The average wine consumer can name the number of champagne brands they know on the fingers of one hand. Many might not be able to blurt out more than "Cristal" or "Dom Perignon." Like in many industries, the world of Champagne (and at this point I'm not talking about sparkling wine in general, but literally the stuff from the Champagne region of France) is represented in the minds of many and the world media by a few mega-brands. By some estimates, however, there are more than 3500 producers within the bounds of the (relatively small) Champagne appellation. For those willing to explore beyond the predictability of the yellow label of Veuve-Clicquot or the red stripe of Mumm, there is a rewarding, if a bit daunting, range of fabulous wines to be had.
Luckily, there are folks like importer Terry Theise (known for his portfolio of Austrian and German wines, which is second to none, but also an importer of Champagne for decades) who are out there who are making it easier to get a hold of smaller production Champagnes. Sometimes called "grower" Champagnes because they are made by the same folks who grow the grapes (not true at many of the big Champagne houses who buy grapes from many growers).
Focusing on what he calls Farmer Fizz or Family Fizz, Theise eschews the "Frito-Lays" of Champagne and seeks out the small producers all over the region who make wines in quantities as small as several hundred cases. For anyone with a strong interest in Champagne, or if you're just looking for a fun and inspiring read you might check out his Champagne catalog (PDF), which, like all his other catalogs, is full of interesting essays, witticisms, and miscellany in addition to the wine listings.
I recently had the opportunity to taste through his portfolio, and it is mighty impressive.
WINES WITH A SCORE OF 9.5
99 Pierre Peters "Cuvee Speciale" Brut, Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs, Le Mesnil. $73.50. Where to Buy?.
N.V. Rene Geoffroy Cuvee Empreinte, Brut. $51.50.
N.V. Billiot Cuvee Julie. $85.00. Where to Buy?.
98 Fleury Cuvee Robert Fleury. $66.50.
99 Vilmart Grand Cellier Rubis. $100.00. Where to Buy?.
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
N.V. Varnier-Fanniere Brut, Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs. $50.00. Where to Buy?.
N.V. Varnier-Fanniere Cuvee Saint-Denis, Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs. $57.00. Where to Buy?.
02 Pierre Gimonnet Cuvee Gastronome, Brut, 1er Cru. $49.50.
N.V. Gaston Chiquet Blanc De Blancs D'ay, Grand Cru. $44.00. Where to Buy?.
99 Pierre Gimonnet Special Club, Blanc De Blancs. $62.00. Where to Buy?.
96 Margaine Special Club, Blanc De Blancs. $65.00. Where to Buy?.
N.V Rene Geoffroy Cuvee De Reserve, Brut, 1er Cru. $43.50. Where to Buy?.
NV Hebrart Selection, Brut. $43.00. Where to Buy?.
02 Pierre Gimonnet "Paradoxe," Brut. $47.00.
N.V. Billiot Brut Reserve, Grand Cru. $48.00. Where to Buy?.
00 Chartogne-Taillet "Cuvee Fiacre", Brut. $66.50. Where to Buy?.
N.V. Gaston Chiquet Cuvee De Reserve. $55.00. Where to Buy?.
99 Gaston Chiquet Vintage Brut. $52.00.
00 Aubry "Aubry De Humbert", Brut 1er Cru. $58.50.
99 Billiot Brut Grand Cru. $59.50.
N.V. Lallement Reserve, Grand Cru, Brut. $57.00. . Where to Buy?.
N.V. Billiot "Cuvee Laetitia", Brut. $88.00. Where to Buy?.
N.V. Vilmart Cuvee Grand Cellier, Brut. $60.00. Where to Buy?.
97 Vilmart Cuvee Creation. $100.00. Where to Buy?.
N.V. Billiot Brut Rose. $54.00.
WINES WITH A SCORE OF 9
N.V Pierre Gimonnet Cuis, 1er Cru, Brut. $42.50
N.V. Jean Milan Brut Speciale, Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs. $44.00
98 Pierre Gimonnet Cuvee Oenophile, Extra Brut, 1er Cru. $55.00
N.V. Chartogne-Taillet Brut, Blanc De Blancs. $51.00
97 Gaston Chiquet Blanc De Blancs D'ay, Grand Cru (Magnum). $128.00
02 Aubry "Le Nombre D'or, Sablet", Brut Blanc De Blancs (Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Chardonnay). $81.00
N.V. Rene Geoffroy Cuvee Expression, Brut. $45.00
N.V. Chartogne-Taillet "Cuvee Ste. Anne", Brut. $40.00
N.V. Fleury "Fleur De L'europe", Brut. $45.00
N.V. Rene Geoffroy Cuvee Volupte, Brut. $66.00
98 Gaston Chiquet Carte D'or, Brut. $51.50
98 Gaston Chiquet Special Club, Brut. $60.00
99 Vilmart Grand Cellier D'or, Brut. $67.00
98 Vilmart Coeur De Cuvee, Brut. $104.00
02 Aubry 00 Aubry Sable Rose. $77.00
N.V. Milan Rose, "Charles De La Milaniere". $62.00
N.V. Jean Milan Cuvee Tendresse, Sec, Grand Cru. $48.00
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
N.V. Jean Milan Brut "Carte Blanche", Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs. $43.00
00 Jean Milan Cuvee Symphorine. $58.50
N.V. Margaine Cuvee Traditionelle, Brut. $39.50
N.V. Gaston Chiquet "Carte Verte", Brut. $41.00
N.V. Aubry Brut, 1er Cru. $39.00
00 Aubry Le Nombre D'or, Campanae Veteres Vites. $65.00
99 Chartogne-Taillet Brut. $56.50
N.V. Milan Cuvee De Reserve. $52.50
N.V. Margaine Demi-Sec. $41.00
WINES WITH A SCORE OF 8.5
N.V. Pierre Peters "Cuvee Reservee", Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs. $45.50
00 Pierre Gimonnet Fleuron, Brut, Blanc De Blancs. $55.00
00 Jean Milan "Terres De Noel", Grand Cru Brut, Blanc De Blancs. $72.50
98 Pierre Peters Grand Cru Blanc De Blancs,. $65.00
NV Hebrart Cuvee De Reserve, Brut. $39.00
N.V. Lallement Brut Grand Cru. $45.50
00 Hebrart Special Club. $64.00
N.V. Margaine Brut Rose. $46.00
N.V. Aubry Aubry Brut Rose. $48.00
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