Ask most people to name a good Champagne, and most will likely stall after a couple of well known names like "Cristal" or "Dom Perignon." Like 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 whose very identities have come to stand for Champagne, and who often literally eclipse many others with their popularity.
By some estimates, however, there are more than 3500 producers within the bounds of the 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 for those interested in exploring, there are folks like importer Terry Theise (best known for his top-notch portfolio of Austrian and German wines) who has been importing small production Champagne for decades. These wines are sometimes called "grower" Champagnes because they are made by the same folks who grow the grapes (as opposed to 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 big names 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 anyone 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 wine listings.
I recently had the opportunity to taste through a large portion of Theise's portfolio, courtesy of the annual tasting put on by his local representatives at WineWise, and I continue to be seriously impressed with the overall quality and individuality of the wines.
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9.5 AND 10
N.V. Henri Billiot "Cuvée Laetitia", Brut, Grand Cru. $106. Click to buy.
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9.5
2003 Varnier-Fannière "Grand Vintage" Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru. $100. Click to buy.
2000 Vilmart & Cie. "Coeur de Cuvée", Brut, 1er Cru. $137. Click to buy.
1997 Vilmart & Cie. "Coeur de Cuvée", Brut, 1er Cru (magnum). $354. Click to buy.
2003 Vilmart & Cie. "Grand Cellier d'Or", Brut, 1er Cru. $90. Click to buy.
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 9 AND 9.5
N.V. A. Margaine Cuvée Traditionelle, Brut, 1er Cru. $49
N.V. A. Margaine Rosé Brut. $60
2002 A. Margaine Special Club Blanc de Blancs Brut. $76
1999 A. Margaine Blanc de Blancs. $83
2003 Aubry "Le Nombre d'Or, Campanae Veteres Vites". $67
1999 Gaston Chiquet Carte d'Or, Brut. $57
N.V. Gaston Chiquet Cuvée de Réserve. $62
2002 Henri Billiot Brut, Grand Cru. $74
N.V. Henri Billiot Rosé Brut, Grand Cru. $63
N.V. Henri Billiot "Cuvée Julie". $100
N.V. Henri Gotorbe Rosé Brut. $61
N.V. Marc Hébrart "Sélection", Brut. $53
2004 Marc Hébrart Special Club. $78
N.V. Marc Hébrart Rosé Brut. $53
N.V. Pehu-Simonet Blanc de Blancs, Brut, Grand Cru. $73
2000 Pierre Gimmonet "Cuvée Oenophile", Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut,1er Cru,. $72
2003 Pierre Gimmonet "Cuvée Paradoxe", Brut, 1er Cru. $62
2000 Pierre Peters Cuvée Speciale "Les Chetillons," Grand Cru Le Mesnil. $100
N.V. Vilmart & Cie. "Cuvée Grand Cellier", Brut, 1er Cru. $73
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 9
N.V. A. Margaine Demi-Sec, 1er Cru. $49
N.V. Aubry Brut, 1er Cru. $42
N.V. Aubry Brut Rosé, 1er Cru. $59
N.V. Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Ste. Anne, Brut. $44
2002 Chartogne-Taillet "Cuvée Fiacre", Brut. $70
N.V. Gaston Chiquet Blanc de Blancs d'Ay, Brut, Grand Cru. $56
2000 Gaston Chiquet Special Club. $73
N.V. Henri Billiot Brut Réserve, Grand Cru. $59
2002 Henri Gotorbe Special Club. $86
2004 Jean Milan "Terres de Noel", Brut, Grand Cru. $86
N.V. Jean Milan "Cuvée Millenaire" Blanc de Blancs Brut. $61
N.V. Pierre Peters Cuvée Réservée, Blanc de Blancs Brut, Grand Cru. $53
2004 Pierre Gimmonet "Cuvée Gastronome", Brut, 1er Cru. $62
2000 Pierre Gimmonet "Special Club". $81
2004 Pierre Gimmonet "Fleuron", Blanc de Blancs Brut, 1er Cru. $69
2003 Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs, Brut. $80
N.V. Pierre Peters Rosé Brut. $62
N.V. René Geoffroy "Empreinte", Brut, 1er Cru. $65
N.V. René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée. $68
N.V. Varnier-Fannière "Cuvée de Jean Fannière Origine" Blanc de Blancs Brut. $74
N.V. Vilmart & Cie. "Cuvée Rubis" (Rosé), Brut, 1er Cru. $79
1999 Vilmart & Cie. "Cuvée Création", Brut, 1er Cru. $130
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8.5 AND 9
N.V. Andre Clouet Grande Réserve, Grand Cru Brut. $53
2000 Chartogne-Taillet "Vieilles Vignes", Brut. $66
N.V. Forest-Marié Blanc de Blancs, Brut. $47
N.V. Forest-Marié Rosé Brut. $52
N.V. Henri Gotorbe "Cuvée Prestige", Brut. $51
N.V. Jean Lallement et Fils Cuvée Réserve, Brut, Grand Cru. $69
N.V. Jean Milan "Carte Blanche", Brut, Grand Cru. $53
2004 Jean Milan "Cuvée Symphorine", Blanc de Blancs Brut, Grand Cru. $70
N.V. Pierre Gimmonet Cuis 1er Cru Blanc de Blancs, Brut. $55
N.V. Pierre Peters Cuvée Réserve Blanc de Blancs Brut. $52
2000 René Geoffroy Extra Brut, 1er Cru. $130
N.V. Varnier-Fannière Brut, Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs,. $55
N.V. Varnier-Fannière "Cuvée St. Denis", Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs. $66
N.V. Varnier-Fannière Brut, Grand Cru, Rosé. $62
N.V. René Geoffroy Cuvée Volupté. $74
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8.5
N.V. Chartogne-Taillet Brut Rosé. $55
N.V. Forest-Marié Cuvée St. Crespin, 1er Cru. $54
N.V. Jean Lallement et Fils Brut, Grand Cru. $55
N.V. Jean Lallement et Fils Brut Rosé. $70
N.V. Marc Hébrart Cuvée de Réserve, Brut. $47
N.V. Marc Hébrart Blanc de Blancs. $56
N.V. Pehu-Simonet "Selection", Brut. $56
N.V. René Geoffroy "Expression", Brut, 1er Cru. $57
WINES SCORING BETWEEN 8 AND 8.5
N.V. Gaston Chiquet Brut Tradition. $50
N.V. Pierre Peters Rosé Brut. $63
WINES WITH A SCORE AROUND 8
N.V. Jean Milan "Cuvée Spéciale", Brut, Grand Cru. $55
N.V. Jean Milan "Cuvée Tendresse", Sec, Grand Cru. $59
N.V. Jean Milan Grande Réserve 1864. $83
N.V. Pehu-Simonet Rosé Brut. $78
In addition to the Champagnes above, there were a number of other sparkling wines on offer, none of which were particularly of note, except one, which I include here because it was one of the most unusual wines I've encountered in some time.
2005 Bründlmayer Sekt Sparkling Wine, Austria
Pale gold in the glass with medium bubbles, this wine has a staggering, astonishing nose of toasted sesame seed aromas. If that weren't enough, once in the mouth the incredibly unique combination of lemon juice, sesame oil, and mineral undercurrents are just as unique and arresting. This is one of the more amazing wines I've tasted in some time, and utterly unique. A blend of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, and Grüner Veltliner. Score: 9. Cost: $49. Click to buy.
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