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Varnier- Fanniere, Esprit de Craie Extra Brut Avize Grand Cru NV
'Esprit de Craie' translates as 'spirit of the chalk'. Chalk soils are one of the defining characteristics of the vineyards in Champagne's Cotes des Blancs - the source of the region's greatest Chardonnay. This 100% Chardonnay Cuvee is made from a blend of the two chalkiest parcels of the Varnier-Fanniere vineyard holdings and dosed with 6g per litre of sugar, giving a wonderfully mineral style.
Denis Varnier was only the third generation of winemakers at this estate until his wife Valerie took over, but grape growing in the Fanniere family (on Denis' mothers side of the family) dates back to 1860. Although the estate is small at just over 4 hectares, Varnier-Fannieres holdings are impressive, averaging 45 years in age. Valeries holdings are in three grand cru villages in the northern Cote des Blancs. He has as much land in Cramant as he does in Avize, with a smaller holding in the village of Oiry. The wines are precise and terroir expressive, in the direction of Avize graphite, while also being delicious and pleasurable. They exude class and precise detail. For a taste of absolute Avize, taste the Cuvee Saint Denis hailing from a single-site of 70 year-old vines, from the monocru Clos de Grand Pere. The Avize slopes are planted entirely with Chardonnay. The grapes from the steep slopes provide better and more delicate wines, but, in blending, the more robust specimens from the relatively flat terrain lower down in the village hold their own. Essentially, Avize produces rather more powerful wines than the slightly more fragrant ones from Cramant or Le Mesnil. . . . The nutty and roasted aromas are not to be found among its neighbors, leaning more to chocolate, leather, and truffles, and improving with age. One often finds a high percentage of Avize Chardonnay in famous prestige Champagnes produced by the larger houses. - -Andrew Jefford, The New France