~ by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits ~
The holiday season is here (hooray!), and that means a plethora of social gatherings and gift giving. The challenge of this time of year is how to make holiday parties a little more festive (read: exciting and actually fun) and your presents unique (read: unforgettable). No need to stress about any of this as adding a bottle of sparkling wine to the equation is always an excellent idea. However, let’s kick it up a notch from there. You buy your eggs from Boat Yard Farm, you get your carrots from Moors End Farm and you pick your own tomatoes at Bartlett Farm. Why not purchase, partake and give a little “Farmer Fizz” to showcase some quality producer grown and made Champagne along with supporting your local Champagne farmer?
Known more commonly as “Grower Champagne,” these festive bottles of bubbly originate from the Champagne region of France as the name implies. What makes them stand out from mass produced Champagne brands that you may be more familiar with is that these products are produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards where the grapes are grown. These family-owned vineyards are managed by people who are part farmer, part winemaker and are responsible for the growth and production of their wine literally from start to finish. Because their sparkling wines are so small in production (and distribution), they typically reflect the true vineyard character of the region from which they hail, more so than a Champagne made by a co-operative or large Champagne house who purchases their grapes from multiple growers in throughout the region. This terroir-focused approach of making wine sourced from a single vineyard (or closely located vineyards around a village) is common in other places in France, most notably Burgundy with the many village-named wines from this region.
The easiest way to identify a bottle of Grower Champagne is by the initials RM (in small print) on the front wine label. This represents Récoltant-Manipulant, meaning that the wine is manipulated or made by the recoltant, or grower/farmer. For this type of truly artisanal winemaking, the terroir is at the forefront of each wine. It would be rare to find among these Champagne growers a consistent “house style” that is produced every year. Instead, you will experience vintage variation of what they have to offer, even if it is a non-vintage offering. This makes for an exciting gift giving opportunity to taste the differences each new harvest has to bring. This category of Champagne represents a very small percentage of the overall Champagne market, making up less than 10%. The lower cost of most Grower Champagnes makes them a comparative value to the larger Champagne houses with their high costs associated with mass market advertising versus quality of the juice inside the bottle.
Champagne Philippe GONET Signature Blanc de Blancs Brut NV—From a family lineage of growers dating back to 1830, brother-and-sister team Pierre and Chantal Gonet are now at the helm of this family winery. Pierre is responsible for the creation of precise, defined wines that represent the terroir from where the grapes are grown, while Chantal than showcases her family’s production around the world. The winery is located in the most prestigious Grand Cru village of Le Mesnil sur Oger in the Côtes de Blancs area of Champagne. Here they grow their Chardonnay grapes using responsible and sustainable agriculture practices.
This wine made from 100% Chardonnay is brought to life by combining a few different terroirs from their vineyard holdings in the Côte des Blancs. It is characterized by its supple freshness and structure, developing aromas of freshly baked brioche and a generous mouthfeel. This is a Champagne for all occasions and reflects the mineral focused style of the winemaker.
Champagne Ernest REMY Blanc de Noirs Brut NV—This family owned estate since 1833 is located in the splendid terroir of Mailly, one of only thirteen villages ranked and known as Grand Cru, the highest designation of Champagne vineyards. The village’s vineyards are located in the Montagne de Reims subregion of Champagne, which is 8 km south of the main city of Reims and just north of Épernay, which is closer to the Côtes de Blancs area. Made exclusively from 100% Pinot Noir, this champagne benefits by being aged 36 months in bottle prior to release, a lengthy extension to the law requirement of only 15 months, in order to achieve the perfect balance and maturity, This bold, powerful wine is reminiscent of dry wheat toast and bing cherry. The finish is concentrated and long, lingering with aftertastes of nuts, red apple and delicate hints of honey. This is for perfect for someone who usually prefers to drink red over white wine.
Champagne Château de BLIGNY Clos de Chateau Six Cepages Brut NV— Château de Bligny is a unique property in that it is the only Champagne that has a ‘Château’ designation as a champagne harvester and maker. The original winery was built many centuries ago by the Marquis de Dampierre in the heart of the Côte des Bars region overlooking the village of Bligny, located so far southeast from the main part of the Champagne region that it is almost closer to Chablis. After changing ownership hands numerous times throughout the centuries, the current owner of the property and vineyards has made great investments to renovate and preserve this great historic, architectural and winemaking heritage.
This wine is an unique and harmonious blend of the six historically permitted Champagne grape varieties versus the typical three. The blend is 1/6 each of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, Petite Meslier, Arbane and Pinot Blanc. The ‘Clos du Chateau has a delicate, floral scented nose. It is a well-structured, full wine that is powerful and lively on the palate with superb length. Such a rare pleasure to discover during the holiday season!
One of the best things about bubbly is that it is a category of wine on its own, just like white, red or rosé. You honestly don’t need a special occasion in order to drink it, although to have the excuse of brunch, bachelorette party or birthday doesn’t hurt. Cheers to you and yours during this holiday season!