Bereche & fils, Craon de Ludes, France

I have become more and more fascinated with the wines of the Champagne over the last few years. From the rather boring, over-priced, mass-produced cuvees of the big houses, to the exciting wines from the best of the growers, this region has an enormous width and depth on offer. I was lucky enough to spend a day in the Champagne a little while ago, which started in Ludes, more precisely in Craon de Ludes. Here, the Bereche family is making wines since 5 generations. The face of this small, family-owned company, at least for me, is Raphael, who is young, dynamic and incredibly passionate about what he does. In addition he’s a lovely chap, who loves good food and cooking. That doesn’t seem like a bad starting point! When I arrived at the winery I was warmly greeted, and we went straight to one of his vineyards, where the taille was in full motion.

What fascinated me in Raphael’s approach was his desire to make wines that are close to the earth. He doesn’t speak of terroir, but of the earth on which his carefully tended vines grow. That’s also a part he considers vital in determining the wine’s character, and therefore puts great effort in looking after it in the best possible way. Furthermore, his perfectionism can be seen in all he does, up to the choice of his barrels: DRC barrels are used for the elaboration of red wines (they might produce a coteaux Champenois soon), and Pierre Yves Colin Morey’s for the white wines. Those are some of the finest domaines in Burgundy, and it’s interesting to see how the best growers in Champagne fall back on their southern confreres in the barrel choice: Selosse with his Leflaive oak, and Prevost using Coche-Dury’s old wood are but two examples. In addition, Raphael uses different ideas and techniques to elaborate his wines, and is playing with some highly interesting methods at the moment, the fruit of which we might be able to taste, if he is happy with it.

So, speaking of his wines, what do they taste like? What I found striking in them are a few characteristics, to be found in most of the wines. First of all, they are incredibly refreshing, precise and well made. If one tastes his Beaux Regards Chardonnay, it just feels like a fresh breeze in the summer. There is a very subtle oaky note in there, quite a bit of citrus fruits on the palate and a fine, creamy perlage. Drink this with some delicate sea food starter, and you’ll be in heaven. Raphael was speaking about a smoked scallop ceviche, and I couldn’t agree more with him.

At the same time, his wines are very pure. They have very little or no dosage at all. But, due to impeccable ripeness, and perfect vinicifation, one doesn’t miss any sugar. There is always a great balance between the fresh acidity, he so much likes and a intense fruitiness, coming from the lower yields (about a third less than average in the Champagne) and perfectly ripe grapes. This is best illustrated in his Brut Nature. Naturally, without added sugar, this wine is in the same line as the Chardonnay, but has a bit more punch to it. If one gives it sufficient time to open, this wine is simply exquisite. One can only fall in love with it immediately. It’s a wine that is incredibly enjoyable to drink.

However, the finest of his wines does not resemble any of the other wines in his portfolio: Reflet d’Antan is his top cuvee and deservedly so! Here, one has a wine of impressive vinosity, and intensity, which is a bit sweeter and richer than the rest of the wines. Raphael makes no more of 3000 bottle of this per year, and uses a reserve perpetuelle system, started in the late 1980’s to elaborate this cuvee. Although not everyone will love this wine, I believe that no one will regret giving it a go! It’s more than worth it, plus it can stand up to pretty much anything you can put on a plate (albeit a lievre or so might be pushing it). I adored it.

Raphael’s wines have fully convinced me, even if I wasn’t quite sure if his style (fresh, clean, fine) would be what I like (big wines). However, his cuvees are so well made, that they can hardly do anything but make you fall in love. They are among the best valued wines in the Champagne for the quality one gets,  so do give them a try.

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