early stage; the table talk amongst those who tasted throughout the 3 hours was this was preferred over the 2010, which I eventually liked a touch better.
2010 VILMART & CIE COEUR de CUVEE BRUT- 80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir sourced from the aforementioned Les Blanches Voies plot in Rilly.; disgorged 1/17 at 7 gpl; first impression was that this has all of the goodies and just needs some time to evolve, expand and come together; it has layered complexity and a viscous texture with bright acidity and loads of flavors, but not yet in balance; I got that white pepper note again here as with the 09` plus minerals, chalk and ripe citrus and stone fruit; later on, it moved into a more acceptable place and now I preferred it over the 09`; both are winners.
I loved the experience of pouring my beloved champagne for those in the trade and the joy of presenting and serving others, It was an extension of the joy I get in sharing wines from the cellar. This was an often dreamed mini sommelier endeavor and I cherished the role.