Champagne has a perplexing schedule of releases; each house or producer releases when they see fit. It means that many producers, large or small, are releasing completely different vintages concurrently. Just as some clients get excited by one of the last Grande Marque releases from the 2008 vintage, other producers are releasing their 2012s. And both are hugely impressive vintages.
I think most Atlas clients have picked up on the fact that I am a fan of champagne and more specifically grower champagnes. I find more interest in small scale releases from specifically located vineyards, than I do in large scale blends, however impressive they may be. I am not detracting from the quality achieved by the major houses, it is just a different interpretation, I guess I like to look for some sense of place, just as I would in any other wine region. The 2008s from smaller scale producers have already been released, in most cases some years back, but I look forward to tasting the 2012s with some considerable excitement. Why? Well, just consider some of these comments and who is making them.
‘It is a great vintage. Probably better than 1996 and close to 1990 on average, but in some special locations it could well be better than that – closer to a 1947? Full ripeness of Pinot Noir which is typical of a continental summer and a perfect final ripeness of Chardonnay and Meunier. Acidity is balanced and pH quite low for such a level of sugar’. Chef de cave at Louis Roederer.
‘All will be clearer in a few weeks when the still wines are tasted, but already, what we are seeing now is somewhere between 2002 and 1959, two of Champagne’s greatest vintages, if ever there were any… For us [it is], somewhere between 1959, 1990 and 2002’. Charles Philipponnat of Champagne Philipponnat.
‘Everything is here, quality-wise, to craft some top vintage Champagne. Considering just numbers, 2012 looks like a cross between 2002, 1990 and 1952 all excellent years.’ Chef de cave at Ruinart.
And I could cite more comments in a similar vein. 2012 did not get off to a good start, there was frost, hail and disease early on in the year, but everything changed in the summer in dramatic fashion, notably so from August, and come harvest the maturity of the fruit was exemplary. The crop was small given the early season conditions, but it was fully healthy with balanced acidity. Some critics see Pinot Nor as more successful in 2012, though there have been some very strong reviews for Chardonnay-dominant wines too.
All of this preamble brings me to the wine in question, 2012 Vilmart Brut, Coeur de Cuvée, offered here at £430 per 6 bottle case in bond. I first visited Vilmart back in the early 2000s, lured by the opportunity to taste the 1996 vintage, only to be laid low with flu in my hotel in Champagne, feeling very sorry for myself. Fortunately, my colleague, who attended the appointment, returned with a glass and an opened bottle of the 1996 for me to taste at the hotel on the insistence of Laurent Champs, proprietor of Vilmart…this was possibly the best remedy I have ever tried! Laurent is the fifth generation of his family to run Vilmart & Cie, which can trace its history back to 1890. Vilmart has always made its own wines from its own vineyards, a récoltant-manipulant as the French say. They own 11 hectares of vineyard in Rilly-La-Montagne, around five kilometres to the south of Reims in the region known as the Montagne de Reims. Their vineyards are planted largely with Chardonnay (60%) and Pinot Noir (36%) with the balance Pinot Meunier and total production comes in at a modest 8,500 cases. Interestingly, Laurent has never employed herbicides or chemical fertilizers since he assumed control of the estate.
To the best of my knowledge, Laurent has always vinified the base wines in oak, some of which is new, yet you wouldn’t tell that easily. The wines do not undergo malolactic fermentation either, and dosage is kept to a modest 7 grams per litre. With Vilmart, you quickly get the sense that the potential of the fruit at harvest is the focus as Laurent has an uncanny habit of turning out great champagnes in challenging vintages. This is true of other champagne growers, though few can match Vilmart for sheer consistency. It is no surprise, when you consider this approach, coupled with high-class winemaking, that critics such as Peter Liem of Champagneguide.net heap on the praise…‘Vilmart & Cie. is not only one of the greatest grower-estates in Champagne, but one of the finest champagne producers of any type in the region’. This is a bold statement, particularly when you consider none of Vilmart's vineyards are classified Grand Cru...
Vilmart belongs in a very select group of Champagne producers, several of whom I am proud to say feature prominently in our range. We lost touch with the champagnes of Vilmart for a period of time, despite the fact they were central to our offering when we set up Atlas some ten years ago. I am pleased to say that they are very much back in the mix, particularly given the jaw-dropping quality of their flagship Coeur de Cuvée. No major critics have published their notes, so please see my note from last Friday below.
2012 Vilmart Brut ‘Coeur de Cuvée’
£430 per 6 bottle case in bond
Made from the fruit of 50-year old vines, this is a blend of 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir. Fermented then aged for 10 months in 225 litre barriques.
The 2012 Coeur de Cuvée has almost contradictory qualities; on one side it shows a richness and vinous quality, and on the other it is precise, youthful and austere. With air in a wine glass rather than a flute, it reveals hints of peach, pit fruit, smoke, patisserie and spice. The mousse is luxuriant and fine, carrying a layered Champagne with great depth. The ripeness here is stunning, as is the balance – the acidity offsets this ripeness beautifully leading to a taut, mouth-watering, mineral-nuanced finish. There is a crystalline purity to this 2012; it seems so precise and texturally impressive and there is little doubt that this has the structure to age. It would be fascinating to taste this after a decade in bottle as it is sure to rival Vilmart’s best. Outstanding. (SL). 2022-2037.
Please let us know of your interest.
All the best,