DRAPPIER AND FALLET-DART
I have said many times that I think the most versatile of all wines with food is Champagne. And, since I eat my own cooking, I drink a lot of Champagne. Almost without exception, every evening meal for us begins with Champagne. In fact, my wife Laurie, expects there to be cold Champagne ready before dinner well in advance. If I fall down on this job, I shudder to think of the outcome. So I am always prepared. Many nights Laurie will drink only Champagne. And, when we have guests for dinner, guess what? You got it. We start with Champagne and a few nibbles. Many of our guests who are here for the first time are surprised. They often ask, “What is the occasion?” My response is “It’s blank (whatever day it is)”. And, the comment I hear most often after the wine is served is “I’ve never heard of this Champagne.” To which I respond, “That’s OK. You are excused. There are only something like 5500 different producers of Champagne and no one can be expected to know them all!” Then I go on to offer a brief explanation of the “unknown” Champagne I am serving. And, that is often followed by someone asking Laurie, “What is your favorite Champagne?” To which Laurie always responds, “Whatever John is serving.”
So there you go, we love Champagne. It’s part of our life. And, I wish I could say that I know all 5500 or so producers of Champagne. But, sadly, despite 40 years of drinking Champagne and other 30 years or so writing about it, I have missed a few thousand. And, at this point in the game, I doubt that I can make up the gap. However, I do have many favorites. And, two of those favorites are the subject of this article. They are Drappier and Fallet-Dart. Both are small producers. And both have a very long history and bottle Champagne made from estate grown grapes. My history goes back some 30 years with Drappier and about 20 years with Fallet-Dart. I believe my reviews in The Underground Wineletter many years ago may have been the first reviews of these wines in the U.S. In fact, when we first started doing Champagne reviews way back then our objective was to review each year every Champagne imported to the U.S. Champagne was certainly not a mainstream beverage in this country at that time. Many wine aficionados paid little attention to Champagne. But, that has all changed now and I think The Underground Wineletter paid a small part in converting people to enjoying Champagne as a regular beverage with food as opposed to a “special occasion” beverage. At any rate, suffice it to say that over the years I have consumed a lot of Champagne. And, for a major part of that time, there have been a few dozen or so that I have focused on. Two of those are Drappier and Fallet-Dart. The quality for both houses has consistently been at a very high level. If you have not experienced them, it’s time for you to do so. And, if you are familiar with them, I’m sure you will find the reviews of the new releases of great interest. So with that as an introduction, let me give you a brief background and history of each along with tasting notes on their most current releases.
The history of Drappier Champagne dates back to 1808. But the history of the cellars and vineyards goes back to the 12th century when Saint Bernard had an annex built to Clairvaux Abbey in Urville. (Clairvaux has a long and expansive history as wines are now being made in Northern California under the Clairvaux name. To read my notes on these wines click here ). These cellars where the wine is stored are among the oldest and most extensive in Europe. The cellars are also among the few that were not damaged during the two world wars. The Drappier Champagnes are characterized by great purity of fruit and great balance.
At Drappier the amount of sulphur used in the wines is one of the lowest of any Champagne. Drappier also has one cuvée, NV Brut Nature Zero Dosage Sans Ajout de Soufre, which is made without any sulphur. Drappier Champagnes can be very long lived. I still have bottles in my cellar dating back to 1970. Within the last year I have consumed bottles of the 1970, 1977, and 1979. All were superb and showed absolutely no sign of decline. They still have years of life ahead. (And, yes, that includes the 1977 vintage, which, while not highly regarded, produced some really terrific Champagnes including this 1977 Drappier.) Drappier also has the distinction of inventing the largest sized Champagne bottle, The Melchisedech, which holds the equivalent of 40 regular size bottles. They also bottle in 11 different sizes from quarter bottle to the Melchisedech. And fermentation’s are done in all of the bottle sizes. Today the Drappier Family continues the estate’s long history of excellence. Headed by Andre and Michel, the future looks bright ahead. Drappier Champagne is imported in the US by A.Hardy/USA Limited, Des Plaines, Illinois.
NV Drappier Carte Blanche Brut.
This is a gorgeous, finesseful Champagne that is a pleasure to drink. It is pale yellow in color with a lovely perfume hinting of peach and citrus. Creamy and elegant on the palate, the flavors hint of peach and citrus. Impeccably balanced, this is lovely -– Outstanding. $48
NV Drappier Carte D’Or Brut.
This NV cuvée Carte D’Or is a bit richer than the Carte Blanche. It is 80% Pinot Noir and has a light yellow color with a faint golden hue and has a lovely perfume with very faint hints of spice, citrus and peach. On the palate, the wine has richness and lots of fruit with a tinge of spice and citrus followed by a long crisp finish -– Outstanding. $54
NV Drappier Carte D’Or Demi Sec.
This Carte D’Or Demi Sec is the same as the Carte D’ Or Brut except it has an extra dosage to give the wine more sweetness and transform it to a dessert Champagne. It is gorgeous. Light yellow in color this Champagne has a great perfume with a tinge of pineapple and citrus with a faintly floral nuance. On the palate there is lovely sweet fruit with hints of peach and pineapple and a long sweet finish balanced by a tinge of citrus. This would be a great match with any kind of light dessert especially one with tropical fruits –- Outstanding. $54
NV Brut Nature Zero Dosage.
This Champagne is made with 100% first press Pinot Noir and is completely dry. It has a pale yellow color and a perfumed nose of citrus with a faint spice and mineral nuance. The wine is full and rounded with a good structure and is crisp and flavorful with a citrus tinge. For me this is a Champagne that needs a few years bottle age to fully develop. It should be outstanding -– Highly Recommended/Outstanding. $57
NV Brut Nature Zero Dosage San Ajout de Soufre.
This is amazing. It is the same as the NV Brut Nature Zero Dosage, but it is richer with more complexity. Perhaps even a small amount of sulphur temporarily suppressed the other wine. I don’t know. But this wine is a cut above. It has a pale yellow color and a lovely perfume that is faintly floral with a hint of citrus and mineral. It has lovely balance with harmonious fruit showing citrus, spice and mineral nuances. It is a bit restrained, but with fruit, depth, and complexity. This is delicious now and should develop beautifully with a little more bottle age -– Outstanding/Outstanding Plus. $60
NV Rosé Brut.
For many years this has been consistently one of my favorite Rosés. It is made from Drappier’s Val des Demoiselles Pinot Noir vineyard. This current release follows the long line of great Drappier Rosés. It is pale salmon pink in color with a gorgeous perfume showing hints of cherry, raspberry, citrus, spice, and rose petals. There is great balanced fruit on the palate with cherry and raspberry flavors and faint floral and spice nuances. Long on the finish with a nice crispness, this is a stunning Rosé –- Extraordinary. $60
NV Blanc de Blancs Signature Brut.
This is a gorgeous Blanc de Blancs with a light yellow color and a gorgeous perfume of peach and citrus with a faint floral nuance. The wine has a lovely creaminess and complex flavors of peach and citrus with floral, spice, and mineral tinges. With finesse and balance, the finish is long and crisp –- Outstanding Plus $60
2006 Cuvée Collection Charles de Gaulle Brut.
Champagne Drappier was chosen by the late Statesman, General, President, and Prime Minister of France, Charles de Gaulle, for his private receptions. This Champagne is made in his honor. The package is striking and the Champagne is always vintage and always 80% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay. This 2006 is gorgeous. It has a light yellow color and a lovely perfume tinged with citrus and spice and a floral, mineral undertone. The wine is structured yet already showing a nice underlying creaminess. With lovely fruit the flavors are complex with faint suggestions of citrus, vanilla, and spice and a faint floral nuance. With a long crisp finish this Champagne is gorgeous now and has a long life ahead -– Outstanding Plus. $70
2004 Millésime Exception Brut.
The 2004 vintage for Champagne looks to be one of the best of the last 20 or so years. This 2004 from Drappier is stunning. It is comprised of 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay made partly in large oak barrels. It is light yellow in color and has a stunning perfume with floral, peach, and citrus notes and an underlying spicy mineral quality. It is rich and full on the palate which is balanced by a firm underlying structure. The flavors are complex with citrus, spice, peach accented by a faint tropical vanilla tinge and the finish is long and crisp. This is gorgeous Champagne to drink now or lay away as long as you like. It will continue to evolve over a very long period of time –- Outstanding Plus/Extraordinary. $96
NV Quattour Blanc de Quatre Blancs Brut.
This Champagne is relatively new to the Drappier line up (Quattor means four in Latin IV). It was first made in 2005 and released in 2009. This is the latest release. Production each year totals only 4000 bottles. The grapes used are four white grape varieties: Chardonnay, Arbanne, Petit Meslier, and Blanc Vrai. It is thought to be the only Champagne currently being made using four white grape varieties. Chardonnay is, of course, the best known and widely planted in Champagne. The others are ancient varieties that are permitted under the Champagne appellation laws, but are not widely planted now because of historical problems with ripening. Arbanne was brought to Champagne by the Romans. It is renowned for its zest and bouquet. Petit Meslier (now almost extinct after Phylloxera destroyed almost all the vines) is fruity with a flintly complexity. Blanc Vrai is the local name for Pinot Blanc which contributes to lightness. The Champagne is made totally without oak to preserve the fruit.
This current release has a pale yellow color and a gorgeous perfume with floral, melon, and citrus nuances and faint mineral and spice undertone. At this stage the wine is crisp and very focused with mineral and citrus flavors accented by notes of jasmine and melon. The finish is long and crisp. This is a very youthful Champagne that needs some time to fully develop. Drink now for its distinct crispness or wait a few years for it to develop –- Outstanding/Outstanding Plus. $120
2002 Grand Sendrée Brut (Magnum).
The Grand Sendrée Cuvée comes from a parcel of land planted more than 70 years ago. The wine is produced in very small quantities and is made from 55% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir. This 2002 is a stunning Champagne. It has a gorgeous perfume that is faintly honeyed with hints of mineral, peach, and baked bread and a very subtle touch of spice. The wine has lovely fruit and great flavor and balance. It is creamy and finesseful with hints of baked bread, citrus, spice, and a faint buttery, honeyed nuance. Long on the finish, this Champagne is absolutely delicious now and a real pleasure to drink, but it has a long life ahead -– Extraordinary. $260
2004 Grand Sendrée Brut.
Wow! This is a fabulous Champagne from the 2004 vintage which is more and more looking like a very great vintage. It is light yellow in color and has a stunning perfume that is faintly candied with citrus, spice, mineral, and exotic fruit nuances. There is a great purity of fruit that is laser-like in focus. The wine is creamy and rich yet with a great underlying citrus tinge that is a nice complement to the pineapple, peach, and spice tinged flavors. Long and lingering on the palate, this is simply gorgeous with a long life ahead –- Extraordinary. $120
2005 Grand Sendrée Rosé Brut.
This is a great Rosé. It is light salmon pink in color with a faint golden hue and golden edge. The wine has a gorgeous complex perfume that is faintly honeyed with hints of exotic fruit and spice and a floral undertone. On the palate it is lush, rich, creamy, and complex with great balance. The flavors show hints of cherry fruit, citrus, and spice with a faintly honeyed nuance. The finish is long and lingering -– Extraordinary. $132
As I mentioned earlier, this is a small Champagne producer that I discovered about 20 years ago. And, I think The Underground Wineletter may have been the first U.S. publication to review their wines. Since that time I have found the Fallet-Dart Champagnes uniformly excellent.
Located east of Épernay near Hautvilliers in an area known as “Les Clos du Mont,” grapes have been grown here since the 7th century. The winery has been family owned since 1610. That’s over 400 years, folks! So they have had a very long time to perfect their Champagne and perfect it they have since it is consistently outstanding. Originally it was named Fallet. But, with the marriage of the Fallet and Dart families some 50 years ago the name was changed to Fallet-Dart. The total production today is around 13,000 cases from some 45 acres of vineyard. The estate is currently headed by Paul and Adrien Fallet and they are continuing the history of excellence. Fallet-Dart makes 6 different Champagnes. Consistently, Fallet-Dart Champagnes are awarded top ratings at European wine competitions. It’s easy to see why! These are Champagnes to buy! My tasting notes on the current releases follows. Fallet-Dart Champagnes are imported in the U.S. by Wine Markets International, Plainview, NY.
NV Fallet-Dart Cuvée de Réserve Brut.
This cuvée is always mostly made with Pinot Meunier. The current release is 60% Pinot Meunier, 25% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Noir. The primary vintage is 2007. The Champagne is light yellow in color with a stunning perfume showing floral, melon, and citrus nuances. It is elegant and finesseful with lovely flavors of melon, citrus, accented by a faint floral quality. Balanced and really delicious, this is gorgeous -– Outstanding Plus. $60
NV Fallet-Dart Grande Selection Brut.
This cuvée is always mostly made with Pinot Noir and is aged for a minimum of 4 years before release. The current bottling is 40% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay, and 30% Pinot Meunier with the primary year in the blend being 2006. The color is light yellow and the perfume exhibits floral, citrus nuances with a faint tinge of spice. On the palate, the wine is creamy with floral, citrus flavors accented by a mineral, spice quality. Long and crisp on the finish, this is terrific –- Outstanding Plus. $64
NV Fallet-Dart Rosé Brut.
This Rosé is always predominately Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir. The current release is mostly from the 2007 vintage and is 45% Pinot Meunier, 40% Pinot Noir, and 15% Chardonnay. Every year this is one of my very favorite Rosé Champagnes. This is a stunning example. Light reddish pink in color, the perfume is gorgeous with hints of strawberry and raspberry with a kiss of citrus. With great complex fruit flavors hinting of raspberry and fraise de bois (wild strawberry), the wine is creamy and lush yet with great finesse. It is loaded with flavor, but has an elegance and style that is perfectly balanced with the fruit. Long and crisp on the finish, this is a really delicious Rosé Champagne that is not to be missed -– Extraordinary. $70
2004 Fallet-Dart Brut.
The Fallet-Dart vintage bottling is always mostly Chardonnay from the finest parcels of the vineyard. This 2004 is 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. This Champagne is just a baby. It is delicious now, but will repay cellaring for many years. Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue, the wine has a great perfume of pear and peach with a faint hint of green apple and a touch of citrus. With great finesse and elegance, the flavors are complex hinting of green apple, pear, citrus, and spice. Impeccably balanced, the finish is very long and crisp. This is a great follow-up to the superb 2002 –- Extraordinary. $79
NV Fallet-Dart Les Haut des Clos du Mont Brut.
This is the prestige cuvée of Fallet-Dart. It is made from grapes grown in the Les Haut des Clos du Mont vineyard. This vineyard has produced excellent grapes since the 7th century and is exclusively owned by Fallet-Dart. The current release is primarily from the 2002 vintage and is a blend of 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. Light yellow gold in color, it has a stunning perfume of peach, citrus, and mineral with a faint hint of apricot. On the palate the flavors are complex hinting of peach and citrus with apricot, mango, spice nuances. Creamy and beautifully balanced, this is a great Champagne with a very long, lingering finish -– Extraordinary. $90
NV Fallet-Dart Cuvée de Réserve Demi-Sec.
This is the exact same blend as the Cuvée de Réserve Brut except it had an extra bit of sweetness that elevates it to Demi-Sec or dessert Champagne. Like the Brut, the balance here is superb in all respects. In fact, this is one of the best dessert Champagnes I have ever tasted. It is light yellow in color with just a faint golden hue, and has a stunning perfume of peach and citrus with a touch of vanilla. This is a Champagne that is creamy and finesseful with complex flavors that have a gorgeous perfectly balanced sweetness and a long lasting finish -– Extraordinary. $60
So there you have it – a brief story on two of my favorite Champagne houses. Both have a long history of excellence. And, my history with the wines, while not nearly as long, does span most of my wine drinking career. And, I have had great pleasure drinking these Champagnes over many years and I have never been disappointed. The newest releases which I have reviewed are terrific across the board. If you love Champagne, as we do, you need to get acquainted with the fantastic Champagnes of Drappier and Fallet-Dart.