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Champagne Eric Rodez, Cuvée des Grands Vintages (Tirage 2007)
Eric and Martine Rodez are the eighth generation (and now with their son Mickael, the ninth generation) of winemakers who first started in 1757 in the great Grand Cru that is Ambonnay. This is a prime site for Pinot Noir due to favourable altitudes (130m average) and S/SE-facing slopes which decrease risk to frost exposure, and the all-important chalk, limestone and clay-limestone that enable production of powerful but elegant Pinot Noir fruit (Rodez don't grow Pinot Meunier but they do have Chardonnay).
In addition to his experience in the family business, he has worked elsewhere in Champagne, including as oenologist at Krug, where the blending of small parcels and multi-vintages going back many years, as well as their work with oak barrels, is perhaps most clearly evidenced in his Cuvée des Grands Vintages. Since the mid-1980's and after a particularly difficult harvest in 1984, he travelled and gathered experience in various wine regions including Alsace where he took special note of organic vineyard practices, which he brought back to his 6ha domaine. This he felt was needed to bring out the special characteristics of Ambonnay and the champagnes that the region can produce.
To really bring out the minerality and almost sensuality, or as he says, the musicality of the wines, he felt that he needed to go further and so for the past eight years has moved into biodynamic production. In a marginal climate area such as Champagne this is a potentially risky route to take, but one taken by several of the growers whose champagne we stock. As part of this, they have also embraced aromatherapy essential oils in the fight against diseases such as mildew. Eric's aim to be as nature-friendly as possible was recognised by his receipt in 2012 of the Haute Valeur Environnmentale (HVE) certificate which covers not just organic farming but also biodiversity and water management on farms. And if that wasn't enough, in addition to his work as chief oenologist and vineyard manager, his dedication to the region is such that he is also the Mayor of Ambonnay!
Edwin Dublin, Champagne Specialist
26% of vineyards in Champagne are planted with Chardonnay and it performs best on the Côtes des Blancs and on the chalk slopes south of Epernay. It is relatively simple to grow, although it buds early and thus is susceptible to spring frosts. It produces lighter, fresher wines than those from Burgundy and gives finesse, fruit and elegance to the final blend. It is the sole grape in Blancs de Blancs, which are some of the richest long-lived Champagnes produced.
Pinot Noir accounts for nearly 40% of the plantings in Champagne and lies at the heart of most blends - it gives Champagne its body, structure, strength and grip. It is planted across Champagne and particularly so in the southern Aube district.
The final component is Pinot Meunier and this constitutes nearly 35% of the plantings. Its durability and resistance to spring frosts make the Marne Valley, a notorious frost pocket, its natural home. It ripens well in poor years and produces a soft, fruity style of wine that is ideal for blending with the more assertive flavours of Pinot Noir. Producers allege that Pinot Meunier lacks ageing potential, but this does not deter Krug from including around 15% of it in their final blends.
Brut denotes a dry style of Champagne (less than 15 grams per litre). Most Champagne is non-vintage, produced from a blend from different years. The non-vintage blend is always based predominately on wines made from the current harvest, enriched with aged wines (their proportion and age varies by brand) from earlier harvests, which impart an additional level of complexity to the end wine. Champagnes from a single vintage are labelled with the year reference and with the description Millésimé.
Non-vintage Champagnes can improve with short-term ageing (typically two to three years), while vintages can develop over much longer periods (five to 30 years). The most exquisite and often top-priced expression of a house’s style is referred to as Prestige Cuvée. Famous examples include Louis Roederer's Cristal, Moët & Chandon's Dom Pérignon, and Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill.
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