Growers Champagne: two words that we encounter more and more, yet which somehow remain a bit obscure. We all know Champagne, definitely, but to rather limited extents. Champagne has the particularity of showcasing really strong brands like Veuve-Clicquot, Roederer, Dom Pérignon or Krug, to name a few. Even if one is not a wine aficionado, those big Champagne houses have built such solid brand awareness - thanks to highly visible advertising campaigns and consistency in producing high-quality wines - that most of us are familiar with Champagne even if we're not massive consumers.
Yet, a second category of Champagne rises: that of growers. To make it simpler, the difference between the big houses and growers would be quite similar to furniture made by a factory or furniture made by a carpenter: smaller-scale production with more modest resources. The "growers" in the title are literally farmers who grow their own grapes, make their wine from specific plots, in specific vintages with specific grapes, whether it is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier. They strongly differ from their bigger neighbors by stepping far away from consistency to reveal character and identity of a particular terroir.
Most of the producers mentioned hereafter may not yet ring a bell, still they all make some of the finest Champagnes a wine lover could hope to taste. I've chosen to highlight five that I particularly enjoyed recently, hoping to make everyone rush to their glasses.
I will start with Larmandier Bernier Terres de Vertus Non Dosé NV. This Blanc de Blancs was harvested from one single vineyard, Vertus, in 2007. One grape, one plot, one vintage. No blending at all, meaning the purest expression of Larmandier's terroir. It truly conveys the chalkiness of its soil, along with a floral and fresh lime nose. Not being too full-bodied, it has a solid structure and long-lasting finish.
Moving from Chardonnay to Pinot, my next choice would be Egly-Ouriet Blanc de Noirs NV. Only 40 year-old Pinot Noir vines are planted in Grand Cru sites in the Montagne de Reims; hence the golden-coloured champagne, with intense flavours of poached pears, walnuts and honey persisting through a long finish. This Blanc de Noirs has the structure to live happily in cellars for many years!
Heading north to the town of Verzenay, the Godmé family produces wines of exceptional quality, whether it is their Brut Réserve NV or their millésimés (1995, 1998, 2002). My favorite remains Godmé Brut Millésimé 1995. This Chardonnay-dominated Champagne astonishes with its warm golden colour, incredible freshness -even after 17 years! - and density. Tropical fruits and spices combine to create a lively and powerful wine. One of Godmé's most remarkable vintages!
Usually not a big fan of rosé Champagne, I have to say that De Sousa Cuvée des Caudalies Rosé NV made me change my mind. Located in the Côte des Blancs, this biodynamic estate produces a salmon-pink rosé Champagne showing a mineral palate supported by aromas of fresh red berries and a rather crisp acidity on the finish that is incredibly invigorating.
Last but not least, my number one craving is undoubtedly André Clouet Cuvée Un Jour de 1911 NV. This impressive Grand Cru is located in the heart of Bouzy and its secret can be easily explained with simple maths: 50% 1996 vintage, 25% 1995 vintage, 25% 1997 vintage. The result is an eloquent Blanc de Noirs combining floral perfumes, delicate pears, a silky palate and bubbles that sparkles with great finesse. Haunting.
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