In the southernmost part of Champagne, the small family-run winery of Jacques Lassaigne is producing mineral-driven organic champagnes that are a noticeable departure from those of the more famous large houses headquartered in the northern part of the region.
Overseen today by Jacques’ son Emmanuel, the small winery sits perched atop a chalk hill in the town of Montgueux, with sweeping views of the valley stretching south to Chablis. Lassaigne owns 4.7 hectares of vineyards on the surrounding hills, with vines ranging from 35 to 55 years old, and also buys a small amount of grapes from a neighbor.
For Emmanuel, great champagne starts with making a good wine and that philosophy permeates every aspect of the winemaking process. Grapes are harvested only by hand and the yield is kept low. Once the grapes are harvested in mid-September, they are deposited into a press which dates back to 1957. Technology never interferes in the process, from the pressing to the use of gravity to move the juice through the floor, which itself acts as a filter of sorts and removes the need for filtration. To keep the personality of each vineyard, each parcel is vinified separately and then the wines are placed in barrels for 12 to 24 months. After being disgorged, the wines rest for an additional 4 to 6 months before going to market.
Lassaigne produces six cuvees, using mostly chardonnay with a small amount of pinot noir for his rosé. The house style is evident in each – minerality, citrus and exotic fruits. The Les Vignes de Montgueux, always a blend of two successive vintages of chardonnay from nine different plots, makes an excellent aperitif. The Rosé de Montgueux, made of 80% chardonnay and 20% pinot noir with no added sulfur, is fresh and fruity. Le Cotet is 100% chardonnay from the chalky single vineyard of the same name and delightfully fresh and vibrant. More complex with a richness derived from an older base is the La Colline Inspirée, a blend when tasted of barrel aged 2006 (80%) and 2000 (20%) vintages. Only available in magnums, this is truly an outstanding champagne.
Michael Tulipan is the Editor of TheSavvyExplorer.com, a travel guide for sophisticated independent travelers on a budget.