Wednesday, January 2, 2013

A Belated Note On A Champion Champagne

Now that the New Year's celebrations have come and gone, a belated word about Champagne. Every year I tell myself I need to drink more of the stuff, but unlike Madame Lily Bollinger, my bank account forbids me drinking it only when I'm happy, or sad, or entertaining company, or when I'm thirsty. But I was in the Asheville Wine Market last Saturday, and I saw a certain bottle on the shelf, and decided that I had a short time to live and a whole long time to be dead, and thus this tasting note.

François Champion is a third-generation Récoltant-Manipulant producer in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly, in the Côte des Blancs region of Champagne.  (Chouilly is Grand Cru for Chardonnay only.) The house was founded in 1951 by his grandfather, André, and takes its name from his father, Roland. He has 44.5 acres from several parcels in the village, along with a small vineyard in Verneuil where he grows Pinot Noir. Most of his production goes to vintage Champagnes, but he does make a non-vintage Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs—about 21,000 bottles a year, according to my calculator. It is all free-run Chardonnay juice, aged 30 months on its lees and all R.D. (“Recently Disgorged,” which is to say the lees were removed just before the wine was released). The dosage is relatively light at 8 grams per liter; the southeast-facing vineyards in Chouilly produce ripe fruit, so less is needed.

N.V. Champagne Roland Champion, Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Chouilly Grand Cru: Opens with a truly distinctive nose, featuring a strong parmesan-like umami note, with citrus, apple, and just a little yeasty brioche. In the mouth, flavors of lemon, apple, hazelnut, bitter chocolate, and candied citrus peel emerge over time. And after all that mid-palate richness comes a clean, pure, mineralic finish. We opened one of these on New Year's Eve last year, and on New Year's Day this year (the Mule was working the other side of his life, making music, on the Eve). I intend to make it a tradition. At $60/bottle, this blows the doors off many higher-priced bubblies.

As the bar was set quite low during 2012, I feel—no doubt foolishly—confident in predicting a better 2013. Happy New Year!

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