Champagnes can be usefully divided into two categories: Those made from the medium and large Champagne Houses (Moet, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier Jouet, etc) and those made by small growers from their own vineyard holdings. The goals of these ways of making Champagne are fundamentally different: the Major Champagne Houses seek to produce a consistent, reliable, easily recognizable style by blending together fruit grown in many of the sub-regions within Champagne. On the other hand, the small independent growers aim to capture the scents and flavors specific to the vineyard sites from which they make their Champagnes—very much like their counterparts in Burgundy! Both approaches have their advantages. With the large Champagne Houses, you know pretty much what you are going to experience year and year out. These are essentially branded beverages. The small Grower Champagnes vary with the vintage and the vineyards from which they are made. So it takes a lot more work to discover which small estates are producing first rate Champagne and which are not. And this is where we come in: we have made it our business to taste many of the Large House and Small Grower Champagnes in our quest to offer you the best. Below are 5 selections from our focused inventory of excellent Champagnes. Two are from Big Houses for which we have great respect, 2 are from wonderful small growers who have achieved considerable repute among aficionados of the bubble and one is sufficiently unique as to defy easy classification.
LARGE HOUSE CHAMPAGNES
HENRIOT BRUT SOUVERAIN NV $37/Bottle
The formidable Joseph Henriot, who purchased and completely revivified Bouchard Pere et Fils in Burgundy, is responsible for transforming Henriot from an also-ran to one of the best Houses in Champagnes. With its high percentage of Chardonnay, the affordable Souverain offers a brilliant synthesis of lemony zestiness and buttery, yeasty richness. Josh Raynolds of the International Wine Cellar recently said of the Souverain that “On the basis of aroma, texture and depth, I could easily have confused this wine with the current release of Dom Perignon.” You can serve the Souverain as an aperitif and with any seafood dish you can imagine.
LAURENT PERRIER NV BRUT $43/Bottle
Among the biggest producers in Champagne, Laurent Perrier has if anything been making better wines in the last decade. The rich, smoky mouth-filling style of LP is based
on the blending from over 200 base wines from more than 50 sites—exemplifying the essence of the Big House approach. Josh Raynolds notes that “In my tastings in recent years, this has consistently been among the best non-vintage brut bottlings from the major Champagne houses.”
PIERRE GIMONNET BRUT GASTRONOME 2005 $57/Bottle
Run by brothers Olivier and Didier Gimonnet this excellent estate focuses on Chardonnay grown on its vineyards in Chouilly, one of the best “neighborhoods” in Champagne. The Gimonnets favor freshness, moderate bubbles and very little dosage-so you find a truly dry finish on the Gastronome. Robert Parker’s reviewer, the precise Antonio Galloni described the 2005 Brut Cuvee Gastronome as “an impeccably balanced wine that caresses the palate with generous layers of fragrant, perfumed fruit. Apples, pears, flowers and white peaches come together in this refreshing, creamy Champagne.” 91 Points
EGLY-OURIET NV BRUT TRADITION GRAND CRU $56/Bottle
Now that is a mouthful! But no recommendation of the best Grower Champagnes would be complete without one of the fantastic Egly-Ouriet Champagnes. Here the emphasis is on Pinot Noir and the style stresses power, depth, weight, intensity and that marvelous old-fashioned baked bread aroma which was the norm for Champagne in the first half of the 20th century. Production is very small here. This is food Champagne par excellence and is a perfect foil to Gimonnet’s butterfly style. If you want to experience Grand Cru Champagne at a reasonable price, this is the one!
KRUG GRAND CUVEE MV $170/Bottle
Technically a multi-vintage, Krug’s Grand Cuvee is for many wine lovers The Champagne by which all others—Large House and Grower—must be measured. What distinguishes Krug is the emphasis on the wine quality itself. A blend from many Grand Cru sites, the Grand Cuvee is produced from wines which are fermented and aged in small Burgundy barrels and then put in bottle with a minimum of dosage for years before being released. Robert Parker’s latest addition to The Wine Advocate’s group of reviewers, the British Master of Wine Lisa Perrotti-Brown has written an eloquent and accurate description of the Grande Cuvee: “The nose alone is worth savouring with its mouth-wateringly fresh baked apple pie and marzipan scents. The palate is rich, full-flavoured and very crisp with a wonderful combination of brioche, stone fruit and mineral flavours providing layers of complexity.” 94 Points
Bubbles Mentioned Above…we are offering free shipping on the below wines through COB 12/28/09 to make sure you get yours in time for the New Year: