2009 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Crémant D'Alsace
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Domaine Barmes Buecher "Brut Zero Dosage"

It's the most complex under-$20 sparkling wine in the world, a Champagne look-alike that many of France's Michelin-starred sommeliers claim trumps the real thing. But, when you consider who made it, how it was grown, harvested and vinified, it should come as little surprise.

As a teenager, Francois Barmes was said to have tormented sleeping winemakers, cornering his moped at 20mph on devilish midnight runs. When Francois took the helm at his family's estate in the Hansel and Gretel village of Wettolsheim, his approach would be much the same. Barmes quickly gained a reputation for working on the edge. One of the torchbearers of the biodynamic farming movement, Barmes's homeopathic concoctions and treatments became something of winegrowing folklore. But of all of his winemaking achievements, none would be seen as more brazen than the Barmes-Buecher take on Brut Zero Dosage.

The signature brilliance of Champagne lies in its bracing limestone vibrancy. But, the vines of Bouzy and Cramant often struggle to bring Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to true physiological maturity. As a result, prior to final bottling, Champagne houses generally 'dose' bottles with a mix of base wine and cane sugar, adding sweetness to counterbalance the high acids of the region. Nine out of ten bottles of Champagne on the American market are labeled "Brut" and measure 6-12 grams per liter of residual sugar.

At Vinexpo 2005, one of Champagne's most prestigious houses rolled the dice, taking a daring walk on the wild side of Zero Dosage.

Bollinger had recently purchased a declining Champagne house called Ayala, when GM Herve Augustin began tasting through barrels in that labyrinthine cellar. He discovered a bevy of unusually full-bodied Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, wines that seemed sufficiently rich in natural sugar to argue against the addition of the sugary mix. If Augustin was correct, the au natural Champagne introduced at Vinexpo would raise eyebrows. If not, he'd be laughed out of Reims.

Many scoffed at Bollinger's experiment, calling it akin to walking a tightrope without a safety net. But when Francois Barmes smelled, then tasted, that Ayala Zero Dosage in Bordeaux, he returned to Alsace poised for another hairpin turn.

Francois later told us, after he returned from Vinexpo, he could no longer drink his own sparkling. "That wine opened my eyes. I don't add sugar to any of my wines. Why here?" He asked. "My Crémant was just too fat. I needed to tighten its belt." Francois would waste little time doing just that.

The 2009 Barmes Buecher Methode Champenoise is pale golden in color. The bubbles are as fine as anything that comes out of Cramant or Bouzy. The nose is surprisingly rich, full of green apple, and laced with anise. The attack is juicy and precise, pure and beautifully delineated, a lovely mix of apricot, citrus and apple compote. The finish speaks loudly of Francois' 2005 Vinexpo experience -- wound-up, lively, vibrant and persistent.

Tasting Notes

2009 Domaine Barmes-Buecher Crémant D'Alsace
"Brilliant pale golden in color. Tiny, fine bubbles. Excellent persistence. Lovely aromas of green apple and apricot, laced with anise. Juicy and precise on the attack, finely delineated, a lovely mix of apricot, citrus confit, and apple compote. Superb Champagne-like finish, wound-up, lively and vibrant. Wow!"
-- WineAccess Travel Log

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