Larmandier-Bernier Champagne Extra Brut Longitude (Organic and Biodymnamic)
This month, we offer a benchmark Extra Brut non-vintage Champagne from Larmandier-Bernier.
The small house today is directed by Pierre and Sophie Larmandier, who took over the direction of the family estate in 1988. They own just under 38 acres in some of the finest villages on the Côte des Blancs: Cramant, Chouilly, Oger and Avize (all Grand Crus), as well as in the fine premier cru village of Vertus.
In 1992, Pierre began to convert the vineyards over to organic and then to full-blown biodynamic viticulture in 1999. Ever the purists, Larmandier-Bernier utilize only indigenous yeasts, separate vinification for each cru, and little to no dosage for an unadulterated expression of terroir in their wines.
The wines are vinified in a large, old, wood foudres or smaller Burgundian barrels, depending on each cru and each vintage with an extraordinary long aging time on the lies. Reserve wines are kept in stainless steel tanks or enamel-lined tanks up to 10 years. Blending is generally done in July following harvest, and it is at this time that the Larmandiers decide whether or not their single-vineyard bottlings will be produced.
The Côte des Blancs lies south of Epernay and is the source for many top cuvée & vintage Champagnes for houses of all sizes. The vineyards are mostly situated on east facing slopes and 95% of the vines are the Chardonnay varietal (hence, the Côte des Blancs name). The soils in the area are typically a thin layer of top soil, beneath which lies the chalk that gives these wines their unique expression of minerality and terroir. Wines from this region are generally praised for their delicacy, freshness, and elegance.
Most of the vineyards are planted to Chardonnay, with about 15% Pinot Noir. The average age of the vines is 33 years, with the oldest vines (50-70 years) found in Cramant.
In the cellar, Pierre is every bit the purist and uses only indigenous yeasts for alcoholic fermentation, producing the most natural and terroir-specific wine possible. Each cru is vinified separately, using a variety of stainless steel tanks; large, old, wood foudres; enamel-lined tanks; or smaller Burgundian barrels, depending on each cru and each vintage.
Many of the wines also undergo malolactic fermentation. Occasionally battonage is practiced as well, but Pierre Larmandier is quick to point out that it is really the vintage that will decide how certain crus will be raised in the cellar. Blending is generally done in the spring following harvest, and it is at this time that the Larmandiers decide whether or not their two single-vineyard bottlings (Terre de Vertus and Vieilles Vignes de Cramant) will be produced. The final blends are made and the wines bottled in May, and undergo secondary fermentation in the deep, cold cellars of Larmandier-Bernier.
The wines are aged for several years prior to hand-riddling and disgorgement and are then held a minimum of six months before being released into the market.
An important belief of Pierre Larmandier's is that the underlying terroir is expressed best with very minimal levels of dosage, or—in the case of Terre de Vertus—no dosage at all. Consequently, all of the Larmandier-Bernier wines never receive more than five grams per liter of sugar (versus others Brut bottlings that can go as high as twelve grams per liter).
This puts Larmandier-Bernier's Brut champagnes in the category of Extra Bruts. In a world of Champagne that has witnessed sweetness levels rise in the last couple of decades, theLarmandier-Bernier wines stand out for their textural purity and their underlying energy derived from their minerality. They emerge from the cellar with picture-perfect balance, drinking well right out of the gate, while possessing all of the inherent precision to age gracefully for decades.
Longitude Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 1er Cru NV This cuvée known as Longitude replaces a wine previously referred to as Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut 1er Cru. The name's references the fact that the vineyards form a line close to the 4th meridian. Longitude is also an allusion to the length and the very pure, frank and mineral style of these great terroirs, where the chalk is very close to the surface. The base wine makes up approximately 60% of the blend and is fermented in stainless steel tanks, while the remaining 40% is reserve wine aged in a combination of large, old oak foudres and neutral Burgundian barrels.
"95 points Decanter (several writers): "ME: Lovely classy green-gold color shouts Chardonnay. Minerals, chalk, a hint of spices, and fine, fine tension in the mouth. Moreish and complete, a fine long wine. SF: Lively and energetic. The palate is spicy and firm with a soft white pepper backdrop. An accessible and ripe style, fresh and poised at the same time. TH: Slightly closed nose with grapefruit. Pretty high-pitched lemon pith notes coming through. It's a little uncompromising and hard for general champagne drinkers maybe, but this is a winner for those who like it honed, dry and persistent.
" 94 points Vinous Antonio Galloni : "The NV Extra Brut Blanc de Blancs Longitude 1er Cru sizzles with tension and energy. Chalk and limestone soils in the villages of Vertus, Cramant, and Oger give birth to a Champagne endowed with so much vibrancy. Citrus, yellow flowers, spice and baked apple tart add aromatic nuance, but it is the wine's pure drive and texture that stand out most. This is a fabulous showing. The current release is based on 2016, with 40% wines from a perpetual reserve that dates back to 2004. The dosage is 4 grams per liter.
" 93 points Robert Parker's Wine Advocate:: "Disgorged in December 2018 and based on the 2015 vintage, the latest release of NV Extra-Brut Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Longitude is showing very well indeed, opening in the glass with a classy and youthfully reserved bouquet of lemon oil, freshly baked bread, crisp yellow orchard fruit and wet chalk. On the palate, the wine is full-bodied, elegantly textural, and concentrated, with racy acids, terrific tension, and a pinpoint mousse. This new disgorgement is especially harmonious and complete. Longitude is routinely one of the region's finest values; indeed, along with Egly-Ouriet's VP bottling, this is one of my two 'house' Champagnes.