December 7, 2018
Champagne José Michel NV Brut Tradition
José Michel Champagne has somewhat of a cult following. This small house began in 1847; five generations later José & Nicole work pretty much like 5 generations ago: by hand, traditionally, with respect for the environment. José Michel is certified “Level 3” the top level of certification in Haute Valeur Environmentale. Initiated in 2011, HVE is a global approach to preserving the environment that does not certify the quality of a product, but the environmental quality of a farm. José and Nicole are also founding members of “Tresors de Champagne”, or “Special Club” (we carry this as well). Created in 1971 the Club Trésors was the first association of wine makers in Champagne to advocate an approach to viticulture based on the utmost standards of quality.
The 11 hectares José Michel vineyards are spread throughout three villages along the Cotes D’Epernay. The upper vineyards on the summit of the hills have more clay in the soil and are planted to Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. This producer is quite well-known for Pinot Meunier, and is said to rival Krug in quality (at way, way, way less money). The middle and lower vineyards on the slopes have a calcareous soil and are planted to Chardonnay (planted in 1958). Fermentations are carried out in old oak casks or enameled steel vats. The wines undergo a malolactic fermentation and the dosage “liqueur d’expedition” is minimal.
The non-vintage Brut is a blend in which the 70% Pinot Meunier forms the base and 30% Chardonnay adds complexity and finesse. In addition to the base vintage (typically 2 years old), the NV Brut benefits from being blended with reserve wines that are often 4 or 5 years old. The Champagne is typically 2+ years “sur lattes” with a dosage of 9 grams.
Lauer Saar Riesling Barrel X, Mosel, Germany 2016
We’ve been on the Lauer train for a few years now, especially Barrel X, which just landed on Wine Spectator’s Top 100 list. Congrats! Florian Lauer makes dry and off-dry Rieslings with less residual sugar than some of his neighbors, like Egon Müller and Hanno Zilliken. The focus is precision, minerality, finesse, and purity of fruit. He utilizes natural-yeast fermentations, allowing his wines to “find their own balance”. Most of his grapes are sourced from small parcels and sub-parcels on the hillside of the Ayler Kupp. Lauer bottles based on “fass”, or cask numbers that are often aligned with the names of pre-1971 vineyard names. From importer Vom Boden:
Though the many vineyards of this mountain were unified (obliterated?) under the single name “Kupp” with the 1971 German wine law, it has been Florian’s life’s work to keep the old vineyard names alive, to keep these voices alive. He has been fighting this fight since his first vintage in 2005 and only with an update to the law in 2014 can he now legally use the older vineyard names such as Unterstenberg, Stirn, Kern and Neuenberg… in addition to the expanses of the Kupp, Lauer farms two other important sites, the Saarfeilser directly across the river and the precipitous, cliff-vineyard Schonfels, a bit upstream from the other two sites. Florian also recently cleared and replanted the famous Lambertskirch, just a stone’s throw from Schonfels.
Barrel X is Lauer’s appellation level wine (his version of Bourgogne Blanc) sourced from three different villages of the Saar. It’s off-dry and full of orange-blossom, ripe citrus, precise minerality, brisk acidity…it’s a versatile food wine, happily pairing with nearly everything.
Domaine Louis Boillot & Fils, Moulin-à-Vent Vieilles Vignes 2014
This magical little Moulin-à-Vent is our spirit animal. It’s a Boillot-Barthod Beaujolais collaboration that makes you swear you’re drinking Burgundy. We bought all that was left of the 2014 vintage.
Note from the importer: Louis Boillot’s emerging position in the Burgundy firmament is not accidental. Despite having created his domaine only a decade ago, he came armed with some of the oldest and best situated vineyards in Burgundy – thanks to four generations of Boillots having acquired prime sites in Volnay and Gevrey Chambertin. In just one decade, Louis’ domaine has become one of the most admired small estates in the Côte d’Or. The turning point came in the mid-2000s, when he and his partner-the supremely talented Ghislaine Barthod-built a cave together in Chambolle-Musigny.
This brought two of Burgundy’s most gifted winemakers together – working and tasting side by side – with the alchemy you’d expect. The vineyard management was also combined, with Louis responsible for not only his own vines, but those of Ghislaine as well.
Boillot is a master with more than 30 years of experience – using no chemical fertilizers or weed killers, and meticulously pruning for balanced yields. His winemaking is equally timeless, featuring extended, gentle extractions and a limited use of new barrels. His style is marked by an inexorable march towards increasingly refined and transparent wines. At the heart of his style is a profound respect for the terroir of his old vines. The wines that Louis makes from his priceless vines are like Burgundy used to be: gentle, subtle, pure, precise and highly nuanced, their complexity and sensuality growing with age.
Charles Helfenbein, Côtes du Rhône Saint-Julien-en-Saint-Alban, 2015
Charles Helfenbein holds degrees in oenology and viticulture and has been making wine in northern outposts of Cotes du Rhone since 2007. He took over the vines and cellar work that his uncle had started in the Drôme in 2000. He has roughly two hectares of Syrah vines on the steep, southwest facing slopes of Brézème where the soils are primarily clay and limestone, and the slopes of the village of St-Julien-en-St-Alban, where the soils are poor, crumbly granite. He’s one of only three winemakers making wine here. He farms with “respect for nature and preserving the environment”, but is not certified organic.
The St-Julien-en-St-Alban (and the Brezeme, also in stock) is raised in 450L demi-muid barrels that allows the wine air to breathe without contributing excessive oaky aromas or flavors. It’s smoky, black-peppery, bacon-y, balanced, structured, utterly drinkable northern-Rhone Syrah. It’s bound to please.