In today's world full of PET NAT, weirdness and sediments, it's time to return to the classic secondary fermentation in the bottle.
I greatly enjoy witnessing the birth of new traditions. Sometimes an idea catches on, it's endowed with symbolism, a legend forms, and then the act repeats periodically. Traditional bubbles for Christmas, and end-of-year quizzes are just examples of our own traditions. And I'm always pleased to affirm, "Will we have our traditional bubbles?" Of course, it's become a tradition now.
This tasting is straightforward – we're only featuring sparkling wines made using the traditional method, which means a second fermentation in the bottle, with or without sediment removal. Every year, I strive to bring wines from various categories, not just expensive and obviously high-class Champagne but also those representing good value for money. This time, I lack the wildcard wine – a bottle under $10 that challenges the quality of more expensive ones. Nevertheless, I've tried to geographically disperse our selection across different countries. Travelling is impossible due to the war, but wine remains a fine conduit to the world. And the bubbles are so playful!
Domaine Haute Fevrie éClipse 2021
This wine secured the 🏅 7th place in our wine tasting lineup.
Domaine de la Haute Fevrie lies nestled in the heart of the Muscadet Sèvre et Maine appellation, a stone's throw from the city of Nantes in the Loire Valley of France. The estate's story begins over a century ago and is currently under the passionate stewardship of Sébastien Branger, a direct descendant of the founding family. Branger, with a deep respect for tradition and the environment, has embraced organic viticulture to express the true character of his 26.6 hectares of vineyards.
This wine showcases the pure expression of Melon de Bourgogne, a grape best known for its role in the crisp Muscadet wines of the Loire Valley. Hand-harvested and carefully transported in perforated crates, the grapes undergo a respectful vinification process. Direct pressing of the whole bunches ensures a clean and pure juice, followed by settling for 18 to 24 hours. The fermentation is a slow and natural process, taking 3 to 4 weeks with indigenous yeasts at controlled temperatures between 18 and 20°C. It's then aged on lees for seven months, gaining texture and complexity.
For the "Méthode Traditionnelle" distinction, the wine is bottled in May or June to start secondary fermentation, followed by extended lees ageing on lattes for at least 9 months, varying with the vintage from 11 to 24 months. This period enhances the wine's complexity and finesse. After meticulous riddling and disgorging, it's finished with a dosage of 7 to 9 grams of sugar per litre.
Marco De Bartoli Terzavia 2020
This wine secured the 🏅 5th place in our wine tasting lineup.
Marco de Bartoli is a name synonymous with innovation and reverence in Sicilian winemaking, particularly noted for reviving the island's traditional and noble wine, Marsala. Born into a family of esteemed Marsala producers, Marco chose a path less traveled in the late 20th century. He focused on quality and traditional methods at a time when Marsala's reputation was dwindling due to industrial production. His dedication led to the establishment of his winery in the 1970s in the western part of Sicily near the historic town of Marsala.
De Bartoli championed the use of the indigenous Grillo grape, insisting on meticulous vineyard management and reduced yields to produce concentrated, flavorful grapes. His methods included the revival of the solera system and aging in oak barrels, enhancing the complexity and depth of his wines. His commitment wasn't limited to Marsala; he also produced outstanding still wines, notably from the Zibibbo grape in the tiny island of Pantelleria.
The estate, now run by Marco's children, continues his legacy of artisanal production and strict adherence to quality. It's a standard bearer for organic farming in the region, ensuring that each bottle reflects the pure expression of the land and its history.
Marco's influence extends beyond his own vineyards. He is widely credited with inspiring a new generation of Sicilian winemakers dedicated to quality and authenticity. His vision and passion redefined Sicilian wine, establishing a legacy of excellence and innovation that endures in the region's wine industry today. His commitment to tradition, combined with a willingness to innovate, has made Marco de Bartoli's name synonymous with the finest wines of Sicily.
Terzavia, a venture by Marco De Bartoli, introduces a novel expression of Grillo in a traditional method sparkling wine. Sourced from 30-year-old vines in Contrada Samperi, Marsala, the wine is a testament to the adaptability and strength of the Grillo grape, demonstrating the potential of this "third way" (terza via) in winemaking.
The grapes are harvested by hand in the second to third week of August, from vineyards yielding 6 tons per hectare and trained using the single Guyot system. After a careful selection and cooling, the grapes undergo a direct soft pressing, followed by natural settling of the must. Fermentation takes place primarily in stainless steel tanks with a portion in French oak barrels, leveraging wild yeasts and minimal sulfite use. The tirage is conducted with fresh must to initiate the secondary fermentation. The dedication to authenticity extends through to the aging process, with at least 18 months in bottle on its lees, adhering to a 'pas dosé' approach, ensuring no additional sugar is added post-disgorgement.
Robert Osička Punkista Veltlín – Sauvignon 2018
This wine secured the 🏅 8th place in our wine tasting lineup.
Robert Osička stands as a prominent figure in the Czech Republic's natural wine movement, notably in Velké Bílovice, the largest wine village in the country. As the eldest son of Jaroslav Osička, one of the founders of the Moravian Authentists—a natural winemakers movement—Robert's winemaking pedigree is esteemed. His grandfather and father passed down invaluable knowledge, shaping his approach to creating exceptional wines. He is particularly known for his focus on sparkling wines, embracing the classic method of secondary fermentation in the bottle amidst the rising popularity of petnats.
Osička's wines, especially his renowned Punkista label, are a testament to his innovative spirit and dedication to craftsmanship. Despite his affinity for the rebellious energy of the Sex Pistols, his wines are far from disorderly. They embody an unbelievable elegance and attention to detail, with a focus on traditional methode champenoise. This involves secondary fermentation in the bottle, maturation on fine lees, and a careful blend of modernity and tradition through the use of both stainless steel and wood in the ageing process. His commitment to natural winemaking is evident in his minimal use of sulphites, and his insistence on vegan, unfined, and unfiltered wines.
Operating on a 2ha vineyard with clay, loess, and loam soils in Velké Bílovice, Osička cultivates local grape varieties, infusing his sparkling wines with unique taste profiles and aromatic complexities. In every bottle, there's a piece of history, a dash of rebellion, and a commitment to the authentic taste of Moravia.
The 2018 Veltlín – Sauvignon 2018 is a 50/50 blend of Grüner Veltliner, hailing from a 33-year-old vineyard, and Sauvignon Blanc from its 32-year-old counterpart. It undergoes spontaneous fermentation and is matured using a combination of stainless steel and wood to preserve its intrinsic character. Eschewing clarification and filtration to maintain its authentic expression, it sometimes receives a minimal addition of SO2. The secondary fermentation follows the classical method in the bottle, where it matures on lees before the final act of dégorgement seals its profile.
Gusbourne Blanc de Blancs 2016
This wine secured the 🏅 4th place in our wine tasting lineup.
Gusbourne Estate, founded in 2004, is nestled in the regions of Kent and West Sussex, England, and has rapidly established itself as a prominent producer of fine English sparkling wines. The estate prides itself on exclusively using grapes from its own vineyards, spanning 60 hectares in Appledore, Kent, and 30 hectares near the Goodwood Estate in West Sussex. These vineyards are cultivated with high-quality Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier grapes, predominantly Burgundian clones known for yielding smaller volumes but intensely flavourful fruit. This choice of grape varieties and clones reflects a deliberate approach to harnessing the unique microclimates and terroirs of the regions, essential elements in crafting their award-winning wines. The estate's commitment to quality was evident from the outset, with its debut 2006 vintage released in 2010 receiving critical acclaim.
The philosophy at Gusbourne is deeply rooted in a sustainable, low-intervention approach to viticulture, led by Chief Vineyard Manager Jon Pollard. This approach focuses on nurturing the vineyards with minimal interference, allowing the natural qualities of the fruit to shine through. The estate's emphasis on hand-picking the best quality grapes showcases their dedication to precision and care in the vineyards. This meticulous attention to detail extends to their winemaking practices, which are guided by stringent standards. The process involves pressing the grapes in whole bunches, blind-tasting, blending, and extended ageing on lees. This traditional methodology has earned Gusbourne the accolade of being the only three-time winner of the IWSC English Wine Producer of the Year. The overarching philosophy is to let nature lead the way, fostering a harmonious balance between the land and the wine.
Gusbourne's approach to winemaking is one of patience, skill, and respect for the natural processes. Their wines are crafted using the traditional method, a testament to their commitment to preserving and enhancing the character of their grapes. The Blanc de Blancs 2016, a product of this approach, is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes grown in their Kent and West Sussex vineyards. These vineyards are characterized by diverse soils, including clay with sand and seashell subsoils in Kent, and predominantly chalk soils with flint loam in the South Downs of West Sussex. The microclimate is warm and dry, moderated by coastal breezes, creating an ideal environment for the grapes to thrive. The wine undergoes fermentation in temperature-controlled stainless steel tanks and a small percentage in old oak barrels, adding complexity to the flavour profile. After fermentation, the wine is aged on the lees for a minimum of 42 months.
Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier d'Or 1er Cru à Rilly la Montagne 2015
This wine secured the 🥉 3rd place in our wine tasting lineup.
Established in 1890 in the Premier Cru village of Rilly-la-Montagne, Vilmart & Cie is a respected grower-producer in the Champagne region. The estate is known for its sustainable viticulture practices, avoiding herbicides and chemical fertilizers, reflecting its commitment to quality and environmental responsibility. Laurent Champs, the fifth-generation custodian, continues the family's legacy with a focus on meticulous viticulture and winemaking techniques.
Vilmart distinguishes itself through the use of oak barrels for fermentation and ageing, a practice less common in Champagne, contributing to the richer texture and complexity of its wines. This method is particularly notable in their esteemed cuvées like "Coeur de Cuvée" and "Grand Cellier," which have received international recognition for their quality and craftsmanship.
The house's commitment to excellence is evident in every aspect of production, from the careful management of their vineyards to the detailed winemaking process, ensuring that each bottle expresses the unique terroir and heritage of Vilmart & Cie. As a result, Vilmart's Champagnes are celebrated for their depth, richness, and distinctive character, embodying the tradition and innovation that the house stands for.
This specific blend from Vilmart & Cie is composed of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir, both classified as Premier Cru and sourced from vines that are around fifty years old. The ageing process extends for ten months in 228-litre oak barrels. The choice to eschew malolactic fermentation preserves the natural acidity of the wine, ensuring a crisp, vibrant profile that balances the richness imparted by the oak.
Bérêche & Fils Brut Réserve L:20BSA-12/22 NV
This wine secured the 🥇 1st place in our wine tasting lineup.
Bérêche et Fils, a distinguished name in the Champagne region, has seen a remarkable transformation under the stewardship of brothers Vincent and Raphaël Bérêche. Since taking the reins of the family-owned House in 2004, the brothers have elevated the Maison to new heights, earning widespread acclaim for their exquisite and sought-after cuvées.
Situated in the Premier Cru village of Ludes in the Montagne de Reims, Bérêche et Fils has a vineyard footprint of 14.8 hectares, predominantly in the Montagne de Reims and the Vallée de la Marne, with notable parcels in the Grand Cru terroir of Cramant in the Côte des Blancs. The estate’s vineyards, primarily composed of old vines, are meticulously managed by Vincent and his team, who employ manual cultivation methods, shunning herbicides and insecticides in favour of an organic approach with restricted yields.
In the cellar, Raphaël Bérêche's meticulousness mirrors his brother's approach in the vineyards. He favours natural, slow vinification and extended maturation, primarily in barrels, avoiding malolactic fermentation to preserve the wine's natural acidity and complexity. A distinct aspect of their winemaking is the use of traditional cork for the second fermentation in the bottle, which imparts a mature and integrated flavour profile, softer effervescence, and richer texture due to controlled oxidation. Their champagnes, bottled without filtration and always hand-disgorged, are lauded for their exceptional vinosity and striking purity.
The Bérêche brothers' conscientious and low-intervention approach from vineyard to cellar has earned them a revered spot in the unofficial Grower Champagne Hall of Fame. They are in the esteemed company of other cult grower producers such as Jacques Selosse, Pascal Agrapart, and Jérôme Prévost. Furthermore, Raphaël's contribution to the grower champagne community is significant, having co-founded the ‘Terres et Vins de Champagne’ growers’ organisation in 2009 with his high-school friend Aurélien Laherte. This collective of passionate growers has played a pivotal role in the Champagne region, with their annual tasting event becoming a crucial platform for Champagne's most important growers' trade event, Le Printemps des Champagnes.
Bérêche et Fils' range of champagnes, from their entry-level cuvées to their flagship offerings, are celebrated for their honest, street-level appeal, offering exceptional value and a captivating charm that competes with, and often surpasses, the most prestigious cuvées in Champagne. Their wines are not just a testament to their skill and dedication but also embody the essence of grower champagnes – wines with a distinct identity, rooted in their terroir, and crafted with a profound respect for nature.
Bollinger La Grande Année Rosé 2007
This wine secured the 🥈 2nd place in our wine tasting lineup.
Bollinger, a renowned French Champagne house, has been a symbol of luxury sparkling wines since its establishment in 1829 in Aÿ, France. Founded by Hennequin de Villermont, Paul Renaudin, and Jacques Bollinger, it remains one of the few independent Champagne houses, continuously managed by the Bollinger family since 1889. Bollinger's uniqueness lies in its deep roots in the Champagne region, dating back to 1585 with the Hennequin family. This storied history, coupled with their commitment to maintaining family management and independence, sets them apart in an industry increasingly dominated by large conglomerates.
Over the years, Bollinger has built its vineyards at the heart of the finest crus in Champagne. Champagne Bollinger’s 179 hectares of vines are made up of 85% Grand and Premier crus and are farmed by teams of growers across 7 separate vineyards: Aÿ, Avenay, Tauxières, Louvois and Verzenay for pinot noir, around the Montagne de Reims, Cuis for chardonnay on the Côte des Blancs and Champvoisy for meunier in the Vallée de la Marne.
Another of Bollinger’s distinctive features are two plots, the Clos Saint-Jacques and Chaudes Terres, which have never succumbed to phylloxera. These ungrafted vines are entirely tended by hand and reproduced using a form of layering called provignage, thereby providing the means to preserve this extraordinary heritage from which the very exclusive Vieilles Vignes Françaises cuvée is produced.
- Domaine Haute Fevrie.
- Marco de Bartoli.
- Punkista. Vinofactum.
- Punkista - Veltlín + Sauvignon 2017. Pandemonium Wines.
- Champagne Vilmart.
- Bérêche. Sally Hillman.
- France, Champagne: Making Sense of Champagne. William Kelley.