Wines of the Week: Frédéric Savart & Mount Riley

Frédéric Savart NV Champagne Rosé Premier Cru Bulle de Rosé          93+
Mount Riley 2021 Pinot Gris Marlborough                                92
by Robert Millman and Ian D’Agata

Frédéric Savart NV Champagne Rosé Premier Cru Bulle de Rosé          93+

by Robert Millman

Champagne Savart is a laboratory of terroirs and a creator of Cuvées”: Frederick Savart characterizing his basic “philosophy”.

I well remember my first taste of the Savart Champagnes just before Covid hit New York. I was deeply impressed by the depth, harmony and attack of all the cuvées I tasted. Even the basic cuvée which Savart calls Overture -made entirely from Pinot Noir- was far more interesting and I might add personal than most of the non-vintage Brut Champagnes on the market. While I am at it, I would like to dispose of the absurd, widely used designation of “non-vintage”. Of course, all grapes derive from a specific vintage. So-called non-vintage Champagnes are a blend of several vintages, sometimes with a core of a reserve wine invariably from an excellent vintage. The large Champagne producers have the luxury of using a core reserve wine in their house blends. MV or multi vintage is ever so much more accurate than NV. Smaller growers like Savart mix together wines from several recent vintages. It takes skill to get this blend just right and relatively consistent over decades.  This is one reason why Savart calls his work a “creator of Cuvées.”

Savart is located in the tiny, picturesque village of Ecuiel located 6 miles southwest of Reims. His estate is all of four hectares and he rarely makes more than 2500 cases per vintage. All his grapes are rated Premier Cru and his wines 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay. Yes, this is a Pinot house. Pinot Noir-rich Champagnes can be weighty, even heavy-handed at times, while Chardonnay gives lift, elegance and refreshing acidity to Champagnes. Somehow Savart has managed to capture the power and depth of Pinot Noir but totally free of heaviness. The small amounts of Chardonnay, deftly used, gives his cuvées some of that aforementioned lift, energy and persistence. Savart’s Bulle de Rosé (Rosé bubbles – a perfect name!) is a blend of 70% Pinot Noir, 22% Chardonnay and 8% still wine, all coming from the village of Ecueil. Stainless-steel fermented but 20% of the wine is placed in neutral oak barrels. The dosage is 6 g/L: blessedly, Savart uses that small amount of sugar dosage to enliven the Champagne, but there was no hint of sweetness in the Champagne that I was tasting for the first time. I was immediately struck by the purity of fruit, rich, expansive palate and delightfully fresh finish. The Pinot Noir does the heavy lifting while the 22% Chardonnay gives this gem its liveliness. The wine quality is exemplary, a necessary condition for first rate Champagne. The Bull de Rose is a genuine food Champagne which can work well with most cuisines. It is the best multi-vintage Rose Champagne I have tasted to date. Savart’s Champagnes do not taste or feel like anyone else’s. They are truly memorable. Drinking window 2022-2026.

Mount Riley 2021 Pinot Gris Marlborough New Zeland                         92

by Ian D’Agata

Mount Riley is large family-run operation that showcases how quantity and quality in wine can co-exist, and then some. Made from grapes sourced in New Zealand’s Awatere and Wairau Valleys of the Marlborough wine region, this Pinot Gris absolutely sings from the first sip. The good vintage certainly helped, but the fact is this wine simply screams viticultural and winemaking knowhow at every swig. Bright straw-green in colour, the enticing nose explodes with rich, ripe but lifted orchard and stone fruit (courtesy of the Wairau Valley fruit), complemented by mineral and floral nuances that are vibrant and fresh (that’s the Awatere Valley talking). Then more of the same in the mouth, where the wine enters fresh and juicy, becoming more taut and serious in the middle, and finishing long and pure, with a glycerol mouthfeel and a hint of residual sweetness to the lovely, very pure and precise apple, pear and mineral flavours. A hint of sweet spices lingers nicely and adds further complexity. At 5.7 g/L residual sugar this wine is technically off-dry, but with 5.9 g/L total acidity it tastes practically dry and that little hint of sweetness in the background actually adds texture and makes this absolutely irresistible. Believe me, you will want to take a sip immediately after you have finished enjoying the preceding one, always a great sign! This Pinot Gris will put to bed any notions you have of Pinot Gris wines being cheap quaffers of little interest (nothing could be further from the truth); in fact, for all its insistence on Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay that are often times unbearably green (the former) and all too often over-oaky and boring (the latter), New Zealand makes some excellent Pinot Gris wines, a variety the country should be doing a lot more with. Mount Riley, take a well-deserved bow, because this 2021 Pinot Gris Marlborough is a standout and an early candidate for my top 100 Best Buy Wines of the Year (published annually in December). Drinking window: 2022-2025.



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