After a two-year Covid hibernation, the wine world is gradually awaking—and so am I. I shook off the cobwebs and attended a recent portfolio tasting in Manhattan, hosted by Independence Wine & Spirits. Hundreds of wines were presented—an impossible task to properly taste in a five-hour event—here’s a selection I favored.
My first choice was the table devoted to Champagne with the wines from Andre Jacquart of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, the Grand Cru-rated village that is home to some of the finest Champagnes in the region.
In 1958, Andre Jacquart took the reins of the family estate changing the name to Domaine Andre Jacquart. His 25-year-old granddaughter Marie Doyard assumed the mantle of winemaker-owner in 2004 when her parents merged their separated holdings in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Vertus (a Premier Cru-rated village). Both are in the subregion Cote de Blancs where the area’s chalky soil is ideal for chardonnay.
Doyard produces only blanc de blancs styles—meaning pure chardonnay in Champagne’s lexicon, save one rose, which blends pinot noir from her Vertus vineyard. I started with the nonvintage Vertus Experience 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut.
Doyard ages her Champagnes in oak barrels acquired from Burgundy still wine producers after four vintages. The barrel aging adds a mild bread scent to the Vertus Experience and the restrained dosage of four grams of sugar resulted in the extra brut classification. A full body, stony backbone, creamy texture and citrus finish deliver pleasure and age-ability. 90 points. Retail prices range from $48 to $55.
The nonvintage Le Mesnil Experience Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature was aged five years in bottle and disgorged in November 2020. Its texture is rounder and softer than the premier cru. The Le Mesnil-sur-Oger chalk and limestone soil infuses the wine with lightness and acidity unencumbered by any dosage, the absence of which creates the brut nature designation.
The Le Mesnil Experience Blanc de Blancs is an excellent wine that offers the glory of this Grand Cru village at an incredibly reasonable price, and will develop greater complexity if you have the disciple to leave it in the cellar for five to 10 years (I prefer the longer aging). 92 points. Retail prices range from $48 to $70.
The 2009 Millesime Experience Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature was bottle aged for seven years, giving it a pronounced brioche, bright ginger and pear scent and flavor. The Le Mesnil vineyard contributes a vibrant sea salt-like undernote, and the 2009 vintage offers ripeness and approachability. 91 points. Retail price is approximately $80, with very limited distribution.
In French, saignee means bleeding, but in the wine lexicon, it describes the process of macerating red grape skins for a very limited time (from hours to a day or so) with the juice, giving the future Champagne a pink tint. The other method of creating a rose Champagne is to add a percentage of pinot noir wine to the chardonnay-based Champagne. Most Champagne houses use the latter method as it is easier to control the color and flavor. However, Champagne connoisseurs prefer the clarity of the wine’s natural flavors and texture that the saignee method preserves.
The Andre Jacquart nonvintage Rose de Saignee Experience 1er Cru Extra Brut soaked pinot noir from its Vertus vineyards with its chardonnay from Vertus and Le Mesnil, respectively. Aside from the saignee winemaking, it follows the same aging program as the blanc de blancs Experience 1er Cru Extra Brut bottling. The pale pink Champagne has a soupcon of red-fruit flavor intertwined with vibrant acidity and saline tang. The light handedness of the process retains the freshness of the wine, which is the essence of Andre Jacquart Champagnes. 92 points. Retail prices range from $50 to $100.
On the sunny southwestern hillside of picturesque St. Emilion is the 18th-century Chateau Lassegue. For the past 20 years, winemaker Pierre Seillan tended the half-century old merlot and cabernet franc vineyards, producing delicious wines. Now in the hands of his son Nicolas and daughter-in-law Christina, the couple harvested savory fruit in 2018, a vintage born in rain and grown in sunshine.
The 2018 Chateau Lassegue has an eye-catching youthful purple-ish tint to its black-cherry color. A bouquet of dark chocolate, plum and black olives is complemented with palate-pleasing blackberry, red plum and milk-chocolate flavors, gliding on soft tannins to a long finish. It’s well made and ready for early drinking. 92 points. Retail prices are $40 to $70.
In Bordeaux, nearly every chateau produces a second wine with prestigious DNA, but often at good value. At Lassegue, the 2018 Les Cadrans de Lassegue is brimming with floral and black-cherry aromas. Its medium body is wrapped in tasty blueberry and blackberry flavors that are instantly appealing and drinkable. 89 points. Retail prices range from $19 to $40. Good value is found at less than $26.
For consumers, great value is found when winemakers of grand crus produce wines from less elevated vineyards, such is the case with Baptiste and Julie Guinaudeau.
The son of Jacques and Sylvie Guinaudeau, owners of Chateau Lafleur, one of Bordeaux’s greatest chateaus in the star-studded Pomerol appellation, Baptiste and his wife decided to work the vineyards and vinify the wines of the family’s Chateau Grand Village in the commoners’ Fronsac appellation. There, they apply the same approach and winemaking philosophy as they do at Chateau Lafleur.
Over the years, I’ve tasted the white and red wines of Chateau Grand Village with appreciation for their flavors, structure, and value. At my recent tasting, the 2014 Chateau Grand Village Rouge Bordeaux Superior had a refined red-fruit flavor and texture with balance and length. Composed of 81 percent merlot and 19 percent cabernet franc it was very well-made, charming and readily drinkable. 90 points. The retail price ranges from $23 to $28; the same vintage of Chateau Lafleur is $698 to $837.
The restoration of tastings and visiting winemakers is rekindling an irreplaceable part of the wine world—one I have missed over the past two+ years and, as always, one I look forward to sharing more of it with you.
Photos by John Foy