The holidays are upon us: parties, celebrations, visiting family and friends – in short, a darn good reason to drink some bubbly. The question I hear repeatedly, when assisting customers with sparkling wine selections is “I haven’t heard of that, is it good?” The reference is to Champagne from producers such as Paul Bara, Michel Turgy and Lilbert Fils, and often the well intended patron, I sadly concede, leaves with yet another bottle of name-brand bubbles.
Why the sad demise? There exists, a world of bubbly goodness that is easily available, less expensive and utterly delicious. I refer to a wine that is produced by the grower, from his own fruit and is geographically distinctive! Think terroir. A wine that, if from the Napa Valley would be of cult status, grower owned and produced, and sold in defiance to the ‘Big Guys.’ In France these Champagnes are called grower-owned. Elsewhere they have been coined Farmer Fizz. Everywhere, they are sublime.
Champagne is a region; Champagne is a drink; and Champagne is also an occasion. The region and industry are dominated by names of world renown such as Moët, Roederer and Veuve-Cliquot. The wines they produce are iconic and as a consumer you can be assured that the Moët consumed in Hong Kong will taste the same as the Moët in Berlin. Consistency in some cases is welcomed but I find the wines non-distinctive. Grower Champagnes, on the other hand, offer unique flavors that are imparted by the specific parcels they are grown in. The wines have personality, depth and character.
How do you as a consumer recognize a Grower Champagne from the wines of the larger houses? On close inspection the label will show two letters, RM, meaning Récoltant-Manipulant. I have listed some of my personal favorites below:
The wine opens with layers of luscious golden fruit, orange blossom and apricots, round, soft and supple. There is a touch of brioche and a racy edge, with a hint of allspice. The mouth feel is silky, with a long finish. Reminiscent of Krug without the weight.
Creamy brioche! The 2000 vintage shows the depth and elegance a grower-producer can achieve. The wine is simply brimming with flavors of baked apple and candied orange peel. Unusually crisp on the front, but finishing with a supple, silky texture and extraordinary length.
Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier Brut ($64.99)
70% Chardonnay. 30% Pinot Noir. A truly fabulous Vilmart. The wine opens with a fine mousse, subtle, delicate. An exquisite texture on the mid-palate with flavors redolent of lemon, nutmeg and a slight smoky tone. The finish is long and lingering, haunting.
Good acidic grip right of the bat, subtle hints of green tea, and chalk followed with a salty tang. Flavors of young plums and zesty citrus. A thirst quenching finish, with a fine snap!
James D-B, Beltramo’s Wine Consultant