Champagne lady, you have got to watch it” Randy ribbing me for not yet watching
the recently released A Year in Champagne,
a documentary about, well about a harvest, or year, in France’s famed sparkling
wine region of Champagne. Randy had watched the movie and loved it so much that
he bought the movie poster for the shop and even had it hung right behind the
desk where I work. He was right, I was dragging my feet and one night last
month I popped onto Amazon streaming, opened a bottle of wine and tucked into
the end of my couch, wondering if there were any way for me to be more in love
with my little Champagne department and producers than I have been for years.
Just a few frames in and it two things were clear, I could love them more and
Randy was once again correct. I needed to watch that film.
these small producers work their land, extoll their passion, share their
families and stories. Watching them taste and assemble a wine for us to enjoy,
well it went a very long way in reminding me why we fell in love with these
small growers in the first place. These are wines carefully crafted, from the
soil to the final cage that will restrain that signature cork until just the
moment we decide to free it, these are wines made by someone very much vested
in bringing us joy. How cool, and frankly, remarkable is that?
You can see
the determination of the faces of those small vintners, their wives and
children in the vineyards too, as they pick Pinot Noir, in the rain, in an
effort to rescue what tiny amount of fruit they have to produce their maybe
five or six thousand case production. They harvest, ferment, let the wines rest
on the yeast for upwards of three years before disgorging, labeling and sending
the wines across the ocean to us, and we can buy all of that work, often for
less than $50.00. That is simply amazing to me. Counter that with reading a
recent article that mega-bubble-cranking-out-machine Veuve Clicquot, in an
effort to move through their over three hundred million bottle, machine
harvested, purchased fruit production, is introducing a super sweet Champagne
designed to be served over ice and mixed with crap like cucumber, bell peppers
and booze. No, I am not kidding, (as much as that sounds laughable) they are
calling it, “Rich” and for this soulless, creepy elixir you will be charged
around $60.00. A hand crafted, limited production wine designed to bring us
pleasure, because you know, they need us to be happy so we keep buying their
products, or a sweet, marketing scam of a wine that you have to actually mix
stuff into, and serve over ice to make it taste good? I don’t know about you
but one seems like a gift, the other sort of feels like a huge company giving
us the finger. Seems like an easy choice to me….
Here's a list of my favorite under $50 Champagnes
Agrapart & Fils 7 Cru Brut $40.99
A wine we
write about every year, but one we would be remiss not to include in the best
of catagory because it just keeps getting better and better! This Chardonnay
based wine from the tiny estate of Agrapart in Avize, sells 3 to 1 over any
other Champagne in the store, in large part due to the wickedly small price tag
but at the rate with which even The Wine Country staff gobbles it up there is
more going on than just value. Plenty of tart green apple with a pronounced
buttered bread note. In the mouth, the wine is full without being the least bit
clunky; it's light and pretty with a gentle but persistent finish.
Coutier Grand Cru Brut $39.99
one of the best deals in grower Champagne. Period. This Grand Cru offering is
comprised of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay and packs a serious amount of
power in a tiny little price tag! Rich, mouth filling, deep and busting at the
seams with gobs of red fruit. Serve with fried foods, (like fried chicken or
shrimp) strong cheese, seafood or on its own. You will not find more wine for
this amount of money.
Jeaunaux Robin Extra Brut $39.99
producer for us this Jeaunaux Robin is a very welcome addition to our ever
growing Champagne department. Produced in a bone-dry style with very low
dosage, this is a Champagne that is all about minerals, toast and tightly
wound, elegant bubbles. Citrus and buttery biscuit come though on the very long
but gentle finish.
Bonnet-Ponson 1er Cru Brut $39.99
With all the
rage in Champagne amongst small growers being very low to zero dosage it is
sort of refreshing, and indulgent to find a wonderfully fruited and creamy Champagne
like this one from Bonnet-Ponson. Super deep aromatics of slow roasted red
apples in warmed, spiced cream. So sensual bready, no, more pie crust like
flavors make the wine, while still a dry wine, remind you of eating a sliced of
warm apple pie. De-licious!
Bonnet-Ponson 1er Cru Brut Rose $44.99
Man, do we
love Roses with this much going on both aromatically and flavor wise! The nose
is full of floral notes, like burying your nose in a fresh bouquet of wild
flowers, stems and all. On the palate you get some of those floral notes but
it's the blast of wild strawberries that comes leaping to the front of your
palate. Wild berries, gentle spice and dried flowers carry through on the
gloriously long finish.
Marion-Bosser 1er Cru Brut $49.99
Marion is a young, feisty, fiery beauty of a hard working woman that learned to
make Champagne from her mother and her grandmother. Her wines, much like her,
are regal, gorgeous and powerful in a way that defies tradition. Comprised of
Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from her premier cru vineyards this wine shows
classic, toast, yeast, green apple and just a hint of lemon rind. The bubbles
are so fine here you almost forget you’re drinking Champagne, that is until you
taste that rich yeasty bread dough on the long, super-long finish. Masterful
Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs $44.99
Grand Cru Champagne for this price is unbelievably rare, finding a Grand Cru
Blanc de Blancs for this price is nearly unheard of! Chardonnay is the least
planted variety in Champagne and it is used, at least in part, for nearly every
non-vintage blend from every Champagne house big or small. So needless to say
Blanc de Blancs is one of the more rare offerings from most producers. We were
happily introduced to this Le Mesnil label a couple years back, we blew though
it during the holidays and then after the supplier ran short on it we almost
forgot about it. Thankfully, for all of us, we were reminded and now it's back!
Lots of green apple and citrus, some stony, doughy notes and with a long
brioche and warmed cream finish.
Laherte-Freres Ultradition Brut $35.99
We could not
believe our ears when we heard the price on this charming organic Champagne.
Made up of mostly Pinot Meunier with a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir added
this supple and easy drinking bubbly is a slam-dunk in the “Bang for your buck”
category. Easy, bright, super-fresh and uber friendly.
Freres Invitation Brut $44.99
Hure, Francois and Matthieu are very passionate, young and eager to learn. I
was lucky enough to visit with them last year and Francois was like an teenager
in his energy and excitement to show us all the things he and his brother had
been experimenting with. This Invitation is their entry level Champagne and the
one they want to have show what their style of wine making is like. Made of 50%
Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay this is as complex a wine as
you will find at this price. Lots of chalky minerals, tons of brioche and cream
with apples and anise coming through on the fresh and snappy finish. This is a
domaine to keep your eyes on as they are just now hitting their stride.
Freres Extra Brut Reserve $49.99
Hure is exactly the kind of young and adventurous winemaker from Champagne that
are leading the charge and creating this palpable energy behind these super dry
wines. Not afraid to experiment and share his findings with other winemakers
which is the kind of communication that has helped this movement take off. This
Brut Reserve is still showing ample fruit but here you get some playful
yeastiness and an almost salted crust kind of flavor. Much more on the citrus
line of things than the apple or pear but still feminine and a sheer pleasure
Chauvet Carte Blanche Brut $45.99
We had been
stocking the brilliant wines from this tiny estate for years before I finally
got the chance to go there and meet the people behind them. I arrived at
Chauvet tired from a day full of tasting, literally hundreds of Champagnes,
took less than ten minutes in that family's home before I was fired up and
ready taste more! Rich, bready, brimming with gorgeous baked apples and pears
with a wonderfully creamy note that caries through on the persistent finish.
One of owner Randy Kemner's favorite Champagnes we stock, so that should tell
you something! A steal of a Champagne produced by some of the sweetest, warmest
people I've ever met.
Chauvet Grand Cru Brut Rose $48.99
love it when you find a product that you flip your lid over, then meet the
people involved in producing it and they are such a joy to work with that you
end up loving that product even more? The wines from A. Chauvet are those kind
of products for us. This handsome Rose is full of wild strawberry and tart red
cherry notes, along with a sturdy core of toasted and buttered bread. Nice
weight and curve in the mouth with a fresh and dry finish. Graceful enough to
just drink but sturdy enough to pair with things like cured meat, duck and one
of our personal favorites, fried chicken!
Go ahead, stream the film, tuck yourself in, pop the cork on one of these remarkable wines and give the finger right back to those factory fizz marketing wankers.