Thursday, March 18, 2010

Review: Ulysse Collin Blanc de Blanc NV

When we think of Champagne, we tend to picture old, historic houses that have been having at the bubbly for centuries. New Champagne makers are an odd notion. But they do exist. 

I sampled the startlingly good wares of such a creature, Ulysse Collin, at the recent Polaner tasting. Olivier Collin's first vintage was only in 2004 and he's already a rising star, his wine praised left and right. The Blanc de Blanc NV (coming out of the 2005 vintage) was gentle and dry, yet with a sparkling clarity. It reminded me how simple a joy, yet subtly complex an experience, good Champagne could be. Pure enjoyment. It's not cheap; looks to run about $80 a bottle. But worth it, if you're in the mood to splurge.

In 2003, Collin recovered 4.5 hectares of vineyards that his family had rented out for years to Maison Pommery, and part of the family cellar, also rented out elsewhere. The Blanc de Blancs comes from a 1.2 hectare plot called Les Perrières, where the vines are around 30 years old. This plot has a shallow, poor topsoil 10 to 50 cms deep over the rocky subsoil of soft chalk with carbonated silex or onyx, which, I am told, is a rare geological combination in Champagne. Collin hopes to be completely organic in the years to come, but presently, owing to financial restraints, he uses a mix of organic and conventional practices.

He's aging the Champagne longer each year: 10 months in 2004, 12 in 2005, 13 in 2006. And he made a second wine in 2006, a Blanc de Noirs from a plot called Les Maillons near the town of Sézanne. I didn't get to taste that.

Collin made only 5,500 bottles of the 2004, but in 2005 he increased this to 9,000, and in 2006 he made 10,000 bottles of this wine and 5,000 bottles of the Blanc de Noirs.

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