Non-Vintage Grower Champagne with Remarkable Depth and Precision

Today’s Story: Champagne Agrapart & Fils

Champagne Agrapart & Fils is a grower Champagne house established by Arthur Agrapart in 1894. Situated in the village of Avize in the Côte de Blancs, the Agrapart holdings include 12 hectares (30 acres) of predominantly Chardonnay in mostly Grand Cru vineyards in Avize, Oger, Cramant, and Oiry. Today under the guide of fourth generation Pascal Agrapart (joined in 1984), the vineyards are farmed organically (and they have been for some time) while average vine age hovers around 40 years with many of the vines aged 70 years or older. Agrapart produces roughly 5,400 cases or less of Champagne each vintage, partially in an effort to maintain the highest quality standards both in the vineyards and in the cellar. At the end of the day these Champagnes are meant to show a true sense of place, so winemaking is rather hands-off including native yeast fermentation, long aging on the lees, and used-oak barrel aging. Come bottling, each wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Agrapart produces seven wines, beginning with the entry-level 7 Crus that I am reviewing today. The 7 Crus is a non-vintage bottling, made by blending two vintages together with fruit sourced from four Grand Cru vineyards and three 1er Cru vineyards. Next up is the non-vintage Terroirs bottling, which is a Blanc de Blancs (100% Chardonnay) sourced from only Grand Cru vineyards and made up of two vintages. To wrap up the non-vintage selections, the Complantée bottling is a field blend of today’s standard Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier Champagne varieties accompanied by “ancient” varieties of Arbane, Petit Meslier, and Pinot Blanc. It is also made exclusively with Grand Cru fruit.

The three main vintage wines of Agrapart include Minéral, Avizoise, and Vénus. All three of these are Blanc de Blancs made with only Grand Cru fruit, with the Minéral showcasing the precise and saline nature of the chalky soils. Meanwhile the Avizoise tends to be denser and richer thanks to deep, clay-rich topsoil and the Vénus is a single-vineyard expression of Avize. Last but not least, Agrapart produces very limited quantities of the Expérience bottling which is as natural as Champagne can get. This is a Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru and Brut Nature wine, made from old vines in Avize and produced without any external additives whatsoever. It’s also only made in select vintages, and is highly sought after.

Champagne Agrapart

Today’s Wine: NV ‘7 Crus’ Extra Brut

90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir; 12% ABV

The NV ‘7 Crus’ Extra Brut Champagne is medium to deep gold in color with gorgeous and delicate effervescence. Aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of green apple skins, ripe pear, lemon zest, white peach, honey, brioche toast, cheese rind, vanilla cream, crushed chalk, and wet limestone. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity with the palate displaying notes of peach, green apple, nectarine, quince, chamomile, honey, freshly-baked bread, oyster shell, sea salt, and crushed stone minerality. This dry Champagne is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $60. Though not inexpensive, I think this Champagne offers solid value as the intensity and complexity are profound. There is remarkable depth to this wine for an “entry level” bottling and the precision is laser-like. This drinks up there with Champagnes significantly more expensive.

High Quality Provence Rosé From Two Burgundy Titans

Today’s Story: Triennes

Triennes is a wine estate established in 1989 in Provence, France by Burgundy legends Jacques Seysses of Domaine Dujac and Aubert de Villaine of Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. Given their prowess in Burgundy, the duo became convinced that great wines of incredible quality could also be produced in the south of France when focus is put on the vineyards first and foremost. After they purchased their estate, Triennes underwent a massive replanting program to ensure the healthiest of vineyards, with vines and rootstocks specifically adapted to the local climate and microclimates. The vineyards are farmed as naturally as possible, with Ecocert organic certification following a transition that began in 2008.

As far as the Triennes wine portfolio goes, they produce three main wines of Saint Auguste (Syrah, Cabernet sauvignon, and Merlot), Viognier Sainte Fleur (Viognier), and the rosé I am reviewing today. They also produce a Merlot, Les Auréliens Blanc (Chardonnay, Viognier, Vermontino, Ugni Blanc, and Grenache Blanc), and Les Auréliens Rouge (Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon).

Today’s Wine: 2020 Rosé

Primarily Cinsault blended with Grenache, Syrah, and Merlot; 12.5% ABV

The 2020 Rosé is pale copper in color. Aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of white strawberry, raspberry, watermelon, mild cherry, dried green herbs, and subtle maritime minerality. Meanwhile the flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of watermelon, juicy strawberry, rosewater, lime zest, a touch of vanilla, and finely crushed rock minerality. This dry rosé is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $15 for 750ml (closer to $8 in Europe). This is a very easy-going, fresh, and enjoyable rosé and I think for the price it offers great value. My 375ml bottle was $7.50, and I find myself hard-pressed to find another rosé at the quality level of this one for the price.

Chardonnay off the Beaten Path

Today’s Story: Jean Bourdy

Jean Bourdy is a historic family-owned estate dating to 1475 in the Jura region of France. Today under guidance of the family’s 15th generation and brothers Jean-Phillipe and Jean-François Bourdy, the family domaine consists of ten hectares (25 acres) planted to Pinot Noir, Trousseau, Poulsard, Chardonnay, and Savagnin. Winemaking here is incredibly traditional, beginning in the vineyards where the Bourdy brothers practice biodynamic viticulture using only cow manure as fertilizer and whey or flower teas for disease control. All wines ferment naturally with indigenous yeasts in old oak vats, then they age in old oak barrels and foudres that are at times 80 years old themselves. Wines are only topped up once and sulfur additions either never occur or only in very, very small doses, so the wines oxidize slowly in the very cold and damp cellars while adding complexity. The wines age out for several years before release, however the Bourdy brothers hold back some wine each vintage and today command an incredible library with wines going back to the 19th century.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Côtes du Jura Blanc

100% Chardonnay; 12.5% ABV

The 2016 Côtes du Jura Blanc is medium to deep gold in color and transparent. Per the suggestion on the back label, I opened this four hours before serving but did not decant it. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of yellow apple, golden pear, grilled pineapple, honey, sweet tart dust, chalk, freshly baked bread, almond, and charred oak. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of baked yellow apple, peach, dried apricot, dried green herbs, white mushroom, wet stone, almond, toast, and sea salt. This dry white is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $30. For me, I think this is a great value though it will be a very different and “interesting” Chardonnay for what many will likely expect or be used to. The intensity, complexity, and balance are already great and this has the structure to go the distance. If you are unfamiliar with the wines of Jura and want to try something new, give this one a try.

Traditional and Terroir-Driven Jura Built for the Cellar

Today’s Story: Les Matheny

Les Matheny is a small and relatively new winery, established in 2007 by the husband and wife team of Elise and Emeric Foléat in their hometown of Matheny in the Jura region of France. Emeric spent eight years working with legendary winemaker Jacques Puffeney before he and Elise started their own venture, which today consists of 3.5 hectares (8.6 acres) in the appellations of Arbois, Montigny-les-Arsures, and Poligny. Winemaking here is rather traditional and takes place in a no-frills converted farmhouse, with the resulting wines much more intense and terroir-driven compared to many of the lighter and more “popular” styles of the region. All wines ferment spontaneously in fiberglass tanks, there is no chaptalization or acidification, and malolactic fermentation occurs naturally in barrel. Whites age 4-9 years in neutral oak barrels, while reds age 18-30 months in neutral foudres and demi muids. All wines are then bottled unfined but with light filtration.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Trousseau Cuvée l’Alpierri

100% Trousseau; 13.5% ABV

The 2018 Trousseau Cuvée l’Alpierri is pale ruby in color. I didn’t decant this but simply let it open up in the glass for about 45 minutes to an hour. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of ripe red cherry, strawberry, orange rind, violet, cured meat, black pepper, dried green herbs, and nutmeg. Meanwhile the flavors are more subdued and of medium intensity, while the palate displays notes of redcurrant, raspberry, wild strawberry, cherry, charred herbs, black pepper, and crushed rock. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $48. I think this is very reasonably priced and just needs some time in the cellar to really show at its best. The nose steals the show at this stage, but overall the wine is rather complex, has solid intensity, and great length. Patience will be rewarded handsomely here given the acidity and tannin levels.

Fun Mineral-Filled White Blend From the Loire Valley

Today’s Story: Domaine de Bellevue

Domaine de Bellevue was established by Jérôme Brétaudeau in the Muscadet wine region of France’s Loire Valley. Not far from the Atlantic Ocean, the domaine sits in a maritime climate on granite soils where the wines are often low in alcohol and high in acidity with pronounced mineral characteristics. Domaine de Bellevue consists of 12 hectares (30 acres) of vineyards which are all farmed organically since 2009. Jérôme is in the process of moving to full biodynamic viticulture now. Jérôme works with 11 different varieties which is somewhat unusual in the region, and they include Merlot, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Gris, Savagnin, and Chardonnay to name a few. Winemaking here is rather traditional and minimally invasive so the wines can express themselves and the terroir in honest fashion, and they typically age in concrete eggs or clay amphorae.

Today’s Wine: 2019 La Justice

75% Chardonnay, 25% Savagnin; 12% ABV

The 2019 La Justice is pale gold in color. Given some time to open up in the glass, the aromas are of pronounced intensity and the nose showcases notes of yellow apple skins, lemon peel, stone fruit, white lily, flint, oyster shell, sea salt, and vanilla bean. There’s also a note somewhat reminiscent of cotton candy. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of baked yellow apple, ripe pear, tropical citrus, white floral blossom, dill, chalk, and brine. This dry white blend is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Very fun and enjoyable to drink.

Price: $46. I think this is pretty fairly priced and even a good value given its complexity, balance, length, and fun factor. While the palate isn’t as intense as the nose, there are a lot of great factors at play here and this even reminds me a little bit of white Burgundy but with a heavier mineral presence.

Beautiful Representation of Cabernet Franc From an Outstanding Loire Valley Producer

Today’s Story: Domaine Bernard Baudry

Domaine Bernard Baudry was established in 1975 by Bernard Baudry in the village of Cravant-les-Coteaux within the Chinon AOC of France’s Loire Valley. Bernard began with 2 hectares (5 acres) of vines though he grew his domain to 32 hectares (79 acres) of vineyards over time. Bernard’s vineyards are planted to about 90% Cabernet Franc and 10% Chenin Blanc, and their soil types vary greatly across gravel, limestone clay, and sandy limestone throughout the Chinon AOC. Though the vineyards have always been maintained without chemical weed killers, all viticulture has been entirely organic since 2006. Winemaking is meant to be minimally invasive, which begins with manual harvest and gravity-fed movements in the cellar. All plots are harvested and vinified separately, following native yeast fermentation with no adjustments or additions. Some wines age in cement vats and others in oak barrels (when they want more structure) before most are bottled unfiltered. The rosé, white wines, and Les Granges are filtered for bottling. Remaining a family venture, Bernard’s son Matthieu joined in 2000 and largely leads winemaking today.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Le Clos Guillot

100% Cabernet Franc; 13% ABV

The 2017 Le Clos Guillot is deep purple in color and opaque. I decanted this for about an hour, which really helps to bring out some of the more nuanced notes at this stage. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing aromas of blackberry, plum, black raspberry, cigar box, green bell pepper, tomato, leather, pencil shavings, wet gravel, and crushed rock. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity, with the palate displaying notes of black cherry, blackberry, red plum, black tea leaf, dried underbrush, green bell pepper, mushroom, and crushed gravel. This dry red is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (+) but fine-grained tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $35. I think this is a very solid value wine, though it won’t be for everyone. The quality is incredibly high and the complexity at such a young age is great. The only reason I say it might not be for everyone is it’s incredibly terroir-driven and those classic Cab Franc bell pepper and green notes are there that can sometimes turn people away.

Terroir-Driven and Ageworthy Cru Beaujolais

Today’s Story: Jean Foillard

Jean Foillard is one of the most highly-regarded producers in Beaujolais, though his status stretches throughout all of France as well. Jean and Agnès Foillard took over Jean’s father’s domaine in 1980, and their holdings today consist of almost 14 hectares (34 acres) of vineyards with many planted on the famed Côte du Py in the cru of Morgon. Since taking over, Jean follows the teachings of Jules Chauvet who was a staunch traditionalist in Beaujolais. Jean farms all of his vineyards organically with zero synthetic herbicides or pesticides, then harvests the fruit manually before rigorous sorting to ensure only the highest quality fruit makes it into the wines. The fruit sees traditional semi-carbonic maceration and fermentation with only native yeasts, and minimal or zero sulfur is added throughout the winemaking process. Jean never engages in chaptalization, ages his wines in used Burgundy barrels, and bottles the wines without filtration. The end result yields wines that are elegant, complex, and structured while showcasing the terroir in honest fashion. Like most Beaujolais these are delicious in their youth, but they often have the structure of ageworthy examples as well.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Morgon Eponym

100% Gamay; 14.5% ABV

The 2018 Morgon Eponym is deep purple in color and completely opaque. Given some time to open up in the glass, the wine blossoms with aromas of medium (+) intensity and a nose that showcases black cherry, plum, blackberry, granite, mint, underbrush, pencil shavings, cracked black pepper, and crushed rock mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of black cherry, black plum, anise, red meat, iron, wet gravel, charred green herbs, and smoke. This dry red is medium-bodied with high acidity, low tannins, high alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. This was somewhat jammy out of the gates, so it definitely needs the air time at this point in its life.

Price: $45. I was a little worried out of the gates with this wine in terms of a value perspective (due to how jammy it came across), however as this opened up over the course of 45 minutes or so the quality and value proposition showcased itself. This is a beautiful Cru Beaujolais while being fairly complex and finessed but with the structure to drink well for several years ahead.

Fresh, Elegant, and Budget-Friendly Red Burgundy

Today’s Story: Marchand-Tawse

Marchand-Tawse is a Burgundian négociant created through a collaboration between Pascal Marchand and Moray Tawse. Both Pascal and Moray are French Canadians, making their success in Burgundy somewhat unusual.

Pascal Marchand comes from a background in wine (after working a few years as a merchant sailor on freighters in the Great Lakes), having taken over Clos des Epeneaux in Pommard in 1985 at the age of 22. Pascal was one of the early adopters of organic and biodynamic viticulture in Burgundy, bringing heightened quality to Clos des Epeneaux and world renown to its name. Jean-Charles Boisset later approached Pascal to run his family’s Domaine de la Vougeraie in 1999, and he remained there until 2006 when desiring more freedom in his ventures. Pascal took over at Domaine Jean Fery, all the while setting the stage for his own label that would eventually become Marchand-Tawse.

Moray Tawse, on the other hand, has a background in finance and co-founded First National in Canada which focuses on real estate lending. He has had a long-standing love of wine, however, which led him to establish Tawse Winery which is one of Canada’s leading wineries. Thanks to his love of Burgundy, Moray approached Pascal in 2010 and the two established their partnership.

Marchand-Tawse sources fruit from a great number of vineyards, most of which are either organically or biodynamically farmed. The négociant produces a wide range of wines, spanning appellation and village bottlings up to some of the greatest Grand Crus. Pascal’s winemaking style is rather traditional, seeking to have the fruit and terroir express themselves in a most honest and transparent form. Much of the fruit is left 100% whole cluster and not destemmed before fermentation in stainless steel tanks. Furthermore, aging for many of the wines occurs in minimal or even 0% new French oak barrels and there is no fining or filtration before bottling.

I previously reviewed the 2016 Coteaux Bourguignons from Marchand-Tawse, which is a lovely Gamay offering exceptional value.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Côte de Nuits Villages

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

The 2017 Côte de Nuits Villages is pale ruby in color. This needs about 45 minutes to open up at this point, but once it does you find an elegant, fresh, and vibrant expression of Pinot Noir. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of cherry, strawberry, red rose, cured meat, dried gravel, underbrush, and white pepper. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium (+) intensity and the palate displays notes of black raspberry, cherry, strawberry, red licorice, dried tobacco, dried green herbs, and crushed rock minerality. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium (-) tannins, medium alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. 133 cases produced.

Price: $40. This is a red Burgundy that offers very, very good value. It’s incredibly difficult nowadays to find quality red Burgundy for this price-point, and the expression of variety and terroir here is very well done. This is no doubt young, but the elegance and vibrancy are already hard to resist.

From Grapes and Grapes Alone

Today’s Story: Anders Frederik Steen

Anders Frederik Steen, a chef and sommelier by trade from Denmark, started making wines in 2013 and is based in the village of Valvignères in the Ardèche of Southern France. Centered in a belief that wine should be made with grapes and grapes alone, Anders produces “one-off” wines each vintage that will vary in blend, style, and name simply because he makes wines in an incredibly natural style without following any “recipe.” What’s more, he never thinks ahead to what his wines will or should be like until actually tasting the fruit at harvest. Anders sources grapes from his friends Jocelyne & Gérald Oustric, who own a farm and organically-farmed vineyards planted in clay and limestone soils. Reds are either destemmed by hand or pressed directly, while the whites are pressed directly in an old wooden press. Fermentation occurs at times by single variety and at others with co-fermentation of several varieties, though the constant that remains is fermentation is spontaneous with only native yeasts in open-top containers under the sky. Anders is as hands-off as possible throughout the entire winemaking and aging processes, and all wines are bottled unfined, unfiltered, and with zero additions.

To explore Anders’ range of wines and their unique names, check out his website here.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Ce n’est pas mon chien

100% Grenache; 12% ABV

The 2015 Ce n’est pas mon chien (It’s not my dog) is pale ruby in color. This seemed fairly ready to go out of the bottle, so I elected to let this open up in the glass without decanting. The aromas are of medium (+) intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of cherry, strawberry, black raspberry, red rose, smoked game, scorched earth, mushroom, wet gravel, and charred green herbs. Meanwhile the flavors are of medium intensity and the palate displays notes of tart red cherry, stewed strawberry, red plum, mild tobacco, forest floor, dried green herbs, and earthy mushroom. There’s an incredibly mineral-driven backbone throughout the wine (both on the nose and palate) as well. This dry red is light- to medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $35. This is a very solid value, but it’s not for the faint of heart. If you like mineral and terroir-driven wines (particularly ones that show a variety in a way you’re not used to) this is for you. If you like fruity, easy-drinking modern wines…look elsewhere.

Remarkable Expression of Terroir in an Incredibly Ageworthy Red Burgundy

Today’s Story: Domaine Armand Rousseau

Domaine Armand Rousseau is one of the most highly-regarded wine producers in all of Burgundy, established during the very early 1900s by Armand Rousseau in Gevrey-Chambertin of the Côte de Nuits. Rousseau inherited several plots of vines at the beginning of the 20th century, however he was able to expand his vineyard holdings, build a winery and cellar, and sell the wines following his marriage in 1909. Rousseau continued acquiring top quality vineyards, including several Grand Crus, up until the time his son Charles joined the family business in 1945. In 1959, Charles took full control over the family’s domain following the unfortunate death of Armand in a car accident. Charles was instrumental in adding additional vineyard sites to the family holdings mainly in Grand Crus, and he also further built out their export markets to include Britain, Germany, and Switzerland before ultimately reaching Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Asia by the 1970s. Charles’ son Eric joined the business in 1982, beginning in the vineyards by instituting green harvesting, leaf stripping, and avoidance of chemical fertilizers or pesticides. Eric was instrumental in steering the estate toward organic viticulture, and since 2014 he has been joined by his daughter Cyrielle who will ultimately carry on the family legacy one day.

Domaine Armand Rousseau consists of about 15 hectares (37 acres) of vineyards in some of the choicest plots in the Côte de Nuits. Dedicated entirely to Pinot Noir, Rousseau produces 11 wines from Gevrey Chambertin, Charmes-Chambertin, Mazy-Chambertin, Ruchottes-Chambertin, and Chambertin. Of the 11 wines, they do however produce one from the Grand Cru of Clos de la Roche located in Morey-Saint-Denis. These wines are made in a very traditional style and are meant to be elegant expressions of each unique terroir, with minimal use of new oak depending on wine and vintage. Total production is around 63,000 bottles per vintage, with about 75% being exported to some 30 countries.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St. Jacques

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2015 Gevrey-Chambertin 1er Cru Lavaux St. Jacques is medium ruby in color. I normally don’t decant red Burgundy or Pinot Noir in general for that matter, however given how young this wine is we decanted it for about an hour. The aromas are of pronounced intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of black cherry, black raspberry, licorice, rose petal, gravel, sun-dried earth, sandalwood, and mineral. Meanwhile the flavors are also of pronounced intensity and the palate displays notes of cherry, strawberry, blackberry, eucalyptus, rose, mild baking spice, and stony mineral. This dry red is medium-bodied with high acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a long finish. Very precise and already gorgeous, but I would wait probably 5 more years and then drink this over the following decades.

Price: $600. It’s difficult to address value at this price-point because there are so many better “values” out there and pricing on Burgundy is sky-high. There’s no doubt this is one of the greatest red Burgundies I’ve had though, and since me and my tasting companions had never tried Armand Rousseau before we were incredibly glad for the experience.