Nearly ten years ago, three friends and I decided to start a fine wine dining club where we clubbed together and drank some super old wines with really nice meals. We tried vertical tastings of Leoville las Cases, ancient bottles of port and buckets of fine burgundy, all when it was cheap enough that we could afford them!
Over the years, we all moved on with our lives, but remain close friends and passionate about wine. Last weekend for the first time in about three years, we were all in the same place at the same time. The last time the four of us were together, we were at a petrol station in France at the end of a weekend in Champagne where we discovered the lovely wines of the co-operative Le Mesnil, named after the town in which it sits. In the Côte de Blancs, the town is perhaps best known for the Clos du Mesnil, the walled vineyard that produces the prestigious Blanc de Blancs from Krug. Surrounding this are numerous small growers who either sell their grapes to bigger Champagne houses and co-ops or make their own wines. It is these grower Champagnes that offer outstanding value for money as, without the marketing budgets of the likes of Möet & Chandon or Mumm, they can produce better quality wines for less money, and nowhere is this more apparent than in this home of fizzy Chardonnay.
If Chardonnay were an actress it would be Julia Roberts - massively flexible, loved and disliked in equal measure, has the ability to be supremely elegant and a bit tarty at the same time (think Pretty Woman). Regardless of trends and fashion, is always going to come back and be loved by millions all around the world. Nothing I write here could really add anything to what is already strewn across the internet about the grape, so rather than wasting your time, I'll go on with the wines, which we tried blind.
Pierre Peters Cuvee de Reserve Grand Cru NV
Lots of pear drops, fresh apples and a bit of yeast. Not well structured, starts off a bit crude with a tangy, tart flavour. It then settles down to be a nice fresh clean wine. I've had this before and it tasted a lot better than it did this evening. 88pts
Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru NV
Light, fresh and minerally with some oyster shell aromas and a touch of white pepper and lemon sweetness. The palate is clean, crisp with a pear drop flavour and then some rustic pear flavour coming through. A lovely soft mousse, a touch bitter at the end. 90pts
Michel Turgy Reserve Selection Brut NV
Vibrant, savoury with almonds and hazelnuts followed by a citrus pith aroma. Sweet palate and then with a lovely citrus, pencil lead and melon skin flavours. Lovely structure, very balanced and a bit of a ballsy finish. A lovely fun champagne. 91pts
Michel Rocourt Blanc de Blancs Brut NV
Rich honey aromas with a lemon and brioche note. Tastes like an older Blanc de Blancs with rich honey flavours, followed by a savoury, salty element. A lovely mousse, leading to a lemon pith filled finish. Soft and lush but a little light on the acid at the end resulting in a slightly flabby finish. 89pts
Michel Turgy Vieilles Vignes Brut NV
Pineapple and a bit of honey on the nose with chalk and lemon. The palate has a very soft, creamy mousse with a delightful pin prick bubbles, grapefruit flavours with some chalk coming through. Superb balance, with the acid cleaning your mouth perfectly. A delicious wine. 92pts
The main thing I took from this tasting was the consistently high quality of Le Mesnil producers. Even the Pierre Peters, that was not showing well, was still better than a bundle of bigger producer non vintage wines and a fraction of the price. Some of these wines are available from the cellar door from as little as €20, which means that for a price of a single bottle of Krug Clos Du Mesnil, you could get on a train from London, get to Champagne, buy a case of Michel Turgy Reserve Selection and carry it home. A bargain really!