Arlaux Brut 1998
This week a quick vicarious trip to Champagne, with this wine from Arlaux Père et Fils, a small independent house based in Vrigny, and run by Christine Maréchal and team.
When I added my all-too-brief thumbnail guide to Champagne to this site, many years ago now, the 'regionality' of the world's most famous sparkling wine was something I glossed over in two quick paragraphs. A gentle skip through the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Blancs preceded a more thorough run-down of Champagne styles and houses. It was perhaps not surprising; the brand-is-king image fostered by Champagne does not encourage an understanding of the intricacies of the vineyards.
Should I ever get around to updating that guide I would now certainly place more emphasis on an understanding of Champagne's regions. Partly this is due to a greater awareness of grower Champagnes, wines from smaller houses and family-run businesses beyond the world of the grande marque. Arlaux is one such house, but there are many others, some of which are linked in the menu to the left. Secondly, the Champagne region per se is fast becoming a hot topic in the little world of wine. There are emerging plans to greatly expand the current area under vine, increasing the size of both the zone d'élaboration (the area delimited by appellation law where Champagne can be made, and where it is illegal to make other wines) and the zone de production (the actual area dedicated to vineyards). To the latter there are 40 new villages proposed, all of which will be inspected by a team representing the INAO in the next few years, and there are two villages lined up for deletion, namely Orbais l'Abbaye (south-west of Epernay) and Germaine (a small village nestled among the trees of the Montage de Reims.
There are no such concerns for Vrigny, of course, a well regarded site on the north-western edge of the Petite Montagne de Reims home to Arlaux and one or two other little houses. The Brut 1998 from Arlaux has a soft, pale golden glow and a moderate but plentiful, foaming bead. The nose is just loaded with character; the fruit is rich and almost tropical or certainly a touch exotic, with very subtle notes of lychee and peach, alongside an appealing cashew nut twist. On the palate, pure pleasure; immediately creamy and rich, and yet cut through with incisive, firm, citrussy acidity. This is matched by a beautifully balanced texture, bright mousse, and armfuls of fruit. This is drinking delightfully, and although I am sure it would be good in the cellar for a while I would find it very hard to resist now. Very fine indeed. 17.5+/20 (10/11/08)