5 Under-the-Radar Champagnes We Love

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What pairs well with champagne? Everything, darling.

The Sommelier’s Secret

Grower Champagnes are worth the search.

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The champagne wall at Toronto's Shangri-La Hotel.
The bubbles on our list.

By Anthony Dias Blue
Photography by Chris Plavidal

Originally appeared in the November 2015 issue of Virtuoso Life

While the Champagne market is dominated by heavily promoted grands marques – labels that every sparkling wine drinker recognizes (hello, Veuve Clicquot) – the cognoscenti are increasingly pouring Champagnes made by the people who actually grow the grapes: grower Champagnes. Each grower-producer (récoltant-manipulant in French, or RM for short) sees his or her wine through the entire cycle from bud break to bottling, resulting in rare offerings with engaging artisanal character.

Crafted in small lots and much harder to find than more mainstream Champagnes, these under-the-radar bubblies are worth the search. “The public knows about Moët’s Dom Pérignon or Roederer’s Cristal, but the offerings of grower-producers often go unnoticed and unmarketed,” says Los Angeles-based sommelier Eduardo Bolaños, who loves introducing them to guests at Terroni Italian restaurant. “Somms know about these wines either through study or because they’ve tasted them with geeky Champagne friends.”
 
5 CHAMPAGNES TO TRY

Château de Bligny NV Clos du Château “Cuvée 6 Cépages” ($100)
Grape growing dates back to the twelfth century at this boutique property, the only Champagne house to use the term “château” in its name, indicating all estate fruit. This cuvée comes from a two-acre clos, or enclosed plot, planted with the six historical Champagne varieties: the common pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier, and the rarer petit meslier, arbane, and pinot blanc. Its complex toasted brioche and vanilla notes play amid ultra-ripe white fruit flavors, leading to a smoky finish.

Launois Père et Fils 2008 Blanc de Blancs Millésime ($50)
Eighth-generation growers, the Launois family pick fruit from their grand cru vineyards in the Côtes des Blancs seven to ten days later than their neighbors, resulting in riper, more opulent flavors. For all its lush roundness, this 100 percent chardonnay still has superb structure and delivers the telltale mineral chalkiness of Champagne’s best sites. 

Penet-Chardonnet Terroir EsCence Rosé Grand Cru ($120) 
Under Alexandre Penet’s visionary leadership, this house now specializes in zero-dosage wines – meaning no sugar, sweet wine, or other liqueur d’expédition is added on final bottling, as is traditional in Champagne. The result? Fresh, bone-dry, terroir-driven sparklers, like this grand cru rosé (the only zero-dosage one in Champagne), which is vibrant and ideally suited to drinking during a meal.

Henri Goutorbe 2005 Spécial Club Brut Grand Cru ($88)
Located in Aÿ, one of Champagne’s most coveted grand cru vineyard areas, the Goutorbe house was founded in the late 1940s by the family of a nurseryman who once worked as Perrier-Jouët’s vineyard manager. Made from 70 percent pinot noir and 30 percent chardonnay, this racy bottling shows ripe fruit with floral notes and an intriguing yeasty quality. 

Pierre Moncuit Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru ($50)
Established in 1889 in the heart of the Côtes des Blancs, Moncuit is known as a blanc de blancs house, specializing in chardonnay-based Champagnes. At the helm since 1977, Nicole Moncuit is currently grooming her daughter, Valérie, to assume the reins and continue the family tradition. The grand cru is lush and complex, with notes of nutmeg, honey, and candied fruit around a mineral core.

WHERE TO SIP

Shangri-la Hotel, Toronto 
“Don’t miss the chic vibe and amazing selection of Champagnes at the C Wall,” says Toronto-based Virtuoso travel agency owner Stephanie Anevich. Settle in near the fireplace in the cozy lounge, where the sommelier can guide you to the grower Champagnes on the extensive list.

Chateau Les Crayeres
Once belonging to Madame Louise Pommery, this 20-room historic hotel in Reims, France, offers more than 600 Champagnes on its wine list, including 200 grower references. The perk for Virtuoso guests? A private tour and tasting at Pommery’s wine cellar.

Orient Express
One more reason this iconic train tops our travel wish list: a new art deco Champagne Bar car, where bottles chill in Lalique ice buckets and the “golden age” of travel takes on new meaning. 

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