In the Spotlight: Artisanal Champagne

Early summer in New York is a good time to be a visitor in the city—the crowds are thin, evenings long and every restaurant is awash with magnificently fresh produce from farms in the Hudson Valley. It’s also the perfect wine city, studded with a staggering number of restaurants and bars with impressive wine lists to choose from. So where exactly do you begin, if you wish to veer away from fine-dining and heavy-duty wine lists, to explore wines at your own pace? Thanks to a network of young, knowledgeable, friendly restaurant managers and sommeliers, many of them women, who made calls and reservations on our behalf, we came to be seated one evening at Corkbuzz Restaurant and Wine Bar, Union Square, talking champagne with Assistant Beverage director, Amber Rill. A brief and highly focussed discussion helped us narrow down our choices from Amber’s suggestions to two exceptional single estate champagnes. The ease with which we found exactly what we were looking for was not coincidental—Corkbuzz is owned and run by Laura Maniec, Master Sommelier, whose vision for making wine approachable and accessible while offering the best selections from across the world underpins every experience, whether you happen to be drinking just a glass, or a more extensive selection. In addition, Corkbuzz hosts winemakers’ dinners, wine appreciation classes and curated private events that support the idea of cultivating an awareness and appreciation of good wine.Corkbuzz menus are crafted to showcase seasonal produce with meticulously selected ingredients, the selection of small and large plates allowing for great flexibility in pairing.Ulysse Collin “Les Maillons” Blanc de Noir NV, our first choice, is a 100% Pinot Noir from 42- year-old vines planted in the chalk and heavy clay soils of a named parcel in Congy, between the Côte des Blancs and Côte des Sézannes. It was poured out in a Burgundy glass, accompanied by a lush Brebirousse D’ Argental, sheep’s milk cheese—creamy, savoury and salty, with a distinct tang—followed by Steak Tartare with parsley, dill, charred ramp and butter crackers.In the glass, the Champagne captures your attention immediately with note after note of red fruits, dark berries, citrus, chalky minerality, deep mouth feel and harmonious floral notes. Intense and complex, highly terroir-specific to the Les Maillons parcel, the creation of this champagne comes with a remarkable story worth narrating. After over two centuries of working their estates, the Collin family leased their property to a large Domaine. In 1995, Olivier Collin began studying law with the intention of retrieving the family holdings, while simultaneously pursuing oenology and viticulture. In 2001, he interned with Ansleme Selosse, in what he has described as “one of those encounters that changes your life”. From 2003, when the property finally reverted to the Collin family, Olivier Collin has gone on to produce Champagnes that reflect his philosophy of “respecting the identity of each parcel with minimum of intervention”, practising mixed viticulture and biodynamics. Using a manual, 1950’s press, indigenous yeasts, 11 months in 3-6 year-old barriques, and foudres, without being fined or filtered, Olivier Collin’s wines have earned a reputation for their focus and precision, and he is regarded by critics as being “One of the newest stars of the Champagne firmament”. The singular attention to the personality of each parcel has resulted in what we are drinking and tasting in the glass: what the winemaker himself has evocatively termed “a signature of the terroir”. Given the extremely small volumes produced, it is truly unique.Still savouring the depth and complexity of the Ulysse Collin “Les Maillons” Blanc de Noirs, we transition to our next selection, the Eric Rodez Cuvée des Grands Vintages Brut NV.

A blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay from 7 great vintages, 8 years on the lees, this is rich and expansive, full of citrus, crushed stone, caramel, multi-layered aromatics and a long, lingering finish. It comes from an eighth-generation winemaker, Eric Rodez, former cellar master at Krug, from 16 hectares of vineyards in the grand cru village of Ambonnay. Paired with Seared Tuna and fennel, white beans, parsley and lemon, the complex beauty of this Champagne opened up in layer upon layer, an experience that replayed itself when I later read these words from Eric Rodez, speaking about his wines: “Each year an entirely new symphony is composed”.Corkbuzz is a modern, casual, high-decibel level space—yet, with the clear intention to expand the awareness of wine, there are well-informed people always at hand to help you grow your knowledge and appreciation even as you enjoy your evening. You are likely to come away enriched by your choices — even some scribbled notes to follow up with travel and to further explore what you have just experienced, in greater depth.

This article was published in Sommelier India Magazine Volume 14, Issue 4, October, November, December 2018

Image Credits:Champagne Ulysse Collin; Champagne Rodez; Corkbuzz Restaurant and Wine Bar

Kaveri Ponnapa

Kaveri Ponnapa is an author and widely published independent writer on heritage, food and wine. She is the author of The Vanishing Kodavas, an acclaimed cultural study of the Kodava people, and a collection of Kodava poems, A Place Apart, Poems from Kodagu. Kaveri is an acknowledged authority on Kodava culture, history and food traditions.

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