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Champagne Notes 2004

by Tom Stevenson

Champagnes II - SGV Tasting

With thanks to Axelle Lebrun, Anne Croftier and Elizabeth Chartogne for organising the tasting on behalf of the SGV (Syndicat Général des Vignerons), the growers' union. I have inserted wines tasted at Vilmart, plus a few other grower or cooperative Champagnes that have stood out - or not - elsewhere.

95/100

VILMART ET CIE 1997 Coeur de Cuvée (€40)
An electrifying display of fresh citrus aromas, with lemons, limes and crisp, crunchy redcurrant fruit on the palate.
See all 1997 Vilmart stockists on wine-searcher.com.

92/100

VILMART ET CIE 1998 Coeur de Cuvée
Noticeably golden compared to the 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2000 vintages either side of this cuvée, but distinctly superior to the two younger wines, with chocolaty Pinot fruit dominating (hence the colour?), excellent balancing acidity and a lovely cushiony mousse. Not yet released.

90/100

VILMART ET CIE 1999 Coeur de Cuvée
Fine, floral, autolytic aromas, with less oak interference than on the 2000 vintage. Fine fruit, with finesse building. Very fresh, crisp and long for its vintage. Not yet released.

COLLARD-CHARDELLE 1996 Millésime (€17.10)
Extraordinarily rich, huge flavours matched by massive acids, with great potential complexity, outstanding focus and finesse. A truly great Champagne from 50% Meunier content, grown in a modest cru (86%-rated Viller-sous-Châtillon), vinified in wooden foudres.

MAILLY Grand Cru 1996 Millésime L'Intemporelle
Full, rich Pinot Noir fruit nose and palate; superb cushiony mousse; lovely soft, long finish, excellent finesse and growing complexity.

88/100

PEHU-SIMONET NV Brut Sélection (€12.10)
The huge mouthful of fruit is the result of being vinified in used, not new, casks, with no obtrusive oak aromas to intrude. Although this Champagne would have benefited from more time on yeast, it nevertheless deserves a high score and should still age beautifully.

Michel LORIOT NV Réserve Brut (€12.50)
Toasty-Pinot aromas followed by lovely Pinot fruit on the palate - very smooth and expressive - with a pin-cushion mousse. It might sound paradoxical, but pure Pinot character is the hallmark of great Meunier, and this is the best 100% Meunier Champagne I've tasted in the last 12 months.

TARLANT 1996 Brut
Lovely acids. Leave in a cool, dark place and forget about it for a few years!

J.L. VERGNON 1995 Millésime (€18.50)
Full, rich, powerful flavours. Great concentration. Lovely acidity. This grower has a relatively large holding (over 5 hectares), but just a tiny proportion of the harvest for his own production (just 3,000 bottles).

VILMART ET CIE 1999 Cellier d'Or
Noticeably deeper colour than the 2000, but richer, longer, with much better acidity. Not yet released.

VILMART ET CIE 1998 Cellier d'Or
Deep colour (as per the 1998 Coeur de Cuvée), with rich, sweet, easy drinking fruit that will go biscuity in a few years.
See all 1998 Vilmart stockists on wine-searcher.com.

87/100

PETIT-CAMUSAT NV Brut Blanc de Blancs (€12.50)
A rarity made exclusively from Pinot Blanc, this Champagne has a full, toasty-mature aroma, and is extremely fruity, with very fresh, lovely acids, and tiny bubbles.

MAILLY Grand Cru 1996 Brut
Excellent fruit, and another outstanding example of a cushiony mousse in my notes, although it was tasted apart from the other Mailly Champagnes listed here.

GOSSET-BRABANT 1997 Gabriel Millésime (€22.20)
Good richness on nose and palate, smooth mousse, long aftertaste.

GUY CADEL 1996 Millésime
Brilliant fruit highlighted by excellent, almost 1996-like, acidity.

LARMANDIER-BERNIER 1998 Cramant Grand Cru Vieilles Vignes Extra Brut
The Vieilles Vignes always ages well, and this cuvée shows extraordinary strength for the vintage.
See all 1998 Larmandier-Bernier stockists on wine-searcher.com.

86/100

GATINOIS NV Grand Cru Brut Réserve
Always the best Gatinois cuvée, with rich, fuller fruit than the all-too-often estery Grand Cru Brut.

JACQUART 1996 BRUT
Attractive, creamy-rich fruit, underscored by a seductively soft yet ever present acidity.
See all 1996 Jacquart stockists on wine-searcher.com.

VILMART ET CIE 2000 Cellier d'Or
Lovely, floral, autolytic aromas, followed by very rich, pure, focused fruit on the palate. There is no length. It comes to a dead stop, rather than any finish as such, but many Champagnes are like that at this stage. Definitely a safer bet than the 2000 Coeur de Cuvée, but the latter could be a dark horse. Who knows at this point? Not yet released.

85/100

GATINOIS NV Grand Cru Brut
None of the disgorged-too-early esterification aromas that normally blight Gatinois' entry level cuvée, the blend shown at London's Annual Champagne Tasting in March 2004 was totally fruit-driven.

Christian BOURMAULT NV Grand Eloge
Coconutty-oak aromas dominate both nose and palate, the latter of which has very coconutty fruit, but thankfully excellent acidity. Very crisp. This would have been an amazingly fine Champagne with less time in oak, especially if the oak had been older and of different provenance. If the barrels were sold to M. Bourmault as French in origin, he should have them DNA tested!

LANCELOT-PIENNE NV Sélection (€12.50)
The 1997-based cuvée I tasted had plenty of reserves (20% from 1995 and 1996), providing richness and strength of flavour, enhanced by good acidity to provide the length. There are quite a few Lancelot families in Champagne, which is only to be expected, since Lancelot was one of four stories of Arthurian Romance written by Chrétien of Troyes in the late 12th century, and it is said that he based his characters, including their names on existing documents.

Henri GOUTORBE NV Tradition (€13.16)
Nose a little unsettled, but fruit rich and settling in, with good acidity and should develop nice complex bottle aromas over the next 2-3 years.

GOUSSARD & DAUPHIN NV Brut Prestige (€12.20)
Very young, firm, yeast-complexed fruit. I have never tasted this grower from Avirey-Lingey before, but the Brut Prestige strongly suggests a Champagne style that could be aged. This cuvée turned out to be 1999-based with 30% reserves from 1997 and 1998, the assemblage of which consists of 60% Chardonnay, and 40% Pinot Noir.

Didier DOUE NV Brut Prestige (€13)
Sweeter than most bruts in the tasting, but definitely has a good brut-dryness on the finish. Attractive fruit, gradually attaining some yeast-complexed richness.

J. CHARPENTIER NV Brut Réserve
Fat Pinot Noir fruit, full and creamy, with good acidity and length.

Guy CHARLEMAGNE 1998 Charlemagne Millésime (€18.41)
The light weight of this Champagne belies its richness and length. Remarkable balance.

MAILLY Grand Cru NV Brut Rosé
Big, full-to-bursting Pinot style with hints of toast. Could be white under blind conditions. Definitely a serious, food Champagne.

MICHEL GONET 1996 Cuvée Prestige Brut
One of the loveliest, most cushiony mousses I have found on a 1996 to date, it has the dual effect of both softening the fruit and bringing finesse.

Pierre CALLOT & Fils NV Clos Jacquin (€39)
Just 1,000 bottles are produced of this very clean and creamy single-vineyard blanc de blancs Champagne from Grand Cru Avize.

TARLANT NV Cuvée Louis
broad, overtly oaky-caramel bouquet followed by oak-dominated fruit on the palate, this is neither classic, nor a style I enjoy, but it is saved by searing 1996-like acidity on the finish and is scored for its type. Cuvée Louis has always oak-fermented, but used to be coconutty, although supposedly Vosges, not American! Why so much oak - whether caramel or coconut - why not use a light hand?

84/100

Jean MICHEL NV Blanc de Blancs (€11.30)
Rich and tasty with an almost pithy texture. Good acids. The cuvée I tasted was pure 1998, with no reserves.

Edmond BOURDELAT 1996 Millésime (€15.70)
Rich, concentrated fruit, with good acids, but if it had a finer mousse it would possess more finesse.

Nicolas Feuillatte 1996 Aÿ
The first of NF's long awaited, new mono-crus from the 1996 vintage, the fruit is serious, with somewhat rapidly evolved complexity. Not bad, but not a patch on NF's inaugural 1995s: Verzy (86 points), Chouilly (87), Mesnil (89) and Cramant (89).

83/100

JANISSON-BARADON 1997 Toulettes
More coconutty oak! Soft, oaky fruit on palate, even some tannins on the finish. Tingly mousse.

WARIS-LARMANDIER 1998 Empreinte-Millésime (€21)
Rich, with sweet-ripe fruit. Will go toasty, but could do with more finesse. Apparently the vines are all 45-50 years old!

81/100

Michel GENET 1999 Grande Réserve Millésime (€15)
Creamy-caramel fruit on nose, promising to go toasty. Soft easy fruit on palate. Needs to throttle-back on the malolactic.

80/100

Christian BOURMAULT NV Hermance
Young-winey aromas; very fresh, fruity and not too brut, with more winey aromas on the palate. The fruit needs some yeast-complexed aromas, but it is fresh, with a crisp, clean finish.

David COUTELAS NV Tradition (€12)
Very estery nose with very creamy fruit on the finish. Quite rich, but needs a lighter touch, crisper acids and more finesse. The cuvée tasted was very young (2000-based plus 23% reserves), and although I have tasted younger Champagnes that drink well, this one really needed another two years on yeast.

TROUSSET-GUILLEMART NV Carte Crème (€11)
Estery aromas with very young fruit on the palate (2000-based I later discovered), but lacks acidity and freshness.

LACUISSE Frères NV Domaine du Cosson Spéciale (€11.50)
Very fresh and crisp, but the mousse is too firm, and more time on yeast is required to integrate the CO2.

LACUISSE Frères NV Domaine du Cosson Brut Tradition (€12.80)
More mellow than the Spéciale, but lacks focus and finesse.

DIEBOLT-VALLOIS NV Prestige
Creamy-fresh fruit, soft and easy in style, but not special given Champagne's intrinsic advantages.

P. GONET & Fils NV Brut Blanc de Blancs
Aldehydic fruit nose and palate, with lovely acidity, but disgorged 24 months too early.

Dubois NV Du Rédempteur Blanc de Blancs (€12.80)
The very creamy-rich fruit on the palate can be drunk with pleasure now, but there are definite signs on the nose that this wine will fall over. Do not keep.

LE MESNIL Union des Propriétaires Récoltants 1998 Millésime
Creamy-honeyed aroma, with mellowing fruit on the palate, but could be crisper, with more focused finish. I have tasted better from this cooperative. Similar notes in London and Epernay..

CAILLEZ-LEMAIRE 1998 Millésime
Very oaky aromas mingling with firm fruit, some tannins. Firm mousse. Tiny bubbles.

J.P. SECONDÉ 1996 Millésimé
Brut Smooth and rich, but has neither individual expressiveness nor finesse.

78/100

CAILLEZ-LEMAIRE NV Grande Réserve
The cuvée I tasted had a distinctly metallic edge to its aromas, but no metallic hint in fruit on palate. Nice, clean, acidic finish.

Nicolas Feuillatte 1997 Cuvée Spéciale
A bit sweet, and very simple.

Michel VIGNON NV Brut Réserve Spéciale (€21.40)
Estery aromas followed by aldehydic fruit. Needs more fruit, freshness and finesse.

CHASSENAY D'ARCE NV Confidences (€19)
Honey and eau-de-vie on the nose; initially much better on the palate, but these aromatics come back towards the finish.

LEGOUGE-COPIN NV Rosé (€12.70)
Rich, but the pure 1999-based cuvée I tasted lacked freshness and finesse.

75/100

GABRIEL-PAGIN Fils NV Grande Réserve
Aldehydic aromas give way to mature fruit in this pastiche of the Bollinger style.

DE SOUSA NV Des Caudalies
Estery aromas, with some bitterness mid-palate. Lacks finesse.

Guy LARMANDIER NV Cramant Brut Grand Cru
Floral Chardonnay fruit on nose and palate. Will go very toasty quite quickly.

73/100

AGRAPART & Fils 1996 Avizoise Millésime
Estery-aldehydic. Lacks elegance and requires more plumpness of fruit.

70/100

JANISSON-BARADON & Fils NV
Brut Sélection Creamy-caramel nose, sweet and sour fruit on palate.

LE MESNIL Union des Propriétaires Récoltants NV Blanc de Blancs
Creamy-lactic aroma; creamy-toasty fruit, touch saline on the finish. Disappointing for this cooperative, although not unexpected, as it is the vintaged Champagnes that excel her, particularly the 'Sublime'.

MAILLY Grand Cru NV Blanc de Noirs
High-toned, lacked finesse.

David HEUCQ & Fils NV Rosé (€11.80)
Estery-aldehydic aromas, followed by sweet, aldehydic fruit.

68/100

JEAUNAUX-ROBIN NV Prestige (€13.20)
Sweet aromas, but a touch amylic, with very basic fruit, and lacks finesse.

GABRIEL-PAGIN Fils NV Carte d'Or (€11.75)
Very estery and unready on the nose; quite sweet on the palate. Lacks freshness, focus and finesse.

65/100

Eustache DESCHAMPS NV Brut Réserve (€12)
Gone past its best and freshest, and threatens soon to break up.

POUL-JUSTINE NV Blanc de Chardonnay Brut (€13)
Winey aromas, lacking in finesse and focus.

35/100

Nicolas Feuillatte 1996 Ambonnay
The second of NF's two new mono-crus is the worst, with bitterness on the palate, and a goaty taste that catches at the back of the throat. It is an insult to the true potential of Ambonnay.

30/100

DOMAINE GROSSARD 1997 Jeeper
This is usually the best wine in the Jeeper range, but the bottle shown at London's Annual Champagne Tasting in March 2004 was horrid.

NS

VILMART ET CIE 2000 Coeur de Cuvée
Good autolysis, but its aromas are fighting with the oak. The wine does not appear to have the weight to take so much oak, and the fruit is somewhat ungainly on the palate. However, it is very early days, disgorgement was just 14 days prior to tasting, and no dosage added, thus must reserve judgement until the wine comes together, if it does, or it is a fully commercial product. Not yet released.

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