Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Fleur de Passion

It’s what keeps you going, what keeps the passions flamed. Every once in a while, you still run across something that makes your pupils dilate, makes you tingle, makes you say "wow" (or at least think it). When it comes to wine, that “something” is often as simple as an inexpensive bottle from an off the beaten track area or an unknown producer that surprises you, certainly from its quality but also, it sometimes seems, helped along by its very nature as an unknown quantity. It seems far rarer for that “something” to be a special bottle, a top wine from a top producer, as one’s expectations often are set so high as to leave little chance for surprise. So when a top bottling does manage to provoke that spark of sensual excitement, it’s all the more surprising… and welcome.

Champagne “Fleur de Passion” Brut Blanc de Blancs, Diebolt-Vallois 1996
~$70 on release. 12.5% alcohol. Cork. Importer: Petit Pois, Moorestown, NJ.
Shared among good friends, the level of anticipation – and concomitant dread – was further heightened in this case by the certain knowledge that we were sacrificing the sole bottle of Diebolt’s 1996 “Fleur de Passion” in any of our cellars.

Our noses were rewarded by our choice of white wine glasses, as the wine’s aromatics were simply beautiful. Pastry cream, marzipan, sweet butter, lavender and apple blossoms…. I could have spent the better part of the evening just smelling the wine and, come to think of it, I probably did. It was drinking great, too. Expectations were met in the ‘96’s extreme youthfulness yet exceeded in all other capacities.

Jacques Diebolt’s wines are not powerful; not deep dark and brooding. They’re just pure embodiments of grace, elegance and finesse… like a completely unostentatious yet classically designed and perfectly tailored wedding dress – the house style is unquestionably feminine – worn by the most beautiful of brides on her happiest of days. That’s not exactly what I was thinking when I was drinking the wine; then it was more stepping back and saying – yes, saying – "wow." But I’d like to think I’m not now waxing overly poetic. The wine was grippy and vinous yet absolutely elegant; sweet in disposition yet deeply serious. It was crystalline, shimmering and luminous from its nose to its exquisite finish.

Jacques Diebolt has only been producing “Fleur de Passion” since the 1995 vintage, making 1996 only his second release. However, he traces the wine’s inspiration back to 1953 when, working under his grandfather’s tutelage, he first made a wine of similar nature. “Fleur de Passion” is produced only in better vintages, from fruit grown in seven or eight plots centered on the hilly area known as “Les Buzons” in the 100% Grand Cru village of Cramant. Yields from the 40-60+ year-old vines are naturally low, no doubt helping to give the wine its fine concentration and expression of the Côte des Blancs’ chalk and limestone-rich terroir. The base wines for “Fleur de Passion” are fermented and aged in small barrels purchased after one-year of use by white Burgundy producers. Malolactic fermentation is suppressed, and both fining and filtering are avoided. “Fleur” ages sur-lie for approximately five years before disgorgement, followed by a modest dosage of 6-8 grams and further bottle aging at the estate prior to release. The 2002, which is the current vintage on the market, sells for approximately $150 per/bottle; at around half that price when released, the 1996 was a tremendous value.

I don’t think the '96 will ever taste quite like any of the three bottles of 1953 that Jacques opened for me and my traveling companions a few years back; he disgorged those bottles à la volée, as they were still on their lees after nearly fifty years. But I do think the 1996, if kept in a cold, dark cellar, has similar potential for life ahead of it.

I can think of few other wines I’d rather have the chance to revisit forty years from now. Of course, that would require another bottle… and that I be as alive and kicking as I expect the wine to be.


Samantha Dugan said...

What a lovely, inspiring piece. To say I'm jealous is a massive understatement, 1996 is one of my absolute favorite vintages for Champagne...sadly, most of it is long gone, but when I stumble across one, I nab it! While I've never tasted the wine you so eloquently wrote about, I now have an idea what it tastes like and a new wine on my list to covet.

I was sitting here drinking a glass of Rose which, strangly tastes like poo now....

David McDuff said...

Mmm, poo flavored rosé.... Sorry about that, Sam. This piece certainly wasn't written to inspire envy, simply to inspire -- as the wine inspired me.

I'm happy to have a couple of other grower Champs from 1996 in the cellar but something tells me that if I want more of this one I'll need to pay another visit to Monsieur Diebolt.

Blog Widget by LinkWithin