God, I can be so dammned reactionary sometimes. I hated it when those beautiful white Fairy Liquid bottles with their green print and red caps were switched for a more modern, cleaner clear bottle. And I just hate it when anything is modernized from the perfectly good and beautiful just for the sake of being updated.
And it’s happening all over Champagne. Witness the new cleaner bottles with their shortened foils and smaller labels. It is a fad started by Selosse and Co, and I’ll admit the first bottles looked good, but then everyone is doing it and the effect has been lost. And in reality, it is because everyone wants to ape the success of Jacques Selosse
Now, I have long been looking for a champagne to call my own, as it were, and I have also long been intrigued by the little known and little produced speciality Crémant de Cramant.
Cramant is a 100% Cru (Grand Cru) village on Champagne’s Côte des Blancs to the south of Chouilly and east of Epernay. Crémant de Cramant is a champagne produced with lesser atmospheric pressure in the bottle and a less vigorous mousse. It’s most famous apparition is the rare to find version produced by Mumm & Co. in Reims. However, it is produced by other producers and in my research I stumbled on Champagne Lilibert & Fils, who produce a version called “Perle”. (Crémant de Cramant is no longer an accepted official term).
I finally ordered some samples the other week and opened up a bottle of Perle last night. I am quite eager to go and visit because not only are their champagnes recognised as good by the great and good of the wine world (Antonio Galloni, Richard Julin etc) but their style is delightfully old world. To produce the anachronym of Crémant is one thing, but they have also retained a delightfully old world habillage – complete with the medals they won back in the forties which gives them a certain historical gravitas.
They produce three champagnes, a non-vintage wine, a vintage wine and the crémant de cramant. All are Blanc de Blancs, all are 100% Grand Cru. The non-vintage wine contains grapes from Chouily and Oiry as well as Cramant. The current vintage on sale is the 2007, of which I have yet to drink a bad bottle from any producer…and a little age is always nice.
The non-vintage Perle is slightly disorientating at first. If I was to be unkind I’d say it’s slightly like drinking a spritzer…lots of wine but little fizz. But on a second approach it is very calming. The bubbles are extremely fine, regular and persistent. In the mouth the texture is one of écume, of sea foam rather than fizz and it is pleasantly unagressive.
The Chardonnay flavour is overwhelming, but the taste is also chalky and saline. It is very dry so I suspect quite low in dosage and has a delicious minerality. It strikes as a bit of a lunch wine. Something that would accompany salty fruits de mer, oysters and scallops.
When I look back and consider the price of other small champagne producers such as Jean Marie Gandon I have sold, the price is not cheap. But to be honest the gulf in quality is enormous. By the time I last opened a bottle of Gandon, the nose was enough to make me heave, whereas here, there is a lightness and elegance of fruit.
It is interesting when I consider my days at Moët et Chandon; back then I could drink champagne all day and every day, indeed that was my job (there are worse -ways to earn a living), but today I could not. But with Lilbert et Fils, I think I have a proposition that could become at least a monthly affair.
By the by, I note that The Wine Society have taken them on and that they currently offer the Perle at £32 a bottle. I think I can better that. Elsewhere, and )articularly in the branded market, champagne prices have spiralled. Moët and Veuve Clicquot command price tags of up to 3à plus euros for their non-vintage versions…but here we have a small, local production champagne at a much more attractive price point. Indeed, now more than ever, less is more.
Albion Vins Fins:
NV Lilbert & Fils 75cl € 25 (halves and magnums available too)
NV Perle Lilbert & Fils 75cl €30 (Wine Society €38.40 per bottle)
2007 Lilbert & Fils 75cl €40
Prices Ex-cellar Dijon