Champagne, France

The boutique Champagne house of Gatinois is located in the lovely village of Äy, in the Vallée de Marne. The town of Äy is probably best-known as the home of such famous Grandes Marques as Bollinger, Gosset and Deutz, but it also boasts some of the best small grower-récoltant producers as well, foremost amongst them Champagne Gatinois. Äy is one of the most important villages in all of Champagne, as it vineyards are all ranked as grand cru and it is considered one of the very top sources for pinot noir in the Champagne region. The current head of the house is Louis Gatinois, who recently took the helm and oversees just over seven hectares of vineyards that the family owns in Äy. For many years the family primarily made its living as grape growers, with much of its production earmarked each year to be sold to Bollinger. Louis Gatinois continues to sell of about half of his crop to the Grande Marques, including Bollinger, to this day, but with each passing year he is bottling more of his production on his own. Pierre Cheval-Gatinois, Louis' father, was very much the Champenois traditionalist (with his family dating back eleven generations as vignerons in the region), and spoke out repeatedly about the potential pitfalls of using new oak in the fermentation and elevage of Champagne, which has been gaining adherents amongst several of his fellow grower-récoltants in the region.

The Gatinois house style of Champagne is classic for wines produced primarily from fruit from the village of Äy, as they rely heavily on pinot noir in the blends for all of the various Gatinois cuvées. In fact, all of the Gatinois bottling are comprised of at least 90% pinot noir, with the Brut Millésime made of 85% to 100% one hundred percent pinot noir each year. The Gatinois lineup begins with their lovely, full-bodied non-vintage brut bottling which is called Brut Tradition. It is made up of ninety percent pinot noir and ten percent chardonnay, all hailing from the family’s own grand cru vineyard in Äy. The wine is aged for three years prior to release, and while it routinely drinks well on release, it possesses the capability of aging well for twelve to fifteen years after release. The next step up in the Gatinois hierarchy is their non-vintage Brut Réserve, which is also made from a blend of ninety percent pinot and ten percent chardonnay from the Gatinois’ grand cru holdings. The Brut Réserve is made quite traditionally, with hand riddling and hand disgorgement prior to release, and includes a very significant percentage of older reserve wines in the blend to build complexity and depth in the finished wine. In top vintages, Monsieur Gatinois also makes a Brut Millésime. This cuvée, in years when it is produced, also receives the lion’s share of the family’s production of the special pinot noir clone that originated in Äy and which has made the village famous for this grape, which is called Petit Pinot d’ Äy. This strain of pinot noir is considered the finest in all of Champagne, producing finer, more complex and often longer-lived wines. The current release of the Gatinois Brut Millésime is from the brilliant 2008 vintage, and is likely to prove to be one of the greatest wines made of Pierre Cheval-Gatinois’ career.

The Champagne Gatinois lineup is rounded out with their beautiful, non-vintage Brut Rosé, which is made from ninety to one hundred percent pinot noir and made by the addition of a small percentage of still red wine from a small block of 60 year-old Pinot Noir vines (the current release is seven percent vin rouge), rather than from a short skin contact once the grapes are pressed. It is a classic Äy rosé- deep, full-bodied, pure and utterly refined, with notes of wild strawberries, red currants, wheat toast and a lovely base of soil. All in all the house of Gatinois is one of the up and coming superstars in the Champagne region amongst the small producers, with wines of consistent excellence across the board and Pierre coming into his peak as a winemaker. The Champagne house is quite small, only producing 2200 cases of bubbly each year, making it well worth the effort to seek out the current releases of Gatinois Champagne soon after they cross the Atlantic.