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One Brilliant Bottle

organic/biodynamic/natural wines in Vinland

Tag Archives: Champagne

Marie-Courtin Efflorescence

France (Champagne)

pinot noir

[no website]

Marie-Courtin Efflorescence 2007

The bottle says “extra brut” and for sure it is the driest champagne I’ve experienced. Dry, but by no means bitter. There’s a fresh, savoury nose, with hints of apple, tarragon, yeast perhaps, and cheese. In the mouth a crisp vegetal and mineral presence. Flavourful and elegant. With a lingering sensory finish. Charming.  $$$

Regular readers of this blog know I have a fondness for small production grower champagne. I could never appreciate all the fuss over champagne, until I encountered this new breed of exceptional single harvest, single vintage, single grower champagne that flies in the face of the big names in the region.

Dominique Moreau cultivates just 2.5 hectares. Hers is, in fact, a single hillside vineyard of 40-50 year old vines, mostly pinot noir. It is located in the village of Polisot, in that other, that less-prized part of Champagne — Aube. Long considered merely a supplier of grapes for the prestigious Marne to the north, the Aube region has recently come into its own, with a host of  vignerons whose grower champagnes are turning the heads of those who thought they knew all there was to know about what makes great champagne.


In the case of Moreau and her domaine Marie-Courtin it starts with the limestone-clay soil, which in many ways is closer to the soils of nearby Chablis than those of Marne. Add immaculate care through the growing season, including debudding and bringing the fruit to its prime ripeness (sometimes a challenge in Champagne, the most northern of France’s wine-growing regions). Continue with hand harvesting and traditional wooden basket pressing, in which the first and last litres of juice are set aside, so only the best is fed by gravity to the tanks on the lower floor. Vinification using only indigenous yeast, and, in the case of Efflorescence, using neutral oak barrels. No added sugar at the time of bottling. Minimal intervention at all stages.

Moreau chose to name her domaine after her great-grandmother, whom she recalls as very much “a woman of the earth.” The domaine was created in 2001, with her first vintage in 2006. Cultivation has been strictly organic from the start, with some biodynamic methods. She will often use pendulums in both the vineyard and the cellar to access the various stages of development from grape to wine. Until recently, she produced only two cuvées. Efflorescence, she notes, refers to “something that evolves in perpetuity.” A decisive step away from the year-to-year sameness of the bottlings from Champagne’s big-name houses. A step rather towards wine that varies with vintage and age. How much more interesting and wine-like.


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Domaine Jacques Selosse V.O. “Version Originale” Extra Brut

France (Champagne)


[no website]

Today marks the 100th Brilliant Bottle! A milestone indeed, and one needing an exceptionally blog-worthy wine. Champagne, by all means.

When I discovered champagne from the hand of Anselme Selosse last spring on the shelves of Aux Saveurs de la Tonnelle, a favourite wine shop in Saumur, I knew I couldn’t return from France without a bottle. Rare is the stock of Selosse wines in North America, and considerable time would likely pass before I would be within arm’s length of any more.

This from wine writer Andrew Jefford: “It is hard to think of a single individual in Champagne today whose work… is more influential than Anselme Selosse. … a profound and original thinker whose vocation happens to be that of vigneron.”

Selosse’s work in that most glittering and ingrained of wine regions has more than once been referred to as revolutionary and uncompromisingly brilliant. He has changed the course of Champagne winemaking, and, in the view of many wine critics, decidedly for the better. Although, as in any revolution, there are those far from willing to embrace the new ideas. Why would they? Their long-standing approach — blending wines from a multitude of growers in various areas where the ultimate aim is uniformity of style — has paid off very handsomely.

Enter Anselme Selosse in the 1980s with the idea of artisanal, ‘grower’ champagne, using grapes owned by a single winery and year by year reflecting the ‘terroir’ of its vineyards. Low yields of perfectly ripe fruit. Fermentation in small oak barrels rather than stainless steel. The use of indigenous yeast only and minimal use of sulphur. Extended period on the lees. Riddling (the process of consolidating the sediment in the bottle prior to its removal) by hand. And in overall approach, biodynamic.

It is winemaking seen as very much akin to that of white Burgundy. Selosse, in fact, studied at the Lycée Viticole de Beaune before taking over the estate from his father, Jacques, in 1980. The estate remains relatively small (15 hectares only), but is blessed with several very fine grand cru holdings in the Côte des Blancs.

His prices, given the work that goes into the wines and the intense demand for them, remain consistently fair, an indication of Selosse’s integrity in all aspects of winemaking. He calculates the prices based on his costs, prices that he terms “healthy” and “true.” Rather like his work in the vineyards.

Selosse seems to have consistently stood Champagne viticulture on its head, with the notion that the health of the vineyard soils, and in turn the root system, is paramount.

Whoa. The sky is falling.

In the spirit of making this 100th bottle a true “version originale” of the blog, I am holding off on the tasting notes. That’s because I need my family (the ones who encouraged me to take up my wine glass and write) to join me in order to make this a true celebration!

The wine will be unboxed, the cork will be popped in a few days… as a prelude to some fine food. So stay tuned, and watch for an update with the tasting notes. In the meantime, an expectant ‘Santé! À la votre!’

Domaine Jacques Selosse V.O. “Version Originale” Extra Brut

The day has arrived. And whoa again — an incredible champagne. Words are hardly sufficient to describe it. Some that flow around the table regarding the nose: yeast, chocolate, overripe pear, marmite! Regarding the palate: so much more full of body than most champagnes, so much more sense of place, yes terroir, with a citrus, indeed white Burgundy feel, slight salty aftertaste, a full mouth experience. First and foremost, a wine, with life and history and a story to tell. Wonderful.  $$$

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Inflorescence La Parcelle

France (Champagne)

pinot noir

There is much to celebrate. The Yuletide of course. Good health and good friends. Older son home for the holidays. The band he and his brother started, Mercy the Sexton, has just released a new CD. Clink glasses!

In the glasses are the contents of a bottle of ‘grower champagne’. It’s one I’ve been saving since bringing it home from The Sampler wine shop in London several months ago.

Cédric Bouchard is the man behind the bottle. Experimenter, rebel. A fresh voice in a region noted more for its glitz and staying power than its innovation. He produces first and foremost a wine of place and time — single varietal, single vineyard, single vintage. Nothing like the cross-vintage blends for which the region is famous, the bottles of the Champagne we all know, the Grandes Marques.

He produces his wine under two labels: Roses de Jeanne, from his own vineyards, and Inflorescence, from those owned by his father. In total there are just three hectares.

Small, but cared for with meticulous organic detail. No chaptalization, no dosage. In the case of this Inflorescence, 80 months on the lees before release. The result: a wine of great character, expressive of the terroir (a concept rarely heard in Champagne). A wine expressive of the chalky soil, the climate, the fragrances of the earth and its vegetation.

Production is miniscule compared with the big names in the Champagne firmament. The wine is not widely available. It is not cheap. (Then again, neither is champagne generally.) In fact this bottle took me to the very limit of my price range. Appropriately enough for this the 52nd weekly wine in my year-long venture.

Infloresence La Parcelle NV (2002)

Pungent. Because there is room to swish and swirl, the focus is not sprightly bubbles, but aromatics. Citrus, minerals, spice/floral, above all apples. There’s the taste of minerals and apricots. Fresh, clear, still a hint of yeast. Harmonious. Hours later, with the little that is left in the bottom of the glass, a touch of something aged and honeyed. To the end there is the feeling of being on a journey, that the vignernon has led the celebrator somewhere interesting, that it has been consistently lively, senses-enriching, never without surprise.  $$$

A wine to celebrate, a wine to celebrate with.


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Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus

France (Champagne)



The first light of morning in a bottle, on a beach in Bonavista Bay, Newfoundland.

I can’t say I had ever been an enthusiastic drinker of champagne. I agreed with Andrew Jefford (as I often do) when he referred to it as “traditionally a wine of great appeal rather than particular excellence.” I had, however, been hearing about so-called “grower champagne”, the product of a single vignernon, not wine blended from grapes harvested by a multitude of growers, as is the case with the vast majority of champagnes. Neither is it fermented using commercial yeasts. With a greater sense of terroir, it seemed to offer hope for a re-evaluation of what is, in the eyes of many, the most prestigious of wines.

The 16 hectares of Larmandier-Bernier was to be the testing ground. It is the domaine of PIERRE and SOPHIE LARMANDIER. Following study in Alsace and Burgundy, Pierre assumed control of the family vineyards in the late 1980s and during the next few years the couple, amid the skeptics, made the move to biodynamic methods.

The premier cru standing in the sand is from the grapes of three adjacent parcels in the village of Vertus. It has been fermented half in large wooden foudres, and half in stainless steel, using only indigeous yeasts (ones that occur naturally on the bloom of the grape). It is non-dosé, meaning after the disgorging (the removal of the spent yeast deposit), the bottle is topped up with the same wine, not with sugar as is usually the case. The champagne is made entirely from chardonnay, and is therefore a blanc de blancs. It is from a single harvest (2006), although with its early release it could not be vintage dated.

The refreshingly honest and informative website of Larmandier-Bernier indicates that the path to natural viticulture has not been easy. “…we used to be considered harmless dreamers, so people left us alone. Today, given…the success enjoyed by ‘singular’ wines, our approach, which is certainly a bit elitist, disturbs people.”

The proof of the approach is in the bottle.


Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Premier Cru

This wine is here for a celebration – the publication of a new novel.

It has qualities which I have never before discovered in champagne. (And I suspect it is not because my wallet doesn’t expand to the aged and ultra-expensive.) This champagne has character, complexity, a natural sense of place. There is a feeling of yeast, and clearly a minerality, an earthiness. My interest continues unabated. It is drunk with a group of friends, eliciting tasting comments ranging from a green edge of bitter, to hints of sauerkraut and fermented wheat. Yet through all its flavour range, it is balanced and poised.

An experience that is in need of celebrating itself.  $$

An experience brought across the Atlantic via the legendary London wine shop Berry Bros. & Rudd. Speaking of a wine experience full of character…


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