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Sometimes it is good to turn from the glamour of big champagne houses to the more earth-bound approach of a pragmatic peasant. Chartogne-Taillet in Merfy, which is located in the northern part of Montagne de Reims, is a paradigm of an enthusiastic and innovative farmer-producer. Working side by side with his father Philippe and mother Elisabeth, Alexandre Chartogne acquired his knowledge from the legendary Avize-based Anselme Selosse, and is open to new experiments and quality improvements. Talking with Alexandre, who is dedicated to cultivation and production, takes one deep into the mysteries of champagne production.
Most of the vineyards of Montagne de Reims can these days be found south of the city of Reims. The northern vineyards have given way to the expanding city, and, in addition to the damage done by Phylloxera, war has also complicated cultivation in the area. The hills of Montagne de Reims have a strategic view straight to the city of Reims, and this has turned them into battle fields more than once; the planted area in Merfy has decreased from 105 hectares to 45 as a result.
Despite its small size and rather unknown status, the south facing plots of Merfy are able to produce exceedingly interesting wines. Alexandre Chartogne characterises their style as stronger and richer in nuances than those of the wines of southern Montagne, but not quite as fruity.
Organic cultivation and the concentrated yield of old vines are key elements to the rich and strong style of Chartogne-Taillet. Their whole repertoire, from the non-vintage standard Sainte-Anne champagne to the prestige cuvée Fiacre, is first-rate, as is their rosé champagne. The most impressive experiences, I have to say, have been derived from the new Les Barres single-vineyard champagne.
Blend : 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir
Dosage : 6-7 grams of sugar per liter
Vinification : Stainless-steel tanks, using a selection of only the first and best musts from the press
Vintages : 2002, 2004, 2006, 2008
This Champagne is blended from two vineyards located close to each other, called Le Chemin de Reims et Les Orizeaux. Their calcareous and sandy soils create a wine of remarkable precision and finesse. Enjoy this Champagne as an aperitif as well as an accompaniment to a meal.
Up to this point 1996 has been considered a fantastic vintage which produced classic wines; the best since 1990. A long, dry summer produced grapes of record ripeness with record acidity. Some, including myself, question how the 1996s are aging. The wines are generally characterized by a distinctive rather lemony acidity and very good attack, but some wines now seem terribly austere, while others already seem dangerously short of fruit. None of the subsequent vintages are quite as distinctive as 1996, which in the more successful cases should almost certainly be drunk after the 1999s.