Earlier this year friends of mine relocated from a tiny house in San Francisco to a sprawling fixer-upper in the Hudson Valley. They plan to start a farm winery, vinifying grapes from the Finger Lakes and Long Island’s North Fork; an ambitious and inspiring adventure! Longtime devotees of the Kermit Lynch shop in Berkeley, they, like me, are passionate about the wines in our portfolio. We have decided to spend Thanksgiving together upstate for a festive potluck among old friends and family, and I want to bring a few bottles of something special. After all, there is a lot to celebrate. We have so many great grower Champagnes to choose from, but I’ve decided on Paul Bara’s Brut Réserve. Bara’s house style—opulent and tense, marrying decadence with racy acidity—strikes a particular sweet spot for me. It tastes luxurious, indulgent, and could run circles around your daily sparkler. Made mostly from Pinot Noir grapes, it glows a gorgeous copper hue and offers noticeable depth of texture on the palate. For a fancy apéritif, I like to pair it with brioche toasts topped with foie gras. In a pinch, morsels of nutty Parmesan and dried cherries will do the trick. With classic notes of sweet spice and quince, it’s great with dessert, too. An apple-walnut pie? Apricot and frangipane tart? While savoring this treat from one of the most celebrated producers in the Montagne de Reims, we will be clinking our glasses to new beginnings, time spent with loved ones, and the good fortune to be able to call wine a way of life!
The Montagne de Reims boasts some of the best Pinot Noir in the region—Bouzy is the capital. The key to its inherent greatness lies in its deep, chalky subsoil which imparts intense expression of fruit and great mineral complexity in its grand cru wines. The village of Bouzy and Champagne Paul Bara are practically synonymous. As the published village historian, Paul is indelibly linked to the lore of his hometown. Many call him their most renowned producer, one of the rare récoltants-manipulants in a region inundated with mass-produced wine. These R.M.s, as they are known, are of the few who still grow their own grapes and make their own wines. Champagne Paul Bara is the quintessential example, everything done with personal touch.
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.”
Trust the great winemakers, trust the great vineyards. Your wine merchant might even be trustworthy. In the long run, that vintage strip may be the least important guide to quality on your bottle of wine.—Kermit Lynch
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