Vertus, a large premier cru village in the southernmost part of the Côte des Blancs, is home to well-known family-run producers such as Duval-Leroy, Veuve Fourny & Fils and Larmandier-Bernier.

With around 540 hectares under vine, Vertus is the second largest village in Champagne. There, on primarily east facing slopes of chalk, chardonnay thrives, as it does elsewhere in the Côte des Blancs. But the village produces some distinctly different styles.

In the north there is very little clay to taint the purity of calcareous soils, elaborating energetic wines with a saline mineral edge. Heading south, there are areas of denser topsoil, yielding wines that feel riper and rounder yet remain minerally poised.

It’s this contrast that makes chardonnay wines from this part of Champagne, particularly good. Pure and precise, yes, but they also reflect the variables of the land. Some cuvées feel more supple and fruitier than others.
From the north, Larmandier-Bernier sources grapes from the mid-slope of three lieux-dits for its Terre de Vertus, resulting in a particularly saline wine with Vertus’ signature ripe fruit character. The 2011 vintage was kind to Larmandier-Bernier, producing a nose of exotic fruits – especially banana – and a salt-infused, grippy palate of excellent length.

It’s this contrast that makes chardonnay wines from this part of Champagne, particularly good. Pure and precise, yes, but they also reflect the variables of the land.

Another good example from the north is Veuve Fourny’s Blanc de Blancs Brut, taken from south and south-east facing slopes in Le Mont-Ferrés. It is a youthful style with aromas such as bush pepper, summer fruits, vanilla and acacia. The palate is pure and lively yet round and very chalky.

From the south, Larmandier-Bernier’s excellent Latitude is smooth and creamy, pure and clean. Its execution is quite broad on the palate and there is a lovely succulence to the fruit.

South and south-east facing plots on denser soil make it possible to grow pinot noir in Vertus. It is also the only village in all the Côte des Blancs known for it, albeit in tiny quantities. From these chalky terrains, pinot noir is elegant, lighter and can express a particularly fine chalky texture. It makes for a kind of paradox that some producers are privileged to.

Emmanuel Fourny makes a particularly stunning rosé de saignée called Les Rougesmonts from an unusual terroir of pink clay over chalk on a 47 degree slope. The wine is characterised by a very lively and direct pinot noir profile of blood orange, mandarin, raspberry and citrus peel. It appears vinous and deliciously ripe – without being weighed down – finishing super-dry and very chalky.

There’s a lot to love about the chardonnay wines of Vertus which are some of the most flavourful and approachable in the Côte des Blancs. Their potential to walk a tightrope of ripeness and mineral precision is a remarkable tasting journey in terroir from this part of Champagne.

WORDS AND PHOTOGRAPHY | Sara Underdown

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