Cédric Bouchard – Champagne Redefined

2007    Inflorescence Blanc de Noirs Val Vilaine  92

2002    Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules  94

2005    Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules  95

2006    Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules  95

2007    Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules  94

2004    Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Blancs La Haute-Lemblée  97

2005    Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Blancs La Bolorée  95

2004    Roses de Jeanne Rosé de Saignée Le Creux d’Enfer  95+

2002    Roses de Jeanne Rosé de Saignée Le Creux d’Enfer  96

2009    Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Le Creux d’Enfer Chardonnay  (89-92)

2008    Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Le Creux d’Enfer Chardonnay  (90-93)

2009    Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Les Ursules Pinot Noir (Blanc  (90-93)

2008    Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Les Ursules Pinot Noir (Blanc)  (91-94)

2009    Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Les Ursules Pinot Noir (Rouge)  (91-94)

2008    Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Les Ursules Pinot Noir (Rouge)  (89-92)

Cédric Bouchard is one of the most promising emerging young growers in Champagne. At their best, Bouchard’s Champagnes are exciting, viscerally thrilling wines that will challenge readers’ perceptions about what Champagne is and can be. The house style emphasizes single-vintage, single-vineyard, single-variety wines made in strict accordance with a natural, non-interventionalist approach in the vineyards and cellar. While these principles are not uncommon in the production of still wines, they are quite revolutionary in Champagne, where the vast majority of wines are built through the art and craft of blending across vintages, grape varieties and sites. Many of Bouchard’s wines do not spend enough time on their lees to be formally declared as vintage wines, even though they are all single-vintage Champagnes. Production is tiny, and averages just a few hundred bottles for the top selections.

Bouchard finds most of his inspiration in the wines of Burgundy and likes to say he doesn’t make Champagne, but rather makes wines from Champagne (the region), which pretty much sums up his approach. Bouchard’s passion and relentless pursuit for excellence are admirable and can only lead to one question; why aren’t there more Cédric Bouchards in the world of wine? The answer is of course simple, as there are very few people, in any field, who put excellence and perfection in their work above pure monetary gain. Readers who haven’t yet experienced these magnificent Champagnes owe it to  themselves to do so, as these are some of the purest and most profound wines being made anywhere in the world.

The winery is located in sleepy Celles-sur-Ource, a tiny village in the southern district of the Aube, far from the higher-profile, better known towns of the Cȏte des Blancs and the Vallée de la Marne. The non-descript building sits a stone’s throw from the impeccably tended vineyards, many of which are located in the slopes above Celles. Bouchard spent a number of years working in the family business but fundamentally did not share his father’s decidedly commercial approach to making Champagne, so in 2000 Bouchard began working on his own with tiny plots of land and equally small quarters carved out of his family’s cellar. The ‘tasting room’ is minimalist, to say the least. There are no chairs or tables, just bottles lined up on a dirt floor. Bouchard says he wants no distractions when it comes to tasting his wines. Fair enough, although with wines like these, it’s hard to see a table and chairs offering any kind of competition!

Bouchard’s approach begins and ends in the vineyards, where a maniacal pursuit of low yields and natural farming are the rule. That philosophy carries through to the cellar, where the wines are handled as little as possible. Fermentations are carried out with indigenous yeasts and temperature is not regulated. The wines go into bottle with no cold stabilization, fining or filtration, all techniques common in commercially made Champagnes. The liqueur de tirage contains about 16 grams of sugar per liter, which results in a lower-pressure style of 4.5 to 5 atmospheres (versus the more conventional 6 atmospheres) and a mousse that is incredibly finessed, with tiny, slow-moving bubbles that literally caress the palate like silk. The wines are bottled with no dosage.

Among recent vintages Bouchard cites 2001 and 2007 as among those he likes best, which will come as a shock to readers familiar with vintages in Champagne, as these are universally regarded as the two weakest years in recent memory. But then again that is Bouchard, a man intrigued and fascinated by everything that is a challenge and bored by things that are too easy. He remains skeptical about 2009, a vintage that many of his colleagues are much more excited about.

The Inflorescence line consists of négociant wines made from vineyards Bouchard does not own. Yields are relatively high for the house’s standards but ridiculously low for Champagne, at around 50 hectoliters per hectare. The Inflorescence Champagnes emphasize supple fruit and are accessible, open wines meant to be enjoyed upon release. The Blanc de Noirs Val Vilaine is made from a plot owned by Bouchard’s father, which constitutes the winery’s largest source of fruit, with 1.49 hectares under vine. The Blanc de Noirs La Parcelle is produced from a site Bouchard purchased in 2007, but the wines that are in the market today were already in bottle when he bought the property. According to Bouchard La Parcelle had always been farmed naturally and he was attracted to the vineyard because the wines were very high in quality and shared a similar aesthetic with his.

The top of the line Roses de Jeanne Champagnes are made from sites Bouchard owns directly, with the exception of Les Ursules, which is controlled through a long-term lease. Many of these sites were planted by Bouchard himself. Yields average a measly 26 hectoliters per hectare for Roses de Jeanne, a level unheard of for most still wines, let alone Champagne, where yields can easily be more than three times as much. These are serious wines loaded with fruit, structure and character. The wines are incredibly appealing upon release, but are also proving to have the ability to develop beautifully in bottle.

Val Vilaine

This south-facing parcel in nearby Polisy is owned by Bouchard’s father although Cédric has full control of the farming. The vineyard measures 1.49 hectares, enormous by this house’s standards! Yields average roughly 50 hectoliters per hectare, in-line with Bouchard’s goal to make an entry-level Champagne that is relatively accessible and easy going upon release.

The 2007 Inflorescence Blanc de Noirs Val Vilaine offers up generous, almost tropical fruit in a boisterous expression of Pinot Noir, with plenty of creamy richness that carries through to the long, satisfying finish. This is a very pretty, up-front wine loaded with fruit. In 2007 Bouchard suffered quite a bit of damage from hail, but these vines in Polisy were spared. Drinking window: 2010-2020.

Les Ursules

This vineyard is located in Celles. Bouchard has 0.97 hectares under vine. Les Ursules is the only Roses de Jeanne vineyard that Bouchard does not own, but rather farms through a long-term lease arrangement. Bouchard believes that Pinot Noir from this site is particularly well-suited to aging in magnums and it is likely that in the future the entire production from Les Ursules will be bottled in large formats. Recently Bouchard has begun to make some of his Coteaux Champenoise wines from this site.

The 2002 Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules is insanely beautiful. The fruit is super-ripe, and almost candied as it melds seamlessly into bracing minerality that frames an exquisite, long finish where sweet floral notes resonate in a never-ending counterpoint of pure sensual pleasure. This magnificent, sumptuous Champagne is simply breathtaking. Amazingly, the wine appears to be only now entering its peak of drinkability. Where it goes from here is anyone’s guess, but readers lucky enough to still own the 2002 Les Ursules are in for a thrilling ride. Drinking window: 2010-2017. The 2005 Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules is tight, focused and layered, with mineral-infused layers of fruit that drive towards a finish of crystalline purity and finesse. Today the wine is incredibly young, but also full of promise. There is a gorgeous precision to the fruit and an eternal finish that makes it impossible to resist a second taste, but this is a baby and readers should do everything they can to wait a few more years. Bouchard describes 2005 as a less than ideal vintage characterized by alternating spells of heat and rain. Drinking window: 2015-2025.

The 2006 Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules combines elements of the 2002 and 2005. The explosive bouquet recalls the boisterous, super-rich 2002, but then the wine turns quite a bit more linear on the palate, with a layers of minerality that invite a comparison with the shy, introspective 2005. The development in the glass is nothing short of spectacular. Over time, the mousse becomes imperceptibly fine as the bubbles virtually disappear, revealing a moving, intensely satisfying wine. Hints of Mirabelle plums, red berries, mint, spices and flowers linger on the sublime finish. This is a magnificent, towering Champagne from Cédric Bouchard. A small number of magnums will go on sale later in 2010. Readers should do whatever they can to snap them up. Although the 2006 will only get better in bottle I frankly find it impossible not to drink today. Drinking window: 2016-2026.

Vintage 2007 was quite difficult, as there was quite a bit of rain and Bouchard’s vineyards in Celles were severely affected by hail, most notably La Haute-Lemblée, La Bolorée and Le Creux d’Enfer. Production from these sites is minuscule in 2007. The 2007 Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Noirs Les Ursules reveals gorgeous richness in its red fruits, spices and flowers. Today the 2007 comes across as a bit two-dimensional, but much of that has to do with its youth and the inevitable comparisons with some of the vintages that preceded it in this tasting. In time, this too should develop into splendid wine, today it is merely outstanding. Bouchard likens 2007 to 2001 – another cold, damp vintage – then adds he relishes the challenge of making wines in difficult years as it is precisely these harvests that provide the ultimate test of a grower’s skill. Drinking window: 2015-2025.

La Haute-Lemblée

In 2002 Bouchard planted this tiny plot in Celles that measures just 0.118 hectares with five different rootstocks of Chardonnay. In vintage 2004, his first harvest from this parcel, Bouchard had to work diligently to keep yields low in this young vineyard and consequently he made just 700 bottles of the Haute-Lemblée that year. As the vineyard finds its balance, production will increase, but only to a maximum of 1,000-1,200 bottles.

The 2004 Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Blancs La Haute-Lemblée is absolutely breathtaking today. A bombastic, explosive bouquet leads to endless layers of rich, sumptuous fruit. In the last two years the 2004 Haute-Lemblée has acquired a baritone register of nuance that is drop-dead gorgeous. The finish is creamy and fleshy, with a crystalline, diamond-like brilliance that is hard to fully describe. Ideally the wine is best cellared for another few years, but I doubt most readers will have the patience to wait, I certainly haven’t. Incredibly, the 2004 La Haute-Lemblée was made from vines that were just three years old at the time. This is another wine that is gorgeous today, but that also holds incredible promise for the coming years. Drinking window: 2012-2022.

La Bolorée

This small vineyard, originally planted in 1960, measures just 0.2107 hectares and is one of the few terrains in Champagne that is composed of pure chalk. Bouchard was attracted to this small strip for its old vines of Pinot Blanc, which is quite unusual in Champagne. Neighboring parcels are planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The exposure is due south, which along with the age of the vines, confers significant power, richness and structure to the wines.

The 2005 Roses de Jeanne Blanc de Blancs La Bolorée is rich, round and creamy in its massive expression of tropical fruit. In this tasting the 2005 La Bolorée comes across as incredibly young and tightly wound. It will be interesting to see how this develops, for now it is all about potential, and there is no shortage of that here. The 2005 is Bouchard’s first vintage from this old-vine parcel of Pinot Blanc. Drinking window: 2015-2025.

Le Creux d’Enfer

In the finest vintages Bouchard makes a Rosé de Saignée from Le Creux d’Enfer, another tiny plot, which measures just three measly rows of vines. Over the years, Bouchard has increased maceration times for the Rosé from 18 hours in 2002 to 42 hours for the 2009. Production ranges from 370 to 500 bottles of this magical, contemplative Champagne, which was first produced in 2002. Le Creux d’Enfer is Bouchard’s rarest and most expensive Champagne, but it is worth every penny and then some. Bouchard recently planted another three rows of vines, this time with Chardonnay, for his Coteaux Champenois.

The 2004 Rosé de Saignée Le Creux d’Enfer is an astonishing wine graced with endless layers of rose petals, mint, flowers and berries all of which come together on a fresh, vibrant frame of exquisite beauty. This is an incredibly sexy rosé loaded with character and pedigree. The 2004 is quite a bit more linear than the 2002 and ideally it is best left alone in the cellar for a few years. The 2004 saw 24 hours of maceration. Drinking window: 2014-2024. The 2002 Rosé de Saignée Le Creux d’Enfer is one of the most profound Champagnes I have ever had the privilege of tasting. I confess I did not spit much here, as Bouchard only made 370 bottles of the 2002, and the odds are very much against my having an opportunity to taste this elixir again! The 2002 literally explodes from the glass with powerful red cherries, spices and earthiness. Minty, floral notes follow, adding further layers of complexity and nuance. There is a candied quality that captures the essence of the vintage and recalls the 2002 Les Ursules, but here everything is so much more expressive. The 2002 Le Creux d’Enfer saw 18 hours of maceration. Readers who own this precious bottle are incredibly fortunate. This is one of the greatest Champagnes ever made. Drinking window: 2010-2020.

Coteaux Champenois

Bouchard’s latest quest is to make first-class still wines in Champagne, a challenge he is embracing with notable commitment. There are three wines in the cellar at present; a Chardonnay from Le Creux d’Enfer, a ‘Blanc de Noirs’ from Les Ursules and a red Pinot Noir, also from Les Ursules. Bouchard’s first still wine was a single barrel of 2007 Chardonnay which was bottled solely in magnum, a format he is likely to use going forward for all of the Coteaux Champenois wines. In 2010 Bouchard will make his first still red Pinot from La Prêle, a tiny parcel in Celles planted with ten different rootstocks of Pinot across fifteen rows of wines. One of the reasons Bouchard was attracted to this site was that it was previously a forest and had therefore never been subjected to herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals often used in viticulture. Readers should note that Bouchard has not yet settled on the formal names for his Coteaux Champenois.

The 2009 Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Le Creux d’Enfer (Chardonnay) reveals lovely inner sweetness, round fruit and a delicate personality, with attractive floral and minty notes that punctuate the long finish. The 2009 is currently aging in once-used oak barrels. The 2008 Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Le Creux d’Enfer (Chardonnay), tasted from tank, was aged in 100% new barrels, but it has absorbed the oak beautifully. The 2008 shows the more minerally side of Chardonnay from this site, with superb balance in its finely knit, subtle fabric of fruit.

There are two still Pinots from Les Ursules; the first vinified without the skins, the second vinified on the skins. The 2009 Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Les Ursules (Pinot Noir (Blanc)) is one of the most fascinating wines I have ever tasted from Champagne. The hot vintage seems to have favored Pinot over Chardonnay. Mineral-laced red berries, mint and flowers come together in this beautiful, mid-weight wine. Bouchard’s 2008 Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Les Ursules (Pinot Noir, (Blanc)) possesses and additional dimension of clarity, precision and delineation over the 2009. There is a crystalline purity to this wine that is simply hard to believe. Both the 2008 and 2009 were aged in 100% new oak.

The 2009 Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Les Ursules (Pinot Noir (Rouge)) comes across as the most promising of these 2009s. There is incredible intensity to the fruit along with an eternal, mineral-infused finish that is remarkable. The wine has absorbed its oak with notable harmony. The 2008 Roses de Jeanne Coteaux Champenois Les Ursules (Pinot Noir, (Rouge)), tasted from steel, is a bit flat, something that is not unusual of wines when they are in steel and  awaiting bottling.

The 2009 Champagnes were all in steel and were impossible to accurately assess at this early state. Still, 2009 seems like a promising vintage, as Bouchard made all of his selections, including the Rosé Le Creux d’Enfer. These will be fascinating wines to follow over the coming years. Looking to 2010, the winter was very harsh in Champagne. Bouchard reports that all of his vineyards responded well with the exception of Les Ursules, where the intense frost will lower yields dramatically.

--  Antonio Galloni