By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 30 Dec 2017
Some of the best value Champagnes are from growers whose names are barely known.
Out of the 19,000 growers in Champagne many still sell their grapes to the big well-known brands, but since the 1990’s there has been a resurgence of growers now bottling their own. The 5,000 growers who make their own wines under their own name craft the fizz from grapes actually produced from their own vineyards.
As their focus is often on their individual terroir or single vineyard, they also offer a fascinating variety of styles. The quality can be uneven from vintage to vintage as different regions can be affected by frost, hail or varied ripeness. So choose carefully – but here are my favourite top twelve:
CHAMPAGNE J L VERGNON CONVERSATION BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT NV (£34 Waitrose; Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com) ***STAR BUY***
Very popular with tasters. Based in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger in Cote des Blancs, Vergnon focus naturally on Chardonnay cuvees from old vines. Passionate winemaker Christophe Constant uses no malolactic fermentation and long lees ageing to create beautifully creamy, flinty zesty Chardonnay with pristine fruit.
CHAMPAGNE PIERRE GIMONNET PREMIER CRU CUIS BLANC DE BLANCS NV (£32 Oddbins)
The Gimonnets have grown vines since 1750, but only started bottling their own in Cuis in 1935. They now own a sizeable 28 hectares, making eight Champagnes. Many of the vines are over 40 years old which Didier Gimonnet says reduces yield, increases ripeness and concentrates fruit. Cuis Champagne is on the lighter side, but they have crispness, minerality and pure Chardonnay fruits.
CHAMPAGNE GREMILLET BRUT NV (£21.99 reduced from £23.99 Virgin Wines)
Based in the southerly Aube south of Troyes, this family grower offers very good value. They own 35 hectares, focusing on Pinot Noir – and their style tends to emphasise the ripe fruits of their warm location. Expect a smooth rounded red fruit focused fizz with light biscuit hints.
CHAMPAGNE LARMANDIER BERNIER LATITUDE EXTRA BRUT NV (£33.50 reduced from £37.50 until end of Dec www.leaandsandeman.co.uk)
Pierre Larmandier in Vertus is probably the best known amongst the grower Champagnes. His focus amongst his 55 parcels of vineyards across the Cote des Blancs is on organic and biodynamic – so whilst his Champagne is never cheap, they are so true to their origin. Latitude is a very dry fizz predominantly Chardonnay (85%) with 15% Pinot Noir; elegant citric floral - a great match for oysters.
CHAMPAGNE DRAPPIER VINTAGE 2012 (£30 reduced from £35 Oddbins) ***STAR VALUE***
The Aube’s top producer now in its eighth generation run by Michel Drappier (pictured). Focusing on Pinot Noir-based Champagne, he uses only first pressing juices and low sulphur levels. His 2012 is deliciously biscuity, rounded, creamy with good length.
CHAMPAGNE A R LENOBLE GRAND CRU BLANC DE BLANCS CHOUILLY NV (£35 Luvians; Aitken Wines; Bon Vivant; Stannary Wine, London)
One of Champagne’s rising stars run by a brother and sister team who like you to think of their Champagne as individual wines. Antoine and Anne Malassagne focus on making rich rounded creamy styles like this fleshy ripe Chardonnay-based cuvee from their best Chouilly vineyard.
CHAMPAGNE LILBERT GRAND CRU BLANC DE BLANCS PERLE NV (£38 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com)
Bertrand Lilbert is one to watch. His family have grown vines in Cramant in Cote de Blancs since C18, but this young winemaker is making some intriguing styles. Here he has recreated the ancient local method of making Perle, bu adding less sugar to juice to create a lighter fizz style. Discrete bubbles, beautiful citric fruits, quite restrained, but so elegant and vibrant.
CHAMPAGNE GASTON CHIQUET TRADITION PREMIER CRU BRUT NV (£28.95 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com)
The Chiquets have grown vines in Dizy village since 1746, but only started making their own in 1935. Today Antoine and Nicolas Chiquet own 22 hectares in Ay, Mareuil-sur-Ay and Hautvilliers next to big name brands. Their Tradition cuvee unusually has 40% Pinot Meunier in the cuvee of this floral scented, vibrant lively citric fizz.
CHAMPAGNE NATHALIE FALMET ‘LE VAT CORNET’ BRUT 2010 (£46 www.swig.co.uk)
Oenologist Nathalie Falmet only makes three Champagnes from her family’s 3.2 hectares of vineyards in the southerly Aube – this is her Blanc de Blancs from a single vineyard. She uses old casks to add depth and complexity. Apple and floral scented, light silky juicy fruits with nutty creamy palate.
CHAMPAGNE VILMART GRAND CELLIER D’OR BRUT NV (£36.99 Waitrose)
Owned by Laurent Champs who flies the flag for his family who have produced fizz under their own name since 1890 in Rilly La Montagne. Their style is rich, deep complex full-bodied and oaky like a mini Krug.
CHAMPAGNE COLLARD-PICARD PRESTIGE CUVEE BRUT NV (£42 Swig winemerchants www.swig.co.uk)
Both Olivier Collard and Caroline Picard’s families owned vines in different zones in Champagne. When they married in 1996, they joined forces combining their two parcels in Vallee de Marne and Cote des Blancs into their cuvees. Oak influence in their use of large oak foudres is important here adding complexity to this beautifully soft silky honeyed Prestige Cuvee.
CHAMPAGNE CHARTOGNE-TAILLET CUVEE SAINTE ANNE NV (£28 The Wine Society www.thewinesociety.com) ***STAR BUY*** A first rate grower based in Merfy, a less fashionable village in Champagne just northwest of Reims – which was on the frontline during the WW1. The Chartogne family have used organic methods and non-interventionist winemaking to create this beauty: slight biscuit notes, blossomy, very citric, good complexity.
Join Rose’s Champagne v Sparkling Wine Tasting on 27 April in Edinburgh £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com