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Longtime SommSelect readers should be very familiar with Champagne Jean Vesselle. It’s one of our favorite, go-to grower Champagne producers, and we love their entire range. But their completely distinct take on an old-school style known as “Oeil de Perdrix” is perhaps nearest and dearest to our hearts (one exception: the super rare “Le Petit Clos,” hint: watch your inboxes later today). This throwback, heritage production is an homage to Delphine Vesselle’s grandparents, and there’s really nothing else quite like it in the world of fine Champagne. It’s somehow both a rosé and not a rosé, but whatever the category, it looks glorious in your glass, packs a perfume-loaded punch, dazzles the palate, and tastes divine. It’s also been a too-good-to-be-true value for years, but that’s changing. The Vesselles have finally decided to charge something closer to the true value of this family jewel. We managed to secure the last few cases at the old price. They will disappear very fast, so don’t wait to grab a bunch!
Anyone who loves great Champagne, and Pinot Noir, recognizes Bouzy as ground zero for the region’s most profound expressions of the variety, with a star-bright constellation of producers that includes Pierre Paillard, Benoît Lahaye, Camille Savès, André Clouet, and Paul Bara. The Vesselle surname is attached to several different properties within Bouzy, which can get confusing, but Delphine and David Vesselle have quickly distinguished themselves from the pack. The family’s 15 hectares are planted to 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay (a ratio that mirrors Bouzy as a whole), and across the entire Vesselle lineup, Pinot Noir is the luminous, irrepressible star.
First established in the 1800s, the Vesselles are also deeply entrenched in Champagne viticulture, and today they work tirelessly in the vineyard to adhere to organic practices. Come harvest, the ripe Pinot Noir clusters (from Grand Cru Bouzy and select holdings in the Aube) are picked by hand and sent to their cellar for a brief maceration. In today’s parlance this is a true rosé de saignée, made from start to finish with a single set of skin contact juice, as opposed to the more popular method of adding still, red wine to the tanks before bottling. But most saignée Champagne are deep, dark, and richly fruited. Not so the “Oeil de Perdrix.” Modeled after wine discovered deep in the Vesselle cellars, this style was likely a happy accident of Pinot left in barrels before pressing a little too long to produce a perfectly clear wine. Delphine thinks of it as a 19th Century-styled Blanc de Noirs, with just enough skin contact to make things very interesting.
From the first pour to the last sip, Vesselle’s “Oeil de Perdrix” is a breathtakingly unique and refreshing take on conventional Blanc de Noirs. Thanks to the brief skin contact, the wine pours a beautiful, pale, salmon-pink core with vibrant copper-orange hues (akin to a partridge eye, hence the name). The mousse is vigorous and fine, and just like all of Vesselle’s Champagnes, an aromatic tour de force reveals itself on the nose. It bursts with high-toned wild raspberry, green strawberry, Rainier cherry, redcurrant, rose stem, white pepper, blood orange zest, chalk, crushed red apple, thyme, and dried flowers. The mouthfeel is full, soft, and generous but pulsing with electric jolts of acidity and lip-smacking minerality before the vinous signature of Vesselle’s ripe, bold Pinot Noir steals the show. That vinous, elegant texture lends itself to pairing with a multitude of dishes, from tuna sashimi to chicken karaage. Personally I’d love to have a bottle with roast chicken and black truffles. Affordable luxury? Definitely, as long as you grab some today!
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