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MWG December 14th tasting (2/4): Champagne Agrapart

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Agrapart & Fils is a small Champgne house founded in 1894 by Arthur Agrapart and expanded to its current 10 hectares by his grandson Pierre in the 1950s and ’60s. Since the mid-1980s, it has been run by brothers Pascal and Fabrice. From its founding, it has made only grower Champagnes, entitling it to the Récoltant-Manipulant (R.M.) designation.

Agrapart is based in Avize. Its vineyards comprise 50 parcels, most of them in the grand cru villages of Avize, Oger, Cramant and Oiry in the heart of the Côte des Blancs. Some of the vines are more than 65 years old, with the average age being around 40 years.

The house considers itself terroir-driven. Farming and wine-making practices lean toward natural – pesticides and herbicides are avoided, the vineyards are worked manually, “homemade” compost and some homeopathic treatments are applied, the wines are fermented with the yeasts found on their skins, chaptalization is rare – though no effort has been made to obtain organic or biodynamic certification. All wine-making is done on a parcel-by-parcel basis. When barrels are used, they’re old 600-litre demi-muids. All wines complete malolactic fermentation and are bottled unfiltered, unfined and with 50 mg of sulphur dioxide. Disgorging takes place 60 days before release.

Champagne grand cru, L’Avizoise, Agrapart ($105.00, 11820320)
According to Agrapart’s website, this is a vintage wine, though our bottle bore no vintage indication. 100% Chardonnay from 55-year-old vines planted in clay-richer soil at the bottom of the Avize hillside. Aged on the lees for five years with manual stirring; aged exclusively in oak barrels. Stoppered pre- and post-disgorging with cork. Dosage is limited to 4 g of sugar per litre. 12% ABV.
Oxidized apple, a bit candied, and brioche, with lemon and almond notes. Dry, light yet complex, the fruit complemented  by an umami streak. Vibrantly acidic. Minerally, maybe the most of the five. Hint of caramel on the very long finish. Clean, pure, multidimensional. Impressive. (Buy again? Definitely.)

Champagne, Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Terroir, Agrapart ($59.75, 11552450)
100% Chardonnay from younger vines in grand cru vineyards. A blend of two vintages, part of the older of which is aged in barrels. Aged on the lees for four years, with manual stirring. Dosage is limited to 5 g of sugar per litre. 12% ABV.
Initially straightforward nose of toasted brioche, oxidized apple and chalk gained complexity in the glass. Layered and substantial in the mouth, yet also fleet and light. Less dry than the Avizoise. Fine balance between fruit and mineral, acidity and extract. Long. (Buy again? Sure.)

Champagne grand cru, Brut, Vénus, Agrapart ($146.50, 11797191)
Once again, though Agrapart’s website indicates this is a vintage cuvée, no vintage designation was to be found on our bottle. Chardonnay from a 0.35-hecatre vineyard in Avize planted in 1959; since 2000, the chalky soil has been worked only by Vénus, a white Boulonnais mare who lends her name to the cuvée. Aged on the lees for five years with manual stirring; matured exclusively in oak barrels. Stoppered pre- and post-disgorging with cork. No dosage. 12% ABV.
The freshest nose of all: crystals, chalk, yellow fruit, eventually candied lemon, lees and just-washed hair. Fine, caressing effervescence. Richer and broader than the others, more fruit-forward too, though it’s not as if minerals are lacking. There’s lots of acidity as well but it’s wrapped in extract. Long finish with browning apple, chalk and faint honey notes. A complete wine. With no vintage information, it’s hard to know, but I suspect this is primary and will gain depth and complexity with time in the cellar. (Buy again? If looking for a special occasion Champagne to age for five to ten years, yes.)

Champagne 2005, Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs, Minéral, Agrapart ($80.25, 11860276)
Old-vine Chardonnay from very chalky Avize and Cramant vineyards. Aged on the lees for five years with manual stirring; half is matured in oak barrels. Dosage is limited to 4 g of sugar per litre. 12% ABV.
Alluring nose: lemon, bread dough, peach pie. Bigger, soft, persistent bubbles. The richest, smoothest and, surprisingly, least minerally, though there’s some chalk on the long finish. Balanced and suave if not what I was expecting: tasted a couple a years ago, the Minéral from the hellishly hot 2003 vintage was a dazzling mouthful of minerals, far less ripe-seeming than the 2005. (Buy again? Maybe.)

Champagne grand cru 2007, Blanc de Blancs, Expérience, Agrapart ($210.00, 11820338)
A new cuvée from Agrapart; the 2007 is the first release. A 50–50 blend of Minéral and Avizoise. Native yeasts are used for both first and second fermentations. Stoppered pre- and post-disgorging with cork. No dosage. 12% ABV.
Complex bouquet, more savoury than fruity: pork jerky, lees, sour cream, hints of ash and smoke. Light, soft effervescence. Clean, pure, dry and very long. Substantial but also poised and precise, with an interplay – between sweet and savoury, between fruit and mineral, between extract and acidity, between weight and finesse, between surface appeal and undertowing depth – that borders on spellbinding. Would love to taste it again in five or ten years. (Buy again? In a fantasy world, maybe, though if plunking for a luxury Champagne, I might be more tempted by a Winston Churchill, Krug or Selosse.)

It’s always interesting to taste through a Champagne house’s current line (or most of it). As a group, these wines seemed less diverse than the Pol Roger line tasted through in December of 2011. The overall level was high and everybody enjoyed all the wines. That said, several tasters – myself included – felt the Avizoise and Expérience stood out.

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Written by carswell

January 10, 2013 at 14:00

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