On the Trail

The Star of the Sézanne

Gary Westby

For more than a decade, I had my eyes open for a good producer from the Sézanne in Champagne, but had no luck in finding one. This sub-region of Champagne is an isolated valley on chalk soil cut out of a plain in the middle of nowhere. Although just thirty miles south of Epernay, the empty, even desolate land between the two places makes it seem like another planet. I never suspected that I would eventually strike gold with a cooperative in the Sézanne (or for that matter anywhere). I am a partisan for independent grower producers, and wrongly thought that all co-ops only produced basic to low-quality wine in order to hit a low price point. Le Brun de Neuville disproved my prejudice with their obsession for quality, especially with their “Authentique”.

Le Brun de Neuville is located in Bethon, right in the heart of the Sézanne. They have 370 acres total from the 168 members of the cooperative, but they only make Champagne from the best third of that land. Although their vineyard spreads across seven villages, the Authentique is only made from the best plots in Bethon. The wines are pressed in a combination of computer controlled, modern coquard diagonal presses and Pera bladder presses. When I visited, Amandine Vouhleur wowed me with their capacity—they have room for ten years of stocks, allowing for very long ageing of the wines. The “Authentique” profits from that capacity as it's aged for five years on the lees on a cork rather than a cap (so the cork in the bottle is its second).

Aging on a cork like this is a pain—none of the disgorgement lines will accommodate bottles like this, and they must all be disgorged by hand. The benefit is a better exchange with, and a bit of immunization from, oxygen. The five years on the lees give this wine a nutty creaminess, while the pure chalk soil gives the wine zip and minerality. The bead on this wine is tiny and shows the long time on the lees. I love the Le Brun de Neuville "Authentique Assemblage" on its own as an aperitif, and I have also had great luck pairing it with oysters. I think it might be the best bottle we have in the store for pairing with caviar, which is saying something given the great direct import price. This producer is a star in the Sézanne and a new star in our direct import program. I hope that you'll give the wine a try.

-Gary Westby