Since long before "grower champagne" became a buzzword among the oenologically savvy, the Egly-Ouriet family has been carrying out the “recoltant-manipulant” tradition on their...Read More
It was the grandfather of the estate’s current owner, Francis Egly, who first established Egly-Ouriet on a 3-hectare plot of vines in the Champagne Grand Cru Ambonnay. Seeking an escape from the pollution of Paris, this Parisian arrived in Champagne at the end of World War II and, having eventually married a local, settled in the region. After working as an “ouvrier vigneron” (vineyard worker) on the estates of others, he gradually purchased enough land to start cultivating his own vines. Eventually, his son Michel Egly would take over the property, doubling its vineyard to 6 hectares.
During the 1980’s, Michel’s son Francis Egly took over at the helm of the estate with a very clear vision in mind: to produce world-class grower champagne with patience and dedication at a time where the term “grower champagne” was still relatively unknown. Francis quickly introduced 100% estate bottling and adopted an organic approach out in the vineyard, reducing yields and ploughing the soil regularly. Today, “recoltant-manipulant” Francis Egly works this 12-hectare (30-acre) vineyard, bringing to unforeseen heights Pinot Noir, the flagship grape variety of the estate. Famed wine critic Robert Parker has called the champagnes of Egly-Ouriet some of his favorites. These cuvées consistently receive very high notes from the Wine Advocate.
The vines of Egly-Ouriet are between 40 and 50 years old on average, built around rare massal selections by three generations of the Egly family. The soil is clay-limestone and the vineyards face south / southeast. The vines are grown in the Montagne de Reims Grands Crus of Bouzy, Verzenay and Ambonnay, home to some of Champagne’s greatest Pinot Noir. Specifically, Francis Egly cultivates vines in one of the most sought-after and famed parcels of the Grand Cru Village of Ambonnay, Les Crayeres. Here, the terroir is composed almost entirely of chalk with almost no vegetation or earth, forcing the vines to dig their roots in very deeply in search for water. At the same time, chalk is capable of holding a large quantity of water, eliminating water stress on the vines even during the hotter, dryer vintages. These chalky soils of Les Crayeres are the basis of the estate’s famed Blanc de Noirs with the same name, lending the wines a mouthwatering salinity and chalky, smooth texture.
The vineyards of the estate are planted mostly with Pinot Noir and some Chardonnay as well. In the Premier Cru of Vrigny in the Valle de Marne, Egly-Ouriet also holds a rare parcel of Pinot Meunier vines. These are used to produce a 100% Pinot Meunier champagne called Les Vignes de Vrigny.
All 30 acres of the Egly-Ouriet vineyard are farmed by sustainable practices, with organic fertilizers replacing chemical treatments. In determining the dates of harvest, Francis looks to the biodynamic calendar, choosing to harvest on a waning moon, for example, rather than a rising moon, as there is generally more light at this time.
In both his sustainable winemaking practices and minimal interventionist winemaking, Francis Egly follows a model that is more Burgundian than Champenois in its approach. Following a manual harvest, the grapes are brought to the winery, where they are gently pressed in whole clusters and fermented with indigenous yeasts in Burgundian oak barrels (except the Les Vignes de Vrigny cuvée, which is vinified in vat). Malolactic fermentation is avoided in order to maintain the natural freshness of the fruit.
The champagnes of Egly-Ouriet are blended from a vast selection of vins clairs (base wines), produced with a Burgundian obsession with quality. The champagnes are even bottled under low pressure in order to prevent the bubbles from overpowering the quality of these base wines.
Francis Egly believes that quality champagne is made with perfect quality fruit coupled with a gentle winemaking process and extended lees aging. In fact, mostly Egly-Ouriet champagnes spend a minimum of 48 months aging on lees with some even aged over 100 months. During this time, they age peacefully without racking. While Francis does not like to stir the lees too much, battonage is carried out 2 or 3 times in order to help prevent oxidation.
Egly-Ouriet was one of the first Champagne houses to drastically reduce dosage during a time when other houses were adding up to 15 grams per liter. Today, their dosage rarely exceeds 2-5 grams per liter. Their champagnes are bottled without fining or filtration.
The champagnes of Egly-Ouriet have truly fit the description of “Burgundy with bubbles” given to them by critic Peter Liem for their remarkable complexity, generosity, vibrancy and signature vinous quality. Some of the leaders of the grower champagne movement, these are wines of terroir, brilliant expressions of their place of origin, which have attained somewhat of a cult status among fans of fine champagne. While some champagnes based on Pinot Noir can be quite heavy on the palate, those of Egly-Ouriet are beautifully balanced with great verve, always layered but never overwhelming on the palate.
A great representation of the house’s signature style is the Egly-Ouriet NV “Brut Tradition” Grand Cru, the estate’s consistent and dependable non-vintage primary cuvee. Unlike many other Brut Champagnes, this one is made exclusively from Grand Cru fruit and aged for 48 months on lees. A blend of roughly 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, this champagne reveals on a nose rich aromas of Mirabelle plums and dried white flower fragrances, as well as a mouthwatering rock salt minerality. On the palate, it is medium-bodied with a vibrant acidity and layers of flavor that will develop beautifully with further aging. Serve this champagne as an aperitif or with seafood entrees, like scallops sauteed in butter.
The Egly-Ouriet “Brut Rosé” Grand Cru is a non-vintage rosé champagne made from roughly 65% Pinot Noir and 35 Chardonnay grown exclusively on Grand Cru plots. This champagne spends 60 months on its lees and is dosed with only 2 grams per liter. This rosé champagne displays a gorgeous light salmon color in the glass. The nose revels red fruits (the strawberries and cherries characteristic of a Burgundy Pinot Noir), along with flowers and citrus. The palate is quite delicate, enlivened by a very fine effervescence. Pair this fresh rosé champagne with roasted fish and vegetable dishes.
Pinot Noir shines in white in the truly singular Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Vielles Vignes “Les Crayeres,” made from old vines of Pinot Noir in the famous Les Crayeres plot in Ambonnay, originally planted in 1946. This exquisite champagne ages a whopping 6 years in the underground cellars of the estate, during which time it acquires astounding complexity, generosity and elegance. Glowing golden yellow in the glass, this champagne reveals on the nose powerful and rich aromas of white fruit, fresh almonds and hazelnuts. On the palate, it is vinous, energetic and unctuous with a minerality that persists through a very long finish. Pair this fine champagne with a rich roasted dish, like guinea fowl with a chestnut stuffing, served with sauteed potatoes and wild mushrooms.