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2014 Grower Champagne Tasting

One other thing about the Christmas and New Year’s Holidays is the focus on Champagne (like we need an excuse). Tuesday night was the annual Champagne tasting at The Wine Cellar on Whitesburg. We don’t open bottles of bubbly very often, so the opportunity to taste a variety of sparkling wine so the opportunity to try 7 different ones is an opportunity I don’t like to pass up!

Most of the wines we tasted were very good, but my top two from the 2013 tasting are still my favorite. I’ll list them all for you in a moment.

If you don’t already know about “Sparkling Wine,” there are many varieties. The most well-known is Champagne. To be called Champagne the wine should be grown and produced in the Champagne region of France using the “traditional method.” Today, wonderful sparkling wines come from all over the world including two that were included in the tasting. Prosecco is an Italian sparkler generally from the area above Venice (Veneto). Lambrusco is another Italian sparkler from areas in Emilia-Romagna and Lombardy made from the one of the six varieties of the Lambrusco grape. Both Prosecco and Lambrusco are normally made using the “Charmant” method.

The difference between these two production methods is how the bubbles get into the bottle. The “méthode champenoise” or traditional method creates the bubbles through a second fermentation that occurs in the actual bottle. The Charmant method uses a second fermentation in large stainless steel tanks. The traditional method takes a tremendous amount of labor and those wines generally cost more than wines made by the traditional method.

Another trend has been the rise in popularity of “Grower Champagnes.” Most of the Champagne in the US is from the very large Champagne houses that buy grapes from a large number of growers throughout the Champagne region. Some of the growers also make their own Champagne. These are made in much smaller quantities and with only grapes that the producer grew.

Back to the tasting – this year, the 7 wines were served – 5 Grower Champagnes, 1 Prosecco and 1 Lambrusco. The retail price ranged from $14.99 for the Prosecco and Lambrusco to $38.99-$67.99 for the Grower Champagnes. (As a note, most of the non-vintage big producer Champagnes are generally in the high $30 to low $40 range – of course you can pay MUCH more for the higher end Champagnes – Dom Perignon anyone????)

Let’s start with the two “inexpensive” ones:

Secco – Italian Bubbles 2012 – $14.99 – This Italian sparkler is mostly Chardonnay (77%) with the balance from the Pinot Bianco and Raboso Piave grapes. The tasting notes suggested flavors of “anise, Italian Summer, melon, beeswax and seashells.” I’m not sure I know what seashells taste like, but this was a wonderful sparkler for the price. I really liked this one.

Alfredo Bertolani – Lambrusco Dolce Fiore – 2012 – $14.99 – Another Italian sparkler with mostly Lambrusco Salamino grapes (85%). Lambrusco tends to be red and this was no exception with a “ruby red” color. The tasting notes said “vegetal and jam scents together with a unique softness and richness of taste. Sweetness, acidity and flavor are harmoniously balanced to make the wine pleasant.” This one was sweeter than most of the others and was not my favorite. If you like a sweeter wine, this one might work for you.

Marc Hébrart Cuvée de Reserve Brut – NV – $42.99 – This wine is mostly Pinot Noir (77%) with the rest Chardonnay. While a non-vintage wine, this particular release is mostly 2011 blended with 2009-2010 for the rest. This wine was disgorged (part of the traditional method where the yeast is removed from the bottle) in October of 2013. The tasting notes on this one said ” the palate is sprightly and chalky and Ceylon-tea-like. It is typically deft and focused, and atypically perfumey and taut.” Well – not sure how to compete with that description. Let me just say that I liked it.

Geoffroy “Expression” Brut – NV – $46.99 – The blend on this one is different from the previous one consisting of 43% Pinot Meunier, 32% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay. This release is 65% 2010 and the balance from 2009. The tasting notes said: “It may be the most sheerly delicious very dry Champagne in the offering. The basis of this wine is front-loaded big flavor along with silky texture and a surprising sense of refinement. It’s also Pinot Meunier at its most soy-shiitake.” Again, I’m not sure about the soy-shiitake part, but it was very good and one of my two favorites along with the Marc Hébrart.

Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée Brut – NV – $67.99 – I’m not sure what to say about this one – I really like the Expression from this producer much better. This one is 100% Pinot Noir – and I normally love well made Pinot Noir’s. The tasting notes say “typical strawberry-rhubarb flavors, but more like a tightly wound slightly sour southern strawberry than a bursting summer sweet one.” I could taste something that was somewhat strawberry like – however, I take an exception with the comment southern strawberries. Was just not a fan. If you like this style go for it – Wine Spectator gave this wine a 92 rating. It is all from the 2011 harvest and was disgorged in October 2013. Being the most expensive of the pack, I won’t be buying this anytime soon.

L. Aubry Fils Brut – NV – $38.99 – This one is 45% Pinot Meunier, 25% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir and 5% “other.” This one is mostly from 2011 (60%) and the balance from their “perpetual reserve” and was disgorged in February 2014. The tasting notes on this one confused me – “A very long, incisive coppery and a bit grassy, with a fine minty finish. Among the best of the year, in fact, Meunier expresses here as barley, rye, rusks, and crackers. So the wine is rusky, saline, iodé, mineral and appetizing.” I don’t know what some of that tastes like. This was a nice wine, the least expensive of the grower champagnes, but for me had a sharp edge to it. I wouldn’t turn it down, but if I’m buying, I’ll spend a few bucks more for one of my favorites.

A. Margaine “Cuvée Traditionelle” Demi-Sec – NV – $45.99 Didn’t have a lot of information on this one and the producers website provided no information. I found several other sites that identified Chardonnay as the primary grape, but no details on the blend. As far as Demi-Sec goes, this one was not as sweet as I expected. The notes state “elegant and lightly sweet, with ginger, lemon and honey notes. It has good structure and length with vanilla pastry accent on the lingering finish.” If the uber-dry champagnes turn you off, this is an excellent option. I liked it a lot, but not what I would typically buy.

So that was the 2014 tasting – 4 of them I would be happy drinking again, the L. Aubry would be OK but not my favorite and the Rosé and Lambrusco I just did not care for. I told you I would also pass along my 2013 favorites which if I were buying, I would purchase these over the ones I tasted on Tuesday (Again – not taking anything away from the 2014 crop, I just liked these two better…..).

These two are the Champagne Varnier Grand Cru and the Champagne Moussé Fils Blanc de Noirs. Of these two the Moussé Fils is my favorite. It is 85% Meunier and 15% Pinot Noir. The only downside was that the Wine Cellar sold their last bottle of the Moussé Fils at the start of the tasting. Beth (the distributor) said they had more at the warehouse, so we could special order or it may show back up on the shelves.

Bottom line – if you need a holiday excuse for a bottle of Champagne then go for it! For the holiday splurge on one of these more expensive bottles. If you just can’t do that – go with the Prosecco. Your retailer can point you in the right direction.

DISCLAIMER – Comments about the wines are my opinion of what I like. Others may disagree with me and that is great. There are no “rights” and “wrongs” in wine tasting – it’s about what you like. If you like Champagne at all then I think you will enjoy any of these I’ve highlighted.

Champagne Tasting

Secco - Italian Bubbles

Prosecco

Alfredo Bertolani - Lambrusco Dolce Fiore

Marc Hebrart Cuvee de Reserve Brut

Geoffroy Expression Brut

EXPRESSION

Geoffroy Rose de Saignee Brut

Geoffroy rose

L. Aubry Fils Brut

Aubry Fils

A. Margaine Cuvee Traditionelle Demi-Sec

amargainedemisec

Champagne Varnier Grand Cru

Varnier Grand Cru

Champagne Mousse Fils Blanc de Noirs

This last one – Champagne Mousse Fils Blanc de Noirs is still my favorite Grower Champagne of all the ones that I have tried!

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