Recently, I’ve had opportunities to taste two of the other grapes of Champagne made all on their own, Pinot Blanc and Arbanne. Here are my thoughts on them as well as the other two lesser known grapes of Champagne.
Blanc Vrai as its also referred to, is rare in Champagne, but not the rarest of the bunch. That being said, there isn’t much planted, and much of what is usually part of a blend. There are few examples of 100% Pinot Blanc though, Cedric Bouchard’s La Borolée is certainly the most sought after and expensive. Pierre Gerbais is the new comer, but made a cool wine, and François Diligent is making a pretty great example that’s reasonably priced.
Across all three of these wines, I’ve noticed significant fruit tones, including lemons, Meyer lemons, yellow apples, peaches, pineapple, and mango. Essentially, yellow fruits. The specific fruits vary by wine and vintage, but some combination is always present. The grape is also a good vehicle for expressing minerality. The wines definitely tend have a creamy texture that I attribute more to the grape than the aging, but the aging certainly plays a part. Overall I find Pinot Blancs to be interesting and they help show a different side of Champagne. However, I rarely want more than a glass at any given time. Certainly worth seeking out, but there’s a reason it’s a lesser grape of Champagne.
Arbanne is a grape that barely exists in Champagne anymore(or anywhere else). I finally got to taste the only 100% Arbanne that I’m aware of yesterday. It was the Moutard Cuvée Arbane VV 2008. Putting aside it’s a unicorn of wine, it was actually delicious, made that’s just a great year, but I was quite impressed with it.
On the nose I found a wide variety of flavors – sandalwood, musty notes, spicy tones, red fruits, and a bit of a green stemmy note. On the palate the spice and sandalwood carried through joined by some minerality, white raspberries and red fruits. I thought the acid was a major component of the wine, but it the best possible sense.
When I’ve talked to the people who use this grape I’ve heard these descriptors as well: exotic, pistachio, spicy, fruity, green, bell pepper, lean. Since there’s so little of it available I’ll have to take everyone’s word for it, but this one example I’ve had was definitely worth seeking out.
Petit Meslier and Pinot Gris
I put these two together because I’ve never tasted a single variety version of either from Champagne. Obviously Pinot Gris is fairly common and can be found made into sparkling versions in Alsace and Oregon. In Champagne its also called Fromenteau. Maybe one day I’ll have one made all on its own, but given my experience with Alsace and Oregon examples, I’m not going to rush out and spend a lot of money to do it.
Petit Meslier is a lean, green monster from my limited experience and everyone I’ve talked to about it. It has huge acidity which is great in hot vintages, but otherwise overwhelming. Flavor wise, the most common descriptor I hear is green bell pepper. When they’re trying to be nice and or sell the wine I hear green apple, citrus, and rhubarb.
When I visited Raphaël Bereche in February 2013, I tasted his blend of Petit Meslier and Arbanne from 2007. He’s not planning to release this commercially, but it was great to taste. It was lively and fresh, packed with minerality with definite green pepper and spicy tones. On the same trip I also tasted Laharte’s Le Clos or Les Sept depending on which label you see. This wine is a blend of all 7 grapes. I had it from barrel, and it was young and figuring itself out, but the spicy and green pepper tones stood out. Aurelien said these integrate in creating the some of the complexity of this wine, but in its youth these tones standout almost to a fault.
Finally, I also recent drank a bottle of Benoît Lahaye Jardin de la Grosse Pierre, which in addition to having all 7 permitted grapes, it has some others including Gros Plant and some of Teinturier. Benoît’s grandfather planted this single vineyard in the 1920’s as a field blend, so no one knows exactly what’s in there. This wine was fantastically compelling full of complexity, intense flavors, and many spicy notes. I can’t say which grapes were contributing what aromas, but I will say this wine was bad with the oysters and amazing with the roasted lamb.
Overall, I think the other 4 grapes of Champagne are interesting, but they have been diminished in quantity over the years for good reason. I think going forward we’ll see a small resurgence as the next generation of vignerons decide they want to play with them. That being said, I don’t expect that we’ll ever see any of the grapes raise to prominence in our lives.