Blending at Beaumont des Crayères

IMG_4923This small co-operative, founded in 1955, is a model of its type. 250 growers, mostly in Mardeuil (70%) and Cumières, just to the west of Épernay, own just 90 hectares of vineyard. (They also vinify some fruit from the Côtes des Blancs.) Such tiny holdings mean that cooperation is very much the order of the day. The only realistic alternative would be to sell grapes to a larger house and be lost in someone else’s brand. But by working through the cooperative Beaumont made 500-600,000 bottles imbued with local pride. Equipped with the brand name, it has set it face to compete at a high quality level.

In this case the brand name, Beaumont des Crayères, actually means something – chalk slopes – and points to its greatest asset.  While this is part of the Vallé de la Marne and there is indeed a specialism in Pinot Meunier, here it grown on high quality chalk soils and on slopes.  The clay which marks the more western stretch of the Marne has not yet taken over here and so the land is marginally warmer and the soil drains much better.  These are the most important quality factors on which all else rests.

For our visit, on a cold late March day, the winery had arranged a very instructive tasting of vin clair, the still wine which once blended will be put into bottles for the second fermentation.  While elsewhere we tasted from the cask, here we did so in comfort  of the tasting room finishing with the completed blend and a bottle of the vintage wine at full maturity, ready to sell.

Chardonnay vin clair fermented in stainless steel from the Côtes des Blanc. Only the heart of the pressing is used for this wine which will become a vintage offering. Its is cloudy and by modern standards does not look inviting, but there is fresh, fine and powerful green fruit on the palate with a chalky finesse. As it opens up you can detect peach to tropical fruit themes.  High acidity.

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Chardonnay, as above, but fermented in barrel (a range from one to six years old) – steely, chalky, oak-oxidised fruit, rather more rounded in the mouth but with the same high acidity.

Pinot Meunier – fermented in stainless steel: immediate fruit, lemon and sherbet with medium plus acidity

Pinot Noir – fermented in stainless steel, powerful and complex, not obviously red fruit but a noticeable ripeness, medium plus acidity

From these components is made:

Assemblage for what will become Nostalgie 2012 – 65% Chardonnay, 32% Pinot Noir, 3% Meunier.  One the very first taste you can see the point of blending. From the raw materials now blended a refined, multi-layered still wine emerges: the fresh fruit of the Chardonnay is still dominant but there is a noticeable complexity and balance now.  Fine sleek fruit. Remarkable.

And now for the genuinely finished product:

Nostalgie 2002, disgorged February 2013 – crystal clear and medium gold in colour; medium plus intensity of honey, cream and chalky notes on the nose with really attractive peach, fruit cordial and green fruit; very long.  9g of residual sugar for a slightly sweet finish, but assertive and refined simultaneously; superb.

At the really excellent Restaurant Le Grand Cerf, Montchenot, we also tasted and indeed drank:

IMG_4925Grand Réserve NV – 3 years on the lees, 60% Pinot Meunier, 25% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir, principally from the 2009 vintage.  Slow attractive mousse, ripe stone fruit, fine brioche aromas, 10g sugar but the overall effect is very refined with chalkiness on the finish.

Grand Rosé NV – a darkish raspberry pink with a tinge of brown, 40% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay mostly from the 2008 vintage; 10% red wine. 3 years on the lees and 10g per litre of residual sugar.  Fine scented red berry fruit, modest brioche notes; sweet red fruit on palate and a savoury touch.

I did not take any notes but there was also a superb rich, textured vintage 1999 Nostalgie which worked perfectly with the venison and foie gras starter (two large pieces in pastry – we knew we were doomed!); Grand Prestige NV; Fleur Noir 2003 and Mardeuil Rosé 2004.  Excellent wines with a great, if rich, cuisine.

Wines tasted March 2013

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