Champagne Day: Larmandier-Brunier “Terre de Vertus” Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru NV
I’ve decided that Champagne is both overlooked and too darn tasty not to drink more often. So, I’ve decided that once a month, on a random day, I will open a bottle of Champagne and write about it. This is the first of such ventures, and a good hold-over until my next BC winery profile.
Vertus, where this wine is grown and made, is located in the southern reaches of the Cote Des Blancs in Champagne – a region known for Blanc de Blancs (or Champagne made with 100% Chardonnay grapes). Champagne’s tradition is one of ‘houses’, with the great names buying grapes from unknown growers (at least to most consumers) and blending them together to make a range of wines, usually culminating in a prestige Cuvee (such as Roederer’s Cristal). However, most of the big houses also sell plenty of boring and overpriced blends for the average drinker, banking on their names. On the other side are what have become known as grower Champagnes, which are Champagnes made by the same farmers that grow the grapes. These have been gaining critical and wine geek traction as such producers attempt to make a vin de terroir.
However, all this said, a recent article by Jancis Robinson has put an important reflective caveat on valorizing all grower champagne by pointing out that there are also very good Champagnes from traditional houses. Personally, I’m still far more excted about the growers!
Pierre Larmandier, owner of Larmandier-Brunier, is clearly in favour of the grower Champagnes, being one himself. He spent a while studying in Alsace and Burgundy and noted that the best growers there got the same respect as the best producers. This, of course, is not traditionally the case in Champagne. Larmandier figures that as big houses “suffocating the vineyard”. “We have superb terroir” he says, “but we only make good wines from it”. Andrew Jefford in “The New France” calls Champagne traditionally “a wine of general appeal rather than particular excellence.” This pattern, however, is being challenged by the new breed of Grower-Producers who want the soil to express itself in Champagne in as profound a manner as Burgundy. As Jefford puts well, “We are prepared to pay that much for champagne not because it is worth it, but because there is no functional alternative and that is what the experience of drinking it costs.” This truism is unfortunate, and in my once monthly Champagne indulgance I will seek out the growers and producers putting this maxim to the chopping block.
Larmandier-Brunier’s “Terre de Vertus” is an attempt to express the terroir of their Vertus based vineyards as cleanly and articulately as possible. Extremely rare in Champagne, this wine has zero dosage, which means that no sugar is added to the wine after fermentation. This technique is traditionally used in order to up the residual sugar and balance the often highly acidic result of many sparkling wines.
Larmandier-Brunier is also a biodynamic domaine, and, accordingly, do not use additives or artificial fertalizers. Emphasis is put on viticulture and the resulting product is nothing short of outstanding. On their website Larmandier-Brunier explain the basics of their viticultural appraoch:
“The recipe for good-quality grapes is simple but demanding: old vines, working the soil, moderate yields; vines which thrive without having fertilisers forced into them, and mature grapes picked by hand.
But the terroir is not enough; it is to wine what the score is to music. What’s the point if the grape variety, the vineplant (the instrument) and the winegrower (the performer) are not up to standard?
Consequently, our vines are cultivated with respect for the terroir (ploughing, which favours deep-reaching roots and preserves the life of the soil) and respect for the balances of the plant throughout the growing period. In this way, the yields are naturally moderate and the wine shows its appreciation, through both its structure and its maturity.”
This was the most elegant Champagne I’ve tasted in my limited experience – very focused, delicate and intricate. The flavour – crisp apple and lithe stony mineral – is far less important to this Champagne than its texture and its structure. Oh so very clean while in the mouth, this evolves like a Wordsworthian poem, in ebbs and flows of pleasure and contemplation. But despite the subtlety of its flavour profile, this Champagne is also deeply mineral driven and presents a stony complexity that very few Champagnes I have had do. A fundamental match for salmon mousse or paté, this calls for foods with light delicate textures and focused primal flavours – I’m sure the classic oyster pairing would work fantastically here.
So, it’s time to forget about waiting for an excuse and start opening up a bottle of Champagne for no reason at all other than the moment itself. It’s well worth it: Champagne is quickly becoming the source of some of my all time favourite wine experiences.
$110 at Kitsilano Wine Cellars