Leclerc Briant: a house rejuvenated

I was fan of Leclerc Briant wines back in the days when Pascal Leclerc Briant, the fifth generation of the family involved since the house was founded in 1852, ran the business. His father Bertrand was one of the first to move away from the use of chemical fertilisers and pesticides, and Pascal followed the same path, going further when he began experimenting with biodynamic vine cultivation back in 1970 at a time when such methods were very rare in Champagne.

Leclerc Briant: Frédéric Zeimatt and Hervé Jestin

After ten years farming their Cumières vineyards biodynamically, following the 2000 harvest he decided to convert all the house’s vineyards to biodynamic farming. Before his untimely death in October 2010, the company based in Epernay owned around 30 hectares of vineyards, principally in the crus of Cumières, Hautvillers (both highly regarded premiers crus), Damery and Verneuil, all located to the west of Epernay on the northern side of the Marne Valley, making it the largest bio-dynamic producer of champagne in the appellation.

In 1994 Leclerc Briant was one of the first in Champagne to introduce a number of single vineyard wines under the Collection Les Authentiques label: Les Chèvres Pierreuses, Les Crayères and Le Clos des Champions, each was produced on a different terroir in Cumières and these were serious wines. But he never really achieved the recognition he deserved in his lifetime.

Sadly, after Pascal’s death, his four daughters who inherited the estate couldn’t agree on how it should be run and in the end the vineyards were all sold off. One interesting consequence of the splitting up and sale of the holdings Leclerc Briant built up, was it transformed Louis Roederer, which bought half the estate, into the most significant organic and bio-dynamic grape grower in the appellation overnight. Of the remaining 15 hectares, 13 were sold to Lanson-BCC, with BCC CEO Bruno Paillard keeping two for himself. Lanson is already producing an organically certified champagne (its Green Label launched in 2017) using about half this vineyard, but it isn’t known what Paillard is currently doing with his two hectares.

After the sale of the vineyards, in 2012 the Leclerc Briant brand, the winery and cellars in Epernay’s Rue de la Chaude Ruelle and the remaining stock was purchased by the American investor Mark Nunnelly and his wife Denise Dupré. This couple have become better known in Champagne recently as the owners of luxury hotel Royal Champagne in Champillon, which they purchased in 2014 and completely rebuilt and refurbished, re-opening last month (July 2018). Its restaurant and rooms command arguably the best views in all Champagne over steeply sloping vineyards towards Hautvillers.

At Leclerc Briant they made the wise choice at the outset of making Hervé Jestin, already an experienced bio-dynamic winemaker, the temporary manager of operations. Jestin, who has wide winemaking experience on the international stage including Russian sparkling giant Abrau-Durso and one of England’s finest fizzes, Hambledon Vineyard in Hampshire, had worked with Pascal Leclerc Briant in an advisory capacity for a few years, so he knew the wines. Soon after Frédéric Zeimatt was made general manger, bringing 20 years of experience at Moët & Chandon to the table.

Frédéric Zeimatt

As well as an early involvement in the renovation of Royal Champagne, Zeimatt has overseen the complete refurbishment of the Leclerc Briant cellars and offices on opposite sides of the road in Rue de la Chaude Ruelle — it was a building site last time I visited in November 2015 — and the opening of a new wine shop and five chic guest rooms in April 2017 on Epernay’s Avenue de Champagne.

The range I tasted back in 2015 with Hervé and Frédéric were cuvées based on the first commercial harvest of the new regime, 2012, not a bad vintage to start with. They were all made from biodynamically farmed fruit, vinified and aged in oak barrels and disgorged in June 2015. Of the Brut Réserve, a blend of 65% Meunier, 20% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay, with a very low, Extra Brut, dosage of just 2gm/l, my notes say: while still youthful, deep intensity, buttery note and spicy. Noticeably saline.

‘La Croisette’ is produced from a tiny 0.6ha parcel of land just behind the winery

We also taste the all Chardonnay 2012 based ‘La Croisette’, produced from a tiny 0.6ha parcel of land just behind the winery in Epernay, which has been farmed biodynamically for 40 years with no chemical products put on it. A wine outside most people’s understanding of what Champagne is. Lively and fresh, with a marked savoury note bringing warmth and spice to the mid-palate, there’s also an exotic fruit element.

Leclerc Briant Brut Réserve

Today the Leclerc Briant wines are more widely available. In the UK, five of the current range, including the Brut Réserve (in bottle £43, and half bottle £26) and the all-Chardonnay ‘La Croisette’ £98), are being stocked by Borough Wines (https://boroughwines.co.uk/champagne-sparkling/champagne/ ) . And I understand from Frédéric Zeimatt, Berry Bros & Rudd are also going to be selling some of the wines soon, distributing them in the on-trade via Fields Morris & Verdin.
See also the ‘What I’ve been Tasting’ page.

Waitrose sells single bottles of champagne online

Waitrose is tapping into the online market for fizz with a new service that started on Thursday (21 April) that allows customers to buy single bottles of champagne with free delivery. It’s offering an impressive range of 47 different lines — 42 champagnes and five English sparklers — through this new service with prices starting at £26.99 a bottle for Duval-Leroy’s Fleur de Champagne, while the most expensive bottle currently is a Salmanazar (equivalent to 12 standard bottles) of Bollinger Special Cuvée Brut NV at £675.

There are no2015-05-15-20.22.23-e1461404396843 Own Label champagnes or Waitrose exclusive labels and most of the wines are from the major houses. Among the initial Continue reading “Waitrose sells single bottles of champagne online”

Veuve Clicquot launches ’08 vintage on the Côte de Nuits

Started last week in Burgundy at Clos des Lambrays in Morey-Saint-Denis c/o Veuve Clicquot, for the launch of their 2008 Vintage Réserve. Clicquot never likes to do anything by halves, witness the event they organised in June 2014 around burying 300 bottles and 50 magnums on the Baltic seabed to test how champagne ages there;
http://www.decanter.com/news/wine-news/587201/veuve-clicquot-to-age-champagne-in-baltic-sea#XfUWqDDh2FG7AhpI.99

Continue reading “Veuve Clicquot launches ’08 vintage on the Côte de Nuits”

Krug launches 2002 vintage & changes Grand Cuvée label (slightly)

Bjoern Weissgerber, group executive chef at Zuma restaurants was kind enough to take this picture of Eric Lebel with me at the 2002 launch

Yesterday I had the chance to try the newly released Krug 2002 vintage, along with a group of top sommeliers and chefs, many of whom are Krug ambassadors. One of the last, if not the last, major house to put its ’02 offering on the market, the expectations were high. The wine isn’t a disappointment. Subtle, gentle, harmonious, it has that indefinable quality, that extra dimension, lift and intensity that only the top vintages in Champagne offer with a silky texture and long finish. To put the new wine in context after a mandatory glass of Grande Cuvée, the current release based Continue reading “Krug launches 2002 vintage & changes Grand Cuvée label (slightly)”

Lallier launches exciting new style ‘non-vintage’

If you are looking for a great advertisement for the use of ‘reserve wine’ in the make-up of Lallier R012 Pic B with glassnon-vintage champagne, this is it. A new cuvée created by Lallier owner/winemaker Francis Tribaut, it is mostly based (81%) on the very high quality 2012 harvest and (this particular sample) was disgorged in February 2015, so it had around 24 months’ lees ageing plus about five months on the cork when I tried it, not particularly long for top-notch un-vintaged champagne — or champagne sans année as the French more elegantly describe it. But top-notch champagne it certainly is with a refreshing tang plus an unusual richness and depth for a relatively youthful wine.

Tribaut has, it appears, borrowed and put his own spin on an idea from the Chiquet brothers at Jacquesson whose NV champagne each year (currently Cuvée 738 based on 2010) is a different blend that seeks to reflect the particular harvest and show it in the best light possible. The key here in the Lallier wine is however, I suspect, the quality and age of the reserves wines that are used in the blend. They come from the 2002, 2004 and 2008 harvests which some would name as the three best of that decade – though ‘06 and more recently ‘09 are also making waves. The high quality of the base year 2012 is almost universally agreed. And 85% of the blend comes from grand cru sites like Aÿ (where Lallier is based) and Ambonnay (Pinot Noir), Cramant and Oger (Chardonnay).

Producers more typically use reserve wines from the two or three years prior to the harvest base year in their non-vintage blends– so that would be the un-exciting 2011, 2010 harvests and the ripe high quality ’09. But picking very specific, more venerable reserve wines all from good to great years, makes a difference. Or it certainly appears so here. I’m a big fan of the Jacquesson 700 series NV wines but they are quite a bit more expensive than this Lallier newcomer – currently Cuvée 738 is £43.95 at bbr.com . Lallier makes very good champagne across the whole range but doesn’t yet have the cachet of Jacquesson so the value is very decent too.

Normally priced at £28.95 a bottle, champagneguru readers have the exclusive chance to buy a six bottle case of this wine at an attractive discount until the end of September, thanks to a deal we’ve put together with on line retailer Slurp. For details of the deal turn to the Latest Retail Offers page.