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Champagne & Sparkling Wine Information
The Champagne business is dominated by very large companies which often own a
stable of brands.
For example, The Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy company owns Moet & Chandon,
Veuve Clicquot, Ruinart, Mercier and Krug Champagne brands.
Pernod-Ricard owns the Mumm and Perrier-Jouet brands.
A large firm few people have heard of is called Vranken or Vranken-Pommery and
they own the Pommery label along with Heidsieck Monopole and Charles Lafitte.
What was called Marne et Champagne changed to be called Lanson International and
today it's Lanson-BCC and they own the brands Lanson, Boizel, Besserat de
Bellefon, De Venoge, Philipponnat, Chanoine Freres and Alexandre Bonnet.
The firm also makes bubbly for private label brands, as well.
Some smaller firms have purchased neighbors, either for diversification,
additional distribution or to acquire prime vineyard sites. Bollinger owns
the firm of Ayala, for example.
The family owning the Laurent Perrier brand of Champagne also owns Delamotte and
the luxury brand called Salon.
Louis Roederer is also the owner of the fine Champagne house of Deutz.
Many of the large brands have little interest in making top quality wines.
They're run by "business" people or investment types who spend their
days crunching numbers and evaluating "turnover." Marketing
"experts" also seem to have significant sway, with winemakers,
enologists and viticulture crews being of secondary importance in the hierarchy
These companies often make very good luxury bottlings and seem content with
less-than-excellent quality at the profitable entry level while excusing their
poor winemaking performance with a high quality, smaller production wine on the
high end. Of course, Moet's Dom Perignon cuvee is made in humungous
quantities (and they won't divulge the number of bottles made annually because
they're embarrassed to do so). And, yes, Dom Perignon is often a really
Over the past decade, or so, we've seen greater interest in smaller brands of
Champagnes. There's a segment of the market called "Grower's
Champagnes" and these are the work of "mom & pop" vineyard
owners who also vinify the wine and turn it into bubbly.
One of the weaknesses (or strengths) of these brands is that they typically have vineyard
holdings in a handful of sites (or fewer) and so their wines often display but
one "note" of terroir. Large companies tout they can draw upon
numerous sites to create a more complex base wine with which to turn into
On the other hand, some growers have really fine terroir and viticultural
practices which allows them to showcase the "somewhere-ness" of their
The grower Champagnes had usually cost less than the big brands at the cellar
door and in the early 2000's the prices were quite high, based on a couple of
factors: inefficient distribution and scarcity. Today in the 2020's there
are dozens of good brands in the market and thanks to greater competition, it's
possible to find some reasonably-price Grower's Champagnes.
Our shop doesn't carry the mainstream brands of Mumm, Moet or Perrier-Jouet
brands, apart from the deluxe bottlings. The quality at the entry level of
these brands can equate to the quality of a fast food hamburger. And if
you have taste for good Champagne, you'll find yourself asking the question
shouted by the late actress Clara Peller: "Where's the beef?"
A few importers with whom we deal, buy directly from the grower and this allows
us to have some top quality, artisan brands at sensible price
The large brands have devoted a lot of money to their marketing campaigns and
this explains the high price level of some well-publicized Champagnes. For
many consumers, these names are a safer choice in purchasing. Guests who
may not recognize (or even appreciate) an artisan brand find comfort in a name
they know and know to cost a premium price.
There are four major regions in Champagne.
The Montagne de Reims.
The Côte des Blancs et the Côte de Sézanne.
The vallée de la Marne.
The Côte des Bar.
appellation for Champagne, created in 1927, covers about 34,300 hectares (84757
The region is approximately 150 kilometers east of Paris and you can drive there
in an hour and a half if traffic is light.
will hear wine people attempt to enlighten anyone who calls every sort of
sparkling wine as being "champagne."
"Only sparkling wine from the Champagne region in France is entitled to be
A couple of California wineries label some really modest to sketchy sparkling
wines using the word "Champagne" on the labels.
This is a holdover from the days after Prohibition and American vintners latched
on to using the names of famous wines from traditional wine regions. As a
result, there were American (mostly California) wines sold as Champagne,
Chablis, Burgundy, Sauternes, Port and Chianti.
The region of Champagne and its wine association have been vocal about the use
of their name and most honorable companies have changed the name of such wines
to something more original, such as "California Sparkling Wine" or
"Carneros Cuvée" or "Royal Cuvée."
However, while they were demanding about the labeling of "foreign"
sparkling wines, most of the French-owned vintners in California would label
their sparkling wines as being "Methode Champenoise" bubblies.
Other European sparklers would sometimes use the same terminology on their
bottles and this drove the French crazy.
They demanded, for example, that producers of Spanish Cava (bottle-fermented
sparkling wine) refrain from using such a term while French-owned wineries in
California were employing that nomenclature.
These days they practice what they preach and the California sparklers typically
are labeled as "Methode Traditionelle."
The region of Champagne has something like 16,000 vineyard owners.
There are about 140 Grower's Cooperative wineries. These companies may
sell unfermented juice, still wine and Champagne (under their own label or
'naked' for some large Champagne company to use for their own brand).
Then there are maybe Champagne houses. These include brands such as
Veuve Clicquot, Moet Chandon, Mumm,
SOME CHAMPAGNES WE LIKE
- LAURENT PERRIER
- This large company has a long history going back to the early 1800s.
A fellow named Alphonse Pierlot had two vineyard sites, apparently and,
having no heirs, willed the enterprise to his cellar assistant, Eugene
Laurent. Gene's wife's name was Mathilde Perrier, hence the brand
Gene died in 1887 and Mathilde then sold her wine as "Veuve (Widow in
French) Laurent Perrier" and she did a good job in growing the brand,
but a little entanglement called "World War I" but a dent in
business. The firm was passed on to Mathilde's daughter Eugenie and
she, with World War II on the horizon, sells it to Marie-Louise de
Nonancourt (whose family ran the Lanson Champagne house.
Marie-Louise had major money troubles and was near bankruptcy during the
war. She even hid 100,000 bottles of Champagne hoping to make it
through the war. Her two sons were in the French military and one died
in a concentration camp. The other son, Bernard de Nonancourt, was
part of a tank squadron which overtook Hitler's "Eagle's Nest" in
the Bavarian Alps and it was there he found a stash of bottles of Salon
Champagne which he'd watched being confiscated by the Germans earlier in the
After the war, Bernard's Mom insisted he learn every phase of Champagne
production and he worked in his Uncle's firm of Lanson as well as at the
Delamotte facility. He took over, I gather, Laurent Perrier in 1949
and in 1950 introduced a major innovation: stainless steel
In the late 1950s, before prestige cuvees were particularly common, Bernard
had the idea that he could make the best deluxe Champagne not from a single
vintage but by blending top vintages, thus creating a wine of greater
complexity. It was first released in 1959 as a
"multi-vintage" bottling called Grande Siecle and it remains a top
quality, connoisseur's Champagne. Sure, it's not nearly as well known
as Dom Perignon or Roederer's Cristal, but what it may lack in marketing
acumen or fame, it certainly makes up for in the glass.
The company continued to grow under Bernie's leadership and despite being
fairly large, they've maintained a pretty high level of quality in their
entry-level bottlings. It's been said the brand is #3 in terms of
sales behind Moet and Clicquot and yet LP's Brut is typically much
superior to either of its larger competitors.
De Nonancourt passed away in 2010, but his legacy will live on for many
He was a major pioneer in producing and promoting Rose Champagne.
While many companies simply add a drop of red wine to their white base
wine, de Nonancourt had the somewhat risky notion of actually making a
pink wine by using the black-skinned Pinot Noir and giving the juice a bit
of skin contact to get the color "just so." But the risk
is in extracting tannin, a bitter astringent which would be even more
disagreeable when turned into sparkling wine.
Laurent Perrier's Brut Rose, which they offer in a special proprietary
bottle, is a delight. It's berryish and dry with plenty of Rose
character and yet easily nodding to the notion of classic
We're fans, as noted above, of their LP Brut, a bubbly which leans heavily
on the Chardonnay grape as its base. The wine is nicely dry, light
and crisp with a mildly toasty element. Good quality and
They make some other bubblies, including a Vintage Brut which is usually
of good quality. And there's the Cuvee Alexandra Rose, a
vintage-dated Rose which is made but sporadically according to the
- Currently in stock: LAURENT PERRIER BRUT LP Sale $44.99
LAURENT PERRIER BRUT Magnum SALE $99.99
LAURENT PERRIER BRUT ROSE SALE $89.99
LAURENT PERRIER BRUT ROSE MAGNUM SALE $169.99
LAURENT PERRIER GRAND SIECLE SALE $229.99 (750ml)
There are only two reasons to by Laurent Perrier:
You have acquired a taste for exquisite Champagne.
You want your friends to know it.
- There are
some remarkable Champagnes which come from the town of Le Mesnil.
Krug makes one called Clos du Mesnil and it'll set you back nearly $1000
(or more, these days). Salon's recent vintage lives in the neighborhood of
bottle, making a bottle of Pierre Moncuit's delightful bubbly a bargain at
The domaine was founded in the late 1880s by Pierre Moncuit and
his wife Odile. Today you'll find the brother and sister team of Yves and
Nicole running the place. He takes care of the sales side of the business
and she's the winemaker. Nicole's daughter Valerie is now active in the
Valerie & Nicole in the Moncuit vineyards...
They have something like 19 hectares of vineyards and these are quite mature,
much like the winemaker and her brother. In Champagne, you see, vineyards
are routinely uprooted and replanted, as growers want vigor and tonnage.
The notion of "old vines" being anything special is a bit foreign in
Yet the Moncuit team has vineyards which are typical 40+ years of age and some
parcels, from which they source their special deluxe cuvee, are close to a
hundred years of age.
The cellar at Moncuit...
Their father made those bottles...and they still have some of these ancient
treasures in the cellar...
Nicole is a bit quiet and reserved. She reminds me a bit
of winemakers such as the late Joe Heitz of Napa or Bruno Giacosa of
Piemonte: perfection-oriented and confident that her wine is of excellent
quality and if you don't like it, that's YOUR problem, not hers.
The wines of Moncuit are a bit particular and we find the house style to be much
to our taste. The wines feature finesse and yet they are complex and
profound. They are not "big," nor are the Moncuit Champagnes
aimed at those who are just getting on the Champagne "bicycle" and who
need "training wheels."
While many Champagne houses seek to make a wine that's consistent from year to
year, Moncuit varies from one year to the next. Many producers keep a
stock of reserve wines, blending their base wine to achieve a consistent or
standardized product. Nicole does not.
She makes a base wine for each product and it is solely the wine of one year's
harvest. Whether you're buying a vintage-dated Champagne or their
non-vintage bottlings, each comes entirely from one year.
The base wines are no aged in wood and though the wines usually undergo a
malolactic fermentation, they remain laser-point "fine" and really
crisp. Part of this is because they use a low dosage to the wines and they
are quite dry.
We especially enjoy the Cuvee Pierre Moncuit-Delos, as it's a
Grand Cru wine from vineyards in Le Mesnil. The wine is tangy and rather
dry on the palate (they don't use much of a sweetening dosage...less than most,
in fact) and shows some of the stony/chalky notes of its vineyard site. We
find it mildly yeasty and very 'fine.'
The 2008 Vintage Brut is similarly styled, but it seems to really shine with
additional time in the bottle and aging "on the cork." Too bad
few consumers think to set aside bottles of Champagne. It's rather showy
at the moment anyway...it spent 6 or 8 years on the yeast sediment. Very
The top of the line is the Cuvee Nicole, a wine from vineyards planted when
Nicole's parents were young adults. The wine has a nicely toasty/yeasty
note with a touch of an earthy tone and some white flower fragrances. It's
also quite fine on the palate and a special treat if you're at all an aficionado
of good bubbly.
Currently in stock: PIERRE MONCUIT "Cuvee Pierre
PIERRE MONCUIT "Cuvee Pierre
Moncuit-Delos" $26.99 (375ml bottles)
PIERRE MONCUIT 2010 Vintage Brut SALE $89.99
PIERRE MONCUIT 2006 Cuvee Nicole SALE $129.99
PIERRE MONCUIT Rosé Sold Out Presently
name Alfred Gratien is relatively unknown to most wine drinkers, but it's
a highly respected name to Champagne aficionados.
We recall tasting Gratien Champagnes ages ago and they were remarkably
good...close to those of Krug and Bollinger at that point in time.
Then something happened, they lost their way and disappeared from the
They have been around for several years and we would buy a bottle, here
and there, to see how they were doing. Good, but not grand.
Well, lately (at this writing in 2011), they back to making some
exceptionally good Champagnes.
The winery is a bit of a throwback to a simpler time. The juice of
their grapes is fermented in oak, a practice larger abandoned these days
in favor of the more cost-effective stainless steel.
- We've heard Gratien does its secondary fermentation in bottle,
stoppering the bottles with cork closures rather than crown caps; at
least, we understand they do this for their top Champagnes.
- The cellar master's father, grandfather and great grandfather all held
the same position before him. Nicolas Jaeger is the fellow who runs
the cellar at Gratien and kudos to him for making such splendid Champagnes
They clearly have a handle on assembling the base wines. Fruit from
a variety of regions is incorporated to create a complex still wine.
From there it's bottled with sugar and yeast and off it goes into the
The non-vintage wines are quite nice, but it's the vintage and deluxe
bottlings which have our attention.
The top bottling is called Cuvee Paradis and it's a non-vintaged
wine. It's incredibly complex and very fine. I purchased a
bottle to try with some wine industry pals and it was a wine which stopped
the conversation as people had a sniff and a taste. It was so good,
I purchased a bottle of the Cuvee Paradis Rose and we were delighted by
it, as well.
- If you are looking for a remarkably fine Champagne and don't mind not
putting some of the more famous, well-marketed trophy bottles on your
table, consider splurging for a bottle of the Cuvee Paradis. If
they're paying attention to what's in their glass and not to what's on the
label, this wine is sure to be a winner.
Currently in stock: ALFRED GRATIEN "CUVEE
PARADIS" SALE $129.99
late colleague, Bob Gorman, was able to visit the cellars of the learned
scholar, Mayor of the town of Ambonnay and Champagne maker, Eric Rodez.
This little estate produces a wine that's quite different from the Pierre
Moncuit Champagne written about earlier on this web page.
They're located in the Montagne de Reims and Ambonnay is quite famous for
Rodez has an interesting history, which goes a long way in explaining his
particular style of Champagne. He spent time in the Rhone Valley,
Beaujolais and Burgundy when he was getting his feet wet. He
also spent a year working at Krug, so he has a good perspective on that
style of deluxe Champagne.
In fact, when we visited, he mentioned having been affiliated for
some time with Moet. "My business sense came from this
experience, but my Champagne making philosophies were shaped by my time
The family has been in Ambonnay for many generations, but it's relatively
recently that they've been vinifying their own fruit and making their own
bubbly. Pinot Noir dominates the plantings, though they do have more
than 40% of the estate devoted to Chardonnay. No Pinot Meunier, as
that is not considered to be of "grand cru" quality.
There are numerous small parcels of vineyards and Rodez vinifies each one
individually. A significant percentage of base wines are vinified in
wood. Rodez prefers to assemble a complex blend comprised of
numerous lots of wines.
We currently have his Cuvee des Crayeres, a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot
Noir. The blend features approximately 40%, or so, of older reserve
wine. We like its toasty, creamy notes and it reminds us a bit of
Krug Champagnes from the "old days."
Currently in stock: ERIC RODEZ "Cuvée des
Crayeres" $66.99 (750ml)
ERIC RODEZ "Cuvée des
Crayeres" Magnums $109.99 (1500ml)
ERIC RODEZ Cuvée
des Grands Vintages Sold Out
AGRAPART et FILS
name "Agrapart" might seem to some people as that of some
agricultural conglomerate, but, in fact, it's the name of a prominent wine
family in the town of Avize.
The Agrapart family has been involved with Champagne production since the
late 1800s. Things were a bit rocky with the Depression and World
War II, but in the 1950s the name resurfaced when Pierre Agrapart began
vinifying his own wine and making Champagnes of note.
Pierre was a stickler for quality as he realized it was the key to
success. Today his sons Pascal and Fabrice tend the nearly 10
hectares of vineyards along with the cellar.
The vineyards are situated in very chalky soils and are planted
with Chardonnay, They have something like 62 parcels of vineyards and some
are quite old. In fact, the average age of Agrapart's vines is around 40
We've been fans since the late 1990s. Each parcel or batch
is vinified separately and kept in neutral oak, having been fermented with
They purchased a marvelous horse some years ago and named it Venus. The
horse pulls the plow, as they farm some vineyard sites in a very old fashioned
manner. Many of the neighbors thought the Agrapart's were out of their
minds having returned to such an antiquated farming system, but the results of
this cultivation are yielding top quality results.
And now they make a very special Champagne called Venus. Only a few
hundred cases are made in top years.
Pascal in the cellar.
Pascal and his Pop, Pierre.
There are two bottlings of which we especially appreciate.
One is called "Les Sept Crus" as it comes from seven sites in the
Cotes des Blancs and it's, of course, entirely Chardonnay. The wine comes
from two harvests and they typically employ a full malolactic fermentation for
the base wine. Even with this, you'll still find the wine to be extremely
dry, but not it a shrill manner. It's crisp and clean all the way
through...a sheer delight.
Another bottling, called "Terroirs" comes from four Grand Cru
sites. Same basic recipe as the 7 Crus...two harvests...wood-aged wine
(but not for the oak character)...aged four years "en tirage" and its
low dosage allows the terroir and minerality to shine brightly. Very dry
They make a couple of other bottlings, which we can special order for you.
Currently in stock: "LES SEPT CRUS"
TERROIRS Currently out of stock
The Bollinger name is synonymous with Champagne.
It's also got a wonderful history with the debonair secret agent, James Bond.
The firm has been family operated since its founding in 1829. One of the
great characters and ambassadors for Champagne was Lily Bollinger. Her
husband was a fighter pilot in World War I and he'd taken over the firm when his
father died in 1918. He passed away in 1941 and Lily ran the company
during a very difficult period, as one might imagine.
There's a marvelous quotation attributed to this remarkable woman:
Lily came up with the idea of what is now called "RD"
Champagne: Recently Disgorged. This was a Champagne given extended
aging on the spent yeast before being disgorged and having the yeast
A few years ago, in 2008, the family entrusted the firm to a non-family
member: Jerome Philipon. So far, so good. They still have a
marvelous commitment to producing top notch Champagne.
At a time when some Champagne firms were turning out massive quantities of
rather ordinary fizz, the head of Bollinger, Christian Bizot, issued a "charter
of ethics" for the brand.
Seeing that some of its competitors were simply buying bottles of pre-made
Champagne and slapping their label on them, Bizot's charter guaranteed that all
bottles of Bollinger Champagne were, in fact, made by Bollinger. What a
He proclaimed to give precedence to grapes from Grand Cru and Premier cru sites
and that his Champagnes would be based on Pinot Noir. He also had other
ideals, such as fermentation in oak, extended aging on the lees (not merely
meeting the minimum aging requirements as did many of his well-marketed
competitors) and using a lower than allowed dosage. Of course, you see, he
was appealing to Champagne purists, not those who saw only the name
"Champagne" and not the brand which had produced this vaunted
The company today seems to continue making really good, very reliable
bubbly. We might enjoy other brands of Champagne on a more regular basis,
often because those wines cost a bit less and provide good quality, too, but
Bollinger has been a trustworthy name for decades.
The Champagne often has been a part of the various James Bond spy films, a
marvelous bit of publicity for Bollinger.
The company owns 163 hectares of vineyards these days. More than
80% are in Grand Cru and Premier cru level sites. They've spent a
significant amount of money in 2009 to renovate and modernize their winemaking
facilities and aging cellars.
Their entry level wine is called "Special Reserve" and this is
typically something like 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot
Meunier. The wine is always fairly toasty on the nose and quite dry on the
palate. If you wish to easily see the difference between good quality
bubbly and plonk, open a bottle of this alongside something such as Moet et
Chandon's entry level bottling. You should see a world of difference and
if you have taste for good Champagne, you'll certainly prefer the
Bollinger. But, as we often say when it comes to wine, "Your mileage
There's a nice, dry, elegant Rose Champagne...this tends to be overlooked by
many, but it's quite a good bottle of Champagne which happens to have a slight
there's the Grand Année Champagne.
Of course, this is not produced every vintage...just top years and it's given
extended aging on the lees. They usually go for something like 5 years
maturation on the spent yeast.
Pinot Noir accounts, typically, for about 2/3s of the base wine, with Chardonnay
making up the rest. No Pinot Meunier in this wine.
We find it to be, generally, a cut above the vintage-dated bottlings from brands
such as Roederer or Clicquot, for example.
The "R.D." Champagne is, essentially, the Grande Année
Champagne with extended time in the bottle before disgorging. These
remarkable sparkling wines might be cellared for 8 (on the low end) to 20
Currently in stock: BOLLINGER "SPECIAL
RESERVE" BRUT Sold Out
BOLLINGER "SPECIAL RESERVE" BRUT 1/2 bottles (List $34) Sold
BOLLINGER "SPECIAL RESERVE" BRUT magnums (List $180) Sold
BOLLINGER "SPECIAL RESERVE" BRUT 3 liter (List $315) Sold
BOLLINGER 1999 GRANDE ANNÉE Sold Out
BOLLINGER Non Vintage ROSE Sold Out
BOLLINGER 1997 R.D. Sold Out
With supply chain issues and great demand in
2021 for their Champagnes, the price of Bollinger's lovely
"Special Reserve" jumped by something close to 30%!
On top of that, their distribution company
had a price for five cases of Champagne which would allow us to
offer it for a price that our competitors have on their bottles.
"I can only sell you two boxes." we were told.
We then asked if they would, at least, give us their 5 case price.
"No, of course not. You'd need to buy five cases!"
So...do we have Bollinger in the shop these days?
I can give you the same answer as that sales rep:
"No, of course not!"
Geoffroy family is a small, family winery situated in the Marne
Valley. They have vineyards in the village of Cumieres, a place
where Pinot Noir seems to do especially well.
The winery is now located in the town of Ay and it's a new gravity-flow
designed winery to allow for a more gentle handling of their base
wines. The first harvest in the new digs was that of 2008.
We understand they have something like 14 hectares of vineyards, mostly in
Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, but with a small amount of Chardonnay,
too. There's even one patch where they're cultivating not only these
three "normal" varieties, but the "forgotten"
varieties of Petit Meslier and Arbanne (you might also find some Pinot
Blanc here and there in old Champagne vineyards).
The Geoffroy family makes a full range of Champagnes (and even a red table
wine), but it's their spectacular Rose Champagne of which we are so
fond. The wine is typically made entirely from Pinot Noir.
Sometimes there's a bit of Pinot Meunier in the base wine, but unlike so
many rose-colored Champagnes, it's not a Chardonnay-based wine with a
small addition of red wine to get the color "just
so." Geoffroy is a fanatic about making the wine as a
delightfully pink-colored wine and they seem to get it right every
The reason so many vintners prefer to make the wine from Chardonnay and
blend in a bit of red wine is they wish to avoid the base wine from having
tannin. The astringency from tannin combined with the carbon dioxide
would make the wine have the shrillness of fingernails being dragged along
But Geoffroy seems to have perfected the recipe and we've
enjoyed this wine, year after year.
The juice spends two days or two and a half days in contact with the grape
skins. This produces a wine of immense Pinot fruit and the color is
beautiful, as well.
Geoffroy, on a visit to San Francisco some years ago, mentioned that he
"makes rose first and then turns it into Champagne." The notion
is that Geoffroy strives to make a wine that's bright, fresh and oh-so-fruity,
rather than aim for a classically yeasty, biscuity Champagne which happens to
have some pink color. As a result, the aging of the wine "en
tirage" is relatively short as they want to showcase the grape.
A malolactic fermentation is blocked, too, as they want to
retain as much 'snap' and zesty acidity in the wine as possible. This is a
"Brut" Champagne and the wine finishes dry on the palate. It's
become rather popular and when the local importer receives the latest release,
it seems to vanish rather quickly.
They have a couple of traditional Champagne presses in their new cellar...
The Cellar Man at Geoffroy shows off a bottle that's "in progress."
Holding it up to the light, you can see the "spent yeast"
sediment...the bottle, once on the riddling rack, starts to clarify as the yeast
settles against the crown cap.
The bottle necks, once the wine is clear, are frozen and opened, the pressure in
the bottle forcing out the yeast 'plug'.
Tasting the new bottling of Rose Champagne...
Currently in stock: RENE GEOFFROY BRUT ROSE (list
$74) SALE $64.99
- The history of this wonderful producer begins in the late 1800s when Eugène
Savès married Anaïs Jolicoeur. He was an agricultural engineer and
her family had been making wine. Their son Louis inherited the
family business and his son Camille took over before handing the reins to
his son Hervé.
- I had tasted one of their Champagnes at a trade tasting and the wine
stood out from its peers. There was "something" there
which struck me as unusually complex and enchanting. I
bought a bottle and took it to a restaurant where it was shared with some
wine business friends. Oh, did it taste good after a long day of
hectic holiday season business! But a day later, at another dinner
with wine friends, I saw precisely how fine the Camille Savès "Carte
Blanche" Champagne was (is) when we opened some bottles of one of the
"big" houses. As we slowly made our way through two
different bottlings of "factory" Champagne (Charles Heidsieck,
an old favorite, has a new bottling and the bunch of us were all
disappointed to see they're going in what we felt is "the wrong
direction"), I thought back to just 24 hours earlier we'd had such a
fabulous bottle: beautifully biscuity on the nose, snappy and dry on
the palate, with crisp acidity and a beautifully 'steely'
- Champagne drinking is often about 'perspective.' Most people can't
discern the difference in bubblies and nearly everything tastes good or it
tastes bad. The carbon dioxide combined with some acidity (and maybe
some sugar) clouds the palate and so sparkling wines are amongst the most
difficult to 'taste.'
We hear things such as "I don't usually like Champagne, but this WAS
GOOD!" when they've found something with a high dosage and sugar
level that makes the wine taste okay to a neophyte palate. Or we
hear "I didn't like it because it was really vinegary," meaning
they interpreted the marked level of acidity as being too 'sour' and the
dosage was too low to cover up that acidic 'bite.'
- Well, the Camille Savès is delicious Champagne for those who appreciate
Champagne. For those whose taste runs to Clicquot's
"orange" label or Moet, this may be a real revelation or you may
be disappointed. Like they say on those TV ads for automobiles,
"Your mileage may vary."
- The cellars at Camille Savès are clean, orderly and well-maintained.
Hervé shows off the blend for the base wine of his Carte Blanche
75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay...coming from vineyards in BY, ABY, TSM
and TX (abbreviations for the localities where their vineyards are
- A Champagne industry insider told me the 2012 base wines should be
extraordinary and that it is potentially a "hall of fame"
vintage. "If you can taste some wines from tank, be sure to do
I was delighted Hervé wanted to show off his various cuvees and they
were, indeed, impressive in character and structure.
Being in the town of Bouzy, a 'cru' famous for its Pinot Noir, it was
particularly interesting to taste a red wine which Hervé will blend with a
white base wine to produce a Rosé.
"I usually have to blend 10% Pinot to get the right balance," he
explained. "But in 2012, the wine is so intense, I'll blend in but
There's an impressive cellar full of bottle of Champagne
aging 'en tirage.'
Showing off a bottle that has undergone its secondary fermentation and is now
aging and developing on the 'dead' yeast cells.
Now the trick is to remove the yeast cells from the bottle...and that's where
they 'jiggle' the bottles on a riddling rack or in a gyropalette to move the
yeast into a compact sediment resting against the crown cap.
Gyropalettes for 'riddling' the Champagne.
But Camille Savès does still employ riddling racks...
...as Hervé swiftly demonstrates.
We have the Carte Blanche in stock presently. Yum!
But the Vintage Brut here is excellent (all from Bouzy, so it's
a Grand Cru Champagne)...and the top-of-the-line bottling, the Cuvée Anaïs
Jolicoeur is wonderful, as well.
Currently in stock: CAMILLE SAVÈS "Carte
Blanche" SALE $59.99
- The house of Deutz, originally Deutz & Geldermann, is based in the
town of Aÿ near Epernay. It was launched in the 1830s and was
highly regarded here in the 1970s and 1980s when it was a sign of
sophistication in restaurants in the San Francisco Bay Area. In an
era when Mumm and Moët Chandon were brands dominating the Champagne
market, Deutz was the little engine that could.
In the 1980s the family owning the Louis Roederer Champagne brand
purchased Deutz, allowing the company to be on solid financial ground.
Roederer, which established a good winery in Mendocino's Anderson Valley
to producer bubbles, also launched another California production called
Maison Deutz in the Arroyo Grande region north of Santa Barbara.
They did make some good sparkling wine, but it was a challenge greater
than they were willing to meet, so that winery was sold.
The Rouzaud family, owners of Roederer, named Fabrice Rosset to captain
the ship at Deutz (and their Rhône winery, Delas). Fabrice is a
major figure in California winemaking having significant influence in the
founding of the Roederer Estate winery in Mendocino.
Under Rosset's leadership the Deutz brand has done well in terms of its
winemaking and the quality of its wines.
Marketing has continued to be a challenge as the big brands seem to have
endless resources for promoting their products. Deutz, on the other
hand, has devoted its efforts in quality wine production.
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