January 7, 2010

A New Year's Eve 10-Year Split

So my New Year's resolution is clearly not about more frequent or timely posts. The month is almost half gone and I'm just getting to this.

With apologies for my lack of punctuality -- about which I hope to have more to say in the near future, but it's a hard topic to tackle because it twists on the one hand on an existential crisis, but rises, on the other hand, on a tide of hedonism... but I digress.

To ring in the New Year, we sent the junior staff home early so we wouldn't have to share and with several senior researchers in attendance, we conducted a very satisfying old/new comparative experiment. We opened two bottles of Pierre Gimonnet & Fils's Special Club Champagne. A 1999 alongside an oenotheque (if it's appropriate to borrow the term. Given I'm borrowing it from a Grand Marque house, I'm sure it's not -- after all these are the people who have sued mustard producers and dog owners to stop them from using the term Champagne) release from 1989. The ten-year split seemed an appropriate way to end the decade (or start it depending on your level of mathematical training).

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils is a medium-sized (25 hectares) winery based in the village of Cuis but with vineyards in Chouilly, Cramant and Oger (a tiny parcel). They grow Chardonnay exclusively. At the forefront of the grower champagne movement (pretend with me that there is such a thing), the winery has the distinction of always being the first entry in Terry Theise Catalog.

The Special Club, or more accurately, the Club Tresors de Champagne, is a sort of casual consortium of small Champagne producers established in 1971 as an early antidote to the Grand Houses of High Fashion & Hip Hop Champagne. The rules are simple and straightforward, to be a member you have to grow your own fruit. Didier Gimonnet, the vigneron in charge of Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, presides as president of the Club. In theory, the Special Club bottling represents a member's top wine. In the case of Gimonnet, it is definitely so. A blend of old-vine fruit from Chouilly, really old-vine fruit from Cramant (80+ years) and the best of the house's Cuis parcels.

The 1999 was brilliant. Fresh and energetic with bright, mandarine acidity. It was enormously linear and deeply mineral, so much so that I was sure you could smell chalk on the nose, along with brioche and almond paste. As the hours counted down to midnight (or 9:30 which was when I went to bed), this got better and better. Until it didn't. Right as the clock stuck twelve (poetic license), I poured yet another glass of this. I got a nose full of sulfury burnt match. No idea where it came from, and by the next morning it was gone. One of the weirdest things... as my eldest child would say... ever!

Without any weirdness at all, the 1989 was just flat out astonishing. It made the very good 99 look like something I might have picked up at the local Piggly Wiggly. It took almost 3 hours to fully open, but then the nose offered up layered and slightly oxidized aromas of nuts, pain perdue, honey and stewed apples. In the mouth, it was elegantly structured and precise. The acidity on the attack was still youthfully vibrant. Mid-palate there was a big, creamy and honeyed malo component, like creme brulee extract might taste. The finish was a lingering mix of chalk and hazelnut that tolled like an ancient but familiar echo of the younger bottle.

Obviously, dialing back the flowery prose also failed to make the list of resolutions.

Happy New Year!

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