“We are convinced that some of the best value in champagne is in bottles from smaller-scale producers, the so-called growers’ champagnes.” – Jancis Robinson MW, October 2014
40 HMWS members and 7 guests gathered at the Masonic Hall in Harrogate on Thursday 6 November 2014 (a Fruit Day), to taste six grower champagnes. These are Champagnes that are produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards from which the grapes come and can be identified by the initials that appear before a number on the wine label – RM (meaning Récoltant-Manipulant). Grower Champagnes are appealing as they do not aspire to a consistent house style, are made humbly to reflect their roots and the wine in every bottle has been hand-crafted in one specific place and from one specific source. The result is the combination of individual geography, geology and climate, and the creation of a taste that holds within it a true sense of place.
The first flight contained three Blanc de Blancs:
- Frank Bonville Sélection Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV (£26): Olivier Bonville farms over 50 acres of Grand Cru vineyards in the villages of Avize, Oger and Cramant. This is a remarkable estate that was created just after the war and which, is in its third generation. No oak is used here. This wine was disgorged 9 months after bottling with a dosage of 9g/L and was cellar matured for 30 months
- Corbon Vintage Brut, Avize Grand Cru 2002 (£45): Agnès Corbon makes wonderful, full-flavoured chardonnay from five acres of prime grand cru vineyards in the village of Avize. This wine is from the outstanding 2002 vintage. It was bottled with no filtration, finings, adjuvant or additive. Elevage on lees in bottle was for three years
- Agrapart, Les 7 Crus Brut NV (£34): Pascal Agrapart is one of a group of young talented growers whose carefully crafted wines are all the rage in Champagne. The estate was founded in 1894 by Arthur Agrapart. Since 1984 it has been run by Pascal Agrapart and his brother Fabrice. Vineyards are spread over 62 parcels, the majority of which lie in the grand cru villages of Avize, Cramant, Oiry and Oger. The average vine age of this 9.5 ha, biodynamic vineyard is about 35 years, with the oldest vines in Avize being over 60 years.Average potential alcohol at harvest is very high here, normally around 11 degrees and wines are not chaptalized. Grapes are pressed with a traditional Coquard vertical press. All wines undergo malolactic fermentation and a portion of the best wines of the harvest are aged in old, 600-liter demi-muids. Wines are typically bottled around the full moon of May with no fining, filtration or cold stabilization. Les 7 Crus refers to the origin of the wine in the seven villages of Avize, Cramant, Oger, Oiry, Avenay Val d’Or, Bergères-les-Vertus and Mardeuil. It’s typically blended from two different years, with half of the older vintage aged in oak barrels. It is full flavoured and complex, bone dry with just a hint of oak, and would work best with food.
A traditional three grape blend was tasted next:
- Béreche et Fils Brut NV (£26): Raphael Bérèche is an up-and-coming grower from Ludes, on the northern slopes of the Montagne de Reims. It is something of an anomaly that some of Champagne’s best vineyards face north yet it is here that some of the best and most structured pinot noirs come from. Ludes is a premier cru rated commune, best known for its pinots and Bérèche has become one of the best ambassadors for the village. The wines are traditionally made with oak, much used during the initial fermentation process. This wine is made from equal proportions of all three grape varieties and the grapes come from the Marne, Ludes (in the Montagne de Reims) and Ormes. The base wine is from 2011. It has 30% reserve wines and 7g/L dosage. The wine tastes clean, fine and long.
The next wine was a blend of all seven permitted champagne grape varieties:
- Laherte Fréres, Les 7 (£45): Based in Chavot, just to the south of Epernay, in a sector known as the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, Laherte Fréres has holdings in 75 different parcels, covering 10 different villages to the west in the Vallée de la Marne. This Biodynamic producer favour wood for the first fermentation (70% of the wines are treated to oak) and usually, but not always, eschew the malolactic fermentation. There is little or no dosage. Fruit for this Champagne comes from a single patch of vineyard where all seven Champagne grape varieties are planted together. The parcel was planted in 2003 in Chavot (Chalky-clay soils with pebbles). The blend is: 10% Fromenteau (Pinot Gris), 8% Arbanne, 14% Pinot , 18% Chardonnay, 17% Pinot Blanc, 18% Pinot Meunier, 15% Petit Meslier. The wine is dry, full, complex and long
The final wine was a rose:
- Béréche Campania Remensis Brut Rose NV (£49): The wine is made with 60-65% Pinot Noir. The rest is mostly Chardonnay with a dollop of Pinot Meunier. Grapes are hand harvested and under go natural alcoholic fermentation in barrels from Burgundy (aged of 10 years minimum) followed by 6 months on lees with regular stirring. There is no malolactic fermentation. 40% reserve wines are used. The wine has a light filtration before bottling in spring with a dosage of 4 g/L. This bottle was disgorged in November 2012. This is a delicate, bone-dry pink Champagne with cherry-like fruit.
Tirer à Liege: Bérèche et Fils is firmly convinced of the superiority of tirer à liege, where the second fermentation takes place under cork rather than capsule. They believe that this allows slightly more oxygen to get to the wine during the second fermentation, resulting in a Champagne with finer bubbles and seamless texture. Thus, their champagne bottles have Bague Carré, square lip on the mouth of the bottle, used to secure the agrafe. A bague carré indicates that the champagne was bottled with cork for its second fermentation. (Bague Couronne—A thin, rounded lip, seen on the tops of most champagne bottles. The bague couronne secures the crown capsule in place for the second fermentation.)
Dias de Verano 2013 was served before the tasting. The wine from Muscat made by Torres Chile in the Itata Valley, has a pH of 3, balanced by a residual sugar level of 10 g/l. The alcohol level is 12%. It is available from the HMWS at £7.04 a bottle.
Torres Chile Reserva de Pueblo Pais 2013 was served with supper. Made from País, it had undergone 40% Carbonic Maceration. the alcohol level is 12%. It is available from the HMWS at £7.59 a bottle.
A two course supper followed the tasting.
Braised steak, horseradish potato, roasted onion and garlic sauce. (Torres Chile Muscat 2013 & Pais 2013)
Apricot bread and butter pudding
Tickets cost £35 pp for HMWS members and £40 for non-members inclusive of supper
40 Members & 7 guests attended the event
- “Many thanks for the excellent champagne tasting. Engaging and informative as ever. As I said to you at the end of the evening, it is interesting that for me, and I think for some others, that the two stand out champagnes were those produced bio dynamically. The meal was also most enjoyable.” – RB, Leeds, 11 November
“We thank you for your great interest in our Champagnes. Don’t hesitate to contact us when you come in Champagne. It will be a pleasure for us to welcome you for a tasting in our cellar.” – Mlle ROQUES Kelly, Champagne Franck et Camille BONVILLE, 10 November
- “I would be delighted to see you during your next trip in Champagne and meet over some more of our champagnes!”
– Agnès CORBON, Avize, France, 9 November
+336 32 24 07 15
We could receive on the estate for your next visit in Champagne . Let me know when do you plan to come and we will try to find some possibility.”Aurélien. Domaine Laherte-Fréres, 9 NovemberGRANDS VINS DE CHAMPAGNE3 Rue des jardins – 51530 Chavot+33 (0)3 26 54 32 09
- “Congratulations on a very successful and enjoyable “Grower Champagne” tasting.
It was a HMWS tasting at its best; informative and fun with a selection of enjoyable lesser known wines plus a good social event too.
Thank you again for a very enjoyable tasting.” – RC, Harrogate, 9 November
“Thank you as always for arranging such a convivial evening tasting the grower champagnes. The festive atmosphere was evident and the samples we enjoyed were superb. If I have to choose a favourite it would have to be two – the Corbon Vintage and the Laherte Freres. Also fascinating to have used ISO glasses instead of flutes and I think they did enhance the experience for the more expensive champagnes – but the jury is out. Also enjoyed the two non-champagne offerings especially the Muscat.” – DM, Harrogate, 8 November
- “Ann and I greatly enjoyed the Grower champagne tasting and meal at the Masonic Hall last night. It was good to see the large turn out of old and new members and many guests, good wines bring people out of their homes even on cold damp winter evenings!!! All the wines were interesting. The two blind Torres wines were very good value. The champagnes were also all worth while, I put the Corbon 2002 marginally in front of the Agrapart Les 7 and both just in front of the Bereche Brut Rose, the latter would be a great summer evening drink. I continue to enjoy the older champagnes. Many thanks for a superb evening. The Masonic staff provided a very pleasing meal , well served and keenly priced. We look forward to the Christmas dinner.” SC, Pick Hill, 7 November
- “Many thanks for yet another excellent tasting – I will definitely be looking for unusual labels in future.” – HM. Knaresborough, 7 November
“Yet another successful and very enjoyable evening. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and love of these fantastic champagnes.” – JT, Otley, 7 November
- I fully agree. Try using ISO tasting glasses instead of flutes at the tasting. – BD