More wine-ing and dining, no whining…

Dinner with the Lahertes last night was at Hostellerie La Briqueterie in Vinay, a tiny hamlet just at the bottom the hill from Chavot. It’s a Relais & Chateaux resort, very elegant and top-of-the-line across the board. They have 1 Michelin star for the restaurant, and it is well deserved. I purposely left the camera in my coat pocket so as not to be the ugly American shooting pictures of each dish, but I really wish I had taken some pics – each plate was a stunning presentation, and the flavors were complex and flat-out delicious. My favorite dish was the pan-roasted venison loin, with mushroom crust, avocado puree prepared like a polenta, and redcurrant jus. Yum indeed.

Shortly into dinner I realized that noted importer Terry Thiese was dining at the next table with one of his producers. Terry was the first to ever import Grower Champagne to the US, and has worked tirelessly for many years to develop the market, so it is certainly thanks to M. Thiese that I’m here doing what I do. Donc, merci Terry! (He’ll be in Oregon at IPNC this summer, heading up one of the main seminars at this year’s event.)

Snow in the vines on the Chavot hillside

Getting back up the hill to Chavot after dinner was quite an adventure. At one point we thought we’d have to get out and walk, or perhaps just slide back down the icy hill and stay at the hotel – but Thiery Laherte masterfully guided his Renault up the steep and slippery slope and got us all home in one piece.

This morning I hit the Autoroute and headed south to the Aube – the southernmost part of Champagne, and a full two hour drive from Epernay. I pulled into the village of Gyé-sur-Seine at 11 and into the driveway of Champagne Vincent Couche, one of the most exciting and dynamic young vignerons in all of France. He’s one of the handful practicing biodynamic viticulture in Champagne – where nay-sayers have always said it can’t be done. Too cold, too wet, too hard – it doesn’t seem to stop Vincent, who is focused and driven like few people I’ve ever seen. He lives his passion 110% every minute of the day, and it shows in his wines.

Over lunch in his little tasting salon we tasted through eight different Champagnes in bottle, including the new cuvée Chloé, his first certified biodynamic wine, which will be released this summer. Chloé is 66% Pinot Noir & 34% Chardonnay, 50% of the wine was barrel fermented, and it’s a Brut Nature – zero sugar was added at disgorgement last fall. Also, no sulfur was ever added to the wine throughout the process. In other words –  it’s everything they say that can’t be done in Champagne – and he’s done it in stellar fashion. It’s a rich and vinous Champagne, deep and long and complex, and I can’t wait to get our hands on some. I’d put it up there with the wines of Georges Laval in Cumières, it’s that good. Wow.

Then it was on to the even tinier hamlet of Channes, the furthest outpost of Champagne (the Chablis appellation basically starts just down the road), to visit Bertrand Brigandat, one of my favorite characters in Champagne. He took over Champagne Pierre Brigandat from his father in 2001, and has being developing his talent and the wines year after year. We tasted his four new cuvées, the NV Brut (100% Pinot Noir, based on the 2010 harvest), the Dentelles & Crinolines (an Extra-Brut Pinot-Chard blend that is essentially his showcase wine) -  only 1.6 grams per liter of dosage, and it is a rich, pure, powerful Champagne that totally blew my mind.

Then it was his 2005 Millésime – he rarely makes a vintage wine, but this bottle, disgorged in September with the same 1.6 gram dosage, was a revelation. Peaches, apricots, red pinot berry fruit – just plain delicious. His new cuvée of the Rosé was also strong – deeper in color than the previous version, it’s 1005 Pinot Noir that he let macerate for about 3 days. I want this wine with a medium-rare veal chop and morel mushrooms. Oh, man…

I then scooted over to the village of Les Riceys, where I am now settled in to a cozy little hotel in an old stone building next to the church, catching up on email and this blog, and getting ready for what promises to be a nice but simple dinner in the restaurant in the cellar here. Remind me to run a an extra kilometer or two tomorrow…