Monday, January 5, 2009

Champagne for a Week

After dropping not one but two brief mentions of it at Do Bianchi last week, I’d more or less decided not to devote a full write up to Bereche’s Extra Brut Réserve Champagne. Besides, I know little in the way of exacting detail about the wine. But then I did something I don’t often do and that, with most wines, one can’t usually do, at least not with good results. I left the unfinished portion of the bottle – not much more than a glass – stoppered in the fridge not for one day, not for two, but for six days before getting back for a revisit.

Champagne Extra Brut Reserve, Bérèche et Fils NV.
$56. 12% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
The wine was lovely enough on day one – lithe yet muscular, aromas of toast and a hint of fino sherry, a color in the glass that could define “onion skin” and a surprisingly great match with butternut squash soup (Xmas dinner takeout from Talula’s Table). But on day six it was somehow even more beautiful. Even though a hiss escaped when I unclamped the wings of the bottle stopper, the wine had achieved total visual tranquility. Yet in spite of that loss of bubbles there was no loss of fruit. If anything, it had taken on greater clarity of fruit expression. If anyone ever doubted the descriptors “vinosity” or “red-fruited” in the context of Champagne, they need only to have tasted this to have achieved their “Ah hah!” moment. That last glass – which I shared with a buddy on New Year’s Eve – was a real pleasure to contemplate.

Here’s what I do know about the wine. It’s a red-fruit dominated blend of Pinot Noir, Meunier and Chardonnay from various Premier Cru vineyard sites spread around the hamlet of Ludes on the Montagne de Reims (see my earlier posting about the estate’s unusual packaging for more detail). Raphael Bereche farms naturally, ferments his wines on their native yeasts and ages at least some of the base wines for all of his cuvées in wood. The Extra Brut Réserve is similar in blend to the regular Brut Réserve (see my note from Xmas Eve) but it spends at least an additional year on the lees prior to disgorgement and is then bottled with no dosage, finding its balance through careful work and full ripening in the vineyard and through the transformation wrought by the oxidative aspects of that additional period of sur-lie bottle aging.

What is it, though, that enabled it not just to hold up but also to show so well after almost a full week of being open? I’m sure a good stopper didn’t hurt but on other factors I can only speculate. Of course, I’d be happy to hear your thoughts on the matter.

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The stopper:

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