Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Grower Champagne - In a League of its Own

I love Champagne and drink it whenever I get the chance. So when a tasting of 10 grower producers of Champagne was held recently in Chicago, I had to be there, even though I was flying overseas the next day. This wasn't just any tasting, after all.

No matter the type of wine, from California to Italian and the world over, most of the finest wines are made by the smaller producers. This is especially true when it comes to Champagne. Not having to please millions of drinkers with a house style year in and year out, these vignerons craft highly individual wines that reflect their vineyards as well as themselves.

No make no mistake. I am not criticizing the large houses as most of them do an excellent job, especially when it comes to making a luxury cuvée. Also, just because someone is a grower/producer in Champagne, this doesn't automatically make their wines great.

But I find such uniqueness in the wines of the small growers, which is why I'm always excited to try these Champagnes. The recent tasting in Chicago was from a group of 10 producers under the banner Les Champagnes de Vignerons; especially nice was the mix of areas in Champagne represented by these producers, as three were from the Cote des Blancs, three from Le Montagne de Reims, two from La Cote des Bar (otherwise known as the Aube) and two from La Vallee de la Marne.

David Bourdaire, Champagne Bourdaire-Gallois (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

One of my favorite wines was among the very first I tried, a Brut Rosé from Bourdaire-Gallois (La Montagne de Reims). David Bourdaire told me that although this was listed as a non-vintage, all the fruit was from 2009. One other thing to note about this wine is that it is 100% Pinot Meunier, which is a bit of a rarity. Deep color and ripe strawberry fruit were the highlights of this wine, which has very good acidity as well as fruit persistence. I rated this wine as excellent and noted another 3-5 years of aging would improve this wine even more.

From Michel Gonet (La Cote des Blancs), where all the products are made from Grand Cru vineyards, I enjoyed the non-vintage Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs, which sported lemon and fresh apple fruit in a truly lovely, elegant Champagne. I also enjoyed 2004 Prestige, a Blanc de Blancs with an earthy finish with textbook biscuit flavors.

Several of my top wines at the tasting were from Rémy Massin from La Cote des Bar. The non-vintage Brut Tradition, a 100% Pinot Noir, is quite elegant with a very long finish. The NV Brut Prestige, a 50/50 Chardonnay/Pinot Noir blend, was my favorite; this wine offers lovely floral aromas as well as a very long, persistent finish. The NV Cuvée Aristide, made from 95% Pinot Noir and 5% Chardonnay, has excellent acidity as well as big toasty, yeasty notes, while the Millesime 2004, a blend of 60% Chardonnay and 40% Pinot Noir, offered rich pear fruit and lively acidity.

Delphine Colin, Champagne Colin (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Finally, I sampled the wines of Champagne Colin from La Cote des Blancs. This firm is located in the town of Vertus, which is home to several great producers, including Larmandier-Bernier and Duval-Leroy. I absolutely loved the NV Rosé, a blend of 15% Pinot Noir vinified as a red wine with 85% Chardonnay. Displaying big aromas of strawberry and black cherry, this is quite rich with a long finish and excellent persistence. The Cuvée Blanche de Castille, a non-vintage Blanc de Blancs has pleasant yeasty, lemony flavors, while the Grand Cru Millésime 2005, also a Blanc de Blancs, has a big entry on the palate with excellent acidity.

Proprietor Delphine Colin also sampled out two older bottlings with the initials RA; this referring to Roger Adnot, the grandfather of her husband. Adnot still has a few older bottlings he produced, including the 1985 and 1973. I found the 1985 flavorful with good depth of fruit, but this particular bottle seemed a bit tired. The 1973 however, was in splendid shape. Though lighter on the palate than the 1985, this wine offered more elegance as well as freshness. A 39-year old Champagne - now that's a great way to wind up as special a tasting as this one!


  1. Dear Tom,
    Many thanks for your article.
    I was really happy to met you and speak with you about my wines.
    Best wishes
    David Bourdaire

  2. David:

    Thank you very much for your comments. It was a great pleasure to meet you as well.

  3. Dear Tom,
    It was a pleasure to let you discover our Champagnes and i thank you very much for your tasting comments that are very pleasant. All the Colin family appreciate!
    Many thanks again and you are welcome in Vertus if you want to visit us!
    Kindest regards
    Delphine COLIN

  4. Delphine:

    You are welcome and thank you for your comment. I spoke with my friend Gerhard Eichelman in Germany who knows your wines and likes them very much.

    I do hope to visit Vertus very soon!

  5. Champagne Michel GonetMarch 8, 2012 at 9:25 AM

    Dear Tom,

    Many thanks for your article and your comment about our Champagnes. It was a real pleasure to met you . I hope to see you soon during your next visit (10 minutes of Vertus) ;-)

    Kind regards

    Sophie Signolle

  6. Sophie:

    Thank you for your comment. I do hope I can visit your area soon. I will certainly pay you a visit.

    Tom Hyland

  7. Champagne Michel GonetMarch 9, 2012 at 5:32 AM

    with pleasure