Your relationships are special, be it a best pal or a true love. So why give them the same Champagne everyone else is getting?
When most people think of Champagne, they think of the big houses – your Veuve Clicquots and Krugs – but the heart of the region, and often the real value, comes from so-called grower Champagne – small producers that grow their own grapes and make their own wines from them, says Jose Luis Betancur, beverage director and sommelier for Tuscan Brands restaurant group in Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Those vignerons making a special wine with thought and care captivated him when he visited the region.
Grower Champagnes stand in contrast to the big names in the region, which source grape from many farmers –sometimes hundreds —to create their wines. Perhaps you’ve never heard of these smaller labels, but you can trust that they have gone through the same strict processes as the familiar names, says Betancur, who sources many of his special bottles from distributor Vineyard Road.
By nature, these small production wines that are harder to find, but you could make things easy on yourself and shop at fatcork, a grower Champagne specialist in Seattle that ships to most states. What I especially love about them — aside from the thoughtful selection of sparklers of course— is that their wines come with a handy descriptive card for each selection, with tongue-in-cheek celebration suggestions alongside information about the growers and the wines. It’s like a little extra gift every time you open shipment.
While their Champagne club is the obvious choice, giving the opportunity to sip bubbles with your sweetie year-round, fatcork also offers a broad range of bottles at their Seattle retail location and to ship — most for less than you would pay for the big names. If you can’t wait for delivery, walk into a good wine shop and ask for a “grower” Champagne. You are showing a deeper understanding of sparkling wine – and a willingness to have an adventure. Here are a few to look for, but don’t be limited by this list.
Christophe Mignon, Champagne Brut Nature: It’s unusual to find a Champagne made from 100 percent pinot meunier, but fifth generation farmer Mignon is devoted to the grape — as well as natural farming methods that go well beyond biodynamic into homeopathy. Made without the dosage typical of finishing most Champagnes, is rich yet also pretty racy — does that describe your relationship? ($60)
Didier Ducos Millesime 2011 Extra Brut: The husband-and-wife team of Nicolas and Clotilde Didier are the fourth generation to tend Didier-Ducos. This blend is more than half chardonnay, giving lovely toasty brioche notes, alongside a nose that is redolent of honey. This is a low-dosage wine, which means it’s pretty bright. ($78)
Champagne Pierre Gerbais, Extra Brut Grains de Celles: This fourth generation Champagne house is currently headed by 20-something Aurelien Gerbais, who is overseeing vines that are older than he is. The domaine has been organic since the 1990s, after Aurelien’s grandmother became ill from the pesticides and fungicides they were using on the vines. Subtle, with some floral and mineral notes, along with pear, the blend is half pinot noir, a quarter pinot blanc and a quarter chardonnay. ($50)
A. Levasseur Rue de Sorbier Brut: This zippy and lemony selection comes from a second-generation winemaker who is currently converting to organic. At 80 percent pinot meunier, this wine is a little round and fruity with strawberry notes. ($68)
Gimonnet-Oger Grande Reserve Rosé Premier Cru: Nothing says Valentine’s Day like a rosé Champagne — this one fits the bill with style and finesse. Mostly chardonnay, with just 10 percent pinot noir (where it gets that lovely blush color) the alluring raspberry-floral nose is something to contemplate for hours. Now headed by Jean-Luc Gimonnet, whose family has been working these vineyards for nearly 400 years. And that’s a true testament to love. ($65)
Hervieux-Dumez Blanc de Blancs Nature: This fourth-generation vintner is focused on biodiversity, with chickens wandering the vines keeping down weeds and pests, and bees buzzing happily through the acreage. That terroir is fully present in this wine, which smells and tastes like a blooming meadow in springtime. This is a perfect picnic wine, be it in front of a roaring fire or out at the beach.
Champagne Moutard Pere & Fils, Brut Prestige Rosé: The fourth generation is preparing to take the reins at this house in the Cote des Bas region. Think luscious raspberries, thanks to the pinot noir dominant blend. ($50)