There are plenty of reasons to love the Champagnes from J. Lassalle, the historic récoltant-manipulant in Chigny-les-Roses. Should you favor “grower” Champagnes, in which the producer controls the entire process from farming the grapes through vinification and bottling, theirs were among the first-ever such wines to have hit the US market—now forty years running. The fact that the domaine is run by women—three consecutive generations of fearless women—makes the wines even more impressive and refreshing amid the male-dominated industry. Or perhaps you have a delicate palate like Kermit, who gravitates toward the Lassalle bottlings because they systematically complete their malolactic fermentation. Rare for Champagnes, this natural process yields a softer acidity, so the wines taste dry and extremely refreshing without mimicking a dagger as they slide down the hatch. These factors certainly contribute to my enjoyment, but when I uncork Lassalle’s Cachet Or, a blend of Champagne’s three principal grapes in equal parts that spends three whole years on its lees to marry and mellow, I think of Lulu Peyraud of Domaine Tempier. Why? Simply because Lassalle is Lulu’s favorite Champagne, and she serves it at l’apéritif every occasion she gets. Lulu has famously stated that she drinks Champagne because it makes her laugh, but also because water would make her rust. Having just celebrated her 102nd trip around the sun, a strict regimen of Lassalle is becoming ever-the-more crucial for her. We can all agree that Lulu must be doing something right, so I invite you to join me in raising a glass of Cachet Or to her 102 years, and to a rust-free future for all of us.
Jules Lassalle established this family-owned Champagne house in 1942 in the village of Chigny-Les-Roses on the Montagne de Reims. A master of his craft, he established a signature style of elegant, tightly knit wines with a certain ampleur. When he passed away in 1982 his wife, Olga, and their daughter, Chantal, took over the estate, upholding Jules’ high standards and progressively pushing the domaine to the next level. In 2006 Chantal’s daughter, Angéline Templier, joined the estate as winemaker. These tough, hardworking women continue to follow vinification methods established by Jules in the forties. Their 28-year tradition of “une femme, un esprit, un style” (one woman, one spirit, one style) holds true today more than ever.
True Champagne must not only sparkle, but also must come from grapes grown in the Champagne region of France and be made using méthode champenoise—a process that involves prolonged aging of the wine as well as a bottle fermentation used to add the sparkle to the finished product. Though wine has been made in this region since at least the 5th century, Champagne as we now know is a relatively new creation. It wasn’t until the 19th century that sparkling wine production took hold on a large scale in much part due to improvements in the strength of glass for bottles and the embrace of French nobility of the sparkling wines of the region.
Only three grape varieties may be used to make Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. The chalk-heavy soils not only provide complexity and texture to the finished wine, but also act as a natural humidifier thus keeping the vine’s roots warm during colder months of the year. There are grand cru and premier cru designated vineyard areas but unlike Burgundy, there are few lieu-dit vineyards (though in recent years there has been a greater interest in producing vineyard specific Champagnes).
Kermit’s first foray into the region came in 1981 when he began importing the wines of J. Lassalle and Paul Bara—two producers whose wines we still import. In the mid 2000s, Kermit began importing the wines of Veuve Fourny et Fils.
Of Champagne, Kermit says, “You might be surprised to learn that I don’t like a goût de terroir to dominate the taste of Champagnes. If it dominates, you lose finesse. I want some, obviously—but only enough to keep things interesting.”
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