Louis Nicaise & Hervé Brisson

The first known depiction of Champagne on canvas comes in a 1735 painting entitled “The Oyster Lunch”, which is exactly what it sounds like: a tableau of foppish be-wigged aristocrats feasting on bubbles and bivalves. Which, fine, but it remains a bummer no Old Master ever captured the actual birth of the bubbly and called it  “The Invention of Champagne '' or whatever. Methode champenoise (or methode traditionelle) - the elaborate, labor intensive process/ritual by  which the world’s most famous sparkling wine gets coaxed into excellence  - may today be an essential part of its prestige, but it started out closer to slapstick.    

Sometime around the mid-16th-early 17th century, as nascent vignerons in Champagne attempted to compete with their neighbors in Burgundy, the local weather told a great joke. Colder temperatures in Champagne cellars prematurely halted fermentation in the bottles, leaving dormant, unspent yeast cells to awaken in the warmer spring season, and start fermenting again, producing carbon dioxide and building up pressure inside the relatively weak vessels. Eventually, tops popped all over the place,  bottles exploded, bubbles ran free and wine-making monks had to duck to avoid all the zinging corks. 

No wonder effervescence was considered the devil’s share, a flaw to be avoided if at all possible. And while legend assigns the lightbulb moment to the monk Dom Perigion, the famous story about him sampling a swig of the unintended bubbles and proclaiming “Brother come quickly – I am drinking stars!”, is actually a clever 19th century intervention by Dom Broussard, one of his successors. In reality, Perignon, like most of his contemporaries, spent his winemaking life standing a-thwart the hopping corks shouting “stop.” 

It’s appropriate that we know and celebrate his name though, as the list of his actual contributions to winemaking is long and crucial and includes: pioneering blending methods, vinifying red grapes white, and using cork to stopper bottles, amongst others. But the advent of sparkling wine and eventually Champagne as we know it today was  in fact a group effort, with the monks of Carcassonne in southern France (whose version still exists as Blanquette de Limoux) and even the English(!) deserving some credit. 

All of which is to say that tradition, in Champagne or anywhere else, is an unsteady story, wherein, as the great English historian Eric Hobsbawm  suggested, “‘traditions’ and pragmatic conventions or routines are inversely related.”  Making champagne remains a quixotic, counterintuitive endeavor, a science project ready to blow up in your face, no matter how many rules currently govern its productions; it’s never not amazing when it works out. 

Our two lucky and intrepid chemists this month are Louis Nicaise, run by a young  husband and wife team, in the village of Hautvillers, made famous by Dom Perignon, and so the fake alleged birthplace of Champagne; and Herve Brisson, whose exquisite work has not been available in the United States until now.  “Les Longues due Chemins” is his top cuvee, of which only 100 cases are produced, and we are thrilled to share it with you here.


PlumpJack Wine Team 

Louis Nicaise Brut Reserve 1er Cru 

From: Hautvillers, Vallee de la Marne, Champagne, France 

About the Winery: Champagne Louis Nicaise is located in the Vallee de la Marne village of Hautvillers in the heart of Champagne. Dom Perignon made this village famous and it is known as the birthplace of Champagne. Though the historical record is not clear on that point. The fourth generation Nicaise estate has taken a qualitative turn for the better in recent years. The new generation of Laure Nicaise-Préaux and her husband, then 25 year old Clement Préaux, began working at the domain in 2007. Clement apprenticed with the great Anselme Selosse before then, and the young couple has implemented a progressive approach including lower dosage and gaining certification for sustainability.

Assemblage/Vinification:  60% harvest 2011, 25% harvest 2010 and 15% harvest 2009. The blend is 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Meunier and 30% Pinot Noir with a dosage of 8.5 grams. It is the largest cuvée at the domaine. They produce about 3,000 cases per year.

Tasting notes:  “It's beautiful, the aromatic palette of roasted fruits, linden and caramel is very important. In contrast, the palate is very saline, almost chalky…”

Winemaker:  Laure Nicaise-Préaux & Clement Préaux

Price per bottle / Price per case: $43/$464.4

Suggested Food Pairing:

Vegetables, fresh goat cheese, terrines, sushi, or salmon. Curries, Japanese, Thai or Indian dishes would also work.

Hervé Brisson Le Long du Chemin 

From: FRANCE • Champagne •, Vallée du Petit Morin

About the Winery: From SommSelect: “Hervé Brisson is a true micro-vigneron in Champagne, farming just three hectares of vines according to the most rigorous organic standards. His website, still under construction, is dominated by photos of his vineyards, and his US market presence is solely due to a recommendation from Champagne madman Vincent Couche. Brisson’s vineyards, almost all of which contain Chardonnay, are family heirlooms, some of which were planted by his grandfather in 1952. 

Assemblage/Vinification: Dosage:  For his top “Le Long du Chemin” bottling, Brisson only selects his oldest estate vines, aged between 50-70, and harvests them by hand at optimal ripeness. In the cellar, the juice was gently pressed and transferred via gravity—no pumps here—into a combination of neutral French barrels and sandstone jars for 12 months. Let me be clear: A primary vinification of this length, with these vessels, is virtually unheard-of in Champagne! After bottling without fining or filtration, the wine then rested 15 months on its lees before disgorgement and a four-gram dosage. Designated Extra-Brut, the wine is nevertheless textured and readily identifiable as Chardonnay, with a real “Burgundy with bubbles” quality.” 

Tasting notes:  “This old-vine Blanc de Blancs beauty opens up with gorgeous swells of fresh white flowers, creamy green apple, lemon oil, freshly chopped nuts, lime leaf, crisp pear, and apricot skin alongside pulses of chalk, wet stone, and chamomile.”  

Winemaker:  Hervé Brisson

Price per bottle / Price per case:


Suggested Food Pairing: 

Grilled oysters with citrus and olive oil gremolata

Pan-fried Monkfish

Fish and Chips

Burmese Cuisine 

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