“She keeps Moët & Chandon, in her pretty cabinet”… If absolute rock legend Freddie Mercury mentions the name of your brand in the first line of one of his songs, you know you’re larger than life. The fizz of preference of the “Killer Queen” also touched the lips of Leo DiCaprio’s Gatsby and it’s not the only Champagne brand that has been deeply rooted in pop culture and therefore in consumers’ minds: James Bond’s soft spot for Bollinger has been well documented, if you like fast cars, G.H. Mumm will ring a bell and perhaps you blinked and missed it, but last FIFA World Cup’s official fizz was Taittinger.
But not every Champagne brand has the muscle to paint itself with a layer of Hollywood gold, to make it into the paparazzi-heavy parties of hip hop royalty (we’re looking at you, Ace of Spades) or to fill the cups of the victors of the planet’s main sports tournaments. Is there such thing as an underdog in Champagne? And, should we root for them? If by “underdog” we mean prosperous yet smaller houses with rich heritage or interesting stories, room for experimentation and a focus on quality, then yes, undoubtedly yes, we should root for them.
The 10 biggest Champagne brands in 2016, according to research published last December by Patrick Schmitt MW on trade publication The Drinks Business are the following (from the 10th to the 1st best-selling): Canard-Duchêne, Lanson, Piper-Heidsieck, Pommery, Taittinger, Laurent Perrier, G.H. Mumm, Nicolas Feuillatte, Veuve Clicquot and… (surprise, surprise) Moët & Chandon. Shall we succumb to their mainstream wonders when the occasion arises? The answer is oui.
But there’s more to life than best-sellers, and whether it’s thanks to that indie movie that moved you to tears, that quirky singer-songwriter that doesn’t care about becoming the next Taylor Swift or that bottle of Champagne that comes from a less famous Maison, going off the beaten track can lead you to discover unexpected pleasures.
A Growing Thirst for the Unconventional
No matter how big or small a Champagne producer is; at any tasting of it, the host will be heard explaining how the world’s finest fizz is not just for special occasions. Makes sense, as you only get one birthday, one Christmas and one Valentine’s Day a year and they’d love you to drink it just because it’s Wednesday.
And marketing apart, life’s too short and their point has clearly resonated with consumers: Champagne has gone from being the consequence to being the cause of the party and the more we drink it, the more our curiosity for what else is out there grows. Producers of fine sparkling wines have taken note of this and Italy’s Franciacorta, Spain’s Cava, and numerous other sparklers have made their move to get a piece of the cake.
But you don’t need to leave the appellation to encounter new favourites. Ireland has been recently privileged with the arrival of new bubbly alternatives from Champagne; in fact, this year so far we’ve welcomed two launches and one re-launch from houses that thrive outside the top 10. They all offer top quality at prices comparable to what is already in the market. When it comes to entry level Champagne, this means you can get the distinctiveness of a boutique approach without the “artisanal” premium.
If you haven’t already done so, try them, even if it’s just because it’s Wednesday.
“All our Champagnes are treated as vintage Champagne”, said sommelier Diogo Veiga as he introduced Brimoncourt into the Irish market last June. This means that even the house’s entry level bubbly is crafted with the same level of care than their top fizz, in fact, one of Brimoncourt’s differentiators is the length of its maturation; while the minimum allowed in the region is 15 months, they let it spend 36 months maturing, which results in a wonderful richness and beautifully integrated flavours.
The house has been in business in its modern form since 2008, when New York entrepreneur Alexandre Cornot revived the name to create a Champagne brand that matched his vision.
More information: brimoncourt.com
Precision and structure are core for the house’s style. We spoke with Emmanuel Taupin, Duval-Leroy’s Sales Manager, who was in Dublin for the Champagne’s launch last June. He pointed out that while it’s not a small house (he estimates that while not big enough to make the top ten, they’re somewhere in the top 20), it’s still a family-run company that works sustainably and never cuts corners. The head of the house, Carol Duval-Leroy is an oddity in the region: a woman from Belgium, who runs the company with her three sons.
They pride themselves on their innovative spirit, and during their more than 150 years of history they’ve always worked to push the envelope. Duval-Leroy created the world’s first certified organic Champagne, were the first to create bespoke Champagnes with chefs and sommeliers and Carol was the first and only woman who has been appointed president of the Association Viticole Champenoise until today.
More information: duval-leroy.com
Champagne’s oldest wine house has a history that traces back to 1584. Mind you, this date is older than Champagne (the sparkling wine) itself, and they begun producing still wines in prestigious sub-region Aÿ, hence the term “wine house” instead of “Champagne house” when referring to their long-lived heritage.
Last March, we met Champagne Gosset‘s export director Bertrand Verduzier, who introduced these wines at a tasting in Baggot Street Wines to celebrate the brand’s re-launch into the Irish market. He pointed out that the maison was hailed by the French government as “Enterprise du Patrimoine Vivant”, a company whose artisanal or industrial know-how distinguishes for its levels of excellence, and that the house style aims to transform its grapes, climate and terroir into a thing of “elegance and finesse. It is more difficult to achieve finesse than to create something big”, he commented.
Another thing that makes them special is the decision to avoid malolactic fermentation, therefore focusing on preserving the wine’s natural fruit character, acidity and freshness. Verduzier also pointed out that while Champagne’s law asks for a minimum of 1.2 kg of fruit per littre, they use 1.5 kg, which translates in concentration.
More information: champagne-gosset.com
Below, five off the beaten track Champagnes including the non-vintage fizz from the three aforementioned houses and two others worth tasting!
Brimoncourt Brut Régence NV
€52 – Available at Latouche Wines, Donnybrook Fair, Blackrock Cellar, The Corkscrew and selected restaurants
This Champagne combines 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir for a subtle and refined pale golden fizz with lively bubbles and a charming floral nose.
It’s delicate aromas contrast with its concentrated and structured palate, in which the zesty freshness of grapefruits and lemon peel fusion with a chalky minerality and French toast.
Duval Leroy Brut Reserve NV
€48 – Available at Red Nose Wine and curiouswines.ie
This Chardonnay-dominated (about 90%, with the remainder being a mix of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) Champagne is well-rounded and fruity, a palate-pleaser that distances itself from the “rocket-science” and focuses on offering balance and instant gratification.
Tame and delicate bubbles transport mouth-watering flavours of elderflower lemonade and green apples into your palate. A “key lime pie” combination of creamy curd, toasted crust and zesty citrus.
Gosset Excellence Brut NV
€54 – Available at Baggot Street Wines, Martin’s Off Licence
This crisp and balanced Champagne is a combination of 30% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 25% Pinot Meunier. Spending a minimum of 30 months in the cellars before disgorging confers it with a harmonious complexity.
Quite toasted and with almond and limoncello notes. Bubbles are abundant and energetic.
Beaumont des Crayeres Grande Réserve NV Champagne
€32.95 (on offer from €36.95) – Available at O’Briens Wine
A bottle of Champagne at this price is rarely seen outside a supermarket. But don’t let its modest price tag fool you, this pale lemon and vibrant bubbly is a perky and cheerful fizz with pleasant aromas of lemon curd and white flowers. It’s made with 60% Pinot Meunier, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Pinot Noir, aged for two years.
Ideal as a welcome drink or with natural oysters.
Gremillet Brut Selection NV
€39 (on offer from €45) – Available at Searsons Wine Merchants
This award-wining Champagne is elegant and subtle, a mixture of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay made in a house built by a family of winegrowers that craft their finest from the fruit they source from their 25 hectares of vineyard.
Crisp and zesty, it is generous in citrus fruit and white peaches, with fine and persistent bubbles and a balanced minerality and acidity.
Gabriela’s passion for writing is only matched by her love for food and wine. Journalist, confectioner and sommelier, she fell in love with Ireland years ago and moved from Venezuela to Dublin in 2014.
Since then, she has written about and worked in the local food scene, and she’s determined to discover and share the different traditions, flavours and places that have led Irish food and drink to fascinate her.