Fri 24 Jun 2011
I bought a bottle of Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut late last year, and we drank it with the New Year’s Day breakfast of fried eggs, country ham, red-eye gravy, grits and biscuits. I posted a review as the 8th Day of my annual “Twelve Days of Christmas with Champagne and Sparkling Wine” series and included it back in January in my “Best Wines of 2010″ post. A few weeks ago, casting about for a Champagne to sip while LL was opening her birthday present, I decided to purchase another bottle from the same store; this bottle is from the same batch that was disgorged in November 2007 after spending 40 months in the bottle on the lees, that is, the spent yeast cells that can contribute depth and character to white wines; it’s common for high-class chardonnays to rest on the lees (sur lie) in barrels for the same reason.
Calculating in reverse, we can conclude that the Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut was bottled around July 2004 and that the principle grapes came from vintage 2003, so the product in question is about eight years old. It’s unusual for a non-vintage Champagne to spend 40 months on the lees and also for a Champagne to be made completely from red pinot meunier grapes, which typically form the lesser percentage in a Champagne that uses greater amounts of chardonnay and pinot noir. Pinot meunier is important in Champagne because it buds late and ripens early, qualities that are useful in the region’s demanding wintery climate.
Here’s what I wrote about Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut on Jan 1, 2010:
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.
Now, 18 months later, this Champagne has lost a great deal of its steely, scintillating minerality and has tamped down its lovely elevated, balletic nature, but it has gained depth and power; previously, it was cool and elegant, though certainly full-bodied and intense, but now it’s warmer, spicier, bursting with mature notes of buttered cinnamon toast, toasted almonds and toffee, roasted lemon, an almost tropical strain of ginger and quince, and a heaping helping of cloves. Fortunately, it retains acid grip and limestone for structural tenacity and an extended finish. 12.5 percent alcohol. I would say that with proper storage the Egly-Ouriet “Les Vignes de Vrigny” Premier Cru Brut should drink well through 2014. Excellent and still fascinating. About $70 for me locally, though you see it around the country as low as $55.
North Berkeley Imports, Berkeley, Ca.