“Wouldn’t it be nice to have a champagne in our portfolio?”

Leave out the last three words and you’d have almost every person nodding their heads on almost every occasion.

Veuve Fourny & Fils This Magnificent Life
A simple glass to start, but what a start

But the full thought of expanding a portfolio was expressed several years ago by special people, the owners of one of our all time favourite wine companies… De Bortoli

Their story goes back to 1924 with the arrival of Vittorio de Bortoli from Treviso in Italy to Griffith in NSW.

Time passes. Hard work and innovation have brought their rewards.

Today the family present us with a delightful array of wines sourced from their vineyards in the Riverina (the home of Noble One, Australia’s legendary sticky), Hunter Valley, King Valley, Heathcote, Rutherglen and the Yarra (home of luscious modern chardonnay and pinot noir). But as we are savouring champagne in this article, their complete story is for another time.

Leading the family, Leanne and Steve travelled to Champagne.

They knew the big Houses were well represented worldwide but they were looking for the lesser known, the grower producers; someone with their story not yet fully told.

Arriving at a rustic door off the well trod track they enquired as to the owner. “Ah yes”, they are told “he’s working just out the back. He’ll be with you in a minute.”

They meet Emmanuel and then Charles-Henry Fourny.

Now their wine story goes back to 1856 and the brothers have been in charge of the family’s 17 hectares since 1993.

Veuve Fourny & Fils sits in the village of Vertus south of the main centres of Reims and Epernay in the Cotes de Blancs – the white slopes. Mostly Chardonnay is planted here. Very little Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the two other permitted grapes of Champagne.

Veuve Fourny & Fils This Magnificent Life
The ‘R’ is poured, complex perfection.

Veuve Fourny & Fils wines are mostly pure chardonnay, some pinot noir is of course included in their Rosé and 20% is in their Grand Reserve. Their wines are bright and pure with a complex and refreshing minerality; conjuring up visions of the pure white chalk these vines have entwined with their roots.

Tyson Stelzer in The Champagne Guide Edition VI 2020-2021, the bible of bubblies, says of Veuve Fourny & Fils … “Theirs is one of the most expressive champagnes of the character of their beloved village of Vertus.”

Our meal, a triumph in classic coordination

Hosted by Charles-Henry, we were recently gathered to taste some of Champagne’s finest offerings it was therefore only right that we should also be tasting some of Sydney’s finest food offerings. They were slipped together like elegant hand in elegant glove.

Aria This Magnificent Life
Our menu for the day. Fine wines embracing fine food

Aria the restaurant, balcony-balanced beside the Opera House, placed before us a programme of dishes ready for the embrace of these elegant wines.

Aria This Magnificent Life
Best bread to start. Worth a trip in itself

The magic started simply with a ball of broodingly dark bread with two kinds of butter. Worth the visit by itself.

Aria This Magnificent Life
Simple scallops. But what scallops!

An entrée of scallop and asparagus followed by a main of wild Kingfish floating on a rill of celeriac, nettle and bacon.

Wild caught kingfish taking its final rest on a beautiful bed of celeriac, nettle and bacon

Then some super cheeses, Australian and International.

Of course our glasses were never allowed to fall below a certain level so by meal’s end we were offered a very bright little plate of petit fours to help us through to final mouthfuls.

Veuve Fourny & Fils This Magnificent Life
Petit fours to finish. Sorry someone took most before we could photograph

We taste three wines, the Blanc de Blanc (clear and bright with touches of lemon, elegance and finesse), the Grand Reserve Brut (a lively whoosh of white florals and fruit, almost a savoury biscuit character) and the Cuvee ‘R’ Extra Brut (more traditional with intense and generous fruit meeting complex minerality).

In all of them the philosophy of Emmanuel Fourny is evident.

‘Purity and precision’ indeed.
Veuve Fourny & Fils This Magnificent Life
Charles-Henry Fourny shares just one of his secrets. Chalk

Somewhere towards the middle of this magnificence Charles-Henry rose to tell us more of his family and the wines in front of us.  He stresses the importance of chardonnay to them and the importance of their sites to its development year by year. Their sites are exceptionally well sited, a neighbor produces one of Champagne’s greatest wines Clos de Mesnil.

How does a House style stand out?

There are so many fine champagnes with only subtle differences between them that one struggles for words to define a particular House. Charles-Henry supplies them for us. He talks of a chalky ‘subtly salty’ minerality. Salt is perhaps not what you expect in a refreshing glass, but close your eyes and your tongue can detect amongst these bubbles the merest hint which adds to the complexity of the experience.

Do we need an illustration to fasten in our minds?

He supplies it, holding up a block of chalk. This is where the vines’ roots dive down to. This snow white piece is from one of their plots, said to be the smallest walled enclosure in Champagne where their very special, rare and expensive Çlos Faubourg Notre Dame Vertus Premier Cru is grown. Released when 10 years old, Tyson reckons it should have another decade or two before it peaks. Chalk is not uncommon throughout the world, but sipping the wine from a fine-edged flute in one hand while holding the cool pure stone in the other does help the mind to fix on the uniqueness of Champagne.

Veuve Fourny & Fils This Magnificent Life
Pure white chalk beloved by the vine roots of Champagne

We pass the stone on and dive again into the little world of wonder in our glass.

 

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Ian MacTavish

Mr MacTavish is a celebrated writer and one of Australia's more respected Wine reviewers, appearing regularly in national magazines, in print and on line. So far, he has never been heard to say 'no' to a wee dram.

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