The top end of the Champagne spectrum is often perceived (due to a lot of marketing) to be the Super Cuvées like Dom Perignon and Krug. Don’t get me wrong these are great wines. The thing is when you get the chance and taste the top wines from Grower Champagne houses like Egly-Ouriet you find yourself taking things to an all new level. Their vineyards are immaculate, the fruit comes in with so much intensity you could happily drink the finished wines after they’ve gone flat.
I don’t know who coined the term “Grower Champagne”, when you see it, make sure you take a second look before you move on. Champagne producers are split into three groups:
- Houses that make over-cropped boring fizz, battery acid with bubbles and a bit of alcohol.
- Bigger houses that are pushing hard to make yummy wine, own some of their vineyards, buy a lot of grapes and have some exceptional super cuvées (top wines – think Dom Pérignon).
- Grower producers that grow 100% of their grapes themselves and make wines that have bags of personality.
Egly-Ouriet sits comfortably in the Grower group. Doing all the little 1 percenters in the vineyard and winery that make the difference between a drink and a pleasure fest!
Visit the vineyards and you’ll see horse drawn ploughs and during the pruning and harvesting seasons the same faces year after year. That kind of continuity just makes for deep knowledge and empathy for the vineyards that = great wine.
In the winery the effort goes in with use of old oak barrels and foudré, large format barrels reaching into the 1000’s of litres each. Lees stiring, re-suspending yeast from fermentation that have settled to the bottom of the barrel to add extra creaminess and complexity. Use of carefully crafted reserve wines in the blends. Reserve wines are older wines that are a blend of several different years, often stored in foudré. Their use imparts complexity and a generosity that you wouldn’t see in the wine until it had been aged for much longer in bottle were it not for their use.
Maturing the base wines before tirage, second fermentation in bottle, again contributing to complexity, harmony, and, helping tame the incredible intensity of fruit these growers generate in the vineyard.
All of these things only have a positive impact when the fruit is of quality, has the depth to handle oxygen contact, and be improved by it rather than fall apart.
Combined the effort in the vineyard and winery result in layerd, complex, yummy wine, with bags of personality.
“Few producers can equal Francis Egly in skill and experience, and larger houses cannot hope to emulate the cultivation norms…” Michel Bettane, The World’s Greatest Wines.
“What Larmandier-Bernier achieves with Chardonnay, so Egly-Ouriet manages for Pinot Noir: wines of riveting purity and concentration.” Andrew Jefford, The New France
“Egly-Ouriet is one of the reference-point growers in Champagne, with a deep selection of wines that offer remarkable transparency to site, vintage and variety … These are among the most pure, unmanipulated Champagnes readers will come across, and the estate’s new releases are all highly recommended.” Antonio Galloni, The Wine Advocate
The emblematic wine from Francis Egly and the one that first brought him international acclaim. It was Michel Bettane, the influential French critic, who encouraged Egly to bottle this single vineyard wine separately and the first vintage was 1989.
As you may be aware, this wine has historically been the product of a single vintage but this is no longer the case. This cuvée is a blend of two harvests. Bottled in 2010, 50% of the assemblage is from the 2009 vintage and 50% from 2008 – two great years. 100% vinification and aging in barrique. The fruit comes from a single terroir known as Les Crayères, and the vines here were planted in 1946 (so now 70 years old). The soil is hardly 30cm deep, then it’s chalk, hundreds of metres down – hence the name of the site (craie is French for chalk).
The old vines are deeply rooted in this chalk subsoil, giving the wine its classic, mineral vibrancy, woven through the powerful, textured Pinot fruit. The concentration here is a product of the ripeness that both the site and its ancient vines naturally deliver. Les Crayères is a brilliant terroir, high up on the slope – a natural, sun trapping amphitheatre.
Dosage is 3g/l. This is both a tribute to the greatest sites of Ambonnay and to the Egly-Ouriet Domaine. Houses that emphasise blending may consider a 100 percent old vine Ambonnay like this to be too rich. Egly gives it to you pure and powerful. It’s a unique wine, built for food and for ageing. Always better a year or two after landing, this will be very hard to keep your hands off. Like all Egly Champagnes, it’s a wine first and a Champagne second. If I can be so bold – Egly-Ouriet’s Blanc De Noirs is not only a unique expression of a singular terroir, it is truly one of the greatest wines of the region.