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June 28, 2024

Lallier Réflexion R.020: “Non-Vintage dominated by a Vintage”

The latest release is further proof of the rejuvenation of the Aÿ-based house.

By Simon Field MW

With Dominique Demarville at the helm, Champagne Lallier is poised to shake things up in the region. Simon Field MW investigates.

For a region so adept at self-promotion, Champagne is, in fact, rather conservative. The growers have been making a little more noise of late, but the hierarchy is petrified by corporate inertia and the dominance of the few. Interesting, then, when a small, somnolent producer puts itself forward with vigor. Campari, the Italian spirits giant, has bought Champagne Lallier, parachuted in one of the region’s most respected winemakers, and, as a statement of intent, launched this impressive Multi-Vintage cuvée.

Dominique Demarville, long-standing chef de cave at Veuve Clicquot, is the man charged with bringing Lallier into the light, and he is doing a good job. Not lacking LVMH polish, Demarville celebrates his return to “hands-on winemaking” and an opportunity to craft a new, more precise style of Champagne. The inference of corporate support is hard to avoid, however, with updated branding, a new swan-necked bottle, and an ambitious expansion program: Vineyards have been bought, and new contracts signed with growers, though trying to find out the extent of said expansion proves tricky. Let’s just say the website—which states 15ha (37 acres) under ownership—may need updating.

Founded in Aÿ in 1906, Lallier has been less vociferous than fellow villagers Bollinger, Deutz, or Henri Giraud. Yet Aÿ has a lot going for it, as Demarville tells me enthusiastically: Not only is it the only grand cru in the Marne, but it also has a fascinating patchwork of chalk-laced, beautifully appointed vineyards, and it boasts exceptional Chardonnay plots to leaven the powerful patina of Pinot Noir. At the heart of the Lallier portfolio is the Experts range, with a Blanc de Blancs, a Blanc de Noirs, a Rosé, and a Millésimé; then, anchored in Aÿ, three Grands Crus Parcellaires (Les Sous, Loridon, and Ouvrage)—long-aged wines, for all of which Dominique “has plans.” And last, but not least, the impressive MV R.020.

Lallier’s Multi-Vintage vision

So, here we are again, rehearsing the linguistic sophistry surrounding the points of difference between Non-Vintage and Multi-Vintage—differences that are both fundamental and, in a sense, nonexistent. Multi-Vintage, despite its nomenclature, is essentially focused on the identity of a single vintage, whereas Non-Vintage courts consistency and prioritizes house style, to which the “personality” of the base year, even if it makes up the majority of the blend, must defer. Demarville is quite specific: “At Lallier, we are not looking for consistency.” The Multi-Vintage, in his vision, affords primacy to the base year, to which can be added splashes of color and nuance from the reserve wines. Champagne has been pivoting to such a happy scenario (“the best of both worlds,” pace Dominique) for some time, with Jacquesson, then Krug, in the vanguard and, latterly, Roederer and Moët & Chandon following suit.

The point of difference lies in the fact that the base year takes up the vast majority of the blend, unlike, say, Krug. In the R.020, the fruit of 2020 makes up 81% of the wine, with 2019 contributing 10% and 2018 9%. This pattern has been followed since the release of the R.010 in 2014 (2017 excepted). The difference this time is in the smarter presentation and in the even smarter winemaker. Chardonnay has, for the first time, overtaken Pinot Noir in the blend, some of it from Aÿ itself, its powerful “northern” Chardonnay an interesting counterpoint to the fruit from grands crus Avize, Oger, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Chouilly, and Cramant. Quite a selection!

The corporate marketeers have also been busy; we are invited to discern the “four atmospheres” of Lallier’s style, all capitalized: Freshness, Purity, Intensity, and Depth. Dominique proceeds to outline the significance of each in terms of microclimate, the depth of the chalk, and the relatively early release of the wine. Thus, no more than 30 months of aging, with a modest dosage of 7g/l. The implicit goal has been to tame the meteorological conditions of this trio of vintages (2018, 2019, and 2020 were all warmer than usual), without compromising the benevolence of the seasons in question. “This full-bodied vintage (2020) contributes a long finish and a strikingly assured texture, especially in the mid-palate,” asserts Dominique. He is not wrong. A success, all in all, and an interesting intervention into Champagne’s discreet hierarchy. By the time that this subtle, pleasing wine has reached full maturity, I suspect that the name of Champagne Lallier will be better known. Neither will take that long… 

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Champagne Lallier Réflexion R.020
(Chardonnay 51%, Pinot Noir 49%; disgorged May 2023; dosage 7g/l)

Tasted at The Petersham, London, February 2024

Pale gold, with hints of emerald. A pleasing nose of red apple, kumquat, yeast, and acacia; the Chardonnay, majority shareholder for the first time, offering citric notes and a soft, billowing texture, careless of the warmth of the vintage. It does not lack for weight, however, with the 5% of oak lending gravitas and a spicy subtext, and the red fruit (raspberry and sloe—courtesy of the robust Pinot Noir) also much in evidence. The emphasis, however, is on purity and freshness, a vin de réflexion indeed, and a more-than-worthy debut from a more-than-accomplished winemaker. | 94

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