Or specifically, a day at the only estate I could manage to fit into a six-hour span! The rail ads in Paris make a day-trip to Champagne sound easy (and it is), so I took the TGV from Paris to Reims, rented a car and drove south to drink some bubbly. Turns out that car access to the rail station in Reims is a morass of construction and detours, so naturally this figures prominently into the question of my punctuality for the return train to Paris, but that's another story. Thrilling though that tale is, the part you'll care more about (I hope) is that I spent the better part of an entire day at Pierre Peters, a small grower-producer in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a village south of Épernay.
An Ineffable Spirit
Le Mesnil-sur-Oger is in the heart of that portion of Champagne known as the Côte des Blancs, referring to the white, high-chalk-content soil. In this area, Chardonnay is the only grape to which growers give serious consideration. This part of Champagne is Grand Central for Grand Cru vineyards, and Pierre Peters has holdings in four different crus: Le Mesnil, Oger, Avize, and Cramant. Grand Cru holdings don't ensure great wine, of course, but they do give one an edge. When that one is Pierre Peters, the wines are among the great Champagnes. For all you Chardonnay-weary folk out there, these wines also provide ample evidence/reminder that Chardonnay actually does deserve its exalted place in the firmament of wine.
Some have said that Peters' wines are textbook expressions of Blanc de Blancs Champagne, and that's not wrong, but that description doesn't accommodate the soulfulness of these wines, a trait that transcends the confines of "textbook". Peters' wines have an intimacy of élan, expressing their charms with dramatic flair, but they do it as though whispering into your ear. This may sound like mystical nonsense to you, but to me it is the underlying character that emerges only after you taste many Peters wines from through the past few decades.
Strong Even in Weak Vintages
The thoughtful and generous François Peters, erstwhile mind behind the wines at Pierre Peters (his son Rodolphe took over in 2008), presented a series of wines that far surpassed what I had hoped to encounter. We tasted a wide range of years and different cuvées. We started with the the always exciting non-vintage Cuvée de Réserve, then dove into the vintage wines. Two vintages that we tasted are considered "great" vintages--2002 and 1996--and indeed these wines were great. Naturally, the less-than-ideal vintages provide a more satisfying glimpse into the mastery of this estate, and the luminescence of the wines 2005 and 1993 vintages do just that. The '05 was positively velvety, which is not a quality I associate with this producer's wines. It was excellent and rather warmly comforting, although still a bit stiff, so I'll stash some of this one in my cellar to give it time to unwind. The '93 was the real revelation, as it bore no hint of the trickiness of this vintage. It was in the prime phase for drinking, sensuous and in perfect harmony, and no, I didn't spit this one.
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