By Zoltan Szabo and Jamie Drummond
Pics by Jennifer Heuther
When I was managing a wine program one of my continual challenges was how to work the Champagne side of things. I had always tried my damndest to track down artisanal or estate bottled Champagne, but the offerings were very much few and far between. Occasionally I would actually choose to forgo having Champagne served by the glass, as I made a point of eschewing the big producer’s wines, the champagne houses that are recognised globally. This was much to the chagrin of many a customer, I can tell you…
I feel that the time has truly come for wine lovers the world over to unite, rise up, and call bollocks on around 96% of the Champagne industry.
The Champagne industry, and I really do mean INDUSTRY here, has been pulling the wool over the eyes of a world of gullible bubbly drinkers for centuries now.
Sure, they tell us of the great Champenoise traditions, the late, great, Frère Jean Oudart (1654 – 1742) and Dom Pierre Pérignon (1639 – 1715), the art of assemblage, of the immense skill it takes to produce a house style that can be made year after year, and hence one pays a premium for such a luxury product, even although they are blending fruit from multiple vintages, sourced from up to, in some cases, 80 vineyard sites.
Errrrrr… hold on a second… for the most part your grand history of assemblage creates a wine that amounts to little more than a glass of fizzy mediocrity.
There, I said it.
And please don’t get me started on the amount that the ignorant are wiling to shell out for a bottle of the so-called “real stuff”. It is patently ludicrous and perhaps the biggest confidence trick in the world of wine.
But there is a positive side to my tale. Honest… there is…
I have seen the future… and it is Grower Champagne.
Now it’s not that champagne made by the grower who tends the grapes is something altogether new, but it is a relatively recent phenomenon. Since the 18th Century the Champagne industry has been dominated by the the big houses who act as negociants, purchasing grapes (and, I have it on good word, in some instances actual wine) from the 19,000 growers in the region of champagne. They then blend/assemble these myriad components so as to label it under their own brand.
Grower Champagne, on the other hand, is the antithesis of this, focusing more upon the terroir, that is to say the specific provenance of the grapes used to make the wine. And there’s the rub. The wines made from specific vineyard sites more often than not have a very, very distinctive personality, and that, for me, is paramount!
Interestingly enough, many champagne drinkers, who have over time become accustomed to the insipid bottlings of the big houses, find the explosive aromatics, complex flavours, and fascinating textures of Grower Champagnes to be a little too much for them.
Or perhaps they are simply being label snobs? I’m just saying…
Case in point, I once had a very prominent Toronto society lady storm out of a certain establishment as I had chosen not to list any of the big champagne brands, instead serving an absolute killer Grower Champagne by the glass. When I tried to explain the reasoning behind my decisions, she looked at me in utter disgust, pulling a face that looked like a bulldog chewing a wasp. That was obviously the amaurotic snobbery of the pretentious. Oh well, her loss I suppose.
Just last week John Szabo MS and Stephen Cohen of Groupe Soleil organised an intimate tasting of a number of Grower Champagnes for a select group of Sommeliers at Toronto’s E11even Restaurant. The wines were incredibly well received. The following are Sommelier Zoltan Szabo’s tasting notes from that session… and yes, he gave them all 5 out of 5. Unbelievable!
NV Andre Clouet Rosé
Savoury, mineral, pink grapefruit, red apple, red cherry, rose petals and enticing smoke – bacon fat nuances. Comes in a great package with old worldly – classic label. 100% grand cru Bouzy Pinot Noir, minuscule amounts of it are produced, lucky those who can get it.
NV Andre Clouet Silver Brut Nature
Dry, no dosage, there’s great intensity and delicacy in the same time here, hitting all classic notes of apples, lemon, toast – brioche, honey and mineral – chalk. Persuasive finish. Grand cru Bouzy.
NV Andre Clouet Cuvee 1911
Blend of 1995, 1996 and 1997 vintages. The great – grandfather of current owner was a printer for the royal family of France, hence the spectacular label design. Full, broad and complex with striking minerality, licorice, pineapple and even white chocolate aromas and flavours. Eureka…!
NV Bereche et Fils Brut
This is Blanc de Noirs from Ludes, Montagne de Reims, with 20% of it vinified in small, 205 L barrels called feuillette. 8 grams of dosdage. So minerally, racy and tight, must serve it in a proper stem with larger bowl and just below room temperature, to be treated as a great still wine, no other.
NV Bereche et Fils Valee de la Marne
Extra brut. High – toned with just a touch of delicious volatility that just uplifts aromas and flavours more. Super – intemse with almost salty minerality, mint and seaweed accents. 100% Pinot Meunier.
2004 Bereche et Fils “Instant”
Aged in 205 L barrels, not filtered, no dosage, 55% Chardonnay and gone through partial malo. Orange and tea leafs – savoury, yeast and mineral. Explosive. Again, don’t forget to serve in Burgundy glass, and with food…!
NV Jacquesson Cuvée 734
54% Chardonnay from the 2006 vintage and brut style. Exotic with Thai herbs and spices and spicy toffee notes on its finish. Comes with intense and long – lingering spicy chili – taint on its finish, and some heat. Decant it if you have too…
NV Georges Laval Cumieres Brut Nature
A mixture of apples, yeast, green curry spice, summer hay and dirt – funk. Brutally intense and so mineral. Particular – unique style, not for “vegetarians”…It was aged in small French oak, that certainly adds additional complexity here. There’s even a loveably weird peanuty note on its minute – long finish. Respect…!
2002 Guy Charlemagne Mesnillesime
Shocking. Spectacular. Multi – dimensional, round and opulent. There are chocolate, tomato and tobacco notes underlying its citrus fruit and superbly mineral core. Hard for me to describe it and I also find it senseless to give it a score…Can’t emphasize it enough, but please treat it as you would treat a serious grand cru white Burgundy, proper glass and decant it too.
1979 Andre Clouet
Full and dense with spicy white truffles, green tea and bay leaf, ripe cheese – iodine and fermenting tobacco nuances. Very minerally also. Exotic. Dramatic. So very young still. Worth each penny of $150.
Ranting Text by Jamie
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… and he he wants to see more of these beauties.