Vilmart Grande Réserve Brut Premier Cru NV
I can't imagine a weekend full of fireworks and bonfires passing without a glass of celebratory fizz, and the order of the day chez Winedoctor was a glass or two of Vilmart's Grande Réserve. Not a Champagne house that has featured heavily on Winedoctor, my encounters with the wines of Vilmart have been few and far between, but each time I have been impressed by the quality and style. So I was really looking forward to pulling this bottle from the cellar.
The key name at Vilmart, in Rilly on the Montagne de Reims, is Champs. The current incumbent is Laurent Champs, who inherited the mantle from his mother Nicole Vilmart and his father René, who was originally one of the vineyard workers. Laurent is thus a direct descendent, a great-great-grandson in fact, of Desire Vilmart, who established the family firm in 1872. Today he extols 11 hectares of vines in premier cru vineyards in Rilly and Villers-Allerand, both villages just a few kilometres directly south of Reims. A mix of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, with some vines as old as 50 years, the fruit is harvested by hand, pressed and allowed to settle, before transfer into oak, generally large 50-hectolitre foudres for the entry-level non-vintage Grande Réserve and Grand Cellier cuvées and 225-litre Burgundy barrels for the more exciting single-vintage Grand Cellier d'Or and Coeur de Cuvée.
This week's wine is the first of the aforementioned quartet (which doesn't describe the full Vilmart range, but these are the principal wines). The Grande Réserve is a non-vintage blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay. Writing in the recently published guide to Champagne from the Fine Wine Editions series, The Finest Wines of Champagne (Aurum Press, 2009), Michael Edwards makes a cutting comment on this and the other non-vintage wine, Grand Cellier, describing them as "relatively simple wines by comparison" with the vintage wines. His explanation for this apparent drop-off in quality is that the firm owns no grand cru vineyards and I am sure that this reasoning has some merit. To damn the wines with faint praise (or rather no praise at all) is perhaps to do us all a disservice though, as a taste of this particular bottling of the Vilmart's Grande Réserve gives much pleasure, regardless of the origin of the fruit.
And so onto the wine itself, the Vilmart Grande Réserve Brut Premier Cru, which has a fine and lightly golden hue in the glass, with a gentle bead. This bottle has been cellared for perhaps 1-2 years although I am unsure exactly how long as it was sourced from a university cellar, so there might be some notes of maturity about it. Indeed, there is a rather fabulous nose, very refined and elegant, redolent of citrus fruits, especially oranges, alongside more developed aromas of honeyed cashew nuts and polished wood. This has a mature, complex and composed quality - not simple at all! A great palate follows, with a fine mousse, ever so slightly creamy, gently fleshy, but certainly fresh and crisply structured. It has a lovely and elegant flavour laid over a good structure, is fine and shows quite a seamless presence in the mouth. A linear, vigorous and yet flattering style, firmly poised and with a delicious herby, polished finish. This is really good; I clearly need to be looking out for more of Vilmart's wines for my cellar. 17+/20 (9/11/09)