Champagne Vilmart 2007 Brut 1er Cru
Wine: Vilmart & Cie
Region: Montagne de Reims, Champagne
Grapes: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir
AKA Farewell Wine. One week ago I moved from Florence, Alabama, to New Orleans, Louisiana. I had intended to write about the Vilmart & Cie 2007 Champagne early last week, but packing, goodbyes and moving take up quite a bit of time, not to mention the usual workload. Now I'm thoroughly into Welcome Wine territory, but it's never too late to croon over gems like this one - and the good friends who brought it to dinner.Over the last year, Jason and Caleb at The Carriage have become great friends and collaborators. They helped me launch a wine club program I dreamed up long before a viable partner existed, and have been insightful and enthusiastic in growing and maintaining the program. They even let me run the wine bar a couple of nights a week this summer, slinging my favorite high-acid, low-alcohol picks from all corners of the earth. I am incredibly grateful for their friendship and happy to say the Vine Club will continue in The Shoals area. We are planning some events for early December and next spring, which we are very excited for - more on that to come. Meanwhile, I'll be drinking and blogging here in New Orleans, selecting exclusive cuvées for my readers everywhere, and club members in Northwest Alabama.
Magnums of Champagne are a special sort of treat, implicitly designed for sharing. Jason and Caleb brought the Vilmart & Cie 2007 to my farewell dinner with my mother, sister Catherine and her boyfriend Michael at the beloved Florence eatery, Odette. Bittersweet goodbyes, but the wine was incredible.
Vilmart & Cie is one of Champagne's top producers among the récoltant-manipulant community, aka Grower Champagnes. The family owned estate grows their own grapes and makes their own wine from those grapes, a special distinction in the sea of mammoth Champagne houses who buy grapes from a handful of vintners and make primarily non-vintage cuvées in a "house style" that taste more or less the same with every bottle, year after year. Small is always better, where the people behind the product are accessible and authentic, and their story one of life and lifestyle over profits and margins. The Vilmart estate has been that way since its founding in 1890. Fifth generation family member Laurent Champs has been running the estate since 1989 and continues to do so with a tight focus on viticulture before wine, farming the 11 hectares organically.
The wine is a blend of 80% chardonnay and 20% pinot noir, a fairly typical blend in this part of the world. It does not go through malolactic fermentation, a process that adds body and softness to a wine, and is aged in old French oak barrels - not a super common practice in Champagne - which imparts lovely distinctive notes. The nose was enticing; bread and butter with some tropical fruit notes, white pepper and then hints of minerality and hazelnuts. More of that on the palate, with incredible balance of acidity and fruit and a lengthy finish. Importer Terry Thiese writes so elegantly on Skurnik's Vilmart webpage, "I’ve found Vilmart among the most food-friendly of all my Champagnes, because they’re so gracious, so vinous, so lordly in their carriage. It’s clear to me Vilmart is a Champagne estate of unassailable consequence, a must-have for anyone Interested in the possibilities of this most suavely powerful and graceful of all wines."
Apologies for teasing you with another treasure on the rare side, but Vilmart is not completely lurking in the shadows - Alabama has a few choice bottles, after all - and it is a must-try when you can. Exceptional and enduring.
Saying goodbye is bittersweet, but the Champagne made it easier to swallow.