Wine writing

Contemplation of Verzenay


Feeling champagne thirsty, I opened the wine cabinet and with a predatory gaze started scanning the shelves in search for a suitable victim to satisfy my cravings.

I picked Bollinger PN VZ 15, a recent addition to the family of this prominent maison de Champagne. Instinctively, I looked up the disgorgement date on the back label. I prefer to keep champagnes at least for a year after they have received a cork to give the dosage enough time to properly marry with the wine. Bolli ticked two boxes here. They did indicate the date I was looking for, which is still more of an exception among the Grand Marques. Moreover, they didn’t rush with the release of this cuvee to the market and let the bottles rest in the house cellars. It was disgorged in November 2019.

That was exactly when I last visited the region. Verzenay Grand Cru was my final stop on that journey where I met the team and tasted the wines of the emerging récoltant-manipulant
Champagne J.M. Labruyère. A wave of nostalgia brought the warm memories of beholding the autumn vineyards with forty shades of gold. Two iconic landmarks: Moulin de Verzenay (windmill) and Phare de Verzenay (lighthouse), gloriously stand on the hills in the opposite ends of the village.
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Verzenay unquestionably belongs to the paramount terroirs of Champagne. It was one of the original 3 villages rated as Grand Cru, the other two being Cramant and Aÿ, and it maintains its Grand Cru status ever since. Verzenay vineyards today occupy 420 hectares in the middle of the slope on the northside of Montagne de Reims. Pinot Noir accounts for almost 90% of the plantings showing remarkable results in these cool conditions. North-facing slopes allow slow ripening and frequent breeze prevents the excess humidity and reduces the risk of rot. I am confident that with the advances of global warming in the region, the importance of Verzenay as the remaining outpost of classic Champagne will significantly increase. The village has long attracted the attention of big houses. Today they control about 85% of its vineyards, leaving just a small space for growers to express the intricacies of the terroir. The soils in Verzenay are diverse. They combine chalk, limestone, and clay.
Moulin de Verzenay
Moulin de Verzenay

The wines from Verzenay possess great complexity. They stand out from the renowned rivals of Bouzy or Ambonnay with a linear and fresher character, lighter body, with more finesse and raciness.

In 1850 Louis Roederer purchased his first vines in Verzenay and neighboring Verzy. These historic parcels are still the core of the house vintage cuvee. Estate-owned and biodynamically farmed vines in Verzenay with a minimum of 25 years of age are among a few sources of Pinot Noir for Roederer’s prestige cuvée, Cristal.

Other Champagne houses that control vineyards in Verzenay include Billecart-Salmon, Bollinger, Moët & Chandon, Mumm, Perrier-Jouët and Veuve Clicquot.

Noteworthy growers in Verzenay are Godmé Père et Fils, Michel Arnould, Jean Lallement and Pehu-Simonet.

The wine cabinet alarm went off, signalling of the door left open. It interrupted my recollections and returned a champagne itch. I was now destined to focus on Verzenay, so I pulled out Champagne J.M. Labruyère Paradoxe to duel with Bollinger PN VZ 15.
Champagnes duel
Champagnes duel
This promised to be an exciting comparison, as two cuvees shared a few common features. Both non-vintage Blanc de Noirs, 100% Pinot Noir. Aged on the lees for 3 years. Oak influenced.

Paradoxe is based on 2014 vintage with a portion of reserve wines from great 2012 and 2013. Winemaking is similar to Bollinger and splits between the stainless steel and oak. The disgorgement date is July 2018.

Technically, we could call PN VZ 15 a multi-vintage because of a generous 50% proportion of reserve wines from 2009 and 2010 vintages blended with the base of 2015. Half of the reserves come from the wines aged under corks in magnums under gentle pressure aka ‘aromatic bombs’. Even though VZ suggests Verzenay, it contains a minor fraction of Aÿ, Bouzy and Tauxières-Mutry.

Labruyère is dosed with 1,6 g/l for Extra Brut and Bollinger has a much higher dosage of 7 g/l which places it into the Brut category.

I opened champagnes an hour before serving them blind.

Paradoxe’s appearance was more intense golden color. Floral on the nose with marked oak presence. The palate offered white currant with accentuated bitter finish and racy acidity. Altogether it reminded me of a cooler vintage.

Bollinger PN VZ 15 was slightly lighter in color. Expressive and open with similar floral scents of violets blossom. The mid-palate is rich with strawberries in milk. Broad-shouldered and inviting.

This improvised tasting justified the greatness of Verzenay terroir and was a pure enjoyment. I highly recommend both champagnes and encourage you to seek for more examples and rediscover Verzenay.
Champagne Terroir
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