Tag Archives: Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne and Sparkling Wine

60 Second Wine Review — Canard-Duchêne Brut

A few quick thoughts on the non-vintage Canard-Duchêne Brut Champagne.

The Geekery
Canard Duchene Champagne

The origins of Canard-Duchêne is a love story. Léonie Duchêne was a winemaker and daughter of a grower in Ludes, a premier cru village in the Montagne de Reims. In 1860, she married the local barrel marker, Victor Canard, convincing him to start a Champagne house together in 1868.

Rather than move to the big cities of Reims and Epernay, Léonie and Victor stayed in Ludes. Their son, Edmond, took over the estate in 1890 and greatly expanded the house’s presence in Russia. He soon acquired the rights to be the official Champagne of Tsar Nicolas II.

The house remained family owned until 1978 when the conglomerate LVMH acquired it. Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan noted in the Christie’s Encyclopedia that Canard-Duchêne then became a “second label” of Veuve Clicquot.

In 2003, LVMH sold the brand to Alain Thiénot who began a long process of renovating the house and vineyards. He brought in Laurent Fédou as cellar master and introduced an organic line of Champagnes.

The non-vintage Brut is a blend of 40% Pinot noir, 40% Pinot Meunier and 20% Chardonnay. Fédou puts the wine through full malolactic, aging it on the lees 23-26 months before bottling with 9 g/l dosage. Around 10,000 cases are imported to the US each year.

The Wine

Photo by Prayitno. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

The palate has more going on than the nose with a lemon-custardly mouthfeel.

Medium intensity nose–citrus and floral notes.

On the palate, the citrus notes carry through but become weightier and more pronounced. Coupled with the soft mousse and slight toastiness, the Champagne takes on a lemon custard feel. Lively acidity keeps it fresh and well-balanced with the dosage. The acidity also brings to life some spiced pear that lingers on the moderate finish.

The Verdict

This is a solidly made Champagne for $35-40. The simplicity does remind me a bit of Veuve but with more citrus notes and a drier profile.

It’s not worth going out of your way to find, but it’s an enjoyable glass.

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Champagne Mystery — Who makes Drake’s Mod Sélection? And will it be worth it?

Ace of Spades, part II?

Photo by The Come Up Show. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

Canadian rapper Drake and Brent Hocking (founder of DeLeón Tequila) are partnering to produce a new high-end Champagne called Mod Sélection. Right off the bat, the line-up will feature a $300 non-vintage Brut and a $400 NV Rosé.

That’s a hefty price tag for a Champagne house that is being created virtually out of thin air.

In comparison, consumers can pay $300-400 and get things like:

1996 Bollinger R.D. (Wine Searcher Average $328) aged ten years on the lees. Only 750 cases imported.

1996 Duval-Leroy Femme de Champagne (WS Ave $346) from 100% Grand Cru fruit that was aged 14 years on the lees. Only 1000 cases made.

Dom Perignon “P2” Brut, 2000 (WS Ave $351) aged 15 years on the lees.

Jacques Selosse Substance Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut (WS Ave $312) from a solera that started in 1986. Usually only around 250 cases released at a time.

Pierre Peters L’Etonnant Monsieur Victor (WS Ave $301) from 100% Grand Cru fruit, including the best parcels of Les Chétillons, aged as a perpetual cuvee (similar to solera) that started in 1988. Only around 150 cases imported with each release.

And tons more great Champagnes for a heck of a lot cheaper.

Plus, these are all houses with established track records. We can figure out the grape source and know how long these wines have been aged. We can also get a general sense of how limited and prestigious these wines truly are. Yet, Drake and Hocking want folks to pay an equivalent price for Champagnes that no-one knows anything about?

Even Ace of Spades had a bit of a backstory.

Photo by Wallytraud. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

From $60 to $300, not a bad business deal for Cattier.

Offended by comments by the CEO of his-then favorite Champagne house, Roederer, the American rapper Jay Z began promoting a brand called Armand de Brignac in 2006.

The gold plated bottle, now known as “Ace of Spades”, was made by the Champagne house Cattier. The Champagne was essentially a rebranding of their Antique Gold line which previously sold for around $60.

But once Jay Z got involved, including acquiring partial ownership of the brand in 2014, the price of the Champagne skyrocketed to around $300 for the basic non-vintage brut, $450 for the NV Rosé and approximately $600 for the NV Blanc de Blancs.

Yeah, you can see why Drake would want to follow suit.

But, again, consumers at least know about Cattier’s involvement. The brand is even prominently featured on their website.  Even though they’re a négociant-firm that purchases grapes, the Cattier family does own over 30 ha (74 acres) of vines in the Montagne de Reims including the notable premier cru Clos du Moulin in Chigny-Les-Roses. For their top cuvee from the Clos, the house only produces around 25,000 bottles.

In the Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine, Tom Stevenson & Master of Wine Essi Avellan offer some more details about Armand de Brignac (presumably provided by Cattier). They note that across all the Ace of Spades wines, only around 3200 cases are produced. They also mention that at least the NV Brut is aged for around four years on lees.

Photo by Jsatroc. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Jean-Jacques and Alexandre Cattier who continue to operate their brand in addition to making Jay Z’s “Ace of Spades.”

 

Another Champagne Mystery

Perhaps more details about Mod Sélection will eventually come out. But it is clear right now that its proprietors are purely marketing it based on its association with a celebrity rapper. Still, I’m always down for a good mystery (especially when Champagne is involved), so I decided to see what I could dig up.

Like with Armand de Brignac/Ace of Spades and Cattier, Drake and Hocking are probably partnering with an already established Champagne house. They’re not going to buy vineyards, start aging stock and truly create a brand from scratch.

With a NV Champagne needing a legal minimum of 15 months aging on the lees before release, it’s very likely that the initial release of Mod Sélection is going to be a Champagne that was originally harvested and aged to be labeled as something else. Probably a Champagne that was going to be sold for a much lower price.

That is a big reason why the identity of the house will likely be kept under wraps.  But can we still figure out who makes Drake’s Champagne?

On the Mod Sélection website, details are scarce. However, we do get two solid clues that slip through the marketing flourish.

1.) They’re based in the Vallée de la Marne.
2.) They claim “a legacy” dating back to 1892.

Cracking into some of my Five Essential Books On Champagne, I can eliminate a lot of prospective houses. The Christie’s Encyclopedia is, in particular, really good at noting the location of many houses so I can focus in only on the ones based in the Vallée de la Marne.

Clue #1 – The Vallée de la Marne

Photo by Pline. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Vineyards in the Grand Cru village of Aÿ–the most prestigious in the Vallée de la Marne.

This area is broken into three sub-regions. The most prestigious is the Grande Vallée de la Marne which is home to the Grand Cru village of Aÿ as well as several notable premier cru villages like Hautvillers, Cumières and Dizy.

The other two sub-regions are the Vallée de la Marne Rive Droite and Vallée de la Marne Rive Gauche (Right bank, Left Bank) which are home to autre cru villages that are ranked below premier cru.

Peter Liem’s book, Champagne, does an excellent job of explaining the differences between these sub-regions.

While it is possible that Mod Sélection’s mystery house is in one of the lesser Rive Droite or Rive Gauche villages, I’m going to give them the benefit of the doubt and focus on the houses in the nine villages of the Grande Vallée de la Marne.

Clue #2 – Founding date 1892

Photo by Arnaud 25. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-4.0

Bollinger wouldn’t even give James Bond his own made up Champagne house. It’s not likely that they would partner with Drake and not use their own label.

We can rule out major Champagne houses based in the Vallée de la Marne like Deutz, Jacquesson, Bollinger, Philipponnat and Billecart-Salmon because they have little reason to create a branding apart from their own. Plus, their founding dates don’t match up with Deutz (1838), Jacquesson (1798), Bollinger (1829), Philipponnat (1910) and Billecart (1818).

This clue is going to require more heavy digging since many Champagne books don’t list founding dates and sometimes even a winery’s website isn’t very forthcoming with details. Still, we can gradually start to eliminate notable Champagne houses and well-regarded growers like:

Gaston Chiquet (founded 1919)
Gonet-Medeville (founded 2000)
A.R. Lenoble (founded 1920)
Mousse Fils (founded 1923)
Bereche & Fils (founded 1847)
Gatinois (founded 1921)
Marc Hebrart (founded 1964)
Laherte-Freres (founded 1889)
Georges Laval (founded 1971)
R. Pouillon & Fils (founded 1947)
Tarlant (founded 1928)

But eventually, with a little bit of online sleuthing, I was able to come across at least one estate that fits our bill.
Photo by 2005 Zubro. Uplaoded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

Vineyards in the premier cru village of Cumières in the Grande Vallée de la Marne. Is this the home of Drake’s $300+ Champagne?

Champagne Philippe Martin in Cumières. Founded 1892.  They produce around 12,000 to 80,000 bottles which range in price from 18 to 34 euros ($20-39 US dollars). While they apparently have a healthy enotourism operation, as far as I can tell, the wines of Champagne Philippe Martin have never been exported out of France.

This kinda aligns with the Mod Sélection description of partnering with a house whose “highly sought-after champagne had never been exported for sale to the general public.” Though you have to eye roll at the “highly sought-after” part.

Is this our mystery Mod Sélection house? Perhaps. There are still at least 30 other small growers that I need to investigate. But so far Champagne Philippe Martin is our most solid lead.

Will the Champagne be worth $300+?

I highly doubt it.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2008 Champagne Colin

A few quick thoughts on the 2008 Champagne Colin Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs.

The Geekery
Champagne Colin

Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan note in the Christie’s Encyclopedia that the origins of Champagne Colin dates back to 1829. Constant Piéton founded the estate with the property eventually being inherited by his great-granddaughter, Geneviève Prieur. She ran the domaine for many years and instilled a tradition of strong female leadership at the house.

Today, her grandchildren–Richard and Romain Colin–run Champagne Colin. The house shouldn’t be confused with the Congy estate Ulysse Collin, located south of the Côte des Blancs in the Coteaux du Morin.

Most of Colin’s 10 ha (25 acres) are in the Côte des Blancs Grand Cru villages of Cramant and Oiry as well as the Premier Cru villages of Vertus and Cuis. Another third of the family’s holdings are located in the southern Côte des Blancs sub-region of the Côte de Sézanne with a few additional parcels in the Vallée de la Marne.

The estate farms all plots sustainably and produces less than 7000 cases a year.

The 2008 vintage is 100% Chardonnay sourced from the Grand Cru villages of Cramant and Oiry. The wine spent at least five years aging on its lees before being bottled with an 8 g/l dosage.

The Wine

Photo by Mararie på Flickr. Uploaded to Wikimedia commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

The honey roasted almonds add complexity to the racy citrus notes of this Champagne.

High-intensity nose. Roasted almonds with honey. There is also a grilled citrus lemon note.

On the palate, those nutty and toasty notes carry through but the citrus becomes more fresh and lively. Ample medium-plus acidity highlights a racy streak of minerality. Dry and well balanced with a creamy mousse adding softness and weight. Long finish lingers on the citrus and mineral notes.

The Verdict

For around $70-80, this is a very character-driven Champagne. While it’s in a delicious spot now, the oxidative almond notes are steadily starting to take over.

If you want more of those tertiary flavors, this will continue to drink great for another 5+ years. Otherwise, think more 2-3 years.

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60 Second Wine Review — Champagne Hediard Euro Cup Edition

With the 2018 World Cup in full swing, I decided to revisit Champagne Hediard’s NV Brut produced for the 2016 Euro Cup tournament that was won by Portugal. (Go Seleções de Portugal!)

The Geekery

Based in Paris, Hediard is a luxury grocery founded in 1854 by Ferdinand Hédiard. With France hosting the 2016 Euro Cup tournament, Hediard created a special limited release bottling for the official Champagne of the competition.

Partnering with Champagne Mailly, the wine is sourced from Grand Cru vineyards in the Montagne de Reims. A blend of 75% Pinot noir and 25% Chardonnay, the Champagne follows the standard Mailly recipe. It was likely was made in a similar Mailly style that Essi Avellan notes in the Christie’s Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine includes aging the base wine and dosage in oak barrels previously used by Chateau Margaux for their Pavillon Blanc.

The final blends for Mailly NV typically include reserve wines up to 10 years of age. The finished wine then spends at least 24 months aging on the lees before being bottled with a dosage of 9 g/l.

The Wine

Photo by jeffreyw. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

This Champagne smells like buttermilk biscuits out of the oven.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very toasty and earthy–like buttermilk biscuits. Around the edges there is some pomelo citrus peel.

On the palate, the toasty flavors carry through but you can sense some of the age. The bubbles are not as lively as a newer release NV, but the mouthfeel is exceptionally creamy. The wine is considerably drier than what I would expect from 9 g/l with the racy acidity and citrus notes being more pronounced. Moderate length finish ends on the creamy toastiness.

The Verdict

I’ve had this wine several times over the last couple of years. While it still has some life, you can certainly tell that it’s on its last legs. It won’t go much beyond the next two years or so.

Still, at $35-40, it’s a very solidly made Champagne that is perfect for toasting your favorite team’s success.

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60 Second Wine Review — Louis Bouillot Extra Brut

A few quick thoughts on the Louis Bouillot Extra Brut Cremant de Bourgogne.

The Geekery

The sparkling wine house of Louis Bouillot was founded in 1877 in the Burgundy wine village of Nuits-Saint-Georges.

Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan note in the Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine that the house owns around 50 acres of vineyards but works with over 70 growers throughout the Côte d’Or as well as in the Côte Chalonnaise, the Mâconnais and Chablis.

Since 1997, the house has been a part of the Boisset Collection along with other notable Burgundian houses like Bouchard Aîné & Fils, Domaine de la Vougeraie, Ropiteau Frères and the California estates of Raymond Vineyards, Buena Vista Winery, DeLoach Vineyards and Lyeth Estate.

The Limited Edition Extra Brut is a blend of Chardonnay, Pinot noir, Gamay and Aligoté. The wine spent 30 months aging on its lees (well above the 9 months minimum required for regular non-vintage Cremant de Bourgogne and 12 months required for NV Champagnes) before being bottled with a dosage of 6 g/l.

The Wine

High intensity nose. A mix of ripe apples and lemons with toasty pastry. There is also a white floral note that adds a sweet smelling element–honeysuckle?

Photo by Tomwsulcer. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-Zero

Perfect balance of apple fruit and toastiness in this dry sparkler.

On the palate, the apple notes come through the most and with the toastiness reminds me of a freshly baked apple turnover with some cinnamon spice. Noticeably dry I would have pegged the dosage more in the 3 g/l range. Impeccably well balanced with fresh lively acidity and silky smooth mousse. Long finish brings the lemon notes back with them being more zesty than fruity.

The Verdict

At around $20-25, this is a fantastic sparkling wine that would put many of the grocery store level NV Champagne brands in the $35-45 range to shame. I’ve long been a fan of Cremant de Bourgogne (and Louis Bouillot in particular–especially their rose sparkler) but this Extra Brut takes it to another level.

Being a limited edition, it will be hard to find but well worth the hunt.

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60 Second Wine Reviews — Ruinart Brut

A few quick thoughts on the NV Ruinart Brut Champagne.

The Geekery

While I love geeking out over grower Champagnes, I must confess to having a soft spot for Ruinart. While frequently lost in the LVMH (Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy) portfolio of mega-brands like Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot and Dom Perignon, the quality of this house has always been top-notch.

I reviewed the Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Rosé over a year ago in my post A Toast to Joy and Pain where I give some background about the house and also note the apt description by the LVMH Brand Ambassador that Ruinart is the “best prestige house that most people haven’t heard of.”

Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan note in Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine that Nicolas Ruinart, who founded the estate in 1729, was the nephew of Dom Thierry Ruinart who was a close friend of Dom Perignon.

The Ruinart Brut (also known as ‘R’ de Ruinart) is a blend of 49% Pinot noir, 40% Chardonnay and 11% Pinot Meunier. The wine usually includes 20-25% reserve wines from older vintages. It is aged for around 36 months before being bottled with a dosage of 9 g/l.

The Wine

Medium-plus intensity nose. Noticeable toasty bread dough with baked pears and almond shavings. This wine smells like you are in a French bakery.

Photo by Franklin Heijnen. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-2.0

This Champagne smells like you are walking into a French bakery.

On the palate those pear and doughy notes come through but also bring a spice element of cinnamon and allspice. Very weighty and mouth-filling with a silky mousse. This Champagne feels like a meal in itself. Well balanced with the dosage though I wished it was tad drier. An intriguing white floral element emerges on the long finish to go with the lingering toastiness.

The Verdict

While not quite to the level of Ruinart’s Blanc de Blancs and Rosé, this is still a phenomenally well made Champagne.

At around $55-65, it is a bit of a bump from your basic Champagnes like Veuve and Moët but the quality jump is significant.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2004 Comtes de Champagne Taittinger rose

A few quick thoughts on the 2004 Taittinger Champagne Comtes de Champagne Rosé Brut.

The Geekery

Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan note in Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine that the historical Comtes (or Counts) of Champagne date back to the mid-9th century but the title of Count of Champagne did not appear in records till 1077.

Among the notable Comtes was the 12th century Theobald II who was one of most powerful people in France and a rival to the king. When his descendant Joan of Navarre married Philip IV, the titled was united with the crown under their son Louis X.

The Taittinger line is named after Joan’s grandfather, Theobald IV, a famous poet that moved the court from Troyes to Reims. The Taittingers purchased his 13th century home shortly after World War I and named their prestige cuvee after the Comte in 1952. The first Comtes de Champagne Rosé was released in 1966.

The 2004 Comtes Rosé is sourced 100% from Grand Cru vineyards (Ambonnay, Avize, Mesnil, Mailly, Oger, Verzenazy and Verzy) and is a blend of 70% Pinot noir (including 12-15% red wine from Bouzy) and 30% Chardonnay. It was aged for 5 years on its lees before being bottled with a dosage of 9 g/l. Around 25 cases was imported to the United States.

The Wine

Photo by Fir0002/Flagstaffotos. Released on Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-NC-3.0

Lots of rich red fruits like pomegranate in this Champagne.

Medium-plus intensity nose. Very red fruit dominant–raspberry, strawberry and even pomegranate. There is also quite a bit of Asian spices as well.

On the palate, the Champagne is very rich and full-bodied. The red fruits and spice carry through and bring some toasty notes along. The finish is very short which may hint that this wine is still too young.

The Verdict

Around $220-250, this rosé has a lot of weight and presence. It’s almost calling to be paired with a steak.

There is a lot of complexity that makes it well worth the price. However, the short finish is a bit disappointing. If you’re going to splurge, probably should wait a couple more years.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2006 Louis XV Rose

A few quick thoughts on the 2006 De Venoge Louis XV rosé.

The Geekery

As I noted in a previous 60 Second Review of the De Venoge Princes Blanc de Noirs, the house of De Venoge was founded in Epernay by Swiss winemaker Henri-Marc de Venoge in 1837.

Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan note in The Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine that De Venoge was very popular in the royal households and courts during the mid-1800s when Henri’s son, Joseph, would join the entourage of royal princes on hunting trips and present at the picnics his Champagnes in crystal carafe bottles.

The house has changed hands several times over the years and in 1996 was under the ownership of Rémy Cointreau, makers of the Louis XIII Cognac. It now belongs to Lanson-BCC which includes not only Champagne Lanson but also Philipponnat, Chanoine Frères/Tsarine and Champagne Boizel.

The current chef de cave is Isabelle Tellier, one of the few female winemakers in Champagne despite its long history of female leadership. Tellier follows a prestigious lineage of winemakers at De Venoge that includes Eric Lebel (now at Krug) and Thierry Grasco (now at Pommery).

The 2006 Louis XV rosé is a blend of 50% Pinot noir and 50% Chardonnay, including 6-7% red Pinot noir. The wine spent 10 years aging on the lees before being bottled with a dosage of 6 g/l.

The Wine

High intensity aromatics. Very red fruit dominant–cherries, plum, strawberries. There also quite a bit of spice that makes me think of Christmas fruit cake.

Photo by User:Piotrus. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-SA-3.0

The fruitcake spiciness in this rose adds flavors and complexity.

On the palate those red fruits carry through along with a toasted nuttiness that adds depth and complexity. The mouthfeel is very heavy with a little red wine tannins as well. The fruitcake spiciness also carries through, persisting through a long finish.

The Verdict

This is a very full-bodied rosé with strong red wine character and a lot of complexity.

At around $200-230, it is certainly priced like a prestige cuvee and holds its own among its peers.

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60 Second Wine Review — 2008 Ferrari Perlé

Some quick thoughts on the 2008 Ferrari Perlé sparkling wine from the Trento DOC.

The Geekery

Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan describes Ferrai in the Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine as the “Rolls-Royce” of Italian sparkling wine and note that due to its massive popularity in its home country, only around 10% of the winery’s yearly 420,000 cases get exported.

Founded in 1902 by Giulio Ferrari, who spent some time working in Champagne, Ferrari was the first producer to use the traditional method (metodo classico) for Chardonnay in Italy. In 1952, the estate was purchased by Bruno Lunelli with his grandchildren running Fratelli Lunelli Ferrari today.

In 2017, Ferrari was named Sparkling Wine Producer of the Year at The Champagne & Sparkling Wine World Championships, a honor that often goes to Champagne houses like Roederer.

The 2008 Perlé is 100% Chardonnay sourced from estate vineyards in the Trentino region. After the Franciacorta DOCG, the Trento DOC is the second largest producer of Italian metodo classico sparkling wines.

The wine was disgorge in 2015 after spending over 6 years aging on the lees and bottled with 6-8 g/l dosage. In addition to the sugar, the liqueur d’expedition includes some “select wines” which Ferrari describes as a “family secret”.

The Wine

Photo by Vegan Feast Catering. Uploaded to Wikimedia Commons under CC-BY-2.0

This wine has some nice creamy lemon custard notes

High intensity nose. Lemon custard and pastry dough. Some floral and spice elements are also present. Very evocative.

The mouthfeel is very creamy with noticeable yeasty, bready flavors. The citrus lemon notes are still present but seems like more apple pastry tart on the palate. The wine also has ample acidity with some savory salty minerality adding complexity.

The Verdict

This is a pretty stellar bottle for around $30-35. This wine’s been aged like a vintage Champagne but is priced better than most non-vintage Champagnes!

The complexity you get for the money is certainly outstanding and I would put this toe to toe with $60-75 Champagnes any day of the week. As noted above, not a lot of this makes its way to the US but if you can find a bottle, grab it!

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Thought Bubbles – How to Geek Out About Champagne

By Joseph Faverot - [1], Public Domain, on Wikimedia CommonsLast week I got into a bit of a tizzy over some ridiculous things posted by a so-called “Wine Prophet” on how to become a “Champagne Master.” See Champagne Masters and their Bull Shit for all the fun and giggles.

But despite the many failings of Jonathan Cristaldi’s post, he did dish out one excellent piece of advice. To learn more about Champagne, you have to start popping bottles. I want to expand on that and offer a few tidbits for budding Champagne geeks.

I’m not going to promise to make you a “Champagne Master”–because that is a lifelong pursuit–but I will promise not to steer you towards looking like a buffoon regurgitating nonsense about Marie Antoinette pimping for a Champagne house that wasn’t founded till 40+ years after her death.

Deal? Alright, let’s have some fun.

1.) Start Popping Bottles!

Pretty much you can stop reading now. I’m serious. Just try something, anything. Better still if it is something you haven’t had or even heard of before. Pop it open and see what you think.

They say it takes 10,000 hours to master anything so take that as a personal challenge to start getting your drink on. Well actually that 10,000-hour thing has been debunked, but mama didn’t raise a quitter.

Though seriously, if you want to make your tasting exploration more fruitful, here are some tips.

Make friends with your local wine shop folks

They pretty much live and breath the wines they stock. They know their inventory. The good ones also have a passion to share their love and knowledge with others. Admittedly not every shop is great but go in, look around, ask questions and see if you find a good fit. Finding a great local wine shop with folks whose opinions you trust is worth its weight in gold for a wine lover. Once you’ve found that, the door is open for you to discover a lot of fantastic bottles that will only enrich your explorations.

Learn the differences between négociant houses, grower-producers and co-operatives
On Wikimedia Commons under PD-US from United States Library of Congress's Prints and Photographs division under the digital ID ppmsca.05590.

Online retailers can be helpful as well but sometimes it’s good to have a face to put with a bottle.

In Champagne, you can often find on the label a long number with abbreviations that denote what type of producer made the Champagne.

NMnégociant manipulant, who buy fruit (or even pre-made wine) from growers. These are the big houses (like the LVMH stable of Moët & Chandon & Veuve Clicquot) that make nearly 80% of all Champagne produced. These Champagnes aren’t bad at all. Most are rather outstanding.

But the key to know is that while there are around 19,000 growers, the Champagne market is thoroughly dominated by several large négociant houses. Chances are if you go into a store (especially a grocery store or Costco), these wines are likely going to be your only options. You should certainly try these wines. However, it’s worth the leg work to find the whole wide world of Champagne that exists beyond these big names. This is a huge reason why making friends at the local wine shop (who often stock smaller producers) is a great idea.

But here is where it gets exciting.

RMrécoltant manipulant, who make wine only from their own estate fruit. These are your “Grower Champagnes” and while being a small producer, alone, is not a guarantee of quality, exploring the wines of small producers is like checking out the small mom & pop restaurants in a city instead of only eating at the big chain restaurants. You can find a lot of gems among the little guys who toil in obscurity.

CMcoopérative-manipulant, who pool together the resources of a group of growers under one brand. This is kind of the middle ground between true Grower Champagne and the big négociant houses. Some of these co-ops are small and based around a single village (like Champagne Mailly) while others cover the entire region (like Nicolas Feuillatte which includes 5000 growers and is one of the top producers in Champagne). Some of these are easier to find than others, but they are still worth exploring so you can learn about the larger picture of Champagne.

An example of a négociant (NM on left) and grower (RM on right) label.

Pay attention to sweetness and house style

While “Brut” is going to be the most common sweetness level you see, no two bottles of Brut are going to be the same. That is because a bottle of Brut can have anywhere from Zero to up to 12 grams per liter of sugar. Twelve grams is essentially 3 cubes of sugar. Then, almost counter-intuitively, wines labeled as “Extra Dry” are going to actually be a little sweeter than Brut. (It’s a long story)

By Kici, Released on Wikimedia Commons under public domain

Though to be fair, if they served Champagne at McDonald’s, I would probably eat there more often. It is one of the best pairings with french fries.

This is important to note because while Champagne houses often won’t tell you the dosage (amount of sugar added at bottling) of their Bruts, with enough tasting, you can start to discern the general “house style” of a brand.

For instance, the notable Veuve Clicquot “Yellow Label” is tailor-made for the sweet tooth US market and will always be on the “sweeter side of Brut” (9-12 g/l). While houses such as Billecart-Salmon usually go for a drier style with dosages of 7 g/l or less. If you have these two wines side by side (and focus on the tip of your tongue), you will notice the difference in sweetness and house style.

The idea of house style (which is best exhibited in each brand’s non-vintage cuvee) is for the consumer to get a consistent experience with every bottle. It’s the same goal of McDonald’s to have every Big Mac taste the same no matter where you are or when you buy it. All the dominant négociant houses have a trademark style and some will be more to your taste than others.

Explore the Grand Crus and vineyard designated bottles

While Champagne is not quite like Burgundy with the focus on terroir and the idea that different plots of land exhibit different personalities, the region is still home to an abundance of unique vineyards and terroir. You can best explore this through bottles made from single designated vineyards. However, these can be expensive and exceedingly hard to find.

Quite a bit easier to find (especially at a good wine shop) are Grand Cru Champagnes that are made exclusively from the fruit of 17 particular villages. There are over 300 villages in Champagne but over time the vineyards of these 17 villages showed themselves to produce the highest quality and most consistent wines. All the top prestige cuvees in Champagne prominently feature fruit from these villages.

To be labeled as a Grand Cru, the Champagne has to be 100% sourced only from a Grand Cru village. It could be a blend of several Grand Cru villages but if a single village is featured on the front of the label (like Bouzy, Mailly, Avize, Ambonnay, etc) then it has to be only from that village. Since the production of the Grand Cru villages represents less than 10% of all the grapes grown in Champagne, you would expect them to be somewhat pricey. That’s not the case. Many small growers have inherited their Grand Cru vineyards through generations of their families and can produce 100% Grand Cru Champagnes for the same price as your basic Champagnes from the big négociant house.

Well worth the hunt

They may be a little harder to find than the big négociant houses, but Grand Cru Champagnes from producers like Pierre Peters, Franck Bonville, Pierre Moncuitt, Petrois-Moriset, Pierre Paillard and more can be had in the $40-60 range.

While not as terroir-driven as single vineyard wines, tasting some of the single-village Grand Crus offers a tremendous opportunity to learn about the unique personality of different villages in Champagne and is well worth the time of any Champagne lover to explore.

2.) Great Reading Resources

Truthfully, you can just follow the advice of the first step and live a life of happy, bubbly contentment. You don’t need book knowledge to enjoy Champagne–just an explorer’s soul and willingness to try something new. But when you want to geek out and expand your experience, it is helpful to have robust and reliable resources. There are tons of great wine books dealing with Champagne and sparkling wine but a few of my favorites include:

A few favs

The Five Essential Books On Champagne, Plus One For the Wine Prophet

Tom Stevenson and Essi Avellan’s Christie’s World Encyclopedia of Champagne & Sparkling Wine — The benchmark reference book written by the foremost authorities on all things that sparkle.

Peter Liem’s Champagne [Boxed Book & Map Set] — This set ramps up the geek factor and dives deeper into the nitty-gritty details of Champagne. The companion maps that shows vineyards and crus of the region are enough to make any Bubble Head squeal.

David White’s But First, Champagne — A very fresh and modern approach to learning about Champagne. It essentially takes the Christie’s Encyclopedia and Peter Liem’s opus and boils it down to a more digestible compendium.

Robert Walter’s Bursting Bubbles — Thought-provoking and a different perspective. You can read my full review of the book here.

Don & Petie Kladstrup’s Champagne: How the World’s Most Glamorous Wine Triumphed Over War and Hard Times — One of my favorite books, period. Brilliantly written work of historical non-fiction about the people who made Champagne, Champagne. If you ever wondered what was the big deal about people calling everything that has bubbles “champagne,” read this book about what the Champenois endured throughout their history and you will have a newfound respect for what the word “Champagne” means.

Ed McCarthy’s Champagne for Dummies — A little outdated but a quick read that covers the basics very well. I suspect that if the “Wine Prophet” read this book, he wouldn’t have had as many difficulties understanding the differences between vintage and non-vintage Champagnes.

3.) Next Level Geekery

As I said in the intro, the pursuit of Champagne Mastery is a lifelong passion and you never stop learning. Beyond the advice given above, some avenues for even more in-depth exploration includes:

The Wine Scholar Guild Champagne Master-Level course — I’ve taken the WSG Bordeaux and Burgundy Master courses and can’t rave enough about the online programs they have. Taught by Master Sommeliers and Masters of Wine, the level of instruction and attention to detail is top notch. They also offer immersion tours to the region.

Jancis Robinson’s Purple Pages — This Master of Wine is one of the most reliable sources for information and tasting notes on all kinds of wine but particularly for Champagne.

Allen Meadow’s Burghound — While Burgundy is Meadow’s particular focus, he does devote a lot of time reviewing and commenting on Champagne and, like Robinson, is a very reliable source. But the caveat for all critics is to view them as tools, rather than pontiffs.

Visit Wineries
By Webmasterlescordeliers - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, on Wikimedia Commons

If you get a chance to riddle, it will be enjoyable for the first couple of minutes. Then you realize how hard of a job it is.

Even if you can’t visit Champagne itself, chances are you are probably near some producer, somewhere who is making sparkling wine.

Throughout the world, producers making bubbly. From African wineries in Morocco, Kenya, Zimbabwe and South Africa; Asian wineries in China and India; to more well known sparkling wine producing countries in Australia, Argentina, Chile, United Kingdom and Eastern Europe–the possibilities are near endless.

Even in your own backyard

In the United States, there is not only a vibrant sparkling wine industry in the traditional west coast regions of California, Oregon (Beaver State Bubbly) and Washington State but also New Mexico, Missouri, New York, Virginia, Michigan, Ohio, Texas, Georgia, Colorado and more.

While they may not be doing the “traditional method,” there is still benefit to visiting and tasting at these estates. At small wineries where the person pouring could be the owner or winemaker themselves. These experiences can give you an opportunity to peek behind the curtain and see the work that happens in the vineyard and winery. As beautiful of a resource that books and classes are, there is no substitute for first-hand experience.

So have fun and keep exploring!

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