On the Trail

Sunshine in Dizy

Gary Westby

I am very happy to report that the sun is out in Champagne. It has been a cold, rainy, hard winter here, and all of the producers have reported that the work in the vineyard has been a little delayed. They are happy that it was cold—the week of hard frost that they had in the dead of the season has cleaned up the pests from the vineyard and allowed the vines the dormancy that is prized in the region for recharging them for a good harvest. Today I went one village north of my base in Epernay to meet with Angelique and Damien Coutelas of Champagne AD Coutelas, and we tasted in their newly renovated cellars. The facility is beautiful, and the fifteen meter deep caves are as nice as they come. Damien explained to me that he prefers tasting in the cellar; he finds it easier to concentrate without the glare, noise and changeable humidity of the outside world. It was very peaceful there, and we tasted their whole range, first as assembled vin-clair and then as finished Champagne.

The big news from Coutelas is that they have now taken on a negociant license so they can buy some grapes from members of their own family. They have a cousin with vines in the grand cru of Cramant and the 1er cru of Cuis on the top of the Cotes de Blancs, and when he offered them his grapes, they couldn’t turn him down. We started off by tasting the vin clair from their first harvest from these grapes, and the wine had the richness that I love from all the Coutelas production, but also the laser-straight focus of pure belemnita chalk soil. I can’t wait to open it for all of you in another four or five years once it is finished! 

The other stand out from the 2016 base vin-clair was the 2007-2016 solera method Louis Victor, which we tasted beside the current release that contains 2007-2012 with three years of sur-lie ageing. I believe strongly that the Louis Victor that we have on the shelf right now is the best value in the Krug-like, vinous, yet full of finesse style. This bottle confirmed that with depth, nut-bread flavor,  and plenty of lively refreshment. As for the vin-clair, I think we will have a real monument in another four years to enjoy. I feel truly fortunate to have been able to buy the first edition of the Victor for the K&L Champagne club, and while I know my allocation will only shrink over time, at least it will shrink from a large number!

-Gary Westby