Alrighty, so I recently posted about how supposedly identical Champagnes are not always equal and thought that I’d come back onto the subject of Champagne given that it’s Spring Racing Carnival; the official start of ‘Champagne season’ (Running from now until the end of the year in case you were wondering). So let’s talk about some fizzy goodness.
The topic for today is ‘Grower Champagnes’, and why you should be drinking more of them. When most people think of Champagne, they think of the big names – Moet et Chandon, Veuve Cliquot etc etc. These ‘Grand Marques’ – about 20 well known houses – were historically pretty much all that we saw in Australia, but the times have been changing over the last 5 years. According to Hugh Johnson’s Wine Companion (a bible that any self respecting wine nerd should own), these big houses rely on about 15,000 growers to provide them with grapes; but there are about 5,000 brands of champagne that are produced and marketed by the grape growers themselves – hence ‘Grower Champagnes’.
To make an analogy – if you have only ever drunk wine from the big champagne houses, it is similar to buying all your Australian wine from the big Australian labels (Penfolds, Orlando/Jacobs Creek, Yalumba etc). This is not to say that the wines are not worth drinking, but you are only exposing yourself to a tiny fraction of what is out there. To keep this analogy going, these well-known names can still reach dizzying heights with their top wines (i.e. Grange/Dom Perignon), but when looking at the wines that us mere mortals frequently drink their output can often be seen as ‘safe’ rather than ‘sensational’. Grower champagnes can speak more of the land from which they are made, and can push the boundaries more than ‘the establishment’, who are often somewhat constrained by brand and history.
Thanks to a number of passionate importers and the strong Australian dollar, there has never been a better time to broaden your champagne horizons and look outside the boundaries of the big names. Top growers such as Egly-Ouriet, Lamandier Bernier & Philipponat are now being seen more and more frequently on Australian shelves, and at prices below what would once have been thought possible.
So here are a few notes on a couple of my favourite grower champagnes:
Vilmart Grande Reserve NV – Impressive stuff from this very highly regarded grower house. Champagne guru Tom Stevenson calls it ‘the greatest grower house I know’ and it’s always a pleasure to drink. Super rich, a touch of breadiness, some beautiful citric drive; benefits from being allowed to warm up a little while you drink it to really appreciate just how much is going on in the glass.
Andre Clouet Grande Reserve NV – Made from 100% pinot noir grapes and the fruit just jumps out of the glass at you. An expressive drink that is backed with some serious finesse and just a hint of strawberries and spice. Delicious and great with food.
And a slightly larger house that I’m particularly fond of:
Jacquesson Cuvee 735 – Jacquesson’s annual cuvee is numbered as each year it is made up with a majority of wine from a particular vintage – meaning that this wine behaves like a (much more expensive) vintage champagne at an NV price. Spicy, textural and loaded with character. This knocks most of its better known competitors out of the park.
And remember, with Champagne season upon us; Like This Love That is here to sort you out and keep you drinking well.