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Nov 04

Break Out the Bubbly!

Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat, one needs it.
– Napoleon Bonaparte

image by Flickr user Andy Ciordia via Creative Commons

In the upcoming winter issue of Taste Magazine, on news stands soon, I write about Champagne. With the election today, I thought it was the perfect time to share a small excerpt from that article. This particular excerpt is about grower Champagne – your best bet for a bargain on the real stuff.

There are a lot of sparkling wines on the market, but they aren’t all Champagne. In order to be labeled “Champagne,” the wine must come from the Champagne region of France. This region pioneered the method of making Champagne that is now used worldwide. But it is the unique terroir of the region that makes true Champagne special. The region is uniquely suited for growing the three grapes that can make up the bubbly wine: Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. This northern French region is cooler, and the chalk in the soil contributes to the acidity and character of the grapes.

Large Champagne Houses, such as Taittinger or Moet & Chandon, grow some of their own grapes. However, a large percentage of their grapes are purchased from farmers throughout the Champagne region.  Alternatively, grower Champagnes, often called “family fizz” or “farmer fizz,” are created by farmers who grow the grapes and tend the vineyards. Grower Champagne often meets or exceeds the quality of large House Champagne, but has a smaller price tag. Brett Davis, Sales Manager for importer/distributor Vintner Select, says that the “best values are your grower-producer Champagnes as far as quality to price ratio.”

How can you recognize a grower Champagne when you’re shopping for bubbly this holiday season? On the bottom of the front label, there will be a tiny number preceded by two letters. NM (Négociant-Manipulant) signals a larger house that purchases many of their grapes, whereas RM (Récoltant-Manipulant) tells you that the winemaker grew the grapes.  According to Terry Theise, one of the leading importers of grower Champagnes, there are now nearly 180 RM Champagnes imported into the U.S, up from 33 in 1997. Grower Champagnes occupy only 2.95% of the market, presenting a great opportunity to try something new.

There’s a whole lot more to the article, so I hope you’ll pick up the issue when it’s released. In the meantime, pop open a bottle of Champagne tonight, regardless of the election results.

I drink it when I’m happy and when I’m sad. Sometimes, I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it if I am. Otherwise, I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty.
– Lady Lily Bollinger, Bollinger Champagne

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Posted by Michelle at 9:48 am in Knowledge, Tastings | Permalink | Comments (4)

4 Responses to “Break Out the Bubbly!”

  1. Tim says:

    This is very informative and helpful. I love simple tips, like the RM one, that can help me find the best quality-to-price ratio in a bottle of wine. And I look forward to enjoying some grower Champagne.

  2. hi Michelle
    I love growers champagne both for the quality and the “concept” behind them. My favorite is Pierre Peters. YUM!!

  3. Sherry says:

    Hi – thanks for the post it has given me more phrases for my wine dictionary, thank you.

  4. Gary O'Brien says:

    Allison & I both really, really love champagne… this was good information and we appreciate having the opportunity to read it. I’d also like to note that the latest edition of Wine Enthusiast (which I’m not particular fond of, but occasionally there’s good stuff in it) features champanges. There are over 150 reviewed and a good synopsis of recent and current vintages.

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