Sub-$50 Vintage Steal: 2004 Defrance Brut Millesime

Posted by Ian McFadden

Vintage Steal
2004 Jacques Defrance Millésimé
It's not a household name, but it'll be your household holiday Champagne.

You won't have heard of Defrance Champagne.

There are no big names to quote, no scores to cite. To be honest, I hadn't heard of Jacques Defrance either until I went to Atera for dinner with Crush's VP, Jeremy, and a friend who brought along Defrance's 2004 Millésimé, recommended to him by none other than Eric Lebel, cellar master at Krug. But if I hadn't heard of it before, I certainly won't forget it.

Here, obscurity has its privileges. The Defrance family has been working their vineyards since 1867, but they only just began importing their tiny quantities to the U.S, and we're the only listing in the entire country.

In the past few decades they've been focusing on their own production. Before that, word is that they supplied grapes to one of Champagne's greatest Maisons. We're happy to see them focusing on bottling their own and exporting. There's an understated intensity and textual forcefulness with a vibrancy that we love.

Defrance works Les Riceys, a fascinating swath of Champagne. It's the southernmost commune in the region. The general area is the Aube, a region that was fairly obscure until it became cutting edge in recent years. Even in the context of the Aube, Les Riceys is obscure. The vineyards here are more Burgundian than Champenois; Chablis is only five miles away, and the soil here is the same Kimmeridgian lime-rich marl that defines the best terroirs of Chablis.

The Aube has always had a weird relationship with Champagne. Once classified as Burgundy, it wasn't until the 1920s that it was begrudged a sort of "second tier" Champagne classification. But even with no Grand or 1er Cru sites, the Aube is at the forefront of some of the most interesting things happening right now in Champagne. With the likes of Cédric Bouchard, Marie-Courtin, Vouette et Sorbée, Defrance has some pretty impressive neighbors.

2004 is a wonderfully lively vintage, producing wines of fine harmony and energy. There's a distinctive acidity that acts as a beautiful counterpoint to the fleshy texturality of Defrance.

That dinner at Atera was an onslaught on the senses, if a delicious one, and this full sensory spectrum was reflected in the Defrance. There's minerality and a delicate backbone, but also warmth, lushness, lift.

The 2004 Millésimé will drink beautifully now, and while you could certainly summon up some restraint and watch it blossom over 5+ years, at only $50 a bottle, you'll no doubt be tempted to make this your household Champagne this holiday season.

To order, reply to or call the store at (212) 980-9463.

Ian McFadden
Director, Fine and Rare Wine
Crush Wine & Spirits