PlumpJack Wine & Spirits brings you the Champagne club tasting notes for October. This month we are showcasing two wines with very different pasts. The Lilbert-Fils domain has a centuries long history cultivating vines and making wine in Champagne, while the J-M Sélèque domain is relatively young, starting in just 1964. Lilbert-Fils is a classic Côte des Blancs champagne, while J-M Sélèque has become a leader in the organic and biodynamic movement amongst vintners in Champagne. We bring you theses two very different but very delicious wines just in time to celebrate the arrival of fall and the bounty of the season it brings with it.
A Votre Santé,
Your Friends at PlumpJack Wine & Spirits
Champagne Lilbert-Fils Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc Brut NV
Champagne J-M Sélèque Cuvee Tradition Brut NV
Lilbert-Fils is a tiny Champagne house, but a very old one. The Lilbert family is another family of Champagne that has been cultivating vines in the region for centuries. Records show the family has been at it since at least 1746 and possibly longer (the oldest part of the family cellar dates back to 1712). They have been bottling their own wine for commercial sale since as early as 1907. With only 8.6 acres of vines the Lilbert’s are able to produce 30,000 bottles a year making this a difficult wine to come by.
Bertard Lilbert and his father, Georges, currently run the estate. They make all of their wine from their own vineyards, which break down into 15 parcels all from Grand Cru villages in the Côte des Blancs. Wine-producing villages in Champagne are classified as grand cru, premier cru, or simply cru. If a producer makes a wine using only grand cru or premier cru fruit, he may use these terms on the bottle’s label, and the Lilberts’ do just that. Unlike Burgundy, where the vineyards are rated according to their quality, the quality classification in Champagne is rated according to villages. Established at the end of the 19th century, the Échelle des Crus (ladder of growth) ratings are expressed from 80% to 100%, taking into account the quality of the soil, the nature of the sub-soils and the microclimate. The 100% wines are considered to offer the highest qualitative potential and are given the status of Grand Cru. There are 17 Grand Cru villages in all of Champagne, six alone in the Côte des Blancs. The Lilberts’ own holdings in three out of those six – 10% of their vines are in Oiry, 30% in Chouilly, and 60% in Cramant.
All Lilbert-Fils Champagnes are 100% Chardonnay and 100% Grand Cru. They produce a non-vintage blanc de blanc, made from grapes farmed from all three Grand Cru villages and comprised of two or three consecutive vintages. It is then aged on its lees for a minimum of three years and dosed with 6-8 g/l of sugar. Along with the non-vintage ‘Perle’, the house’s rarest and most sought-after wine produced from old vines sourced from all three communes, they relase a vintage wine that is only produced in the best of years. All of the wines are made in steel vats and all undergo malolactic fermentation. The bottles are riddled by hand in a deep, hand-dug chalk cellar, and the wine is disgorged the old-fashioned way (without freezing). The end result is a true connoisseurs champagne.
The Champagne Lilbert-Fils Grand Cru Blanc de Blanc Brut is a classic Côte des Blancs with great purity and finesse and the unmistakably chalky perfume of the region. This is not a fruit forward wine. Though fruit is present (on the palate more than the nose), it is reminiscent more of a fruit tart than that of a fresh apples or pears. Aromas of flaky pastry become noticeable first, followed by baked orchard fruit. What you find in this wine is an elegant combination of chalky, silky minerals, a delicate creaminess similar to an éclair (without the chocolate), and the buttery flakiness of the best croissant you’ve ever had. This is a wine with true staying power and longevity. Enjoy it with a spread of fine aged French cheeses, accompanied by various nuts and dried fruits. It also pairs well with roasted pork tenderloin glazed in stewed apples and onions.
Compared to the long history of the Lilbert Family, the Sélèque Family are relative newcomers to growing and producing Champagne. Henri Sélèque planted his first plots of vines in 1965 with the help of his father-in-law, Jean Bagnost. Bagnost was the president of the Pierry wine cooperative at the time. In 1974 Henri’s son Richard, joined the domain and began making Champagne after earning a degree in enology. He helped to update the winery facilities as well as expand its vineyard holdings. The third generation in the family to join the domain was Richard’s son Jean-Marc, after returning to Pierry in 2008 after internships at Chandon’s facilities in Napa Valley and in Australia’s Yarra Valley.
After spending time at larger production operations Jean-Marc had a definite idea of what he wanted to bring back to his small family domain. In 2008 he steered the estate towards organic viticulture and in 2010 he began farming biodynamically. Today 10 of the 19 acres are farmed accordingly. Jean-Marc’s goal in going organic and biodynamic has been to encourage better vine and soil health and limit the amount of ‘corrections’ needed to be made in the cellar. The goal is to let the vineyards speak for themselves. Today the grapes are in much better health and are harvested with higher acidities allowing Jean-Marc to stop the practice of introducing malolactic fermentation in barrel (low pH inhibits malo). Some wines undergo no ML, while some spontaneously undergo partial or full ML.
What started in 1964 has today expanded to include vines growing in 36 parcels across 7 different villages producing around 5,400 cases of Champagne a year. Most of the Sélèque vines grow in the communes of Pierry and then Moussy, followed by Epernay, Mardeuil, Dizy, Vertus, and Boursault. About 60% of the vines are Chardonnay, 30% Meunier and about 10% are Pinot Noir. Jean-Marc’s unwavering dedication to quality and natural approach in the vineyards guarantee that J-M Sélèque will have just as much staying power as Lilbert-Fils.
What the Lilbert-Fils shows in elegance and finesse, the Champagne J-M Sélèque Cuvee
Tradition Brut shows in vitality and playfulness. The chalky minerals, while present, are secondary here to the more spirited fruit characteristics. The Sélèque has a texture similar to the fluffiness of a cream cheese Danish and the richness to match. The nose smells like a lively mixture of lemon curd on top of piecrust, hazelnuts, almonds, and the chalky minerality coming into play to keep everything in balance. On the palate the fruit has more of a candied characteristic with a hazelnut and almond finish. A great pairing would be table full of fresh cracked Dungeness crab.