The Grower Everyone in Champagne is Talking About
NV Benoît Lahaye Naturessence Brut
Power, Finesse, Chalk-Imbued Minerality
"Lahaye is rapidly becoming one of the top grower-producers in the Montagne de Reims." - Peter Liem
His steady rise to the top can be explained rather simply: Benoît Lahaye is working very hard and very thoughtfully (see below) - and it's paying off.
His are amazingly rendered Champagnes that combine power with both finesse and subtlety. There's an intensity, a concentration and a grippy minerality to all of Lahaye's wines that's simply very compelling.
We don't seem to be the only ones who think so: A few months back, we offered Lahaye's Brut Nature, and the response to the wine - both in terms of a brisk sell out and a slew of positive feedback - was impressive.
Along with that parcel of Brut Nature (the only bottles ever in the U.S.), there were also a few cases of Naturessence, which proved to be the most impressive of Lahaye's non-vintage wines. The sheer elegance, the remarkable push yet sleekness just took the wow-factor to yet another level here. When it came time to order again, we went deep on this.
What makes the Naturessence so particularly standout has to be a combination of vine age, source and skilled winemaking, which includes a blend that showcases Lahaye's signatures - intensity with detail and lightness - in an absolutely wonderful way. Naturessence comes from 45- to 60-year-old vines and is a 50/50 blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
The Pinot is sourced from the Montagne de Reims' Grand Cru vineyards of Ambonnay and Bouzy, while the Chardonnay comes from nearby Tauxières plus a tiny 0.2-hectare plot in Voipreux, which is further south in the Côte des Blancs. This is actually too far south for Lahaye - who is fastidious about his vine care - to tend to personally, so he has his friend, benchmark grower Pierre Larmandier, help farm it.
The bottle shows plenty of power and juicy red fruits, though there's also a refined, stylish and nervy core of chalky minerality. Overall, there's plenty of purity and general breed on display, and the small dosage of four grams feels just about perfectly judged.
This particular bottling of Naturessence is comprised of 2006 and 2007, and I think the roundness of the 06 vintage compliments the leaner and brighter 07 vintage really well. The wine is vinified in old barrels, and malolactic fermentation is blocked to ensure that everything remains intense and vibrant.
While Lahaye isn't well known in the U.S. (yet), he's much sought-after throughout Europe. A friend who recently returned from Champagne told me that Lahaye was the grower everyone was talking about. Since taking over his family's domaine in 1993, Lahaye has steadily moved the viticulture from being pesticide-free to organic and now to biodynamic. If that's a theory more and more widely practiced elsewhere, it should be noted that in Champagne's extreme climate (this is one of the most northerly haunts for Pinot Noir), biodynamic viticulture is serious work.
Naturally, production is small - and with only 4.8 hectares of vines, Lahaye's wines can be very hard to come by. There were only around 300 cases of this Naturessence produced. You'd be well-advised to stock up now while you can; there is no compare-at pricing available in the U.S. today.
At least over the mid-term, say the next three to five years, Naturessence promises to improve in the cellar as some of the wine's subtle nuances become more pronounced and the wine gains greater overall depth. It should be noted as well that the structure and concentration here make it a superb Champagne for pairing with food.
To order, email us at email@example.com or call the store at (212) 980-9463.
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