Champagne François Secondé – A Profile

The small single estate champagne of François Secondé is in the pretty village of Sillery, some 10 kilometres south-east of Reims on the River Vesle and by the main autoroute. The quiet bijou centre and boat marina are pleasingly separated from the charging traffic of the A26.

Champagne students know this as both one of Champagne’s 17 favoured grand cru villages whose grapes used to command top price on the old échelle des crus pecking order, and also that Sillery wines at the court in Paris of the 17th century, were once, with the village of Aÿ, Bouzy and Verzenay, some of the most famous and revered. These were still wines in those days, owing their fame as much for their promotion by the aristocratic Brûlart family (the Marquises de Sillery) as for the fresh slightly pink light wines themselves. Sillery wines, along with a handful of other villages, were famous long before a general idea of Champagne’s regional wine, ‘champagne’, grew up.

Sillery’s vineyards are on the lower slopes and flattish land of the north-facing Montagne de Reims. Without the warmer sun of the slope higher up to ripen Pinot Noir’s red skins, Sillery came to plant a surprising amount of Chardonnay but this grape’s main reputation had shifted to the Côte des Blancs south of Épernay. In 1962 André Simon reported 277ha of vines in Sillery. Now there are but 94ha. Even so, of all the grands crus villages outside the Côtes des Blancs, Sillery has more Chardonnay planted than any other, 48%, with 43% Pinot Noir and 9% Meunier. Champagne Francois Secondé is now the sole Sillery domaine, with some 5.5ha, with 72% of the surface area of vines in Sillery itself. Boutique house Ruinart have a significant holding in Sillery too. The other growers send their grapes to the négoce or coops. Secondé has vines too in Mailly, Puisieulx and Verzenay, meaning all the wines here are Grand Cru. He is the only producer of pure Sillery wine; the vintage Blanc de Blancs and the Blanc de Noirs ‘La Loge’ are always 100% Sillery. The estate’s holding is two thirds Pinot Noir and one third Chardonnay.

After being born into a family of vineyard workers, François Secondé, a young man in 1972, bought his first vines. The single estate has grown from there, accruing land as others left. He is still in charge, ably assisted by Jérôme Groslambert.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the local contiguity of vineyard locations of the estate, the wines here show a clear taste expression of the north-facing escarpment of the Montagne de Reims. If you are familiar with the grand cru wines from Mailly, Verzenay and Verzy and baby-sized Sillery and Puisieulx, you will know they all share a cool persistent, slightly raw intensity and a distinct chalkiness which both can smell like caverns and is texturally slightly astringent. That in itself does not sound super charming. But the good local domaines and best growers coax a ripeness of fruit that packages all this austerity in a mouth-filling and slightly honeysuckle hit of flavour. Suddenly, if the producer is good, especially if the grapes are properly ripe, it all comes into focus. These can be big wines and generous in flavour, but with a delicate cut of structure and detail.

The vineyard work here avoids nearly all chemical use and works the soil, doing more than merely the basics of ‘viticulture durable‘. The vinification is principally in stainless steel but used barriques are used for small fractions of the top cuvées, in particular the vintage wines, 5% of which are made in oak for 6 months but without bâtonnage. A high portion of the reserve wines are from a solera begun in 1982, replenished with the new vintage each harvest. Malolactic is always completed.  The make-up of all the cuvees is given below in the tasting notes. I do wish the labels could be redesigned. Perhaps they are a success in mainland Europe but they seem rather old-fashioned for the UK.

This is an important single estate (RM) producer whose wines are much better than being a surviving anomaly of a village origin that is now not as current in Champagne as it once was. There is typical power and structure from the location, but the wines are made with a light touch too, making them attractively persistent and full of finesse.

The Wines

Brut Grand Cru NV Tasted 2015, London and Sillery. A blend of Sillery (70%), Mailly (20%), Puisieulx (5-6%) and Verzenay (5%). This is some 50-55% of production and was 66% Pinot Noir and 33% Chardonnay. Malolactic done. All stainless steel. 24-36 months on second lees. 8g/L.  Lean and chalky and quite persistent, honey and vanilla notes and ripe. Not hugely powerful, but a very good reflection of the northern Montagne style. Truly refreshing.
Sillery Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs 2008 Tasted 2015, London and Sillery.  100%CH. There is no filtration of the vintage wines here. 5% is put into used barrels after beginning fermentation in stainless steel. About 5 years on second lees. Real concentration and length. Creamy and expressive but very much a chalky note yet not an agressive acidity. Quite some finesse and lots holding back here for the future.
Brut Integrale NV Tasted 2015, London and Sillery. Zero dosage. Same blend as the Brut NV Grand Cru. 70% 2011 and 30% solera reserve. Full flavoured and frank and much rounder and expressive than anticipated.  Would not have thought zero. Beautifdully ripe but held in its linear structure.
Brut Rosé NV Tasted 2015, London and Sillery.  100%PN.  A blanc de noirs rosé style. Unusually a mix of saignée and traditional blending in of the red wine. 8g/L  20% reserves. Palish copper. Dry and complex, but quite earthy, at least this bottle. Quite demanding and I would need to taste more versions of this in the future to have a view.  A touch rustic on this showing.
Cuvée Clavier NV Tasted 2015, London and Sillery.  Base 2011 and solera reserves. Small proportion finished fermentation in oak. 66%CH 33%PN.  All from Grand Cru vineyards. Very fresh. Fine aromas and some finesse here.  Opens up and really builds and full-bodied but all tightly enclosed by the Montagne chalkiness and cut. Very good. Named after François’s children Claire and François-Xavier.
Grand Cru Sillery Cuvée La Loge Blanc de Noirs NV Tasted 2015, London and Sillery.  Solely from Sillery and the best parcels of Pinot Noir. 100%PN. Small proportion given short oak ageing. 18-24 months aging. 8g/L  ’La Loge’ is derived from a small house in the vineyard. Old vines – some 45 years. This is very characterful, with great depth and expression of red fruits and yet very fresh. I wonder, as I do with the other wines, whether a longer time in bottle would produce even more intensity and complexity.  Only the vintage wine has a traditional 3-5 years on lees, the rest, more or less this same short period.
Grand Cru Puisieulx ‘Les Petites Vignes’ NV Tasted 2015, London and Sillery.  50%PN 50%CH  Blend of 09/10/11 in a solera begun in 1009.  10% finishes fermentation in barrique. 50% solera reserve addition. From a vineyard of .35ha Les Petites Vignes. Complex wine, ripe and full, with an aldehydic note that is attractive, then some earthiness. Very bold  but a crisp boundary to everything.  Quite a connoisseur and demanding wine, but a brilliant expression and the only 100% Puisieulx wine I know of.
Coteaux Champenois 2013. A white blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  Quite oily in texture and marked by oak; big and linear but an arresting and burgundian-inspired bottling. Impressive.
Coteaux Champenois 2012. 100% PN. Smoky and spicy and with real fruit concentration. Long and integrated.  Very impressive.
Champagne François Secondé
6, rue des Galipes
51500 Sillery
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