Great Grower Champagnes and other Sparkling Wines for the Holiday Season

Terry Theise, right, with Mannie Berk (Jan. 2011)

Terry Theise, right, with Mannie Berk (Jan. 2011)


2011 TERRY THEISE GROWER-PRODUCER CHAMPAGNE AND SPARKLING WINE TASTING – Ame Restaurant, San Francisco, California (10/18/2011)

Nothing goes better with the mood, and the food, of the holiday season than sparkling wine. Most of us think Champagne when we think sparkling wine, and there are many fine and complex sparkling wines produced by large and small producers in Champagne, nearly all of which are exceptionally food friendly. Very good sparkling wines are made all over the winemaking world, however. Some of my favorite non-Champagne sparkling wines come from Spain, Italy and the Loire region of France.

I taste a lot of sparkling wines, as I think it’s a very important category of wine that deserves more recognition, and because they pair terrifically with a wide range of food. I recently wrote about this year’s somewhat disappointing crop of major house Champagnes, and many from grower producers as well, here. I also recently had an opportunity to taste through most of the greatest grower producer Champagnes, as well as tasty sparkling wines from Austria, Germany, Greece, Burgundy, the Loire and Spain, at the annual tasting of the lineup from an importer who is the man most responsible for promoting grower Champagnes (and Austrian and German wines) in this country–Terry Theise.

The great houses of Champagne–household names like Veuve Clicquot, Moet & Chandon and Krug– produce huge volumes of wine. While they may own some vineyards, they purchase the bulk of the grapes they need from dozens of the Champagne region’s 19,000 growers. They typically blend wines from different vintages, and vineyards, to produce house style wines that consumers can be confident will be virtually the same from year to year. In contrast to these major brands are the much smaller grower producers who make Champagne exclusively, or almost exclusively, from their own estate vineyards. (French laws allow such grower-producers–who can be identified by the initials RM, for Récoltant-Manipulant, before the number on the wine label–to use up to 5% purchased grapes.)

Because of their much smaller production levels, based on the yield of their own vineyards, the Champagnes produced by growers tend to vary more dramatically from vintage to vintage, although many such producers do hold back a certain quantity of wine each year for blending, to minimize vintage distinctions in their non-vintage wines. They can also be quite distinctive, owing to the particular vineyards such growers are working with, and their unique terroirs. Until very recently, only a small portion of the more than 3500 grower Champagnes available in France were imported to the U.S., less than 5%. They still make up only a tiny percentage of the overall Champagne market–about 3% as of 2008.

Terry Theise is a very articulate proponent for terroir–wines that speak of a particular place. It is therefore natural that along with the great wines of Austria and Germany that have long gone relatively unappreciated in this country, Terry became a promoter and importer of grower Champagnes, as distinctive wines of place. Terry’s Estate Selections and the sparkling wines and Champagnes from the WineWise Portfolio that were presented at the tasting event I attended in mid-October include most of the great grower producers: Vilmart, Pierre Péters, H. Billiot, Chartogne-Taillet, Gaston Chiquet, Henri Goutorbe, Jean Milan, Marc Hébrart, A. Margaine and Pierre Gimonnet. These great Champagnes, represented in many cases by the winemaker or a member of the family that owns and runs the domaine, were poured alongside a variety of other sparkling wines. In all, I tasted 87 sparkling wines from 25 producers at this event. These were impressive wines across the board, and a very strong group of producers. Virtually all of the wines listed below would work well with a variety of foods–the flavor components that dominate in particular wines are identified in my tasting notes that follow.

My very top picks from this event for delicious sparkling wines not only for this holiday season, but for the special occasions and meals demanding food friendly wines in the months to come, sparkling wines that I rated 91 points or higher, are:

Non-Champagne
N.V. Schloss Gobelsburg Brut Réserve – 91+ points

Champagne
N.V. H. Billiot Brut Réserve – 91 points
N.V. H. Billiot Brut Rosé Grand Cru – 91+ points
N.V. H. Billiot Cuvée Laetitia – 91 points
N.V. Chartogne-Taillet Blanc de Blancs – 91 points
2004 Chartogne-Taillet Brut Millésimé – 91+ points
2004 Chartogne-Taillet Fiacre – 91+ points
N.V. Chartogne-Taillet Brut Rosé – 91 points
N.V. Gaston Chiquet Tradition Brut Premier Cru – 91 points
N.V. Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs d’Aÿ – 91+ points
2003 Gaston Chiquet Millésime Or – 92+ points
2004 Gaston Chiquet Spécial Club 1er Cru – 91+ points
N.V. Gaston Chiquet Cuvée de Réserve Brut – 91+ points
N.V. Gaston Chiquet Brut Rosé – 91+ points
N.V. Henri Goutorbe Rosé Grand Cru – 92+ points
2004 Henri Goutorbe Millésimé Brut – 91 points
2002 Henri Goutorbe Special Club – 91 points
N.V. Jean Milan Grand Cru Reserve Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru – 91+ points
2005 Jean Milan Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvée Symphorine – 91+ points
N.V. Marc Hébrart Sélection Brut Premier Cru – 91 points
N.V. A. Margaine Extra Brut 1er cru – 91 points
2006 A. Margaine Blanc de Blancs Special Club – 91+ points
N.V. A. Margaine Brut Rosé – 91+ points
2006 Pierre Gimonnet Brut 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs Gastronome – 91 points
2004 Pierre Gimonnet Extra-Brut Oenophile 1er cru – 91 points
2002 Pierre Gimonnet Special Club de Collection – 91 points
N.V. Pierre Péters Blanc de Blancs Brut Cuvée de Réserve – 91+ points
2004 Pierre Péters Cuvée Spéciale Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Les Chétillons Le Mesnil – 92 points
2002 René Geoffroy Extra Brut Millésime – 91 points
N.V. Varnier-Fanniere Cuvée Saint Denis Brut – 91 points
N.V. Vilmart Grand Cellier – 91+ points
2000 Vilmart Cuvée Creation – 92+ points
2002 Vilmart Coeur de Cuvée – 93 points
2006 Vilmart Grand Cellier d’Or 1er Cru – 93+ points

Non-Champagne Sparkling Wines

Bernhard

  • 2008 Bernhard Riesling Brut Sekt – Germany, Rheinhessen
    Light yellow color with tiny bubbles; lifted, creamy apple nose; tasty, tart apple, creamy textured palate; medium finish (88 pts.)

Bründlmayer

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  • NV Weingut Willi Bründlmayer Sekt Extra Brut – Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal, Langenlois
    Very light yellow color with tiny bubbles; savory, yeasty, smoked salmon nose; smoked salmon, smoked salmon cream palate; medium finish 88+ points (30% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Gris, 10% Grüner Veltliner, 20% Pinot Blanc, 20% Chardonnay) (88 pts.)
  • NV Weingut Willi Bründlmayer Sekt Rose – Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal, Langenlois
    Very light peach yellow color; light smoke salmon, light tart cherry nose; light smoked salmon, tart cherry palate; medium-plus finish (blend of Pinot Noir, Zweigelt and St. Laurent) (89 pts.)

Fouet

  • NV Domaine Fouet Crémant de Loire Rosé – France, Loire Valley, Crémant de Loire
    Light pink with very tiny bubbles; light tart currant, smoke nose; tart currant, very tart, mineral palate; medium finish 87+ points (87 pts.)
  • NV Domaine Fouet Crémant de Loire Brut – France, Loire Valley, Crémant de Loire
    Very light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; appealing, tart pear, tart peach nose; tasty, tart peach, tart Cab Franc palate; medium-plus finish 87+ points (blend of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc) (87 pts.)

Pascal Bellier

  • NV Pascal Bellier Rêveries Brut – France, Loire Valley
    Light medium pink color with small bubbles; tart apple, mineral, savory nose; tart currant palate; medium finish 87+ points (87 pts.)

Pere Ventura

  • NV Pere Ventura Cava Tresor Brut Nature – Spain, Cava
    Light yellow color with tiny bubbles; lightly savory, tart apple, tart pear nose; tasty, tart pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (Xarel-lo, Parellada and Maccabeo) (88 pts.)
  • NV Pere Ventura Cava Reserva Maria del Mar – Spain, Cava
    Light yellow color with tiny bubbles; tart pear, menthol nose; tasty, tart pear, mineral, menthol palate; medium-plus finish (Xarel-lo, Parellada, Maccabeo and Chardonnay) (89 pts.)
  • NV Pere Ventura Cava Tresor Brut Rosé – Spain, Cava
    Light medium pink color; pine, green herb, juniper nose; tart cherry, juniper, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)

Roches

Schloss Gobelsburg

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  • NV Schloss Gobelsburg Brut Réserve – Austria, Niederösterreich, Kamptal, Langenlois
    Light yellow color with lots of mousse; mineral, savory, yeasty nose; tasty, yeasty, savory, sauteed onion palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (blend of Gruner Veltliner, Riesling and Pinot Noir) (91 pts.)

Tselepos

Vincent Raimbault

  • NV Vincent Raimbault Vouvray Brut – France, Loire Valley, Touraine, Vouvray
    Light yellow with few, small bubbles; Chenin Blanc, tart pear, lightly savory nose; tasty, tart apple, mineral, light menthol palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)

Champagne Producers

Aubry

Interesting small producer, currently run by two brothers, that owns 17 hectares in 60 different locations. They have gone back to the historical roots of Champagne to include three long forgotten Champagne grapes: Fromenteau (also known as Beurot, probably an ancestor of Pinot Gris), Arbanne and Petit Meslier. A lot of their vines are also planted “en foule,” i.e., the generation of new vines by laying out a branch from a “mother” plant, and covering it with soil and manure, as was the common practice prior to phylloxera, especially throughout Burgundy. Two cuvees they make from the old varieties are designated Campanae Veteres Vites, meaning “old vines of the countryside.”

  • NV L. Aubry Fils Champagne Brut – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with few tiny bubbles; tart apple, chalk nose; tight, tart apple, chalk palate with medium acidity; medium finish (88 pts.)
  • 2005 L. Aubry Fils Champagne Ivoire et Ebene – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with few bubbles; nice, tart pear, tart peach, floral nose; tart pear, tart peach palate with medium acidity; medium finish 88+ points (60% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Meunier, 15% Pinot Noir) (88 pts.)
  • 2005 L. Aubry Fils Champagne Le Nombre d’Or Campanae Veteres Vites Brut – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color; rich pear, poached pear nose; tasty, tart pear, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • NV L. Aubry Fils Champagne Rosé Brut – France, Champagne
    Light salmon pink color with lots of tiny bubbles; tart strawberry, tart raspberry nose; tart strawberry, tart raspberry palate with near medium acidity; medium-plus finish (45% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, 15% still red Pinot Meunier; all 2008 fruit) (89 pts.)
  • 2006 L. Aubry Fils Champagne Cuvée Nicolas François Aubry Sablé Rosé – France, Champagne
    Light orange pink color; tart golden raspberry, tart yellow cherry nose; tasty, tart yellow cherry, mineral, chalk palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (35% co-fermented Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier, 15% Chardonnay, 20% Arbanne, 20% Petit Meslier and 10% still red Pinot Meunier) (88 pts.)

Billiot

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I am usually a fan of H. Billiot, especially when the bottles have some age on them. Malolactic fermentation is not used, so the wines need some years in bottle. The Brut Réserve is generally 75% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay.

  • NV H. Billiot Fils Champagne Brut Réserve – France, Champagne, Ambonnay, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with few tiny bubbles; intense, poached pear nose; tasty, poached pear, tart pear palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • NV H. Billiot Fils Champagne Brut Rosé Grand Cru – France, Champagne, Ambonnay, Champagne
    Light salmon pink color with steady tiny bubbles; light tart cherry, pink grapefruit nose; tasty, tart cherry, ripe pink grapefruit, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • 2004 H. Billiot Fils Champagne Millésimé Brut – France, Champagne, Ambonnay, Champagne
    Light yellow color with few tiny bubbles; appealing, tart pear, tart peach nose; tasty, chalk, tart pear, tart peach palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • NV H. Billiot Fils Champagne Cuvée Laetitia – France, Champagne, Ambonnay, Champagne
    Light yellow color with few, smallish bubbles; intense, tart peach, orange nose; tasty, complex, tart peach, tart orange, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Chartogne-Taillet

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This is a very old family-run grower/producer based in the village of Merfy. The Cuvée St. Anne is 60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir; the Millésimé Brut is from one parcel, based on clay, 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay; the Fiacre vineyard is made up of red sand and silex; the Brut Rosé comes from a vineyard based largely on sandy soils.

  • NV Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Cuvée St. Anne – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with lots of smallish bubbles; poised, tart pear, baked apple nose; tasty, very tart pear, tart apple palate; medium finish (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir) (89 pts.)
  • NV Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with lots of smallish bubbles; pear, apple nose; tasty, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)
  • 2004 Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Brut Millésimé – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; intense, tart apple, light yeast nose; very tasty, tart apple, lightly yeasty, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (from 1 parcel; 60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay) (91 pts.)
  • 2004 Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Fiacre – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; tart apple, mineral nose; tasty, tight, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)
  • NV Chartogne-Taillet Champagne Brut Rosé – France, Champagne
    Light salmon color with very tiny bubbles; tart golden raspberry, tart peach nose; tasty, poised, tart golden raspberry, mineral, light yeast palate; medium-plus finish (60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, from 2007 vintage) (91 pts.)

Forest-Marie

  • NV Forest-Marie Champagne Brut Tradition – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with few tiny bubbles; baked pear, lightly yeasty nose; baked pear, lightly yeasty palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • NV Forest-Marie Champagne Blanc de Blanc – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; intense, tart pear, yeasty nose; tasty, poached pear, lightly yeasty palate; medium-plus finish (a good value) (89 pts.)
  • NV Forest-Marie Champagne Cuvée St. Crespin 1er Cru – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with very tiny bubbles; very yeasty nose; tasty, yeasty, poached pear palate; medium finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • NV Forest-Marie Champagne Rosé Brut – France, Champagne
    Light salmon pink color with lots of tiny bubbles; light, tart orange, yeasty nose; tasty, light tart orange, yeasty palate; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)

Gaston Chiquet

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This producer goes back eight generations, and currently controls over 22 hectares. The Blanc de Blancs bottling happens to be the only Blanc de Blancs made from the Pinot village of Aÿ.

  • NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne Tradition Brut Premier Cru – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with lots of steady, small bubbles; focused, tart pear, mineral nose; tasty, very tart citrus, mineral palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish (45% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir) (91 pts.)
  • NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne Blanc de Blancs d’Aÿ – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with steady, tiny bubbles; bright, light tart apple, tart pear nose; tart pear, tart apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (based largely on ’07 vintage) (91 pts.)
  • 2003 Gaston Chiquet Champagne Millésime Or – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with smallish bubbles; complex, tart peach, tart pear nose; tasty, rich but balanced, tart peach, tart pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (60% Pinot Noir, 40% Chardonnay) (92 pts.)
  • 2004 Gaston Chiquet Champagne Spécial Club 1er Cru – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; baked apple, yeasty nose; tasty, tart apple, mineral, tart pear palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) (91 pts.)
  • 2002 Gaston Chiquet Champagne Spécial Club 1er Cru – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with tiny bubbles; light pear, green apple nose; tasty, tight, tart green apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) (90 pts.)
  • NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne Cuvée de Réserve Brut – France, Champagne
    Light lemon yellow color with tiny bubbles; baked apple, yeasty nose; tasty, baked apple, pear, tart peach, mineral palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (45% Pinot Meunier, 35% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir) (91 pts.)
  • NV Gaston Chiquet Champagne Brut Rosé – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Very light peach pink color with steady, tiny bubbles; strawberry, tart cherry nose; tasty, tart strawberry, tart cherry, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (91 pts.)

Henri Goutorbe

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Henri Goutorbe owns 15 hectares, and the Cuvée Prestige is typically Pinot Noir dominated (65 to 70%), with Chardonnay and sometimes a small amount of Pinot Meunier. The 2002 Special Club is 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay.

  • NV Henri Goutorbe Champagne Cuvée Prestige – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Light yellow color with tiny bubbles; rich, tart apple, baked apple nose; tasty, baked apple, light cinnamon, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)
  • NV Henri Goutorbe Champagne Rosé Grand Cru – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Very light orange pink color; light tart cherry, tart raspberry nose; rich, tart raspberry, raspberry cream, mineral, very Pinot palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (92 pts.)
  • 2004 Henri Goutorbe Champagne Millésimé Brut – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with lots of tiny bubbles; tart apple, tart pear, lightly yeasty nose; tasty, tart apple, tart pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (67% Pinot Noir, 33% Chardonnay) (91 pts.)
  • 2002 Henri Goutorbe Champagne Special Club – France, Champagne, Aÿ, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with few tiny bubbles; rich, baked apple, lightly yeasty nose; tasty, baked apple, poached pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (91 pts.)

Jean Lallement

This is a family operation that owns four and a half hectares in Verzy, Verzenay and Ludes. Eighty percent is planted to Pinot, and 20% to Chardonnay. They use native yeast and very little dosage.

  • NV Jean Lallement Champagne Brut Grand Cru – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
    Light yellow color with few small bubbles; yeasty, tart apple nose; yeasty, tart apple palate; medium finish (80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay) (89 pts.)
  • NV Jean Lallement Champagne Cuvée Réserve Grand Cru – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with few tiny bubbles; baked apple, baked peach nose; tasty, delicate, baked apple, poached pear, chalk palate; medium-plus finish 89+ points (89 pts.)
  • NV Jean Lallement Champagne Reserve Rosé – France, Champagne
    Very light salmon pink color with tiny bubbles; light strawberry, pear nose; tart pear, light strawberry, mineral palate; medium-plus finish (89 pts.)

Jean Milan

Another small grower, with roots going back five generations, that owns five hectares of vineyards.

Marc Hébrart

This is a fairly new producer, distributed in the United States by Michael Skurnik.

Margaine

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This is a small grower with seven hectares, planted mostly to Chardonnay.

  • NV A. Margaine Champagne Brut Cuvée Traditionelle – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with small bubbles; tart pear, light peach nose; intense, yeasty, baked apple, tart pear palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Noir; 56% 2008 fruit, with ’07, ’05, ’04 and ’00) (90 pts.)
  • NV A. Margaine Champagne Extra brut 1er cru – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with tiny bubbles; light apple, light pear nose; tasty, creamy textured, tart pear, tart apple palate; medium finish (batonnage for 4 mos.) (91 pts.)
  • 2006 A. Margaine Champagne Blanc de Blancs Special Club – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with tiny bubbles; creamy, tart apple nose; tight, tasty, tart apple, mineral, yeasty palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (no malo) (91 pts.)
  • NV A. Margaine Champagne Brut Rosé – France, Champagne
    Very light pink color with tiny bubbles; light tart cherry, golden raspberry nose; tasty, poised, tart cherry, golden raspberry palate with medium acidity; medium-plus finish 91+ points (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 13% still red wine; based largely on ’08 vintage) (91 pts.)
  • NV A. Margaine Champagne Demi-Sec 1er Cru – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with smallish bubbles; tart apple, yeast nose; tasty, tart apple, yeasty, creamy green apple, pear palate; medium-plus finish (90 pts.)

Pehu Simonet

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  • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Brut Selection Grand Cru – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
    Light yellow color with slow, steady, tiny bubbles; tart apple nose; tart apple, tart peach palate with good acidity; medium finish (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay; no malo) (88 pts.)
  • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Transparence Extra Brut – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
    Light yellow color with tiny bubbles; chalk, tart green fruit, pear nose; tight, tart pear, lime, chalk palate; medium-plus finish (70% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay) (89 pts.)
  • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Brut Blanc de Blancs – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with few medium-sized bubbles; chalk, tart pear nose; chalk, tart pear, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 89+ points (89 pts.)
  • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Blanc de Noirs – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with few, tiny bubbles; tart peach, mineral nose; tasty, tart peach, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)
  • NV Pehu Simonet Champagne Brut Rosé Grand Cru – France, Champagne, Verzenay, Champagne
    Light salmon pink color with few tiny bubbles; tart strawberry, golden raspberry nose; tasty, tart golden raspberry, very tart strawberry palate; medium finish (with 10% red wine) (90 pts.)

Pierre Gimonnet

The Gimonnets have been growers in the village of Cuis since 1750, and started to produce and sell their own Champagne in 1935. They own 26 hectares in Cuis and the Grand Crus of Chouilly and Cramant, all planted to Chardonnay.

Pierre Péters

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This small, but highly esteemed, grower producer controls 17.5 hectares, including 12 in the best parts of Le Mesnil.

René Geoffroy

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Another small family owned grower that can trace their family ownership back to the 1600s. They harvest grapes in several passes (“tries”), use oak foudres and prevent malolactic.

  • NV René Geoffroy Champagne Expression Brut Premier Cru – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with few tiny bubbles; tart apple nose; tart apple palate with good acidity; medium-plus finish 88+ points (88 pts.)
  • 2006 René Geoffroy Champagne Empreinte Brut Premier Cru – France, Champagne, Vallée de la Marne, Champagne
    Very light yellow with few small bubbles; tart apple, baked apple, yeasty nose; tasty, tart apple, mineral, yeasty palate; medium-plus finish (76% Pinot Noir, 14% Chardonnay, 10% Pinot Meunier) (90 pts.)
  • 2006 René Geoffroy Champagne Volupté – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with few tiny bubbles; poached pear, baked apple, cinnamon nose; tasty, tart and ripe pear, poached pear palate; medium finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir, 94% in wooden vats, no malolactic) (90 pts.)
  • 2002 René Geoffroy Champagne Extra Brut Millésime – France, Champagne, Vallée de la Marne, Champagne
    Light yellow color with tiny bubbles; appealing, poached pear, light yeasty nose; tasty, tart poached pear, mineral, baked apple palate; medium-plus finish (60% Pinot Noir, 35% Chardonnay, 5% Pinot Meunier) (91 pts.)
  • NV René Geoffroy Champagne Rosé de Saignée Brut 1er Cru – France, Champagne, Vallée de la Marne, Champagne
    Light orange pink color with few, tiny bubbles; tart cherry, tart raspberry nose; tasty, tart cherry, mineral, tart raspberry palate; medium-plus finish 90+ points (90 pts.)

Varnier-Fanniere

This is a tiny producer that owns four hectares of Grand Cru vineyards, entirely planted to Chardonnay. The wines undergo full malolactic. The Cuvée St. Denis is from 70-plus year old vines in the Clos de Grand Père in Avize.

Vilmart

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Vilmart is a terrific grower Champagne. They practice organic viticulture, ferment in large oak foudres, and avoid malolactic. The Grand Cellier is generally about 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir. The terrific 2002 Coeur de Cuvée is 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir from the oldest vines in Vilmart’s two best vineyards. It is fermented and raised in new barriques.

  • NV Vilmart & Cie Champagne Grand Cellier – France, Champagne
    Very light yellow color with smallish bubbles; delicate, tart pear, tart apple, light peach nose; tasty, with delicacy, tart pear, mineral, tart apple palate; medium-plus finish 91+ points (70% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir) (91 pts.)
  • 2000 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Cuvée Creation – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with small-to-medium bubbles; nice baked apple, yeasty nose; tasty, poised, youthful, tart apple, pear, baked apple, mineral palate; medium-plus finish 92+ points (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; 9 years on lees) (92 pts.)
  • 2002 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Coeur de Cuvée – France, Champagne
    Light lemon yellow color with smallish bubbles; appealing, poached pear, baked apple, light caramel nose; tasty, tart poached pear, light caramel, baked apple palate; medium-plus finish (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir; from 50-year-old vines; 7 years on lees) (93 pts.)
  • 2006 Vilmart & Cie Champagne Grand Cellier d’Or 1er Cru – France, Champagne
    Light yellow color with few smallish bubbles; rich pear, floral, honeysuckle nose; tasty, delicate, pear, peach, honeysuckle palate; medium-plus finish 93+ points (80% Chardonnay, 20% Pinot Noir) (93 pts.)
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