By Rose Murray Brown MW Published in The Scotsman 6 July 2019
‘Small is beautiful’ is all the rage in Champagne. For the last 25 years there has been a resurgence of interest in small artisan growers producing their own cuvees, which tend to reflect the character of their vineyards, in comparison to volume blends from big negociant houses.
Across Champagne’s 34,000 hectares there are an astonishing 15,800 growers. Traditionally these growers sold grapes to the large houses and big brands – and many still do. Now with a demand for ‘terroir-based’ handcrafted cuvees, over 4278 growers are now bottling their own Champagnes with their own name on the label to highlight their carefully tended individual plots, previously lost in big blends.
One way to spot an artisan Champagne is by looking for ‘RM’ on the label: which means recoltant-manipulant. This indicates that it has been produced by the same estate that owns the vineyards where the grapes are grown [pictured right is Champagne Nicolo & Paradis in the Aube region].
Boutique Champagne producers fall into two camps. Some focus on red grapes Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier based in Montagne de Reims, Vallee de Marne and increasingly in the most popular area of experimentation in southerly Aube or Cote des Bars (Drappier and Nicolo & Paradis are two Aube examples). Those based in Champagne’s Cote des Blancs just south of Epernay focus on citrusy Chardonnay cuvees.
Try our pick of a dozen artisan Champagne cuvees:
WHITE GRAPE CUVEES
CHAMPAGNE LARMANDIER BERNIER ‘LONGITUDE’ BLANC DE BLANCS EXTRA BRUT 1ER CRU NV (12.5%)
Pierre Larmandier makes two introductory Blanc de Blancs cuvees called Latitude and Longitude. My preference is for older cuvee Longitude which comes exclusively from their fifty small plots of vineyards in the Cote de Blancs. Very dry, elegant and powerful Chardonnay with minerally terroir-driven flavours and great attention to detail: the disgorgement date lasered onto the glass of each bottle. Larmandier, who owns 15 hectares, is known for making low dosage fizz as he feels sugar can mask the wine’s natural flavours.
CHAMPAGNE CLAUDE CAZALS CARTE D’OR GRAND CRU NV (12.5%)
Based in the heart of Cote de Blancs in Mesnil sur Oger, this little-known house is run by the founder’s great-granddaughter Delphine Cazals; the original founder was a cooper from southern France – and his grandson is credited with inventing the gyropalette (a mechanical riddling machine to replace hand-turning). Delpine, who owns just 9 hectares focuses only on Chardonnay, which she used to sell to Dom Perignon – but now makes her own. Our tasters enjoyed the delicacy, toasty notes and minerally core of their Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs.
CHAMPAGNE GONET SULCOVA BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT NV (12%) ***STAR BUY***
£29.99 Raeburn Wines, Edinburgh
Popular with tasters at our recent Champagne praised for its citrus peel and apple bouquet, sleekness, minerality and classic style. There are several Gonet families in the region, this is an Epernay-based winery set up by Vincent Gonet and Davy Sulcova who joined their names together in 1985 using Chardonnay grapes from the vineyards surrounding the villages of Montgueux and Mesnil sur Oger.
CHAMPAGNE FLEURY NOTES BLANCHES 2012 (12%)
£55 Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
Zero dosage vintage made from a grape you rarely see in Champagne – Pinot Blanc. Made by arguably the best biodynamic producer in the region – they were the first to convert back in 1989. An extraordinary & very different Champagne tasting like a leaner version of Chardonnay with enticing citric, apple and gingery notes with tangy vibrant palate with distinctly earthy notes – suit those who like dry fizz.
CHAMPAGNE J L VERGNON CONVERSATION BLANC DE BLANCS BRUT NV (12%)
£33.99 Waitrose; Berry Bros & Rudd www.bbr.com
Delighted to see Waitrose now stocking one of my favourite Chardonnay-based Champagnes. Christophe Constant, winemaker at JL Vergnon, nurtures his old vines in a plot in the prestigious Mesnil sur Oger village in Cote de Blancs. Constant focuses on using no malolactic; he likes his Champagne to be flinty and zesty with a rich nutty creamy texture from long lees ageing. Low dosage at 6g/l keeps flavours pure, precise & vivid.
CHAMPAGNE JACQUES LASSAIGNE ‘LE COTET’ EXTRA BRUT NV (12%)
£90 The Good Wine Shop
From the hills of Montgueux near Troyes in southern Champagne, Jacques Lassaigne is one of my exciting new finds. Run by enterprising Emmanuel Lassaigne who makes this single vineyard Chardonnay cuvee in a very rich Burgundian style. Montgueux is known as the Montrachet of Champagne for its chalky soils similar to Cote de Blancs, more suited to Chardonnay – and you can see why. Le Cotet is Emmanuel’s best wine – powerful, minerally, ripe with fabulous fruit purity made from vines planted in 1950s.
CHAMPAGNE COLLARD PICARD PRESTIGE CUVEE BRUT NV (12.5%)
£42 Swig wine www.swig.co.uk
An outstanding favourite for its rich apricot fruits, honeyed undertones, creamy weight and long length. The premium multi-vintage blend from two young growers, Oliver Collard and Caroline Picard, who have expanded their business into new cellars in Epernay’s most prestigious street: Avenue du Champagne. Made from Grand Cru Chardonnay with equal blend of premier cru Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier; a blend of four vintages matured in large oak foudres.
CHAMPAGNE A R LENOBLE ROSE TERROIRS CHOUILLY-BISSEUIL NV (12%)
£39.25 www.thewhiskyexchange.com; www.stannarywine.com; www.frwines.co.uk
Sister and brother Anne and Antoine Malassagne run this exemplary family-owned house making vinous rich styles. It is unusual to find so much Chardonnay (88% Chardonnay from Grand Cru Chouilly) in a rose cuvee – but it works well alongside 12% Pinot Noir from Premier Cru Bisseuil to give colour and body. Lovely citric fruits, redcurrant undertones, ripe fruits, lingering finish: delicate and dry with low 3g/l dosage.
RED GRAPE CUVEES
CHAMPAGNE GUY DE CHASSEY GRAND CRU BRUT NV (12%) ***STAR VALUE***
£31.95 bt; £18.50 hf bt; £72 magnum www.corneyandbarrow.com
In the past Marie Odile de Chassey sold off grapes to the traditional Grande Marque Champagne houses, but she now retains more for her own label. Her daughter Ingrid Oudart, the 5th generation to work in the vineyard and as winemaker, is now at the helm at their Louvois (one of only 17 villages to have 100% GC status) Like a true grower they grow all the grapes for their Champagnes, making just 4000 cases. Crisp vibrant with acidity-charged fruit.
CHAMPAGNE MARC HEBRART PREMIER CRU CUVEE DE RESERVE BRUT NV (12%)
Jean-Paul Hebrart runs this 15 hectare Champagne estate located across 65 different parcels in Mareuil and Ay villages which gives him plenty of options when it comes to blending. This is made from 80% Pinot Noir fruit from Vallee de la Marne – with no Pinot Meunier used – the remainder Chardonnay. Popular with tasters for its very approachable style with rich red fruit undertones – this is Jean-Paul’s entry level fizz.
CHAMPAGNE NICOLO & PARADIS VINTAGE 2010 (12%) ***STAR BUY***
£44 www.thechampagnecompany.com; www.amathusdrinks.com
Like many exciting grower producers, Nicolo & Paradis are based in southerly Cote des Bar, an area known for supplying some of the best Pinot Noir to leading negociants. This was highly rated by our tasters for its rich biscuity, brioche nose, yellow fruit flavours and lively mousse. Made from equal percentages of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir by up-and-coming grower David Nicolo in southerly Aube.
CHAMPAGNE JM LABRUYERE PROLOGUE BRUT NV (12%)
Included in our top picks for its potential; its subtle aroma needs time in bottle to develop. This 70% Pinot Noir / 30% Chardonnay cuvee from Verzenay Grand Cru fruit is made by passionate oenophile Edouard Labruyere. His family hail from Burgundy, but he managed to buy 6 hectares of Grand Cru vineyards in Montagne de Reims. The style is Burgundian too with light grapey, citric toasty aromas, minerally, nutty richness with lingering finish.
Join Rose’s Grower Champagne tasting to celebrate Edinburgh Festival on 29 August at The Royal Scots Club, Edinburgh £45 www.rosemurraybrown.com