Champagne Labruyère is the newest venture from a family whose well-known estate in Moulin-à-Vent in Beaujolais is now complemented by Château Rouget in Pomerol and a majority stake in Burgundy’s famed Domaine Jacques Prieur. Based in the Montagne de Reims Grand Cru village of Verzenay, Champagne J.M. Labruyère was created through vineyard acquisitions in 2010 and 2012 and only officially launched at the beginning of this year; this is one of the most exciting offers of the year for me. The vineyards that provided the source material for this opulent, toasty Champagne were for many years purchased by Moët & Chandon for none other than Dom Pérignon. To call Labruyère’s “Prologue” pedigreed may be the understatement of the year: If you are a lover of luxury-level Champagnes from the likes of Krug, Bollinger, or Ruinart, this one will deliver all the palate-coating intensity you could possibly ask for at a much gentler price. “Prologue” really has it all: unbeatable quality-to-price; sleek packaging; and “grower-producer” ("récoltant-manipulant") authenticity and artisanship. This will be my ‘house’ Champagne for the foreseeable future, especially when holiday special occasions roll around. Happy Global Champagne Day indeed!
The Labruyère family’s roots in Beaujolais go back to 1850, in the village of Romaneche-Thorins in the Moulin-à-Vent appellation. That estate is still thriving, but over the past few decades the Labruyères have expanded their reach, and today the company is headed by Edouard Labruyère, who spent years combing the Champagne region looking for the right place to plant the family flag. The two small estates they purchased in Verzenay amount to about 7 hectares of Grand Cru-classified vineyards, and their mission is to showcase this single village in the ‘Burgundian’ way of so many small grower-producers. A number of articles chronicled the official launch of the J.M. Labruyère Champagnes at the start of 2017, and all of them mentioned how Verzenay’s growers are still predominantly selling to large houses. In an interview with the British publication The Drinks Business, Edouard noted that, since so much of Verzenay is controlled by “the big houses” (as noted above, his own produce once went into Dom Pérignon), there’s an opportunity to shine a light on Verzenay. “It deserves somebody to say ‘look, this is why Verzenay is a Grand Cru’,” he said.
Working with enologist Nadine Gublin and cellar master Vincent Van Waesberghe, Labruyère has created a true récoltant-manipulant house (meaning they own and control 100% of their vineyards) working with 100% Grand Cru-classified vineyards. “Prologue” is one of three cuvées the house makes, and this bottling is based on the 2012 vintage, with (very) small amounts of reserve wines from 2010 and ’11. It has been noted that, given the high percentage of 2012 here, the wine could have been labeled with a vintage, and it most definitely has the power and depth of a vintage-dated wine: comprised of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, it spent three years aging on its lees before being disgorged and given a quite-low dosage (sugar addition) of 4.8 grams per liter.
“Prologue” has the viscosity and mineral drive of a much more-expensive Champagne, with a deep straw-gold core moving to copper at the rim. The nose is a deep and expressive melding of yellow apple, dried pineapple, preserved lemon, toasted bread, brioche dough, white mushrooms, honeysuckle, and white flowers. The concentrated palate evolves to deliver red fruits with hints of red currant alongside lemon curd, hazelnut, and brioche leading to an extremely long and complex finish. It’s a wine that walks that ‘high wire’ like only Champagne can, combining a full-bodied, rich mouthfeel and the freshness and minerality we all crave from the best Champagnes. This is very much the kind of Champagne I want to drink from a ‘regular’ wine glass—even a big Bordeaux stem—so I can fully appreciate its vinous character as the effervescence dissipates. It is offering a ton of pleasure right now and, like all of the greatest Champagnes, has 10-15+ years of continued evolution ahead of it if kept well. Serve it at 45-50 degrees and do not hesitate to re-visit an open bottle two, even three, days down the line. It will deliver, and it will most definitely make a great food wine, from everything to canapés to main courses. Put this succulent Champagne next to a well-sourced, and well-sauced, piece of fish, as in the attached recipe. And get enough to have some handy for special occasions—it is very much in that class, at a price that really can’t be beat. Cheers!