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Pehu-Simonet June 2, 2015

Pehu-Simonet

We arrived at Charles de Gaulle first thing in the morning, and after meeting our adorable light blue Renault Twingo, we hit the road for Champagne. We checked into a rad Airbnb in the center of Reims, had a quick bite and then set off for Verzenay to visit David Pehu.

Easy to find in parking lots!

Easy to find in parking lots!

Pehu-Simonet was a fantastic first stop. David is friendly and easy going, his wines are a pleasure, and Verzenay is one of the prettiest areas in Champagne. Prior to the visit, I thought David’s wines were bold and easy drinking. They are also a reference point for MCR as the base for the dosage, the slight tropical notes are an indicator for me.

Pehu's tasting room, a bit of a bachelor pad with Champagne crates made into furniture

Pehu's tasting room, a bit of a bachelor pad with Champagne crates made into furniture

Tasting with David, confirmed my impressions, but I also saw a producer in the midst of a change. During the tasting and subsequent vineyard tour I saw a man who is becoming more interested in expressing terroir, not just making enjoyable wines. In the coming years he will release a series of single parcel wines to show off his holdings in Verzenay, Verzy, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Mailly, and Villers-Marmery. He also has vines in Sillery, but these will continue to be blended as David doesn’t feel that Sillery as much complexity as some of his other parcels.

Unlike other producers that I met with, David was still learning how his parcels express themselves and their terroir when made individually rather than in a blend. He feels, “vignerons must now create terroir to tell the story of Champagne instead of the negociants telling the story with blending and history.” I think part of his learning curve and struggles come from the fact that negociants own or buy a lot of the grapes coming from his villages and he hasn’t gotten a chance to taste many other single parcel wines from Verzenay and Verzy. He referenced Godme, who is also making single parcels as one of the few other producers trying to show terroir. David is excited that his villages are breaking away from the blends and starting to show their true character.  Despite not having tasted a lot of other people’s parcels, he was keenly aware of the differences in his plots depending on where in Verzenay they were located, closer to the lighthouse or the windmill which stand on opposing hilltops. Talking with him highlighted the struggles that vignerons are going through when they decide to breakaway from the norm of either selling the grapes or making perfectly fine, generic champagne. Its hard to get a feel for what’s going on around you, and so you have to be a bit of a trail blazer. It also was heartening for me because I’ve had plenty of difficult figuring out terroir of the villages of Champagne.

Windmill of Verzenay

Windmill of Verzenay

Lighthouse of Verzenay on the opposite hill as the windmill, still not sure why they need a lighthouse in this landlocked area.

Lighthouse of Verzenay on the opposite hill as the windmill, still not sure why they need a lighthouse in this landlocked area.

As we tasted, I learned a few more useful things about David’s wines. Unfortunately the black label Blanc de Noirs is going away as the fruit that made this wine will be separated into the Fin Lieux single parcel champagnes, of which the Les Perthois, Verzenay 2010 is the first and is awesome!  The neon labels that Pehu is so controversially known for, are going away in favor of a cross cut of a vine that are still eye catching but not as painful. Finally, along with the next visit at Marguet, I had some interesting thoughts on winemakers in the Montagne de Reims who are used to Pinot Noir, making Chardonnay from the Cotes de Blancs. I’ll discuss this in the next post.

Overall, I think Pehu’s wines are big and delicious now, and will continue to add depth and character as he gets his footing with terroir.

Pehu-Simmonet and MCR

After some discussions with people I care about, I’ve realized that much of what I’ve shared on the blog, while personal and or helpful, hasn’t really given you a sense of how I think about Champagne, wine, food, etc. So with this post, as well as future ones, I hope to give you a window into how I build my thoughts and perceptions about Champagne. I hope you enjoy it!

This week I poured a flight of wines from Pehu-Simmonet. Lately, I’ve been more impressed with David’s champagnes than I have be in the past. I feel that he’s committed to making  higher quality wines than he has in the past. Not to say that previous his wines were bad, but rather that he wants to make great wines rather than just good ones. On another positive side, starting with the 2011 base Brut Sélection, he’s updating his labels away from the god awful neon labels to a new style of label.

David is quite fortunate to source grapes from six of the 17 Grand Cru Villages – Verzenay, Verzy, Sillery, Mailly, Bouzy, and Mesnil-sur-Oger.  I’ve heard that he’s creating a series of terroir focus wines based on parcels from some of these villages so we can all get a better look at what’s actually going on in Champagne. He’s even leaving his snobbish position of only using Grand Cru fruit, and he’s going to make a single village wine from Villers-Marmery, which is only premier cru. Interestingly this is where Margaine is located, so it’ll be fun to compare their wines when Pehu’s is released.

With the flight I poured, I was excited because it featured a blanc de noir from Verzenay, Verzy, and Sillery in the northeastern corner of the Montagne de Reims next to a Blanc de Blancs from Mesnil-sur-Oger. I think its always a treat to compare how one producer treats different grapes. Most of the time I encounter a producer based in the Côte de Blancs that dabbles with Pinot or Meunier. That usually means the Pinot is a bit odd, either they try to make it like Chardonnay so its light and minerally but not truly showing the character of the grape. On the other hand, I’ve tasted pinots that are clunky because the Chardonnay focused winemaker gives the Pinot an inch and it takes a mile.  I think the producer with the most deft hand at showing the character of each grape is Eric Rodez, who captures the personality of each grape through the prism of Ambonnay.

Anyway, in this case, Pehu is based in the Montagne de Reims, so his default setting is Pinot. He’s obviously comfortable with Pinot, particularly intense, fruit driven pinots of the Verzenay and Verzy. Interestingly he applied this mentality to Chardonnay from Mesnil, which was fascinating and unexpected. Mesnil is often associated with lean wines with lots of minerality, citrus, and a sharp quality, often described as razor blades. David didn’t let this reputation get in the way of the wine he wanted to make. His Blanc de Blancs is full of ripe apple and pear notes complimented by chalk, but not overpowered by it. The razor blade effect wasn’t there either, sure there was plenty of acid, but it wasn’t painful as it can be with some Mesnils.

I kept rolling this around in my head, how did David tame Mesnil? The wine isn’t significantly aged, its 2009 base with a bit of reserve wine. He doesn’t believe in malolactic fermentation because he wants his wines to keep their edge. The wine is fermented and aged in stainless, no wood at all. He didn’t use too much sugar in the dosage only around 8 g/l . Then it hit me, its not the amount of dosage, it’s the type of dosage. David uses MCR rather than sugar for his dosage. This realization applied not just to his Blanc de Blancs, but all of his wines. One of the things I’m constantly impressed by in David’s champagnes is the distinct fruit tones he’s able to coax out of the wines. In the flight, the Brut Sélection is 2011 base, yet shows lots of ripe fruit and avoids the vegetal tones of the vintage. The Blanc de Noirs has been one of my favorites for an opulent, tropical fruit driven wine that still has great acid.

If you read back through my previous post, you’ll see that MCR dosed wines show a lot more fruit that the wines that use cane sugar. Clearly I experienced MCR dosed wines from Geoffroy, as well as other like Selosse, yet none of them so clearly marry MCR with their winemaking style as David Pehu. I love it when I discover a prime example of a style of technique that I can point toward. If you want a compelling side by side regarding MCR vs cane sugar, try any of the Pehu-Simmonet wines next to a champagne from Bérêche & Fils. Raphaël Bérêche doesn’t like MCR, and uses cane sugar for his dosage. He does manage to create fruit driven champagnes in spite of this, yet his wines don’t have the same intense fruit that David’s wines have. Sure you could point to different terroirs, but I think it has just as much to do with the dosage material. Plus the textures of their wines are different, David’s wines are opulent with acid backing them up. Where as Raphaël’s wines are more mineral driven and lighter, expressing more integrated fruit tones. Both wines are delicious, but Bérêche’s wines make me think more while Pehu’s just make me want to drink more.