Benoît Déhu
'Initiation' 2017

00:00 / 07:36

There’s nothing on earth like Champagne.  There’s nothing that so tickles the tastebuds, that so encircles the heartstrings and threatens a pull.  There’s nothing on earth, that merely the whisper of brings a rush of joy to the mind and memory to the tongue, like Champagne.  Champagne needs no defence, needs no further regurgitation or study of its history.  Enough humans have made it over the years.  Enough humans have examined it.  Certainly more than enough humans have drunk (drank? drenk?) it over the years.  But as someone who for a very long time failed to see its merits I can, at the very least, wax lyrical about that most lyric of liquids.


I never really liked Champagne.  Not when I was younger.  Not when I grew up and started earning money and could afford it.  Not when I started working in restaurants.  Not even when someone else was paying (through the teeth) for bottles of the supposedly posh stuff, the kind with bold lettering and gold foil.  A chance encounter with a cuveé Fidéle from Vouette et Sorbée at a tasteful friends 30th managed to set me straight; or rather, set me a-bubble.


Somewhere in the wine was joy—was hope—was the kiss of life to dreams I’d not yet realised.  Somewhere in the wine was the finery of pearls and the gross loveliness of oysters, somewhere in the wine was the skin of peaches, the grit of candied lime and the hungry mousse of a secluded beach with waves that love the sand; somewhere in the wine was something I’d been missing.  It wasn’t that I didn’t like Champagne.  I just didn’t like shit Champagne.  And there’s a lot of shit Champagne out there.


And it can be bloody expensive; not that expense (even with my modest hospitality gigs and occasional writing work) has ever been much of a deterrent from seeking to sate my many cravings.  The mid-range bready, heady fizz is expensive.  The big-brand muscle-marys are expensive.  Even the grocery store gassers are expensive.  And there are a myriad of reasons for this.  None so clear as the cultural price tag we have allowed, contributed to and ultimately gained from—whether merely from the rush of blood to the head and bubbles to the heart—whether from the loosening of our tongues and inhibitions—from the clarity and innocence and sensory wisdoms of a wine like ‘Initiation’ from Benoît Déhu—we, like I, have gained.


‘Initiation’ smells like the back room of a small bakery.  It’s dusty knuckles and hungry yeast.  And fresh rope.  And maybe even a joggers socks after a quick dash round the park and back.  There is something subtly pheromonal about it, something tenderly animal.  The nose gives library books and white anchovy and ear wax; gives grapefruit, armpit and plum.  The bubbles are so tiny so many of them are imperceptible to the (thirsty) human eye.  And on sipping it there’s the expected tickle of gas, of millions of the little fellas dashing hither and thither so light on their feet they seem to be tip-toeing rapidly across the palate.  The mousse disappears instantly and then runs at you half a minute later—dissipating languidly, longingly, as if the foam itself were an old friend, elated at first and sad to have to take leave of you.  It’s a hard beverage to not drink quickly and to not sniff and sip and keep sniffing.  Every fresh whiff a new note: house paint on the nose, frangipane tart across the tongue, seaweed nose, mille feuille mouth, the list rages on.  It has some of the kerosene ‘petrol’  stink so favoured by Riesling gluttons with the same generous bruising of green fruits like apples and pears.  And a great fleck of wood to it that doesn’t overwhelm but patiently buoys the profile from the background.  Obviously there’s butter and bread.  And cake icing.  The thick white wedding kind into which doomed plastic versions of the newlyweds are stuck off-kilter.  Obviously there’s honeycomb and dried oregano and porcini mushroom.  Obviously, (right?). But the grace of it, the honest elegance, the purity, the ability for a glass of fizzing juice to convey so much in so few millilitres is truly symphonic.  After a few seconds it can feel like all your xmases have come at once.  After a few minutes it can feel like chewing on leather or dried mango.  And after a few more I found myself still in slow awe that whatever Déhu had/has done—with a little Pinot Noir and a lot of Pinot Meunier—he’s done it right.


Benoît is eighth generation at the helm of Déhu Père et Fils.  Having purchased 1.7 hectares of vines from the family estate he makes additional cuveés under his own name: ‘La Rue des Noyers’ (100% Pinot Meunier, single vineyard banger), ‘L’Orme’ (100% Pommard-clone Pinot Noir) and ‘Initiation.’  This is 75% Pinot Meunier and 25% Pinot Noir.   The south facing vines are tea-treated, copper-sprayed, worked by horse, morning picked, lunar-loved and rest on the La Rue des Noyers site, composed mostly of green clay over limestone.  Vinified and aged in 228l barrels (made from nearby trees owned by Déhu) on lees for 10 months the wine rests for a further 20 months before disgorgement without dosage.  Not that anyone at the table really listens—particularly after hearing the ‘C’ word.


And is that not what we have gained from this most classic and classy of wines?  Even the shit ones?  The assurance that it’ll spark joy?  The guarantee that it’ll more than likely bruise the purse?  The rush of salivation at the very whisper?  The comfort that you can drink it the whole meal long and it’ll sit deliciously alongside whatever morsels find their way to the table?  I have gained.  I have gotten.  Thanks to the likes of Benoît Déhu I am now just another sucker for a good tipple of fizz.  I am sorry it took me so long.  I’m sure there’s a good gag in the fact that one of the wines to turn me was called ‘Initiation’, a good gag I’m too euphoric to stencil.  And as a dear friend once famously said (on stage in her much lauded performance as Marie Duplessis) ‘Life is bloody and it stinks… but there’s always Champagne!’


tasted August 2021

Bradley Tomlinson

Benoît Déhu 'Initiation' 2017