Over the past year, certain conversations led me to sharing the news that I was going to be moving to Champagne. I was lucky enough to receive suggestions on champagne houses to visit and wines to seek out. One such suggestion was from my pal, Thaddeus Buggs of The Minority Wine Report, who said I was not to miss meeting his good friend, Jean-Michel Lagneau of Champagne Paul-Etienne Saint Germain. So, last Thursday, I set up a tasting appointment and headed to the Avenue de Champagne in Épernay.
Upon arriving at the house, the smallest one on the Avenue de Champagne, I thought for a moment I was experiencing a case of déjà vu – I have been here before. It was when I walked through the front door after meeting Jean-Michel and into the tasting room I remembered – I did visit this house in 2013, when I was just getting truly interested in wine. I was alone and Jean-Michel’s elegant wife, Agnès, welcomed me warmly into the cozy tasting room. I recall feeling very shy – my French was not fantastic and I was only just learning about champagne. Agnès took all of my hesitation away. We chatted easily. Flash-forward five years and here I was again – I now had a chance to meet Jean-Michel and taste through their entire range of wines.
Fifteen years ago, the Lagneaus opened their doors – they are 1st generation winemakers but have had family vineyard holdings in Grand Cru villages of the Côte des Blancs for many years. Both Jean-Michel and Agnès are incredibly passionate about their wines, their business and, most importantly, their family – they named their house after their children, Pauline and Etienne. Their house style is consistent in all of their champagnes – freshness, elegance and finesse. They only craft wines with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and produce 42,000 bottles a year. The Lagneaus are, without a doubt, living their dream.
Jean-Michel sat down and chatted outside in the sunshine and recounted a few of his favourite moments, “In the beginning, I didn’t have time to get it right – I had to set the bar very high for our wines. I wanted to see our success in my lifetime and be able to enjoy it.” His hoped for success did not take long to be realized, “I had set up an appointment with a sommelier at the famous Parisian restaurant named after famed chef and owner, Pierre Gagnaire. Traffic was horrible – I was stuck and could not get out. If I could have walked, I would have. I called to say I would be late. They said that they could not wait for me and that I would have to make another appointment. So I took the next opening which was six months away. I was to be meeting with Patrick Borras, their famed sommelier. I left for Paris at 4:00 AM – there was no way I was going to miss this opportunity a second time. Borras loved the quality in all of our champagnes and now they do pairing nights with Champagne Paul-Etienne Saint Germain wines. It was the biggest moment of my life, professionally.”
Tradition NV Brut Grand Cru Côtes des Blancs – this NV has a 2010 base. The grapes are sourced from the Grand Cru villages of Cramant and Avize. It is fresh, light and finessed with delicate floral notes. 26.50€
Rosé Brut Grand Cru NV – made with 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. Again, the house style is present in this wine – it boasts considerable freshness and notes of wild strawberry, fresh raspberry with a hint of floral. 28.50€
Charme NV Grand Cru Brut – composed of 75% Pinot Noir from the Grand Cru village of Ambonnay and 25% Chardonnay from Cramant and Avize. I enjoyed the body and complexity of this wine. Very creamy with a milky smooth texture and a nice, fresh lengthy finish. 29€
Divine St. Germain NV Grand Cru Brut – 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay from Grand Cru villages, this wine is delicate yet structured. Flavours of applesauce and fresh pear with a flirtation of white flowers and a nice, seductive finish. 39€
Exception NV Grand Cru Blanc de Noirs – using 100% Pinot Noir grapes from Verzenay, this wine is only made with the best quality grapes. Powerful yet finessed, masculine yet delicate – I was enchanted with this champagne. 49.50€
Sublime St. Germain 2006 Brut – composed of 50% Pinot Noir from Verzenay and 50% Chardonnay from Avize, this vintage wine has excellent structure, balance and length. Not surprising, it is the flagship wine of Champagne Paul-Etienne Saint Germain. Many layers can be found in this wine – it is one to be savoured and enjoyed. Delicious flavours of hazelnut are intermingled with notes of apple blossom, peach and brioche. 64€