If you’re in the bubbly business in the Aube (the southern region in France’s Champagne-Ardenne), then you have to make peace with the fact that, compared with the popular Épernay and Ay to the north, you’re basically the red-headed stepchild of Champagne.
Unless you’re Emmanuel Lassaigne, who crafts the bubbly at Champagne Jacques Lassaigne.
In that case, you unabashedly make wine from vineyards in Montgueux, which, being technically a chalky outcrop of the Côte des Bars in the Aube, might be considered the red-headed stepchild of the red-headed stepchild. Emmanuel Lassaigne’s purpose in life seems to be to birth a modern Montgueux Champagne naked and screaming into the world wine market.
Calling Lassaigne’s Champagnes “high acid” would be like calling the blood from Alien “mildly corrosive.” But they might be the purest expression of place available from the Aube: all Chardonnay, all from one area, mostly all zero dosage, all disgorged by hand, all eschewing quality “ranges,” all treated with as little sulfur as possible, and all adored by the way-too-cool-in-its-own-mind cadre of hip sommeliers on both coasts of the USA.
“Here,” Lassaigne told me, “we try to do ‘wine’ before we do ‘Champagne.’ We don’t take any security. It’s a choice of life. Challenging is very interesting, and doing the same thing is always boring. We’re always at the edge…”
A blend of the 2012, 2011, and 2010 vintages, this is a good introduction to the Lassaigne style, which one might call the school of “when in doubt, go with acid.” The wine is exceedingly fresh, conjuring mental images of pears, green apples, and white flowers. It’s piquant, lovely, mineral, and delivers citrus fruits as if they were awash in saline.
NV Jacques Lassaigne “Le Cotet” Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut (Champagne, $75)
Le Cotet is vinified from Chardonnay from a single parcel, planted by Lassaigne’s father in the 1960s. In this case, it’s mostly 2012 fruit, with smatterings of 2008, 2006, 2004, and 2002. The stars of the vinous story here are the fifty-plus year-old vines, the fruit of which gives fascinating depth and concentration to the bubbly. Flint, wet rock, grapefruit, lemons, green apples, lemon verbena, and then more lemons; those are the greeters, and they come quick and in regular aromatic succession. On the mouth, this has saline, and a raging line of focused acidity, but there are creamy edges that start to round things out. This one will need time, and, eventually, shellfish.
2007 Jacques Lassaigne Millesime Blanc de Blancs (Champagne, $125)
Imagine yellow apple and lemon pie, with a heaping of ginger on top, and a side of toast, and you’ll get close to the vibe of this vintage sparkler, which was the most balanced of the wines Emmanuel Lassaigne poured during my visit, and certainly the most stunning. The palate is creamy, but still intense in its citric focus, leading to notes of minerals, chalk, saline, and cinnamon. Drinking one glass only is a hedonic impossibility.
This is a fascinating bottle of bubbles, peeps. There are so many familiar and odd things going on here that one struggles to capture it all. Stones, citrus, lemon verbena, biscuit, chalk, ginger, green apple, and… ferns. Yeah, I really do mean that last one. The elegant, fresh, textural presentation in the mouth is matched by face-ripping acidity, and flavors of lemons that are explosive, creating a palate firework display that is attention-grabbing, in a China-tries-to-blow-your-mind-at-the-Olympics-opening-ceremony kind of way.
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