© Tom Jarvis/Wine-Searcher |
The market currently contains many superb growers’ Champagnes – wines from excellent growers producing superb, stylish, individualistic wines demonstrating their distinct terroirs, as opposed to the consistent blends made by the larger houses.
It is a fascinating and under-reported subject. Thus, I was very much looking forward to reading Terroir Champagne a new book by Caroline Henry, who has written for Wine-Searcher on Champagne. What I found was a book I really enjoyed, a pleasing narrative that wound through many of the Champagne region’s smaller and less well-known villages, revealing the characters of some fabulous winemakers. I was compelled to read on. Unfortunately, although the book is brilliant it has a number of flaws.
|A Dozen of the Best Grower Champagnes|
|Terroir Gives Champagne Its Soul|
|The Best Champagnes of the Modern Era|
Caroline clearly loves her subject and as a result has written a highly subjective account from a point of view that is predominantly unquestioningly pro-organic. It contains a very good coverage of the region’s soils and an excellent table listing organic Champagne producers. There is a detailed explanation of biodynamic preparations that I am sure will interest serious wine students.
Frustratingly, though, this is neither the definitive list of terroir Champagne producers I had hoped for, nor an overview of all organic and biodynamic Champagne producers. Instead it achieves its own stated objective of providing a collection of stories of winemakers who share a passion for their terroir. Some of these producers make only a few hundred bottles a year, a couple haven’t even released any wines yet, and houses like Bollinger, Philipponnat and Roederer are included as a portion of their production is organic.
Each of the 87 growers covered is described painstakingly, with insights into their background, their family’s history, the extent, location and nature of their vineyards are detailed, how they tend their vines, and their winemaking philosophy. The entries divide producers into regions, covering the Aube, Côte des Blancs, Montagne de Reims and Vallée de la Marne. The winemakers’ character sketches are all accompanied by photographs taken in situ at the winery. Tasting notes are provided for the cuvées from each producer. Reading the book almost feels like you are visiting each producer yourself.
The premise of the book is something of a confabulation of two ideas, with a relationship between sustainable, organic, and biodynamic production, and terroir expression being assumed without any justification being given. Caroline’s perspective on terroir examines soils and the human influences of the vignerons, but makes little reference to the contribution of climate or topography to the wines. The text doesn’t highlight how terroir differences manifest themselves in the flavors of the grapes and wines from particular regions. There is little attempt to assess how the grape varieties relate to different terroirs or mention of what has led to the identification of grand cru and premier cru villages. There is an excellent round up of the region’s soils but direct links to flavors are hard to find – instead the approach is quite holistic, leaving the reader to divine, from the information given, how the wines are influenced by their terroir.
The graphics are often difficult to relate to the text (I assume the silhouette of the dog on the cover is Caroline’s dog, but am less clear if the pictures on pages 38-39 mean wolves are found in the snow in the Champagne region! In places, the use of language hints that English may not be Caroline’s mother tongue, but somehow these quirks add to the delightful character of the book.
For a wine lover, Terroir Champagne is a very enjoyable read; the book’s principal flaw is that individual producer entries do not always clearly identify the labels they sell their wines under. For example, it is impossible to tell if Flavien Nowack of Vandieres sells his wines under the Domaine Nowack or Delouven-Nowack labels (it is Domaine Nowack). These are sometimes referenced in the index, but not always on the related pages.
Here are links to some of the producers highlighted in the book:
Thomas & Maxime Barbichon Champagne Robert Barbichon & Fils
Jerome Coessens Champagne Coessens Largillier
Bertrand Gautherot Champagne Vouette & Sorbée
Emanuel Lassaigne Champagne Jacques Lassaigne
Michel Jacob Serge Matthieu
Dominique Moreau Champagne Marie Courtin
Dominique & Clemence Lelarge Champagne Lelarge Pugeot
Pierre Larmandier Champagne Larmandier-Bernier
Eric Coulon Champagne Roger Coulon
Fabrice Gass Champagne Alexandre Filaine
Olivier Langlais Champagne Solemme
Fabrice Pouillon Champagne R Pouillon & Fils