Fri 1 Jan 2010
I suppose we have unofficially moved Christmas Breakfast to New Year’s Day, because this is the second year that we’ve had it on New Year’s Day. This is a traditional Southern breakfast that I started doing probably 15 years ago, consisting of fresh biscuits, country ham, eggs, grits and red-eye gravy and champagne. This morning — more like early afternoon — LL and I sat down to this downhome treat and sipped on an utterly fascinating champagne, and by “fascinating” I don’t mean in the sense that we say, “What a fascinating [and boring] lecture” or “What a fascinating [and inedible] entree,” I mean fascinating in the best way, as in beguiling and mysterious.
This is the Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut Champagne from a small house in Ambonnay run by Francis Egly. The wine is unusual because it is made completely from pinot meunier grapes, typically the minority percentage in a champagne blend that combines the region’s three grapes, pinot noir, chardonnay and pinot meunier; these grapes are from slightly more than 40-year-old vines around the village of Vrigny. It’s also rare for a non-vintage champagne to spend 40 months on the lees (the spend yeast cells) in bottle, slowly building character. The bottle we tried was disgorged in November 2007, so bottle-age has added to the complexity. There’s very little dosage, so this champagne can be described as bone-dry.
The color is pale gold-blond with silver highlights; the infinitesimally tiny bubbles surge upward in a dynamic fountain. What is most fascinating about this champagne is the way in which every aspect of it must be abrogated to the concept of steel. It smells like apples, poached pears, thyme and steel. Oh, and it smells like brioche, hazelnuts and steel. And, oh yes, it offers flavors of spiced pear, ginger, lemon curd and steel. It displays the elegance of steel and the power of steel and altogether seems to be an entity for which the adjective “steely” was conceived. Yet there’s warmth here too, a subtle attractiveness; before it goes all high-toned and austere, this champagne kicks up its heels a bit. Excellent. And fascinating. About $70.