The Soul of the Montagne de Reims Laid Bare
We have always been delighted with the depth and quality of the Champagne we buy from the Coulon family in the Montagne de Reims, but they have reached stunning new heights in the past several years. In terms of their rigorous vineyard management and cellar practices, eighth-generation Eric and, as of late, his bright son Edgar occupy a tiny fringe within a region still largely mired in chemical farming and dominated by the ultra-powerful Grandes Marques: they work their eleven hectares completely organically; they allow fermentations to proceed spontaneously; they maintain a solera of Pinot Meunier that is now nearly thirty years old; they use relatively minuscule doses of sulfur; they do not fine or filter their Champagne; and they employ extraordinarily long lees contact prior to disgorgement. The Coulons give their still wines a minimum of fifteen months of elevage, and often age them a full two years before the bottling for secondary fermentation
Coulon is one of only six growers in the elite Trait d’Union, a collective of producers committed to expressing terroir and working as naturally as possible. The other members are: Egly-Ouriet, Larmandier-Bernier, Selosse, Prevost, and Jacquesson—lofty company indeed, and growers whose prices happen largely to be far higher than Coulon’s. Eric and Edgar’s wines strike an uncanny balance between precision and richness, combining penetrating minerality with the boldness and power these red-grape-dominated terroirs deliver at their best. The extended lees contact does nothing to compromise the wines’ clarity, and Eric’s judicious use of barrels—never new, and never by rote (he determines which varieties are best suited to barrel- aging based on the character of the vintage)—adds complexity to the wines without loudly announcing its presence. The below range represents the finest collection of wines we have yet to purchase from the Coulons, and we cannot wait to see what the future holds for this exemplary domaine.
“Heri-Hodie” Brut 1er Cru
Produced from holdings in the premier-cru villages of Vrigny, Pargny, and Coulomme, “Heri-Hodie” (in Latin, “Yesterday-Today”—a reference both to the family’s long history as vignerons and to the solera which forms a significant portion of this cuvée) is composed primarily of Pinot Meunier (60%), with smaller amounts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay (20% each). The current release—a blend of 50% 2014-vintage wine and 50% wine from Eric’s solera (which he fills halfway with a new vintage each year, and which he began in the early 1990s)—spent three years on its lees before disgorgement and received a very small three-grams-per-liter dosage. Pinot Meunier’s exuberant, zesty personality comes through loud and clear in this forward yet nicely taut wine, one whose earth-tinged flavors wear the imprint of their terroir proudly.
“L’Hommee” Brut 1er Cru
Coulon’s largest-production Champagne, “L’Hommee” (an old viticultural term referring to the amount of land one man can work in one day) is a blend of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay from the premier-cru villages of Vrigny and Pargny. The current offering is a blend of 2012 (two-thirds) and 2013 (one-third), and, at our suggestion, Eric has recently adjusted the dosage for this cuvee down from six to three grams per liter—with a resultant increase in refinement, minerality, and drive. Where “Heri-Hodie” is more lithe and brisk, “L’Hommee” is deeper in spirit and more sumptuous, offering rich red fruits, classic brioche and vanilla-bean elements, and a incredibly concentrated, persistent, broad palate that rings with mineral energy. For this blend, the Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier were fermented and aged in barrels (all used), while the Chardonnay was raised in steel.
2010 Blanc de Noirs Brut Millesime
This unabashedly red-fruited and intense Champagne is produced from equal parts Pinot Noir and ungrafted Pinot Meunier from the premier cru villages of Vrigny and Gueux. Rich and full-bodied on the palate, the luscious and expansive character of the fruit completely absorbs the three-grams-per-liter dosage. With notes of pain aux raisins, roasted coffee, and iodine, Coulon’s Blanc de Noirs is boldly vinous and straightforwardly delicious at the same time—a real tour de force, given even greater definition and intensity here by the stupendous quality of the 2010 vintage. This cuvee was raised entirely in steel, allowing the power of the terroir to emerge with great purity.
“Esprit de Vrigny” Brut Nature 1er Cru
Coulon’s “Esprit de Vrigny” is a zero-dosage blend of roughly equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay, fermented and aged entirely in used oak barrels, and aged on its lees for six solid years prior to disgorgement. The current release, a blend of 2009 and 2010, is thrillingly fine, taut, and mineral, but it displays great mouth-coating concentration and density. The saliva-generating, viscerally salty nature of this wine is unbelievable, and the palate presents as totally seamless—a focused interlocking of acidity, minerality, and fruit that drives through the palate like a laser beam. Coulon’s Brut Nature is a perfect homage to the noble soils of the village of Vrigny, rendered as transparently as possible.
“Cuvee Prestige – Heritage” 1er Cru
A rare Chardonnay-based wine (80%, plus 20% Pinot Noir) from this red-grape-dominated zone, Coulon’s magisterial “Heritage” is produced from a single plot in the Coteaux de Vallier vineyard. Previously used oak barrels are employed for both primary fermentation and aging, and the wine spends eighteen months on its fine lees before secondary fermentation. Disgorgement takes place after no fewer than ten years of lees aging, and the resultant Champagne is stunning in its depth. A blend of the 2005 and 2006 vintages, the current disgorgement received a dosage of just one gram per liter, and is a layered, contemplative, profoundly powerful wine. With a dazzling nose of honey, smoke, and fresh vanilla bean, and a palate of strict minerality and incredible precision given the duration of lees contact, this spellbinding wine will clearly evolve for a long time to come.