Old-Fashioned Rich Champagne

Last October while making my way through Champagne, I finally visited a small producer that was first recommended to me many years ago by a customer. It had been some time since I had originally tasted the wines, and I had been contacted by the new generation at the estate about a possible appointment, so I added the stop to my already busy schedule. That producer was Fallet-Dart: one of the oldest estates that we carry from anywhere, with a history of grape growing going back to 1610. They sit at the far western edge of Champagne in Drachy, just outside of Charly-sur-Marne. Their estate is large for a grower-producer, with forty-seven acres of vineyards and a production of about 170,000 bottles a year. They have a very modern winery, with 8000 kilo Pera pneumatic presses and a mix of stainless steel and used Burgundy barrels. Most of their wine is put through malolactic fermentation, but they block the malo on about 10% of their vintage and prestige cuvees that are meant for very long ageing. They age all of their wines for a long time—both on the lees and before shipment on the cork. Even their most basic wines get four years on the lees and nine months on the cork, and their highest end bottling gets over 12 years on the lees. The plantation here is mostly black fruit, pinot noir and meunier, but they also have some very nice chardonnay. The best of that chardonnay is inside their six acre Clos du Mont, one of the very rare, walled, monastic-era vineyards in the region.

Up until now, most of the Fallet-Dart wines have been sold in France. They are about a half hour closer to Paris than Epernay, and so much of the Champagne made in this area never leaves the country. The style of the wines is rich, toasty, and complex as one would expect from such long ageing, but that richness comes from old-fashioned, long-term aging.. Their range starts off with the Fallet-Dart Grand Reserve Brut Champagne which is a blanc de noir composed of 60% meunier and 40% pinot noir. It is aged for over four years on the lees and dosed at about ten grams per liter. It has a lovely combination of spiced pear, pie crust and black cherry on the very generous, open nose. The wine is broad, rich and textural in the mouth, and has a persistent black fruit finish. The Fallet-Dart Grand Selection Brut Champagne is aged for six years on the lees or more and is composed of 70% Pinot Noir, 15% Chardonnay and 15% Meunier. This wine has very fine, brioche like aromas from the long sur-lee-ageing as well as a savory cherry note from the high quality Pinot. It is very rich and long in the mouth, with a fine bead, again from long ageing. This is also available in magnum and three liter with even longer ageing! The Fallet-Dart Brut Rose Champagne is composed of 60% meunier and 40% pinot noir that has been macerated for 48 hours with all of its skins. If you like a big, flavorful rose with a classy bead, you will love this.

The vintage wines at Fallet-Dart have a much higher percentage of Chardonnay, usually more than two-thirds, with the balance pinot noir. They never release a vintage with less than six years on the lees, but it is usually closer to eight. Their top of the range wine is their Fallet-Dart "Cuvee Clos du Mont" Brut Champagne. This comes from a small plot adjacent to the church in Drachy, and has been planted for over 1000 years. The monks of the middle-ages had knowledge of great vineyard sites that we can barely aspire to today, and they never bothered to construct a handmade wall around anything that was short of world class. This clos is now a little worse for wear; it was bombed heavily in World War I and much of the original wall was destroyed. This wine is aged for over twelve years on the lees and is a blend of the great 2002 and 1999 vintages. It is composed of 80% chardonnay and 20% pinot Noir. It is the lowest dosage of the line at five grams per liter, but because of the long ageing is no less rich than the rest. This is one of the greatest Champagnes that we carry, and while we will never get enough to keep it in stock all the time, it is the kind of wine that will stand on the table next to anything. This is creamy, nougat loaded Champagne that manages to be honeyed and fantastically complex without getting heavy or ponderous. If you are a fan of a fine bead, the extraordinary long sur-lee-ageing given to this wine will impress you with a near perfect texture. We're very excited to finally offer the wines of Fallet-Dart at prices that reflect the wonderful advantage of direct-importation.

-Gary Westby

On the Trail