I recently attended a tasting of several of the wines imported by Eldad Levy's Boutique de Champagnes, specializing in selections made not by the major houses of the Champagne region, but by the far smaller recolants manipulants ("grower-producers") - who not only grow the grapes but make the wines. These producers have been attaining increasing popularity, not only due to the individuality they show, but also because their prices are sometimes considerably lower than those of the more famous name-brand Champagnes.
A full catalog - including prices, information on each of the producers and how to place orders - can be found at Boutique de Champagne's Web site: www.bdch.co.il (in Hebrew).
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils, Brut Champagne, Special Club, 2000: Light gold in color, opening with a nose of violets and ginger, yielding to aromas and flavors of citrus, kiwi and citrus peel. Not a yeasty wine, but one that shows a well-balanced mineral-rich charm and fine, well-focused bubbles that go on and on. Drink now-2015. Score 92.
Larmandier-Bernier, Rose Champagne, Rose de Saignee, n.v.: Made by the saignee method - that is to say, by drawing off a portion of red wine after only a short period of skin contact and, although not stated on the label, made entirely of grapes from the 2005 vintage. Dry, but perhaps not fully brut dry, with its crushed berries, strawberry, watermelon and spicy flavors and aromas carrying a tantalizing hint of sweetness. Well balanced, a lovely wine as an aperitif or served with hors d'oeuvres. Drink now-2012. Score 90
Vilmart, Brut Champagne, Coeur de Cuvee, 2000: Every bit as good as the delicious 1999 wine. Reflecting a period of development in barriques with notes of spices and vanilla, those parting to reveal notes of toasted rye bread, citrus, mango and light notes of yeast that tantalize throughout. Well-focused bubbles go on and on to a long lemon and mocha finish. Elegance on a grand scale. Drink now-2020, perhaps longer. Score 92.
L. Aubry Fils, Brut Blancs de Blancs Champagne, Sable le Nombre d'Or, 2003: Made in a manner similar to the "solara system" used in making Port and Sherry wines, and thus with some intentional oxidation that makes its way into the yeasty and spicy summer fruit aromas and flavors of the wine. Fine acidity keeps the wine enchanting. An unusual wine to say the least, which deserves tasting even just to see if it's to your taste. Drink now-2012. Score 89.
Salon, Brut, Blanc de Blancs Champagne, Le Mesnil, 1997: Deep gold, full-bodied and with a personality that is fresh and refreshing, while simultaneously aggressive and thought provoking. This is not an adolescent wine waiting to develop, but a young adult showing toasted white bread and notes of ginger and graphite, parting to reveal peach, apricot and floral notes. Almost creamy but with fine acidity to keep it crisp; finishing long and generous with mineral and mocha notes rising nicely. Drink now-2028. Score 94.
Finally in this tasting, a non-sparkling Champagne. Clovis, the first King of the Francs took communion in the Cathedral at Reims with a glass of red, non-sparkling Champagne. Although the good people of Reims and Epernay later realized that they would do far better by making sparkling rather than still wines, the production of such still table wines has never quite ceased. Considering the Pinot Noir wines of Champagne hold a distinct second-place to the wines from Burgundy (and one might say to those from Washington State, Oregon and New Zealand as well), one wonders from time to time just why this production is maintained. Although they do manage to sell it, so there must be some followers.
Larmandier-Bernier, Vertus-Rouge, Champagne, 2005: A non-sparkling Champagne, made entirely from Pinot Noir grapes. A fine and somewhat amusing example of why the Champenois should perhaps stay with sparkling wine. Deep garnet towards royal purple, showing cherry and wild berry fruits, those with a near jammy note, not so much focused as a bit flabby, but saved by spicy notes that rise from mid-palate. Not at all a "bad" wine, but one that somehow fails to grab the attention. Drink now-2011. Score 86.
Two more tasted recently, imported by Chevrat HaKerem. To find the store nearest you carrying these selections, call (03) 962-7070.
Perrier-Jouet, Brut Champagne, Fleur de Champagne, Belle Epoque, 1999: A Belle Epoque wine, good enough to make us forget the last few rather banal years of this release. Medium-bodied but with a creamy texture. Packed with vanilla, lightly toasted white bread and butterscotch, showing citrus and summer fruits supported by notes of flinty minerals and, on the long finish, a tempting note of blueberries. Long and generous. Drink now-2020 or, if you enjoy your vintage Champagne on the mature side, until 2030. Score 93.
Perrier-Jouet, Grand Brut, Champagne, n.v.: Brut indeed but with tantalizing hints of honey and candied citrus peel, underlying crisp citrus and tropical fruits, all on a rich mineral background. A long mousse and well-focused bubbles that go on and on. Delicious. Score 91.
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