Archive | Grower Champagnes RSS feed for this section

Grower Champagnes

10 Dec

By Sharon Kapnick

They don’t have familiar names like the Big Brands. But they do have lots of charm, personality and character. They are–ta-da!–grower Champagnes. Unlike the prestigious Champagnes with household names, they’re made in limited quantities using grapes from choice, small vineyards that are lavished with individual attention.

These handcrafted, artisan Champagnes aren’t meant to taste the same year after year. They’re created by small growers who prize “individually distinctive flavors,” writes importer Terry Theise. That’s partly why growers are now making wines of their own instead of just selling grapes to the Big Houses (aka the Grandes Marques) like Veuve Clicquot or Taittinger.

The growers like to capture the terroir--the unique flavors derived at specific parcels of land–that is often blended away by the Big Brands, which instead strive to maintain a consistent house style. They prefer to keep their wines original and are less bound by convention. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, for example, are the usual grapes used in Champagnes; but Moutard Père & Fils and L. Aubry Fils also use Pinot Blanc and/or the obscure grapes Fromenteau (aka Pinot Gris), Arbanne and Petit Meslier in some of their Champagnes. (These grapes were common in Champagne centuries ago; today these seven grapes are the only ones still allowed in Champagne.) Fleury Père & Fils has adopted organic and biodynamic growing methods, which it claims open “the soil and vines to cosmic influences.”

Grower Champagnes have been arriving on U.S. shores in discernible numbers since the mid-’90s. According to the Comité Champagne (CIVC), the trade association of independent Champagne producers and houses, the volume of grower Champagne shipments to the U.S. is, well, growing. In 2012 it comprised 4.2% of total volume, up from 3.8% in 2010 and 2011. They’ve caught on with sophisticated Champagne lovers in part because, as Theise writes, “it’s nicer to buy Champagne from families [rather] than from factories.”

Savvy sommeliers adore these Champagnes, which appear on many top restaurant wine lists. They bring cachet to the lists. Jacob Daugherty, sommelier at David Bouley’s cutting-edge kaiseki restaurant in New York City, said Brushstroke’s list sticks to  grower Champagnes. There’s not a Grande Marque to be found.  Paul Grieco, co-owner of the Terroir wine bars and Hearth restaurant in New York City, said, “The public’s thirst for uniquely great products allows the smaller estates to flourish. They add luster to the polished sheen the Champagne region already wears.”

All this is available at excellent prices, usually no more, and often less, than famous-label Champagnes. Daugherty said, for example, that the highly respected Vilmart grower Champagnes offer 90% of the quality of the famed Krug at one-fourth the price. Robert Rogness, co-owner of Wine Expo in Santa Monica, Calif., which carries an extensive line of grower Champagnes, also touts the good value of these wines. He said, “The best Champagnes cost much less than the most famous Champagnes because the price of fame is so high.”

To identify grower Champagnes, look for RM (récoltant-manipulant, or grower-producer) on the label. Other producers to seek out include Paul Bara, Henri Billiot , Gaston Chiquet, Egly-Ouriet, René Geoffroy, Pierre Gimonnet & Fils, Larmandier-Bernier, J. Lassalle,  Pierre Peters and Vilmart & Cie.

Advertisements

Wine Importers to Rely On: Terry Theise (Germany, Austria, Grower Champagnes)

16 Jul

by Sharon Kapnick

Terry Theise has brought outstanding wines from an underappreciated wine-making country and a virtually unknown wine-making country to the U.S. And then he introduced us to a collection of artisanal grower Champagnes from the most esteemed wine region of all.

Not so very long ago, when Americans thought of German wine, they thought of the lackluster Blue Nun and Liebfraumilch. Theise almost singlehandedly changed this. Influential wine critic Robert M. Parker  Jr. wrote in 1991 that “in less than 4 years, Terry Theise has done more for the image of high-quality German wines than anyone in the previous eight decades…. By beating the back roads of less renowned viticultural regions, Theise has put together a portfolio of … individualistic wines of astonishing quality…. The result is a bevy of phenomenal wines and extraordinary wine bargains.”

Then, in 1994, Theise added Austrian wines—which most U.S. wine lovers knew nothing about—to his portfolio. Grüner Veltliner, the food-friendly white that accounts for more than a third of Austrian production, is Austria’s signature wine. It was a great discovery for food-and-wine lovers because, as Theise says, Grüner Veltliner complements “all the foods that are supposedly wine killers,” including “every manner of obstreperous veggie.” It thrilled sommeliers, who educated their clientele about its virtues. Austria is also reputed for its Rieslings and sweet dessert wines, and Theise offers them too (as well as its Sekts [sparkling wines], Weissburgunders, Gelber Muskatellers, Bläufrankisches, St. Laurents, Zweigelts and more).

In 1997 Theise’s next venture uncharacteristically took him to the best-known wine region in the world. He was intrigued by a new trend in Champagne: Small growers were bottling their own wines rather than selling their grapes to the big houses. Instead of Champagne that tastes the same each year—a style the large houses strive to achieve—these grower Champagnes aim to be unique every year. “Champagne, like any other wine,” Theise said, “is fascinating to the extent it’s distinctive.” Grower Champagnes bubble up with individuality. They’re brimming with the local character that the large Champagne houses blend away.

Along the way, Theise has received much recognition from the wine press and others. In 2001 he was Wine & Spirits magazine’s Man of the Year; in 2005 Food & Wine magazine named him Importer of the Year. In 2008 he won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Wine and Spirits Professional.

Theise’s portfolio is overwhelmingly white. “I love red wines,” he says, “but I have mined a seam of whites from a narrow latitudinal band of northern Europe”—for which many white wine lovers are very grateful.

Theise has partnered with top importer Michael Skurnik Wines. For more on Theise and his wines, visit www.skurnikwines.com. And look for his name on the bottle labels.