Saturday, October 8, 2011

Pierre Gimonnet & Fils: Trésors de Champagne

How do you judge the quality of a Champagne? Well, Didier Gimonnet's grandfather said that you just had to invite 2-3 friends over and if the bottle were empty within 20 minutes, then it was a quality Champagne. I think that is sound advice.

During my visit to the Champagne region, I had the pleasure to meet Didier Gimonnet (pictured above) of Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, another producer of Grower's Champagne. Didier and his brother Olivier run the winery, dividing up the tasks between the two of them. Their family has lived in their village since 1760 but they did not start making their own wine until about 1929, originally purchasing grapes from a negociant. They now own about 12 hectares of vineyards in the Côte des Blancs, most Grand Cru.

Didier stated that they only produced Blanc de Blanc, Champagne made only from Chardonnay, and never a Grand Cru as they prefer to blend. Terroir is very important to them, and they choose the best of each vineyard to enter their blends, vinifying each parcel separately. For example, the Cramant vineyard is rich but elegant and delicate while Chouilly vineyard provides more fruit and elegance and the Oger vineyard has a more masculine profile as well as a strong minerality. They would not make a single vineyard Champagne as to them, it would not be a true blend, and the blend is everything to them. They do not purchase any grapes, and produce about 250,000 bottles annually, exporting much of it since few other wineries make as much Blanc de Blanc.

Didier's father designed the primary style of their Champagne: "fresh and elegant." In this regard, they choose not to use any oak to maintain the freshness of their wine. Based on their Champagnes that I tasted, they certainly live up to the style, being very fresh and lively on the palate, as well as possessed of a fine elegance. Now, despite the fact that they do produce a no-dosage Champagne, Didier is not a fan of the idea, feeling that they do not age well and must be drank early. Interestingly, he also compared a no-dosage Champagne to a woman without makeup.

Of the six Champagnes I tasted, in general they underwent malolactic fermentation, had low dosage, and were aged at least for 18 months. In addition, the price ranged from about 22 to 50 Euros, all reasonably priced for the quality of the wine. Plus, they were all delicious in their own ways, from the introductory NV Cuis Premier Cru Brut (22 Euros), with its light and fresh apple notes, to the high-end 2002 Millesime de Collection (45-50 Euros), with its more mature and complex flavor melange. The 2006 Gastronome Premier Cru offered an easy drinking, yet rich and complex, Champagne which I would have no trouble imbibing all evening. Even the no-dosage 2004 Oenophile Premier Cru Extra-Brut impressed me, not as acidic and biting as many other no-dosage wines I had tasted on the trip. It was a mellower Champagne, soothing bubbles sure to sate your nocturnal thirst.

The highlight of the tasting for me was the 2004 Special Club (36 Euros), which had been aged for seven years, had a light dosage of 6 g/l, and underwent malolactic fermentation. It was a killer wine, fresh, lively, complex and intriguing. Besides apple, melon and apricot notes, there was also a briny taste with some minerality and hints of toast. It had a strong, unique character and each sip only mesmerized me even more. This was another of my favorite Champagnes of the trip, and I seemed to uncover some new taste each time I sipped from my glass. Sure to impress wine lovers, this is a Champagne worth seeking out.

I later learned that this Champagne is actually part of a special club, the Club Trésors de Champagne ("Treasures of Champagne"), which was a new organization to me. Back in 1971, a dozen, old owner/grower families formed the Club de Viticulteurs Champenois, to raise awareness of their special cuvees. By 1999, the group had about 26 members and changed the name to Trésors de Champagne. Only Recoitant-Manipulants can become members, only those who grow all their own grapes.

Each member then may create a special cuvee for the Club, which will eventually be put in a bottle unique to the club, though with the producer's own label. The cuvee is supposed to be one of the producer's best wine, and thus such wines won't be produced every year. A submitted wine must also undergo a rigorous peer evaluation, to ensure the high quality of the cuvee. Those that do not measure up will be rejected. Thus, these wines are rare and should represent some of the best Grower's Champagne that exists.

The 2004 Pierre Gimonnet Special Club lived up to its promise, providing me motivation to seek out other special club wines from other producers.

Have you tasted any others of the Trésors de Champagne?

1 comment:

Bianca @ Confessions of a Chocoholic said...

Awesome pics. I want to go to France now!