Deeply Meunier: Champagne Moussé Fils

Pinot meunier hasn’t had much respect in the wine world.   For winemakers in Champagne, it’s the secret lover they embrace with pleasure but don’t want their friends to find out about.  The historical poor reputation of the the grape (called meunier in the region) is the result of poor understanding of how and where to grow it and how to handle the fruit in the winery.  Today, producers understand the need for clearer juice, long fermentation, strict temperature control during fermentation (15o C) and malolactic fermentation.  These (and other) technical advances have promoted the use of meunier to add richness, elegance, and telltale toasted bread notes and a hint of red berry fruit to Champagnes.

Champagne Moussé Fils produces wines predominately based on pinot meunier.  Their house motto is “profondement meunier,” which translates as “deeply meunier.”  The varietal thrives on the fertile soils in the vineyards Moussé owns or controls at the western end of the Montagne de Reims (black clay over green clay over mixed clay and sand over Champenoise chalk).  The vignoble covers five family-owned hectares in Cuisles and two rented hectares in other villages on the same hillside.  These sites are largely unsuitable for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Champagne Moussé Fils was founded in 1923 by Eugène Moussé.   His great grandson Cédric is the current winemaker at the house.  Cédric is a convivial and energetic fellow who delighted CWW members visiting the winery in early October of 2016 generally and by disgorging a bottle à la volée.  His innovative inclination has led to heavy investment in sustainable practices at the winery ranging from using and recycling well water to relying on solar and other renewable energy sources at the winery.  He also engages in ongoing experimentation to identify best practices in the vineyard and the chai.

The Moussé range of Champagnes includes Cuvée Extra Or d’Eugène (Blanc de Noirs – Extra Brut, Solera 2003 – 2011, 80% Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir, low dosage), L’Or d’Eugène (Blanc de Noirs Solera 2003-2013, 80% Meunier, 20$ Pinot Noir), Terre d’Illite 2011 (Blanc de Noirs, 95% Meunier, 5% Pinot Noir), Spécial Club 2012 (Blanc de Noirs, 100% Meunier), Spécial Club 2012 (Rosé de saignée, 100% Meunier), Anecdote (Blanc de Blancs, 100% Chardonnay, Lieu dit “Les Varosses”).  None was less than very good, and the rest were excellent to outstanding.  The house produces fewer than sixty thousand bottles a year.  Two thirds of that is exported to markets in Europe, Canada, the US, South Africa and Asia.

 

Left:  Cédric Moussé’s energy, intelligence and creativity are strongly reflected in his family house’s physical plant and sustainable green practices as well as their wines.

Centre:  This scale model of the soil profile in the Moussé vineyards demonstrates the fertile black and green topsoils that make them too fertile for pinot noir and chardonnay.

Right:  Cedric obtained this stainless steel amphora to determine whether its shape might improve wines fermented and stored in it.

 

 

 

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Champagne: Stars in a Glass

Although good or better sparkling wines are produced around the world and have earned a place at your table, champagne is the very best of the bunch. It’s got a whole range of intense aromas and flavours ranging from apple, lemon and peach fruit (with a dash of raspberry in rosé versions), minerals and telltale autolysed yeast.  It manages full ripeness and creamy richness in the mouth held aloft on wings of crisp acidity.  It lingers on the palate for a very long time.  Champagne is not just refreshing fizz.  It’s real wine, to be savoured and reflected upon.

There are several reasons why champagne is so good. The Champagne region (starting about 50 km east of Paris) is located on the 49th parallel, making it a (thermally) cool place to grow grapes.  Full ripeness is hard to achieve in some years, but acidity is rarely cooked out of the fruit by warm weather as it can be in more southerly regions of production.  That acidity is responsible for champagne’s freshness which in some specimens can be frankly bracing.  Because most champagne is blended from wines grown in various subregions and in different years, fuller and older reserve wines can pack in such ripeness as is necessary for good balance with those acids.  The stock of reserve wines in Champagne amounts to 1.6 billion bottles, a five year supply.  Blenders won’t be running out of these wines any time soon.

The chalk soils of Champagne also contribute to the quality of the region’s wine. The soils, a kind of light loose limestone, are made up of fossilized animals which lived in the ancient ocean that covered the area.  It’s porous enough to allow rainwater to drain from the surface of the vineyards without flooding the vines, but it also holds water deeper down where it can be reached by deep roots in times of drought.  The chalk may also enhance the flavours of the grapes which grow on it.

Champagne acquires its particular character from its vinification and aging. However, the grape varietals used to produce the wine contribute their own tastes and textures to the final product.  The three types most commonly used are pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier.  Pinot noir, the grape of the velvety red wines of Burgundy, is planted on 38% of the region’s vineyards.  It provides the body, flesh and grip, the structural backbone essential to champagne’s blends, and the occasional raspberry nuance.  Pinot noir juice is racked off its black skins before it acquires their colour to produce a white wine.  (Still red pinot noir is added to white champagnes to create most rosés.  Others get the pink in by leaving the juice on the skins for a longer period, the saignee method.)

Chardonnay covers 30% of Champagne’s vignoble. Its wines are leaner than their Burgundian counterparts.  Sometimes difficult to enjoy in youth, chardonnay in champagne becomes exciting and snappy while remaining fine and delicate.  Its colour is paler than that of champagnes with black grapes in the blend.  Paradoxically, this white among the reds confers the greatest ability to age.  Chardonnay in blends and blanc de blanc champagnes have gained popularity over the years.  Wines like Salon, Taittinger Comtes de Champagne and Krug Clos de Mesnil now command superstar ratings (and prices).

Four other white grape varieties are permitted in champagne but are rarely used: pinot blanc, pinot gris, meslier and arbanne. (You can seriously impress your wine friends by naming them.)

Pinot meunier, planted on 32% of Champagne’s acreage, had a bad reputation until recently. It wasn’t meunier’s fault.  So little of the stuff is grown around the world that the folks who grew it in Champagne didn’t know what it needed to shine: different handling around harvest and in the winery.  Today, champagne houses acknowledge and take full advantage of meunier’s richness, elegance, telltale toasted bread notes and a hint of red berry fruit in champagnes.

The “méthode Champenois” by which champagne is made plays a central role in the quality and character of the wine. The original sparkling wines were created accidentally when the yeasts performing alcoholic fermentation became dormant when the temperature grew cool enough in autumn and came back to life the following spring.  At that time they could resume fermenting the sugar remaining in the wine, generating alcohol and CO2 gas.  The gas would form bubbles when the bottle was opened but caused bottles to explode with alarming frequency.

The champagne method, made possible by sturdy English bottles in the late 18th century, involved carrying out a deliberate second fermentation of the base wine in the bottle.  This is achieved by adding yeast and sugar to the still wine and capping it tightly to keep the gas in.

The champagne method does more than add the bubbles. It leaves behind the cadavers of the yeast cells from the second fermentation.  These deceased yeasts are dissolved by their own enzymes in a process known as autolysis.  Long aging of the wine on the yeast components (lees aging) ensures that champagne is well endowed with its sweet yeasty decadent flavours and aromas.  Autolyzed yeast also deters oxidation in champagne as it ages.  The bottles are gently shaken and gradually moved from the horizontal to the vertical (cap down).  When the time is right—eighteen months or decades later—the neck of the bottle is immersed in freezing saline.  The cap is removed and the potentially turbid solids accumulated on it are blown out in a winey ice plug.  Some sugar is added (the dosage), as little as 2 g/l for brut wines to over 20 g/l in extra dry or “riche” styles.  The bottle is then corked and laid down for a while (18 months or more is best) while it settles down and its components marry.  Et voilà, le champagne!

The organization of the wine industry in Champagne has led to great improvements in the wines, their sustainability, and environmental impact. The Comité Champagne, the latest name for the region’s wine advisory and regulatory body, is managing the status and evolution of champagne.  It also serves to maintain harmony between the 20,455 harvest-declaring growers who own 90% of Champagne’s vineyard area (holding less than 2 Ha on average) and the champagne houses responsible for 2/3 of the region’s total production and 90% of its exports.

Most people are familiar with big champagne houses like Moet et Chandon, Mumm, Roederer, Taittinger, Laurent-Perrier and Heidsieck. Each offers a range of styles from multi-vintage blends to blancs de blancs, blancs de noirs, wines of a single vintage, and single vineyard bottlings.  In Canada, prices begin around $45 and rise well into three figures for grand marque champagnes like Dom Perignon, Roederer Cristal, and La Grande Dame.  Many growers have begun producing and marketing their own champagnes, some of which are extremely exciting.  The holiday season is the perfect time to celebrate with something more than a modest new world bubbly.  Life is short.  Drink champagne!

[In early November I traveled in Champagne as an international member of the Circle of Wine Writers. We were hosted by the Comité Champagne.  Over the next while I’ll be publishing profiles of eight interesting and individual houses.]

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CBC Radio One “Fresh Air”interview on managing Vacation Tensions

This link will take you to Mary Ito’s interview with me broadcast Sunday July 10.

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Fresh Air Interview, Sunday July 10

You can hear me talk about managing vacation conflict Sunday morning between 7:30 and 8:00 am on CBC Radio One’s province-wide show Fresh Air, hosted by the charming Mary Ito, who will be doing her last show next weekend after seven years hosting the series.

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Canadian Wines Entering the English Market

This link will take you to a piece about the UK firm Bibendum taking on representation of Canadian wineries Norman Hardie and Stratus.  Our products are getting out there!

Bibendum PLB adds Canadian agencies

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In America, they Went West. In Italian Wine, I Go South

The contents of my wine cellar vary widely over time, but you’ll always find a clutch of wines from southern Italy in my cupboard. These products offer high quality, interesting character, and very fair prices.  The grapes used to craft them are from unusual indigenous often ancient varietals.  The reds are palish and often garnet-tinged with rich (but rarely fat) ripe fresh and dried red fruit, pungent gravel or volcanic mineral notes, and enchanting sweet spices.  The whites are full-ish but fresh with perfumed noses and pear-ish or tropical fruit.   

At the 20th annual Italian Wine Fair’s visit to Toronto last November, several dozen local wine folk were treated to a tasting of wines from Southern Italy.

Dr. Attilio Scienza (yes, he’s really named ‘Dr. Science’), professor of viticulture and oenology at the University of Milan, was on hand to illuminate tasters.  Wine man Jamie Drummond acted as emcee, keeping things moving along nicely while providing both information and entertainment.  If you can’t find the specific bottlings noted below, look for others from the same regions or producers.  You won’t go far wrong. 

Reds:

Salento Rosso IGP—Rosso Camillo 2011 Pirro Varone Società Agricola S.R.L.($24.05, score 89+): From the heel of the Italian boot, this wine is a pretty medium scarlet colour with delightful ripe black cherry blackberry and black current fruit and dusty sweet spicy and floral notes.  It’s fresh and finely grippy with a long well-fruited finish.

Primitivo Salento IGP, Cantine Due Palme 2013 ($15.95, score 89+):  Primitivo is the same grape as California’s Zinfandel and it shows in this deep dark cherry red wine.  It flaunts big fresh and dried raspberry and red cherry fruit with an earthy farmyard note and a metallic nuance.  It’s fresh and velvety with dep sweetly ripe fruit and grace notes with a long, fruity mouth-watering finish.

Cirò Rosso Classico Superiore Riserva DOC 2012 Duca San Felice, Librandi Antonio E Nicodemo SPA ($17.95, score 89+): This Calabrian wine is vinified from the Gaglioppo grape.  This medium-pale wine has a mineral nose with luscious mixed red berry and blackberry fruit with sweet spicy lilac notes.  Its texture is grippy velvet with fresh acidity to carry the sweet ripe berry fruit through a lively finely tannic finish.

Melissa Rosso Superiore Mutrò DOC Val di Neto SRL 2008 ($24.95, score 89+): From the southern part of Cirò, this wine adds 25% Greco Nero to the Gaglioppo.  Despite its age it’s still a glass-staining wine with a lovely fully mature nose of pungent minerals and dried cherry fruit.  The velvety tannins and plush fruit persist through the long finish.

Etna (Trecastagni—districts of Ronzini and San Nicolò, Catania) Outis 2013 ($44.50, score 89+): The Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappucio (identified as Carignan) blended into this wine grow on volcanic soils around Sicily’s Mt. Etna which endow it with a pungent minerality.  The lovely perfumed nose also has bright red cherry fruit with root beer, floral and sweet spicy notes.  It’s very soft with fresh flavours and a gentle refreshing bitter note through a long finish.

 

Whites: 

Taburno Falanghina di Montagna, Masseria Frattasi di Beniamino Clemente 2014 ($19.95, score 89):  Falanghina is named for the falanga, a Roman battle spear, acknowledging the varietal’s tall vines.  This wine has an aromatic nose with mango and pear fruit, acacia, and mineral and sweet spicy notes.  It’s sweetly ripe and freshly acidic on the palate with a creamy texture and a refreshing bitter finish.

Sicilia DOC—Donnafugata SurSur Grillo 2014 ($24.95, score 89+): This white features pear fruit and intense aromas of acacia blossoms with a grassy herbaceous note.  It’s fresh, creamy and sweetly ripe in the mouth through a long finish.

[For more information about Italian wines email Natalia Banoub of energy PR at natalia.banoub@energipr.com]

 

 

 

 

 

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Gigondas: A Leading Producer’s Take on a Beautiful Southern Rhône

Gigondas Amadieu image.JPGThe southern Rhône valley has been an agricultural paradise at least since the Phoenicians. Grape growing has benefited from the region’s sunny Mediterranean climate, varied soils and a range of altitudes and exposures.  The modern wine industry in the area produces high quality fairly priced white, rosé, sweet and sparkling wines, but it’s their red wines that take the prize.  These bottlings are blended from Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault and nine other red and white varietals, although the first four are the most widely used.  They’re characterized by delicious mixed ripe red and black berry fruit with earthy, leathery, licorice root and herbaceous notes.  Their tannins are fine and acidity fresh.  The best can age usefully for decades.

Basic Rhône wines, often mixtures of juice from a number of the region’s communes, are classed as “Côtes du Rhône.” Those from a particular named commune are more distinctive and, often, higher in quality (and price.)  The best known (and costliest) come from Châteauneuf du Pape, where such examples as Beaucastel, Rayas and Vieux Telegraphe have achieved vinous superstar status.  The next most renowned is Gigondas.

The name Gigondas is derived from the Latin “jocunditas,” meaning joy or pleasantness. It was applied to a Gallo-Roman village where life was good, as were the wines produced there.  The vineyards are arrayed on the foothills of the striking Dentelles de Montmiraille where altitude can mitigate the intense summer heat, allowing for preservation of fresh acidity and focused fruit flavours.  Red Gigondas will serve as “the monarch of the feast,” partnering beautifully with roast or braised meats.  Good bottlings will age to mushroomy gingery glory over twenty years.  Prices begin in the $25-$30 range!

Pierre Amadieu is among the most highly regarded wineries in Gigondas. Last fall Pierre’s grandson, Henri-Claude Amadieu, presented a seminar in Toronto to show off three different Gigondas red wines (and a Vinsobres red from another southern Rhône commune) made by his house.  They were fairly priced delicious specimens.

Gigondas Romane Machotte Rouge 2012 ($28, score 90+) has a nose of deep black cherry and black berries fruit with wet stone note and rose petal nuances. The tannins are fine, firm and ripe with fresh acidity framing dep elegant fruit through a very long fruit and tannic finish with a mild bitter note and a faint oaky note on the finish.

Gigondas Domaine Grand Romane Rouge 2013 ($40, score 91+) has a very perfumed bouquet bright mixed black berry fruit with slightly pungent mineral and licorice root notes. It’s plush and velvety on the palate, fresh, and flaunts elegant luscious focused fruit with an elegant note.  The finish is fine, long and astringent.

Gigondas Le Pas de L’Aigle Rouge 2012 (~$30, score 91) has a seriously dusty pungent mineral nose with mixed black fruit and licorice root peeking out. It’s mouth-watering, with fine firm ripe tannins, fresh acid and deep ripe fruit harmonized with mineral notes. They all coast through a long finely astringent finish with a toasty note at the end.

Vinsobres Les Paillats Rouge 2012 ($21, score 89+) was slightly rustic with focused black cherry blackberry fruit, a touch of black currant and faded rose petal and elegant mineral notes. The tannins are fine, firm and ripe with fresh acidity.  The fruit is rich but serious.  Fruit and tannin persist on the very long finish with a late kiss of oak.

[You can contact Ontario agent Trilogy Wine Group at info@trilogywinegroup.ca or Henri-Claude Amadieu at henri.amadieu@pierre-amadieu.com for more information about Amadieu Gigondas.]

 

 

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