'Composition #1' NV
We all know what goes on in Champagne; that they somehow manage to turn (and literally turn, as the Riddlers will attest) the still juice of pressed grapes into something reminiscent of liquid galaxies, into libations just shy of paradise, and that the drink comes with the promise of fizz and pop and wallop and bang: that ever popular tickle of a lightbulb spark thanks to the interplay in bottle between yeast and sugar, trapping carbon dioxide that will turn to bubble when the juice hits the air. We all know. And yet not all the grapes of the Champenois meet their demise on a bubble and a prayer. Most of them do, sure. A rare few, however, find themselves under the Coteaux Champenois AOC, a rare few (thanks in part to the ongoing increase in temperature on account of climate change—exit at once all ye deniers) find themselves like so many of their brother and sister grapes outside Champagne: stationary, silent and bottled still.
Jérôme Lefèvre, of Champagne Delalot, has begun a new Maison under his own name with the express purpose of producing single harvest, one-off cuveés of still and sparkling Champagne. With an admitted lust for the Austrian new-wave, a thirst for the pungent, raw whites of the Jura and an aversion to the Burgundy mimicry of regular Coteaux Champenois Lefévre more than gets by with a little a help from his (vigneron) friends. The same hands-on/machine-off practice that has brought about the proper majesty of the Delalot fizz over the years has been leant to the early release, low production Maison wines coming from the same limited hectare in the village of Essômes-sur-Marne in the Vallèe de la Marne. Compositon #1is a 50/50 split of Pinot’s Meunier and Noir. Composition #1 is non-macerated, normal (Coquart) pressed, 24-month barrel aged blanc de noir. Composition #1 is Coteaux Champenois at it’s freshest, most energetic and most exciting and on first look, on first sniff, on initial swallow it had me euphoric—be still my oil on canvas of fruit and vases, my inanimate life. Be still my Coteaux Champenois. Be still my now quick beating heart.
You get pale copper (almost peach) as light hits the glass against white. A slight cloud or shadow over the wine impresses a lack of filtering and fining and promises a texturally interesting mouthful should follow the ogling. And it does. Texturally. Olfactorily. Palatably. Imaginatively. Sexually. In spades. In clubs. In diamonds and hearts. However you tilt it, it delivers. There’s apricot and banana on the nose that gives way to shoe polish and musk stick candy and smoked apples and pickled ginger and teenage mischief. Then there’s frangipane and dead insects and green tea. And it’s all wrapped in a bruised kind of beauty that is hard to pinpoint; it gives rotting garbage and in the same whiff it gives fresh bergamot and blossoming jasmine; it gives long walks in autumn where an apricot sun catches the ancient branches of silver birch and in the same whiff it gives a touch of betrayal, sweet-fruited and unavoidable, the kind that you can recover from, yet the kind that you can never forget.
The mouth is oily and pretty at first and has an almost Garibaldi (classic Italian aperitif of Campari and orange juice) sting to it. There is a wave of sour grape and lemon thyme and kaffir lime to it and there is a pull at the inside cheek of acidity that makes one suck at their teeth to keep from dribbling. (If you’ve not had this experience before I should point out that it is a good thing. The need to suck. Not the dribbling.) It feels feels like minor whiplash to the back palate that settles on the front edge of the tongue, almost with the after-tingle of Sichaun (or Szechuan) peppercorn. It has the bitter and dry-edged finish to it of lean cigarettes or chewing on actual orange peel or taking the last sip of a long-soaked black tea, made by the kind of madman that leaves the bag in the mug whilst they drink it (what savages!). It is very pretty. And very pronounced. And partly salty. And somewhat of a 3 act play. Somewhat of a complete savoury wonder encased in a taught floral bouquet. Somewhat pine tree, tangerine, pecorino and marmalade. Somewhat girolle mushroom, fried chicken skin, Auntie perfume and dried sick. Somewhat special, somewhat shy. Certainly strange and surely spectacular.
There are so many rules in the wine world, so many regulations, so much that can and cannot be done. There are so many different styles, kinds, types of wine; so many different places that produce it. There are so many different siblings under vitis vinifera and each of them, under the influence of dirt and water and light can render themselves so expressive, so enigmatic that even though we have had a hand in making them thus we are left, at times, speechless; at other times, mystified; at other times, sated. There’s so much to know, to try and know, to comprehend, so many books to read and maps to scour, so many farms to tread and bottles to crack, so many hangovers to nestle and so much memory flexing to be done if one wants to work with it and even more if one wants to live it. But to love it? To love wine? With such juice as that of Lefèvre, that’s easy.
Maison Jérôme Lefèvre. Composition #1 NV. Bottle 231 of only 731 made. Red grapes. White juice. Two years in barrel. Still champers. P. Meun + P.Noir. Keep it for those rainy days, for the zombie apocalypse, for when the momento mori bedecked bottle you’re clutching may be the last liquid to touch your lips, and you need a guarantee it won’t just be delicious—you need a guarantee that it’ll be an all encompassing wonder, that it’ll lullaby you to that long sleep. Be patient. Be brave. Be thirsty out there.
tasted September 2021