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5 Champagne Unicorns you Need to Taste by Modest Somm TJ Harstine

Updated: Jun 3

This month we are lucky to have an insight into the mind and palate of one of the key people shaking up the Canadian wine scene: TJ Harstine. TJ is a passionate wine lover who has turned his obsession into a career. From working in restaurants to wineries and starting a boutique import agency in Vancouver focusing on the unicorns of the wine world. He has never been overly interested or concerned in any way about points or tasting notes, but is absolutely in love with the stories of incredible families turning their patches of land in to the mesmerizing liquid that we all love so much. now he brings the stories of these

amazingly passionate people and their world class wines to as many people as possible.


Here he shares his top five champagnes that you need to seek out and try.


1. Champagne La Rogerie - Héroine 2008

For me, this is currently the most exciting bottle of bubbles available. Unfortunately, when I say “available” I’m not being completely honest. There are less than 600 bottles of the current release so finding a bottle is incredibly difficult, but if you can, it’s a bargain! Avize Grand Cru from a 0.2 hectare vineyard in one of the most prized plots in the village, not to mention the incredible 2008 vintage. This blanc de blancs is full of power and has a mineral edge that wakes the palate up on the finish but is rounded out by its 10-year nap on the lees. Could benefit from a quick decant. A new producer, but a wine that displays astonishing potential and the price is bound to rise.


2. Champagne Agrapart – Expérience

This wine is a true legend. Not only is it made by a legend, it was also a legit rebel that actually got the CIVC (Comité Champagne) to change a rule. If you know anything about the CIVC, you'll know that is a massive achievement. This wine is also a blanc de blancs, and rather conveniently, also from Avize. According to Pascal Agrapart, it is the only champagne made that is 100% wine! You see, instead of using the liqueur de tirage, a blend of yeast and sugar to start the secondary fermentation inside the bottle, Pascal actually uses press juice from the current harvest and puts the wine through its secondary fermentation with the ambient yeast. Up until 2006 he was not allowed to call this wine champagne because the use of liqueur de tirage is mandatory. After several appeals and constant pestering, the CIVC added an amendment in 2006 but also limited production. So, sadly this is another wine that may be a bit… tricky to find. Confusingly, this is also not able to be labelled as a vintage champagne because technically, it has the juice of two vintages inside although indeed, it is definitely a vintage champagne. If you can ever be lucky enough to taste it, you will most certainly not be disappointed.



3. Champagne Huré Frères – Mémoire

This wine is completely mind bending. Many producers utilize a solera type system for their NV wines in the region, and some of them keep this system running for many years adding a depth and complexity in their NVs, that I think works wonderfully.

Okay that’s great, how about a perpetual reserve from 1982 though?! Well, to go about 100 steps further, how about a champagne made from 100% reserve wine that has been perpetually topped up since 1982?!?! That’s right, this wine has juice from every single vintage since 1982 inside and it is absolutely incredible. You might expect it to be overly oxidative or leaning toward the tertiary aroma profile, but surprisingly it is perfectly balanced with freshness while you get to experience the obvious developed aromas that you expect. Fortunately, they do make a few more bottles than the first two that I mentioned on this list, but it’s still not exactly easy to find.



4. Champagne Larmandier-Bernier – Rosé de Saignée

Larmandier-Bernier are true pioneers of the Grower Champagne movement and they have been Biodynamic for over 20 years! They make several wines that I could easily put on this list, but I wanted to include a rosé, and I absolutely love theirs. It is made in the saignée method rarely seen in Champagne, but what's equally interesting is that they have slowly been replacing some of the Pinot Noir vines that they have used for this cuvée with Pinot Gris, that’s right… one of the other, other grapes of Champagne. The wine is 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Pinot Gris, picked and pressed together and then macerating for 2-3 days before ageing in concrete eggs and on the lees for 2-4 years depending on vintage. The wine is absolutely delightful, elegant and perfectly refreshing while being well structured and complex. If you are into rosé, this is a no-brainer, and relatively easy to find… compared to my other picks that is.



5. Champagne Tarlant – Cuvée Louis 2000 Base*

Something to note right away is that Champagne Tarlant does not apply a dosage in any of their wines, from top to bottom. Instead, they believe that allowing the wine to develop in the cellar will give it the roundness and softness needed to balance the racy character some find unpleasant in Brut Nature wines. Cuvée Louis is their prime example of this philosophy. The wine is comprised of 5 different vintages, from 1996-2000 – with 2000 being the base vintage and the majority of the blend. After a year of ageing in oak, the wine was placed on lees in the cellar in 2001, and not disgorged until late 2017… 16 years on the lees! You would expect overly powerful notes of bread, brioche, pie crust or any of the notes coming from the process, but it is incredibly balanced with a pleasant floral note that seem to lift the nose. The Tarlant family has been making their own wines for over 100 years, so they really are OG growers to the highest degree. This cuvée was named after the current generation's great grandfather and you can absolutely sense this extreme confidence that comes with so many praised generations when you get this bottle in your hands and the wine in your glass. Once again, it is super limited but it’s out there, and definitely worth the hunt.


Photo from the Tarlant facebook page of the Cuvee Louis in Japan.


If you would like to hear more from TJ, you can visit his youtube channel here;


You can also follow him here;

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tjharstine/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/tjharstine?lang=en

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/themodestsomm/

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