“Cuvée des Crayères” Ambonnay Grand Cru Brut – Champagne Rodez
Every now and again I get to try a wine that is so compelling, so wonderful that I am driven to my laptop to write about it. The Cuvée des Crayères from Champagne Rodez is such a wine. I was alternating between savouring every mouthful for minutes at a time and wanting to pour the entire bottle directly into my belly. It’s delicious, elegant, complex and, honestly, a bargain – at least for Champagne. In fact, even the basic bottlings from nearly all of the major Champagne houses – none of which could hold a candle to the quality and interest offered by this entry-level wine from Eric Rodez – cost more than this wine. And it’s organic!
How Did I Find It?
A couple months ago I found out about a book dedicated to the organic wines of Champagne: Terroir Champagne. The region is challenging viticulturally, climatically and politically, so I was both a bit surprised and very intrigued that there could be so many producers (obviously most of them are small – but not all of them) working organically or even biodynamically, with all the potential difficulties that such work brings. I bought the book and interviewed Caroline Henry, the author, a few weeks later. Both of those articles are forthcoming.
Unfortunately, I have to admit that I have next to no experience of organic wines from Champagne. After reading Caroline’s book, with its detailed descriptions of wines and winemakers, I was burning to try some of them. Fortunately, she was able to point me to a very good source in Germany: Champagne Characters in Munich, which was founded by Nicola Neumann. She was a delight to chat with on the phone, and was very helpful in putting together a case of wines from winemakers represented in Caroline’s book. This is the second wine from that case that I have opened – and holy crap do I like it!
Eric Rodez is the eighth generation of his family making wine in Ambonnay. He cut his teeth in the cellars of Burgundy and, perhaps most importantly, at Krug, where he was responsible for the Grand Cuvée. His skills with the assemblage of many different base wines to create the final wine stem from the valuable experience he garnered there.
After a disappointing beginning with his family’s vineyards, he became convinced of the importance of organic and then biodynamic viticulture to the soils. Conversion to organics followed swiftly, with the elements of biodynamics that he feels work being used as well.
Eric believes in the cuvee, and he is pretty darned good at putting one together. He pulls out all the stops, vinifying each of his 36 parcels (all Grand Cru) separately – some in tanks, most in used wood barrels, some with malolactic fermentation, some not. He gives himself as many options as possible.
Production is not large, he only makes about 45,000 bottles annually.
This Brut (in fact, it has very little dosage – just 5 grams of sugar) is made with 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay. The wine has been put together from 12 different base wines from four different vintages, almost half of the wines used are reserve wines. It is somewhat oxidative in style, but that is something I, personally, tend to enjoy – particularly when it comes to Pinot Noir. And I find that it adds real dimension to sparkling wines, as long as there is enough substance to the wine in question to handle a bit of oxidative winemaking. Please note: I do not mean that the wine is oxidised. If that were the case, it wouldn’t have much fruit and would taste flat. That is a different thing.
The Tasting Note
A beautiful, luminous gold in the glass. Ripe yellow apple, quince, red flowers and a sweet, balsamic character accompany hazelnut and candied peel.
The palate is rich and spicy, with ginger and cinnamon toast, closing with a wonderful, salty mineral finish. Lingering apricot after swallowing.
Extraordinary complexity in this price class, slightly oxidative, giving a nearly Sherry-like aspect. Very good candied fruit, dried fruit and autolysis. Extremely mineral, salty, and long. Outstanding quality, bringing a bit of weight to the palate while remaining very lively. Evenly-distributed from front to back, and easy to enjoy.
This is a wine that can accompany a meal from start to finish. A lovely Champagne for all levels of imbiber, and a steal at this price! In Germany, it’s €37.50. In the UK it is around £34.00. In the US it can be had starting around $45.
The One-Line Takeaway
You had better stock up, because you will need a bottle for each guest; if you have only one, you’ll want to drink it by yourself.