Perfect Holiday Bubbles From a Well-Known House

Today’s Story: Billecart-Salmon

Billecart-Salmon is a family-run Champagne house established in 1818 in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ through the marriage of Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon. Nicolas François, who handled the commercial aspects of the new Champagne house, brought his brother-in-law Louis Salmon on board to make the wines. 200 years later, the 7th generation of the Billecart family manages the house with the 6th generation still very much involved. Together they cultivate 100 hectares of vineyards across 40 crus of Champagne and an area of 300 hectares, the majority of which sits around Epernay. Billecart’s signature style comes largely from their fermentation process, which is accomplished in stainless steel tanks at lower temperatures to prolong fermentation and coax out delicate aromas and purity of fruit. All vinification occurs cru by cru and variety by variety, allowing each to maintain the unique expressions of the varying terroir. The house’s wines rest in chalk cellars dating to the 17th and 19th centuries, with the NV bottlings enjoying 3-4 years in the cellar and the vintage bottlings enjoying 10 years.

Last fall, I enjoyed reviewing their NV Champagne Brut Réserve.

Today’s Wine: NV Brut Sous Bois

1/3 Chardonnay, 1/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Pinot Meunier; 12% ABV

The NV Brut Sous Bois is medium gold in color with delicate effervescence in the glass. Aromas are of medium intensity, with the nose showcasing notes of green apple, underripe pear, lemon curd, brioche, cheese rind, almond, and saline minerality. Flavors are also of medium intensity, with the palate displaying notes of pear, green apple, lemon and lime zest, chalk, almond, lightly salted butter, and vanilla cream. This dry Champagne is medium- to full-bodied with high acidity, medium alcohol, and a long finish.

Price: $80. I think this offers good value for its price-point, as it demonstrates solid depth, great acidity, and a lingering finish. This no doubt can strike up with some of the large houses priced higher, and it also drinks incredibly well compared to some of my favorite grower Champagnes in a similar price-point.

Fun, Vibrant, and Refreshing Pinot Meunier From South Australia

Today’s Story: Ochota Barrels

Ochota Barrels is a small, family-owned winery located in the Basket Range area of the Adelaide Hills in South Australia. The idea for Ochota Barrels came about in 2000, when Taras and Amber Ochota were wrapping up a surf and wine trip along the western coast of Mexico in a Volkswagen campervan. Following some time spent as a punk rocker, Taras graduated with a degree in Oenology from Adelaide University then worked as a “flying winemaker consultant” concentrating in Puglia, Abruzzo, and Sicily in Italy. Taras also spent some time making wines in California before he and Amber settled on their 9.6 acres in South Australia and Ochota Barrels launched in 2008. The Ochota Barrels philosophy is to produce pure and fresh wines which, in Taras’ words, are “something delicious and gorgeous for all of us to enjoy with none of the nasties and more of the love.” A blow to the South Australian winemaking community (and beyond), Taras unfortunately passed away last year at the young age of 49 following a long battle with an auto-immune-related illness.

The Ochota Barrels farming and winemaking philosophies center on minimal intervention to produce pure, expressive wines with a true sense of place and variety. Taras and Amber were inspired by the biodynamic producers they met in France, farming their own vineyards with many of the same practices. Fruit is harvested early to preserve natural acidity, and wild fermentation occurs with only indigenous yeasts. Whites see whole-bunch pressing and reds get whole-bunch fermentation and extended maceration with texture an important focus. The wines age in old French oak barrels before bottling with a minimal addition of sulphur.

To learn more or read praise for the Ochota Barrels wines, you can visit their website here.

Today’s Wine: 2020 The Mark of Cain

100% Pinot Meunier; 11.6% ABV

The 2020 Mark of Cain is pale ruby and almost rose petal in color. The nose is beautifully perfumed and of pronounced intensity, showcasing aromas of bright red cherry, ripe wild strawberry, raspberry, crushed pomegranate, red rose petal, lightly tilled garden soil, delicate dried green herbs, and wet granite. There’s also a touch of strawberry yogurt and light bread, but these blow off in the glass. Flavors on the palate are also of pronounced intensity, with notes of pomegranate, tart red cherry, raspberry, white strawberry, a hint of eucalyptus, rose, a pinch of white pepper, and crushed rock mineral. This dry red is light-bodied with high mouthwatering acidity, low tannins, medium (-) alcohol, and a medium (+) length finish. This is vibrant, refreshing, and unbelievably pure while showing great complexity for its youth. 190 cases produced.

Price: $60. Though fairly pricey, I think this is absolutely worth trying and buying multiple bottles of. This is one of those “wow” wines for me, particularly given the youth. I haven’t had a wine this fun, vibrant, crunchy, and refreshing in a long time.

Deliciously Pure Champagne From a Unique House

Today’s Story: Champagne Leclerc Briant

Champagne Leclerc Briant is a unique Champagne house established in 1872 by Lucien Leclerc in the village of Cumières. In 1955, however, the house moved to Épernay following Bertrand Leclerc’s marriage to Jacqueline Briant and they formed the négociant business Champagne Leclerc Briant. Leclerc Briant helped push the boundaries in Champagne, becoming one of the first houses to adopt organic viticulture during the 1960s and bottle single-vineyard Champagnes during the 1970s. Under Pascal, Bertrand and Jacqueline’s son, Leclerc Briant started dabbling with biodynamic viticulture during the 1980s and they became Demeter biodynamic certified in 2003. Unfortunately, Pascal passed away in 2010 far too soon and Leclerc Briant fell into tough times and faced extinction for a couple years, selling off the majority of their vineyards. In 2012, however, an American couple Mark Nunelly and Denise Dupré purchased the house alongside Champagne native Frédéric Zeimett and oenologist Hervé Jestin and the team has brought Leclerc Briant back to greatness.

Leclerc Briant consists of a very small 0.6 hectare vineyard called La Croisette, which is adjacent to the winery in Épernay. They also own roughly 9.6 hectares across various 1er and Grand Cru vineyards, though they source small amounts of Pinot Noir from the Aube and have long-term purchase agreements with other vignerons who own organically or biodynamically farmed vineyards. In the cellars, Jestin practices a non-invasive style of winemaking and sees himself as an observer and guide rather than a heavy hander. The wines all go through spontaneous fermentation and vinify in INOX tank, terracotta egg, or French oak barrel before malolactic fermentation is allowed to happen naturally. After at least nine months in barrel, the wines experience extended aging in the cellars and dosage levels are minimal or at times nonexistent at all to allow the wines to showcase themselves in pure form. All the wines are then bottled unfined and unfiltered.

To view the range of wines from Leclerc Briant, visit the website here. There are truly some unique bottlings, including one that ages submerged 60 meters in the Atlantic Ocean!

Today’s Wine: 2009 Extra Brut Champagne

40% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Meunier; 12% ABV

The 2009 Extra Brut Champagne is transparent medium to deep gold in color. On the nose, I get aromas of lemon, green apple, honeysuckle, brioche, almond, chalk, and lees characteristics such as cheese rind and baked bread. Meanwhile the palate is drop-dead gorgeous with notes of green apple, crisp golden pear, lemon zest, white florals, toast, cheese rind, roasted nuts, cream, and saline mineral. This is light- to medium-bodied with vibrant medium (+) acidity and a long finish. Disgorged in June 2017. Dosage 4 g/L.

Price: $80. I actually think this is a very solid value for vintage Champagne. The precision and vibrancy of the wine is remarkable and this is all around a beautifully pure expression of the terroir. Highly recommended.

Fun and Delicious Grower Champagne

Today’s Story: Domaine Francis Orban

Domaine Francis Orban was established in 1929 by Léopold Orban in the small village of Leuvrigny, not too far from Epernay. Though Léopold initially sold his fruit to the larger houses of Epernay, he decided to branch out and make his own wines as one of the first Grower Champagne houses in Leuvrigny. The domaine today spans 18 acres of vineyards between Leuvrigny and Sainte-Gemme, with 90% planted to Pinot Meunier and vines averaging 30-40 years old. The vineyards are farmed utilizing sustainable viticulture, harvesting is done completely by hand, and fermentation is accomplished using only indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks. In the NV bottlings, about 50% of the blend is comprised of reserve wines. Francis Orban is today’s 4th generation steward of the domaine, following the footsteps of his great-grandfather Léopold, grandfather Gaëtan, and father Pol.

Today’s Wine: NV Champagne Extra Brut

100% Pinot Meunier; 12% ABV

The Champagne Extra Brut is transparent deep gold in color. On the nose, I get aromas of yellow apple skins, golden pear, brioche, white pepper, almond, clay, and mineral. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of lemon citrus, green apple, toasted nuts, toast, crushed rock, and cream. This is very dry and medium-bodied with high acidity and a crisp, refreshing finish.

Price: $45. Great QPR with this one, which tends to be the case with almost every grower Champagne I’ve had over the years. This wine is also incredibly fun to try, not simply for the fact it is 100% Pinot Meunier (typically a blending variety in Champagne) but also because it is Extra Brut with dosage of 3 g/l. Drink this on its own or pair with caviar or shrimp.