HomeAbout UsWine ReviewsArchivesAdvertiseContact Us


Wine Columns

Wine Reviews

WineReviewOnline on Twitter

Critics Challenge

Distillers Challenge

San Diego Challenge

Sommelier Challenge


Winemaker Challenge

WineReviewOnline on Facebook

WineReviewOnline on Instagram

An Object Lesson in the Evolution of Champagne
By Michael Franz
Jul 19, 2023
Printable Version
Email this Article

Franck Pascal (Champagne, France) Brut Nature “Fluence” NV ($80, Banville Wine Merchants) 94 Points:  My recent (and first) encounter with this Champagne provided a striking and highly enjoyable experience.  The “striking” dimension of the experience flowed from the enjoyment, because the wine is beautifully balanced and wonderfully intricate with no sugar added after disgorging (that's what Brut "Nature" means) and with no additional cellaring time after release.  I always lay down low- or no-dosage Champagnes for at least a year after I buy them—often significantly longer—but this bottle was a press sample from the importer, and I cracked into it straight away to review it.  

That takes us back to the “striking” effect, as this wine is an object lesson in how the Champagne region is changing in ways that aren’t evident to those who only taste standard non-vintage bottlings from the big houses.  

First, climate change is resulting in softer acidity profiles that don’t require the addition of sugar to produce balanced Champagnes.  Second, this is true, but only truly beneficial for producers who tend vineyards carefully to yield excellent fruit, rather than relying on sugar as a cosmetic overlay to cover slipshod growing practices and uneven ripening.  That’s true in this case, as evidenced by the fact that this is a biodynamically produced wine (certified by Biodyvin).  

Third, balanced and complete-seeming Brut Nature Champagnes still require aging, but conscientious producers need to do that themselves, as most consumers don’t have cellaring capabilities and open wines they purchase right away.  This was aged for four years on it yeast lees after the second fermentation, which resulted in both softening and greatly enhanced complexity that can be enjoyed immediately upon release.  

Of course, holding wines for so long prior to sale is costly for producers, but the $80 price tag for this needs to be understood in context:  This is significantly more intricate than standard-issue, non-vintage Brut NV wines from the big houses, which now sell for much higher prices than when inflation took off 18 months ago.  According to winesearcher.com, the average price in the USA for Pol Roger Reserve “White Label” is now $65, and Veuve Cliquot “Yellow Label” is $71.  As for Cuvée de Prestige Champagnes, Krug’s “Grande “Cuvée” now averages $261, and the 2012 vintage of Dom Perignon is $278.  

All those numbers make $80 look a lot better than that price may have struck you at first glance.  

One last point:  The blend here is 54% Pinot Meunier, 26% Pinot Noir and 20% Chardonnay, and readers should be aware that Pinot Meunier is rising rapidly in reputation in Champagne.  It was long regarded as a mere bet-hedger against spring frosts or late season rains, as it buds later and ripens earlier than Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.  Now one can find Champagnes made entirely from Pinot Meunier, and recent research has challenged whether the variety is even related to other members of the “Pinot Family.”  France’s Institut National de la Recheche Agronomique (INRA) and the Champagne region’s Comité Interprofessionel du vin de Champagne (CIVC) now recommend calling it simply “Meunier.”  

Of course, none of these details would be all that interesting if this Champagne were not delicious, but that’s exactly what it is, and you’ll find it as enjoyable as it is enlightening.