Each time someone says « Champagne » you’d rather think of words like “cuvée” and “blend” than « selection of terroir." And it’s true, we can consider the producers of champagne as being the « kings of blending ». Very few wineries and negociants propose indeed Champagne pure terroir, that derives from a single vineyard. Blended wines, made of grapes from different terroirs, different grape varieties, and different vintages are largely dominant on the wine market (only 10% of the regions production claims to be « Champagne millésimé », made from a single year’s harvest).
In order to assess the expression of different terroirs in Champagne, there’s only one solution: we have to get to know a winemaker that invites you to taste the « base wines » in his cellar. The term "base wine » is given to all tanks, barrels and wine batches produced during the last harvest. Together with so-called « reserve wines », wines from previous vintages, cellared for two or three years, the base wines are used to create the different blends of the winery. During a visit in the cellars of Champagne Paul Lebrun in Cramant this winter, I obviously did not refuse when Nathalie asked me to discover their different terroirs by tasting her Chardonnay wines in the cellar. It’s never an easy exercise to taste very young wines, just a couple of weeks after fermentation. In addition, the base wines of Champagne rely on an acidity and minerality, which may surprise the palate.
First presses (plot on chalk in Barbonne Fayel): aromas of apricot, pineapple and confectionery, crisp, tangy and straight on the palate.
First presses (plot on flints in Saudoy): the overall impression is warmer and more generous, aromatic marked by apples and pears, round and delicious on the palate, a final marked by boxwood aromas.
First presses (Plot on chalk in a place called “Les Bercottes”): fine and elegant, soft, slightly minty and more discreet.
Second presses (terroir of Cramant): a more colorful wine, marked by flowery aromas, honey and beeswax, rich on the palate, smooth with mild acidity.
First presses (terroir of Cramant): fine, elegant, with a delicate, soft and rich aromatic of citrus fruits, lime, lychee, plum and fresh grapes ...
First presses (Vindey - terroir of Sézanne): complex, rich and ripe, with a fresh fragrances of mint, pears and butter, but also a high proportion of minerality and a slightly « smoky» on the final.
In general, the wines grown on chalk seemed to give more structure and minerality, whereas more clayey or sandy soils entrusted more generosity and maturity to the wines. At least in this tasting. We must nevertheless remember that terroir is not only about soils as climate, topography and water availability are equally important factors.
For Nathalie these « taste trends » of different soils are nevertheless somehow confirmed annually, regardless to the vintage.
« Grapes from Cramant always confer a lot of elegance, finesse and minerality to the wines. These are wines that require patience, wines that love to spend a lot of time in the cellar. They are the ones that allow us to create our greatest Champagnes that perfectly suit for the table. In In comparison the Grapes from Sézannais, south of the Côte de Blancs, always show more maturity and generosity. They are more charming wines that better suit for an aperitif. »
As a resume I should say that I was pleasantly surprised, even amazed by the great diversity of tastes expressing the terroirs of Champagne.