We visited Champagne in March to taste some 2017 vins clairs and learn about this complicated vintage. Whilst there, we stopped off at grower house Champagne André Robert, located in the legendary Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in the Côte des Blancs. Here, fifth generation family member Claire Robert and husband Jean-Baptiste generously shared a few vins clairs and a comprehensive range of their finished champagnes.
The Robert family have been vine growers since the 1800s but the current independent estate wasn’t founded until the 1960s, when André Robert established the business in the heart of the village. Today it is owned by Bertrand Robert and in 2013, his daughter Claire Robert and husband Jean-Baptiste joined the business. Claire specialises in marketing, whilst Jean-Baptiste works on viticulture and winemaking.
Champagne André Robert boast one of the largest estates based in Le Mesnil, with 14 hectares of vineyards spread across 53 parcels. More than half of their vineyards are in Le Mesnil itself, including a parcel in the prestigious vineyard of Chétillon. The rest of their estate is comprised of vineyards in Étréchy, Oger, Vertus and the Vitrayat – more than half of their land is therefore situated in Grand Cru villages. Although they harvest all three grape varieties, Chardonnay is the essence of André Robert, constituting 95% of their production. Around half of their grapes are sold to the négociants, including some bigger houses, such as Billecart-Salmon.
Vins Clairs 2017
We tasted six vins clairs with Claire and Jean-Baptiste: five from different plots in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger and one from Étréchy. Given that the difficult climate in 2017 generally favoured the southern Côte des Blancs villages and the Chardonnay grape in particular, it was perhaps unsurprising that André Robert managed to produce some of the best vins clairs in the region this year.
The base wine from the famous Chéttilon vineyard was the first to be harvested last year, with picking commencing on 1st September. “Generally the best plots are the earliest to harvest,” Jean-Baptiste said. Fresh and light with bundles of acidity, the base wines at André Robert hold great promise for an impressive vintage champagne to be produced from a year that will undoubtedly be quickly forgotten elsewhere.
In clear acknowledgment of their fortunate location in one of the most revered sites in Champagne, André Robert focus their efforts on the vineyards in Le Mesnil. “The vineyard is where the action is… which means there is less to do in the winery,” Jean-Baptiste told us. They generally don’t do malolactic fermentation and their philosophy is to give their champagnes time: 4-6 years for the non-vintages. Their top cuvées are also barrel fermented and they prefer to use mature oak barrels. “The average age is 12 years and the oldest barrels are from 1996,” Jean-Baptiste said.
|Chéttilon | Le Mesnil-sur-Oger | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Peaches and tropical fruits, creamy and wow acidity. Real smokiness, very rich and fleshy.
|Le Mesnil-sur-Oger | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Lovely spice and lightness. Lots of apple and lemon and refreshingly light but full!
|Coullemets 1 | Le Mesnil-sur-Oger | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Lots of acidity and power. Nice oak character and concentration of apricots and pineapple.
|Coullemets 2 | Le Mesnil-sur-Oger | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Bundles of tropical fruits and distinct pineapple and lychees. Good freshness.
|Le Mesnil-sur-Oger | Grand Cru, Côte des Blancs
Very fleshy and peachy and rich smooth texture. Wow.
|Étréchy | Premier Cru, Côte des Blancs
Very light yet with good fruit concentration, well balanced with long length.
We concluded our tasting with a range of finished champagnes. The non-vintage, Les Jardins du Mesnil, is a Blanc de Blancs champagne produced solely from Grand Cru plots and sold in both a Brut and Exta Brut format. Of the recent trend for decreasing dosages in Champagne, Jean-Baptsiste commented: “With less dosage, you can reinforce the natural aromas of the terroir. Reducing dosage is a good thing.”
The vintage champagne, Terre du Mesnil, is also 100% Grand Cru Le Mesnil, undergoes complete barrel fermentation without filtration or malo and is treated to a long lees ageing of 6-8 years. Of the vintages we tasted, Terre du Mesnil 2008 was a particular standout, a pure and intense expression of this impressive vintage. “The charming thing is that the weaker vintages make you appreciate the stunning ones,” Jean-Baptiste added.
Our final champagne was a surprise picked straight from the cellar: Collection d’Auteur 1996. The Collection d’Auteur champagnes are a kind of oenothèque range, kept on the lees for much longer than the standard release and given a dosage of just 2 g/L. The 1996 we tasted had been matured in the cellars for more than 19 years and had all the richness you’d expect from a champagne with such age.
|Andre Robert Les Jardins du Mesnil Brut NV
100% CH | Vintages: 2011 & 2012 | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Dosage: 5.4 g/L
Initial nose shows light oxidation, then you get ripe apple, peach and apricot finish. character; dosage seems to be higher than it is. 15/20
|Andre Robert Les Jardins du Mesnil Extra Brut NV
100% CH | Vintages: 2010 & 2011 | Lees Ageing: 5 Years | Dosage: 3 g/L
More voluminous than the Brut, lots of peaches, apricots and plenty of hints of soy. Has a lightness and delicacy on the palate, plum with spicy finish. Has some evolution. 15.5/20
|Andre Robert Terre du Mesnil 2011
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 6 Years | Dosage: 6.5 g/L
Peaches are forward. then lemon and apples with underlying oak character. Very rich and the acidity is refreshing, quite evolved. 15.5/20
|Andre Robert Terre du Mesnil 2009
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 6 Years | Disgorged: September 2016 | Dosage: 6 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 18 Months
Lots of apples and spice and lots of things going on. Good ripeness, hint of soy and great texture which sits soft on the tongue. 16/20
|Andre Robert Terre du Mesnil 2008
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 7 Years | Disgorged: April 2016 | Dosage: 6 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 23 Months
Lot of peaches and hints of guarva and pineapple and oak. Good acidity and a nice brightness of fruit and acidity fresh. 17/20
|Andre Robert Collection d’Auteur 2006
100% CH | Dosage: 2 g/L
Lots of fruit like peaches, pineapple and lemons, fresh palate but tires quickly in the glass and shows some evolution on the nose. 16/20
|Andre Robert Collection d’Auteur 1996
100% CH | Lees Ageing: 19 Years | Disgorged: 2015 | Dosage: 2 g/L | Post-Disgorgement Ageing: 3 Years
Wow, has some acidity. Lots of forest floor notes, mushrooms and dried fruits; palate shows more age, quite caramel like and mature for a recent disgorgement. 16.5/20
We are not currently stocking these champagnes, contact Tim Hall who imports them into the UK