I was lucky enough to go to a tasting of grower champagnes yesterday, organised by the Champagnes de Vignerons, a group of about 5,000 independant wine-growers and winemaking organisations. Sadly there were not 5,000 champagnes to try but 13 growers with a range of their products. The venue was Fulham Palace, a perfectly nice venue, one I know well but not the most convenient and it seemed a rather odd choice as it not the most convenient of venues.
The Champagnes de Vignerons was set up to promote the diversity of the different regions and growers citing their passion and expertise and this certainly showed at tasting.
The way we drink Champagne we rarely get to notice the variety that is out there. The different regions all have their predominant grape variety and with this comes different styles blends and ideas that fascinate me.
For example, the Cote de la Bar, I have never knowingly tasted wines made specifically from this region. The area grows predominantly Pinot Noir and that is reflected in their blends. Giving richer, wines with obvious red fruit flavours and fine bubbles. Two wines I was very impressed with were Richard Royer and R.Dumont et Fils. Both had real passion and interesting ranges. the former experimenting by stopping malo on his vintage champagne which gives it a real freshness. R.Dumont has his vineyards very high in the valley and the added acidity from the cooler temperatures is obvious but well balanced through out his wines.
In the Cote des Marnes Pinot Meunier is dominant and it was represented heavily in the wines with a number of Blanc des Noirs champagnes made from 100% Meunier. The wines were rich and opulent but some a little heavy. Gaudinat-Boivin was my favourite from this region. All his wines had spent considerable time in bottle before release and complexity is there for all to see. All his wines were high quality and and age worthy.
As the name suggests, the Cotes des Blancs is where Chardonnay thrives. Champagne Gimmonet Gonet showed extremely well. Another young grower with real passion for his produce, he has a great range, three Blancs de Blancs which range from the fresh and easy Cuvee Or through to the Cuvee Carat made from only 1er cru grapes grown in Mesnil sur Oger, a very fine and elegant champagne with great complexity and balance.
A mention has to go to Lionel Carreau for thinking outside the box, Pinot Blanc takes up a fifth of their top cuvee and are they planning a 100% Pinot Blanc next year, one I will definitely be keeping an eye out for that!
All in all, this was a tasting I thoroughly enjoyed as I got to taste champagne with a different focus. Unfortunately I think it will be tough for these delicious wines in our market as we just do not drink enough champagne on an everyday basis. Coupled with the fact that even these wines will not be at everyday prices, I find it hard to see where they might sell. Perhaps there should be more emphasis on region on Champagne labels for grower champagnes and a promotional drive to highlight the differences with a hope to generate more interest in the differences and styles. It was a real pleasure to be able to taste champagnes out of the norm of the big houses who's styles whilst good are the same year in year out and use grapes from many different regions.
Grower champagne, could and should be much more popular leading to higher quality and availability however this would need a huge shift in the way we buy and drink champagne plus we may need a little re-educating in what champagne is all about. I fear this may not happen in the near future.