Larmandier-Bernier is one of the leading grower Champagne producers. Jamie Goode and Treve Ring assess the wines, with Arthur Larmandier.
Located in Vertus in the Côtes des Blancs, Larmandier-Bernier is one of the great names of grower Champagne. The Larmandier and Bernier families have a long history in Champagne, traced back to the French Revolution, but it was not until the marriage of Philippe Larmandier and Elisabeth Bernier in 1971 that Champagne Larmandier-Bernier was established.
Pierre Larmandier took over from his parents in 1988, moving into organics by 1992, and into fully biodynamic viticulture by 1999. They have been certified organic since 2003. Together with his wife Sophie, they own just under eighteen hectares on the Côte des Blancs: Cramant, Chouilly, Oger and Avize (all Grand Cru), as well as in the 1er Cru village of Vertus, in the southern heart of the Côte des Blancs slope, where they are based. Their vineyards are split between 85% Chardonnay, and 15% Pinot Noir.
We tasted with the articulate Arthur Larmandier, who has been working alongside his parents for the last four years.
They use only native yeasts, and vinify each cru separately. One of the distinctive features of their winemaking is that they bottle for the second fermentation quite late, in July, therefore naturally encouraging malolactic fermentation with the warming spring temperatures. The highest dosage used here is 4 g/litre. ‘We use the dosage to preserve the length,’ says Arthur.
Organics is challenging in Champagne. ‘It’s not the driest place on earth,’ says Arthur. ‘We started using organic products in 1995, and we have been certified since 2003.’ Though they have 30 years experience in organics, ‘We are still learning every year.’ He says that 2012 was very tough, but they learned from it, most importantly, the need to have enough equipment to manage all their vineyards quickly. They pioneered the use of helicopter to deliver biodynamic sprays in the region.
‘I am lucky, because my Dad has the experience. We have a lot of people trying organics but they don’t want to be certified because they are afraid.’ He says they went to organics because they thought it would be a way to get more extraction of terroir.
They don’t buy grapes; nor do they sell grapes. ‘For me it is impossible to buy grapes,’ says Arthur. ‘We want to control everything, because we are doing wild yeast ferments.’ They make vintage wine every year, including the trickiest ones, because they want a fingerprint to showcase the vintage.
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Longitude 1er Cru Extra Brut NV France
This bottle was two-thirds 2016, and one-third a perpetual reserve started in 2004, and kept in stainless steel. For the first year, all the wines are in wood. Precised, focused and lemony. Very fine and detailed with lovely purity. Has a slight salinity and a nice mineral core. 93/100 (JG)
Named for a line of plots that run from Cramant in the north, to Vertus in the south. This bottle was based on 2016, with one third perpetual reserve started in 2004, and kept in stainless. The base wine aged in oak until the following July when it was blended, bottled, and on lees for over two years before dégorgement with 3 g/L dosage. A tight core of green apple is rapidly buffered out by crispy layers of meringue, pear pastry, green apple and a noticeable shimmer, tight with chalk and minerality that propels this to a very elongated finish. Delicate and filligreed, yet with intensity. 92/100 (TR)
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Terre de Vertus Non Dosé 1er Cru 2013 France
There’s a shallow topsoil here and then it is straight through to chalk. The idea here is to make a vintage wine every year. Disgorged March 2019. This is linear, bright and focused with subtle pear fruit and nice lemony precision. It’s very fine with a mineral core and precise fruit. Lovely tension to this wine. 94/100 (JG)
From one area (just north of Vertus), two vineyards (Les Barillers and Les Faucherets), and one year, this site is dense with deep chalk and very little topsoil. The wines are fermented in oak oak casks until the following July, when they go into bottle. This was disgorged March 2019. Ample wet chalk greets and leads this streamlined and structural palate, very precise and detailed with lemon pith etching. Vibrance throughout this striking wine. 93/100 (TR)
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Vielles Vigne du Levant Extra Brut Grand Cru 2010 France
This comes from a single plot in Cramant, with 60 and 80 year old vines when this wine was made (it has since been replanted in 2016). Disgorged December 2018 with 2 g/l dosage. Complex, fine and toasty with some lovely spice notes. Rich and complex but also fine and mineral, with a lovely acid line. Has a saline twist, showing purity and precision. 95/100 (JG)
From 60-80 year old vines from a single plot in Cramant (said to be the oldest vines in the village), this is a powerful and mature blanc de blancs, fermented in a mix of older foudres and Burgundy barrels. After much time on lees, this bottle was disgorged in December 2018, with 2 g/L. Some oxidative notes weaving through layers of meringue, mushroom, lemon drop and deep, deep chalk. The structure of this wine is impressive, as is the level of lemon cut acidity that holds this upright and quite fresh, though the saline finish. Commanding. 94/100 (TR)
Champagne Larmandier-Bernier Les Chemins d’Avize Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2012 France
Full colour. Nose has honey, nuts, some spice and toasted almonds. Crystalline under the citrus fruit palate, with a bright, mineral edge. Really vinous, with a precise finish. 95/100 (JG)
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