October 27, 2008
Continuing our pre-phylloxera thought-experiment, our journey back to the wines of founding wanker, Thomas Jefferson, we turn now to Champagne.
Jefferson was certainly a fan of Champagne. During a 4 month span as President, he once went through 207 bottles. To be fair, the same ledgers documenting the alcohol consumption also indicate he served these to more than 600 dinner guests. So it wasn't like he was holed up in the Oval Office pounding Veuve like the Duke.
As far as I know (which means checking Keith Levenberg's invaluable list and searching diligently through Peter Liem's really terrific blog), there are only two Champagnes produced from grapes grown on ungrafted vines. Bollinger's, very expensive, Vielles Vignes Françaises and Tarlant's, hardly cheap, La Vigne d'Antan.
The Tarlant wine comes from a tiny parcel (less than an acre) of 50 year-old Chardonnay vines in the village of Oeuilly. The sandy soil there safeguards Tarlant's own-rooted vines from our nasty yellow pest.
Benoit Tarlant, the current heir to a line of Tarlant winemakers that goes back to the 17th century, seems a fellow-traveler in our thought-experiment. From the company's website: "the Vigne d'Antan reveals the true nature of the chardonnay grape, with aromas unknown elsewhere since the 19th century (when phylloxera devastated the vineyards of France)."
Our bottle is a little older than the current release (based on the 2000 vintage). According to the label, it was disgorged Dec 17, 2004; according to fellow ungrafted aficionado Keith Levenberg, it is a blend of 80% 1999 and 20% 1998 vintages (thanks Keith!).
It has a rich nose of creamy, vanilla brioche with a hint of sweet honey, and a secondary note of crushed, damp rocks. Perhaps the most mineral-forward champagne I've ever tasted. River stones on the attack, then a luxurious golden apple fruit mid-palate. The two elements twist and twirl through a long elegant finish. This is a big, complex, beautifully structured and integrated wine; it just happens to have bubbles. Brilliant bubbles.
No wonder Jefferson went through this stuff at pace.
You can catch up on the rest of the Lab's ROOTS series here (hint: read bottom to top).