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The wines of Champagne Tarlant

Champagne Tarlant, 51480 Oeuilly/Epernay, France
Tel:  +33 3 26 58 30 60  Fax: +33 3 26 58 37 31
Website: www.tarlant.com E-mail: champagne@tarlant.com 

Tarlant as a family can trace their winegrowing lineage back to 1687. Wow! Winemaking is currently in the hands of 12th generation Benoit Tarlant (pictured), an articulate proponent of his family’s style of fizz.

This domaine is quality focused, and has 13 hectares of vineyards spread among 4 crus, with all six permitted varieties planted (Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Meunier, Arbanne, Pinot Blanc, Petit Meslier). As is increasingly common in the Champagne region, they’ve taken a viticulture raisonée approach: they use organic fertilizers, concentrate on encouraging populations of beneficial insects, and use pheromones to create sexual confusion among pest species. ‘Our treatment of the land is designed give long term and sustainable biodiversity and to protect the micro-organisms which live in it’, they say on their website, which incidentally is a very good one with an excellent video-based blog.

Tarlant are well known for their non-dosage wines, which make up a remarkable 60% of their production. For those unfamiliar with the term dosage, this is the sweet liquid (liqueur d’expedition, typically a wine sweetened with grape juice) added at the end of the Champagne production process to balance the wine out. Typically a Champagne labelled ‘brut’, which is most of them, will have around 9 grams of sugar per litre added in this way: it doesn’t make the wine taste sweet, but merely balances the high acidity that would otherwise stick out. Some Champagne makers have tried using little or no dosage: to do this, the wine must already be quite well balanced, and the result is called Brut Zero, or Zero Dosage, or Ultra Brut, or another similar term. Such wines are still quite rare in Champagne and there is some discussion about whether they work or not.

To make a non-dosage fizz, the base wine has to have acidity that is already balanced. Benoit recalls that he thought it would be easier to make a non-dosage wine in the warm 2003 vintage, but that in fact 2004 was much more expressive without dosage: while it was easy to actually make the wine in 2003, 2004 had better expression.

Tarlant are also a little unusual in Champagne in that they make use of barrels for elevage: this used to be common, but increasingly more controllable stainless steel is used. ‘Barrels help give a different texture to the wine’, maintains Tarlant. ‘They open the door to the taste’. He uses both Burgundy barrels of 228 litres and also traditional Champagne barrels of 205 litres. There’s an upsurge of interest in using barrels for Champagne: one barrel maker has begun working again in Champagne.

Of the Brut 1996, Benoit says that this is a wine that gives him a lot of questions. ‘I’m selling 1997 first in France’, he reveals. Of the 1996, ‘the nose is pleasant, but some days the palate is too shy, other days it opens and begins to give itself. Now I wonder which will be released first: the 1996 or 1998’. He thinks most of the 1996 will be drunk too early because the nose is more mature than the palate. ‘Potentially 1996 has everything’.

Tarlant Brut Réserve NV
Mostly from 2004, and one third of each of the main varieties, with 6 g/l dosage. Tightly focused palate is really fresh with a herby edge. A nice, complex wine. Disgorged in September 2006. Very good/excellent 90/100

Tarlant Brut 1996
65% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir, 6 g/l dosage.
Lovely focused nose: honey and lemon notes with toasty richness. The palate is concentrated and full with lovely complex lemony fruit and good acidity. Mouthfilling and complex. Very good/excellent 93/100

Tarlant Cuvée Louis Brut NV
From a single vineyard, this is a 50/50 blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with 80% of 1997 and 20% of 1998 wines. 5.7 g/l dosage, fermented in barrel. This is from a site closer to the river, which gives a smoother attitude. Focused lemony, honeyed nose is quite rich. The palate is broad and full with lovely structure to the fruit. Rich and complex with good presence and a fresh finish. Very good/excellent 92/100

Wines tasted 03/07
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