October 9th, 2012
Grand Cru Champagne from Cote des Blancs!
Andre Robert, Champagne
The Robert family
In 2010, I spent a few days in Champagne with a two-fold mission: to find a good value Champagne (from any sub region) that we could offer for $40 retail and also a higher-end wine of extraordinary pedigree where the quality matched the price.
I scoured the natural wine bars in Paris, and the French wine magazines and guides, scrawled down recommendations and revisited others I’ve liked in the past but still hadn’t found anything that grabbed me. The last place where I thought I would find my dream producer was in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a grand cru that is hardly known for bargains. This is how it happened.
Champagne Andre Robert in Le Mesnil sur Oger
After narrowing down the list of wineries without representation in California, I spent a week in Champagne and with my father as my tasting partner, visited a dozen producers throughout the region. Timing is everything and as luck would have it, Champagne André Robert was in between importers. We tasted through the wines and were impressed but one wine sealed the deal: the Cuvée Brut Reserve Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs.
Le Mesnil sur Oger in the heart of the Cote des Blancs
Not only did it fit the prestige category but could be sold for $40. A grand cru Champagne of this quality and at this price is an enigma, especially in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger. We jumped on it right away and by the time we left France, Return to Terroir had a new star to add to the portfolio.
Le Mesnil sur Oger in the heart of the Cote des Blancs, the region south of Epernay
Champagne André Robert was born in 1960 with the purchase of the Robert estate but winemaking goes back several generations in the family. Henry Robert, an officer during WWI, came back to a devastated land. Most of Champagne’s vineyards were either war torn or disease ridden. With not much more than a horse, he acquired a small plot of land and nursed the vines back to health. Persistence paid off and in the 1930’s, Henry founded the first wine cooperative in Champagne.
During WWII, André Robert, who was just a teenager at the time, joined his father and the horse. Toward the end of the 1950’s, a tractor replaced the horse and Champagne André Robert’s first commercial wines were released in 1962.
Very light soil of Cote des Blancs
Bertrand Robert took over the property in 1981 after studying enology in Reims. Over the last three plus decades, he has remained committed to the principles that were first forged by his grandfather ninety years ago. No insecticides or anti-decay products are used. As if reciting a mantra from the French Revolution he proclaims, “We practice ‘viticulture durable.’ Respect the water, respect the earth, respect the air.”
A member of the Independent Wine Producers Federation, Robert does not purchase any fruit and all of the wines are made on the estate. This may not sound like a big deal but while there are a lot of small growers in Champagne, the vast majority of the wines are made by very large houses that buy fruit and often use a variety of production facilities.
In the Cellar during Caravan Buyer Trip 2012 last May
Located in the Côte des Blancs, Champagne André Robert sits on prized terroir, much of it in the grand cru territory of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and Oger. The secondary foundation of limestone, steeped with chalk and marl, is 70 million years old and today, this prehistoric soil is the birthplace for Robert’s blanc de blancs.
In addition to the Cuvée de Reserve, Robert has a vintage blanc de blancs from ‘Le Mesnil-sur-Oger.’ There are also three wines that are made with addition of red grapes grown in the Marne Valley, an area that is especially known for its Pinot Meunier.
Andre Robert Champagne with Gougeres
Champagne André Robert, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, ‘Cuvée de Reserve,’ NV
‘Cuvée de Reserve,’ is a grand cru made entirely from Chardonnay and it accounts for over half of Robert’s production. It comes from a plot that is half way up the slope where an extremely deep limestone block hits the surface.
After its primary fermentation, the wine is aged on its lees in barrel for six months. It is stirred two or three times to enhance its flavor profile and promote the terroir. Malolactic fermentation is avoided to help preserve acidity and freshness. The wine undergoes its secondary fermentation in limestone caves where it is aged for three years before release.
Medium-bodied with white flowers, brioche, red apples, lemon, vanilla and spice interwoven by chalk-like mineral notes, this is a juicy and sophisticated champagne that calls out for raw seafood but also makes a terrific aperitif.
Champagne André Robert, Grand Cru ‘Le Mesnil Sur Oger,’ 2005
Only made in exceptional years, all of the fruit comes from this spectacular grand cru. Composed entirely of Chardonnay, it spends an extensive period on its lees with semi-frequent stirring during the initial stages of fermentation. Disgorged in ?, this 2005 is the current release.
Floral and minerally in the nose with a rich brioche-like flavor, tart fruit and a long, fresh finish, it pairs very well with seafood or cheese but also shines on its own.
Next week: Fall Trade Tasting in San Francisco – Tuesday Oct. 9th | 12-3pm | Hotel Biron near Zuni Cafe
Next week Newsletter: Domaine Denis Carre, Bourgogne
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