If you already are a champagne connoisseur, then chances are that you are well acquainted with the champagnes from this wonderful little house in Ambonnay, the grand cru Champagne village on the southern flank of the Montagne de Reims.
So…if you are champagne enthusiast looking to move into the ranks of connoisseur, then you really must discover the wines of Egly-Ouriet.
The house of Egly-Ouriet is at the forefront of the “grower” movement in champagne. Growers are small producers, ‘Récoltants Manipulants’ who make and sell champagnes made only from grapes they have grown themselves. Similar to the “domaine” concept in wines, “grower” champagnes are produced by an estate that also owns the vineyards, and as in the case of Egly-Ouriet are terroir-focused, with grapes sometimes coming from a single vineyard.
Egly-Ouriet was founded in 1930. The current owner, Francis Egly, is the fourth generation, having taken over from his father Michel in the early 1980s. The estate is now some twelve hectares. Two of the twelve are premier cru next door in Vrigny and the rest are grand cru in and around Ambonnay.
Francis Egly is a reserved man, some would even say that he is reclusive. He doesn’t like to give interviews. He doesn’t have a website, nor a blog, or any other marketing tools. Here is a man who wants his wines to be the stars not himself. On the rare occasion that he does discuss his wines, he says that the key to his style is getting the grapes very ripe, riper than most growers and often harvesting late at 12-13°, which is very high for Champagne. Low yield, cutting off excess bunches before final ripening and a high average vine age of over 40 years, are vital to him.
His methods are in line with is “lutte raisonée,” and he is fastidious about his winemaking regime. It is a very thought-out process, highly protected by the constant chill of the air-conditioned cellar. Like many Burgundians, Egly is convinced a big element of barrel fermentation and long 7-10 month ageing on the lees of the first fermentation, is critical for expressing the terroir in the wine, allowing individual parcels to be captured and calculated into blending options much more precisely than if larger tanks were used.
Egly’s wines are full of power and life. Not at all the honey-cream and mild simplicity of mainstream champagne. There’s a starkness and complexity, which can shock at first, but it is a pleasant shock as the wines open across the palate with uncommon length of flavor. Try it. You won’t be disappointed. R.R.
At Eli’s List:
NV Brut Tradition Grand Cru $90
NV Rose $110
Millesime 2000 $155
Ambonnay 2009 $175
Crayer Blanc des Noirs $200
Brut Grand Cru 2002 $220
Magnum Rose $275
Magnum 1999 $500
Magnum VP $800