October 27, 2008

Jefferson's Bubbles [ROOTS 7]

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).


the duke of hurl said...

Were I permitted entry to the oval office today I would be swinging bottles, attempting to bludgeon the current inhabitant. Once I had completed this first task I would lift the red phone and tell the Pentagon that bin Laden was hiding in Oeuilly, France. This would prompt an immediate invasion and the military would be instructed to gather every bottle of La Vigne d'Antan as evidence and immediately transport it via Stealth Bomber to the Lab in sunny California for a thorough interrogation. Just for the record I would never permit waterboarding...

Manager, Oenology Studies said...

I'm no longer undecided. I'm voting for the Duke!

Keith Levenberg said...

Jefferson might have had two objections to La Vigne d'Antan... according to James Gabler's book, Jefferson preferred his Champagne from pinot noir -- and non-sparkling! Jefferson recorded that "if the spring bottling fails to make a brisk wine, they decant it into other bottles in the fall and it then makes the very best still wine. They let it stand in the bottles in this case 48 hours with only a napkin spread over their mouths, but no cork. The best sparkling wine decanted in this manner makes the best still wine and which will keep much longer than the originally made still by being bottled in September." I'm not sure how one would approximate this peculiar beverage in 2008. Perhaps the closest thing would be to decant a bottle of Bollinger Vieilles Vignes Francais until it loses its fizz, but then the Lab might have to apply for an outside grant.

Manager, Oenology Studies said...

Maybe we can get an earmark? And in the meantime, certainly worth recreating TJ's strange brew with a vitis labrusca alternative. This Spring, I'll be curious to see what happens when a recently disgorged blanc de noir is exposed to a weekend's worth of oxygen and recorked.