Editor's note: We like sparkling wine, and we're always searching for delicious bottles of bubbly, from affordable options to small-producer Champagnes that truly reflect the character of the place where they're grown. In this new series, Bubbles, we'll pop a few corks to let you know which fizzy wines are worth a splurge and which you can skip. Got bubbly recommendations? Please let us know your favorites in the comments!
Seriously chalky soil is part of what makes the Cote des Blancs region in Champagne famous for its chardonnay. We recently tasted two blanc de blancs (all-chardonnay) Champagnes from this region: one from Perrot-Batteux et Filles, and the other from Pierre Gimmonet. These wines launch our explorations of grower Champagnes: wines made by small producers—the families who grow the grapes. Think of it like microbrewed beer, except the independent microbrewer also happens to be a hop grower and malt-producer. Well, maybe it's not a perfect metaphor...
You can spot a grower Champagne by looking for RM on the label—this stands for Récoltant-Manipulant, or grower-producer. You'll also sometimes see RC, which means that the wines are made with the help of village cooperatives, sharing the cost of equipment. (Sometimes the grower is very involved in the winemaking, sometimes not.) The vast majority of Champagnes are made by big companies (négociants) who buy grapes and blend them to create a consistent product. Only about 3.74% of the Champagne sold in the US is grower Champagne, and it can be distinctive, quirky, delicious stuff—real wine that reflects a particular hillside, a particular winemaker, a particular vintage in a particular spot.
The two wines we tasted were both chardonnay from Cotes des Blancs—from growers about 25 minutes down the road from each other—but these Champagnes couldn't have been more different.
Champagne Perrot-Batteux Helixe Blanc de Blancs
This land was underwater once: the family's cellar, dug 50 to 100 meters deep, is full of fossils from the marine critters that once swam there. (One such fossil is pictured on the label.) This wine is a blend of 50% 2007, 30% 2006, and 20% 2005, fermented in steel, disgorged September 20, 2010.
This wine is jubilant and fresh, with a scent of green apples and a delicate, lively mousse. The acidity reminded us of white grapefruit, with a subtle rindy lemon-marmalade bitterness. There's a hint of almond and violet blossoms, a creme fraiche tang, and focused graphite flavor, but this wine is mostly about brightness.
It's delicious with a wedge of parmesan, but also works well with any creamy mushroom dish; this wine has the acidity to cut through rich food.
Around $45, available online. Sample provided for review.
Pierre Gimonnet Cuvee Oenophile 2002
The difference in age between these bottles isn't actually as great as it would seem despite the older vintage—Champagne only really ages after it's under the cork, and this bottle was disgorged March 10, 2010. While the Perrot-Batteux was all about fresh brightness, this wine is earthy, with a slightly smoky scent and flavors that reminded us of chamomile, dried apricot, toasted pinenuts, miso, and hay. The wine is a little malty and apple-cidery, with an umami quality that makes it delicious with mushrooms. There's a hint of brown butter here, a little clove and bay leaf.
Serve this special wine with Marcona almonds and aged hard cheeses—though it can actually even handle a delicate blue cheese. It's good with pork chops and turkey, too.
Have you ever tried grower Champagne? Do you have a favorite 'farmer fizz'?
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