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2008 Champagne J.L. Vergnon, Expression, Grand Cru, Extra Brut
Highy respected Champagne critic Michael Edwards advised us that a visit to M Christophe Constant at Vergnon ‘ vaut le détour’, and he was only wrong in the sense that there was not much detour involved, as Champagne Vergnon is located in the heart of the most famous village of all, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, which always features in our visits.
A gifted and well-known oenologue, Christophe has excellent raw materials to work with, and is helped by the situation of his vines, most of which are located in Avize, Oger and, of course, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. His philosophy is to nurture ripe and mature Chardonnay, usually from old vines, to eschew malolactic fermentation, and to allow the wines a lengthy maturation pre (and post) disgorgement, to facilitate integration and presage a potential for lengthy ageing. A very sound philosophy indeed it would seem.
Chardonnay is the "Big Daddy" of white wine grapes and one of the most widely planted in the world. It is suited to a wide variety of soils, though it excels in soils with a high limestone content as found in Champagne, Chablis, and the Côte D`Or.
Burgundy is Chardonnay's spiritual home and the best White Burgundies are dry, rich, honeyed wines with marvellous poise, elegance and balance. They are unquestionably the finest dry white wines in the world. Chardonnay plays a crucial role in the Champagne blend, providing structure and finesse, and is the sole grape in Blanc de Blancs.
It is quantitatively important in California and Australia, is widely planted in Chile and South Africa, and is the second most widely planted grape in New Zealand. In warm climates Chardonnay has a tendency to develop very high sugar levels during the final stages of ripening and this can occur at the expense of acidity. Late picking is a common problem and can result in blowsy and flabby wines that lack structure and definition.
Recently in the New World, we have seen a move towards more elegant, better- balanced and less oak-driven Chardonnays, and this is to be welcomed.
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.