2020 has been a year—but when it came to our wine tastings, we saved the best for last. A night of toasts and sips with one of my most favorite beverages: Champagne.
I understand why popping a bottle of champagne is synonymous with celebrating. The sound itself can stop you in your tracks—a distinct pop followed by the whisper of fizz escaping from the bottle; and for these seconds, memories of pure bliss often bubble up, too. Drink enough and it can make a cheese slice from Joe’s Pizza in the West Village feel like a complete meal (and a craveworthy one at that).
Champagne can dress up a cozy night at home, or can create lasting Zoom memories while chatting with someone on the other side of the world… in my case, recently, winemakers from Champagne, France. This is actually one of my 2020 highlights that I’ll cherish long after the year has ended. I had the pleasure of interviewing Mathieu Roland-Billecart, a 7th generation member of the family that runs Champagne Billecart-Salmon, on the release of Billecart-Salmon’s Brut Nature. I also interviewed Julie Gonet-Medeville & Jen Pelka on their Une Femme ‘The Juliette’ Champagne collaboration on Belinda Chang’s Virtual Boozy Brunch. Mathieu shared a fact that stuck with me—that the higher end cuvees have increased in sales while the more entry level cuvees have hovered around the same place, meaning that people are spending more to enjoy an at-home experience. And just like these lovely consumers, I agree that drinking good champagne is a gift worth giving yourself.
The essence of Champagne lives in the bubbles, the story, and the place. To be considered Champagne, the grapes must have been grown in the Champagne region in northeastern France, which is divided into five main growing areas: The Aube, Côte des Blancs, Côte de Sézanne, Montagne de Reims, and Vallée de la Marne. The three main grapes used are Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier. There are a variety of styles (Blanc de Blanc, Blanc de Noir, Rosé, Non-Vintage, Vintage) and sweetness levels (Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra Dry, Sec, Demi-Sec, and Doux—the sweetest). Champagne gets its characteristic bubbles through a second fermentation that occurs in the bottle—a process called “method champenoise.” The house style of Champagne maisons is very important, and it is based on the non-vintage blend that they can recreate each year. Some houses ferment their base wines in oak; others choose not to. These decisions are what go into the great diversity of wine coming out of Champagne.
Here are some of the main distinctions among Champagne producers:
A Champagne House is a producer that may or may not have their own vineyards, but either way buys a large portion of grapes from growers. Some examples are Krug, Taittinger, and Billecart-Salmon.
A Grower/Producer is usually smaller and more boutique than a Champagne house, and it usually produces a smaller volume than some of the bigger houses. However, these producers are growing and sourcing their own fruit. Traditionally, growers would almost exclusively sell off their fruit to larger Champagne Houses or Co-operatives, but growers have gained appeal in restaurants and have become popular among Sommeliers (I once featured all grower champagnes on my wine list). Some examples of growers are Pierre Peters, Egly-Ouriet, Gonet-Médeville, and Noël Bazin.
A Co-Operative is owned by members and produces Champagne under its own brand name. Some examples are Nicolas Feuillatte and Alliance.
These are just a few examples of how diverse Champagne can be. You can find something for anyone, and the investigating and tasting of a range of varieties and producers adds joy to a beverage that is already fun-filled.
Wines From Our Tasting:
Noël Bazin “L’Unanime” Blanc de Blanc Brut:
The “unanimous” is the entry level cuvee. It is a blend of 50% fruit from 2017, and the rest is a solera blend that includes up to 50-year-old vines. Megali & Noël are grower Champagne producers that have a humble 3.3 hectares of land in and around the village of Villers-Marmery.
The Bazins were both born and raised in Champagne. The village gained Premier Cru status in 1985 and Megali & Noël’s first vintage was 1999. This section of the Montagne de Reims is called the Perle Blanche, or “White Pearl,” which focuses on Chardonnay; the rest of the region focuses on Pinot noir and Pinot Meunier. The annual production is small—just 17,000 bottles. You can find out more at Vom Boden.com.
This Champagne was a treat to sip and taste. On the nose I smelled white raspberry, tart apple, and citrus. On the palate it was mouth coating with a bit of salinity on the finish. It had tons of dimension for a Blanc de Blanc, as well as slight oxidative notes.
Francis Boulard & Fille“Les Murgiers”:
Les Murgiers refers to the river stones that make up the walls of the village from which this Champagne hails, and it is the first wine of the estate’s range. It is Brut Nature—a term used to denote the very driest style of Champagne—and it comes from 35-year-old vines grown in clay and limestone soils from Vallée de la Marne. The base is from a 2016 harvest, and it is comprised mostly of Pinot Meunier—75 percent, to be exact, with the remaining 25 percent from Pinot Noir. The first juice from the first pressing is used in this cuvee. It is vinified in old small oak barrels with indigenous yeast. One of the signatures of Boulard’s Champagne is the respect they have for nature: Their wine is Certified Bio ECOCERT Organic and they farm according to biodynamic principles, consulting the lunar calendar. This Champagne was subtle; on the nose I got white flowers, orange blossom water, and earth. This continued to the palate, where I tasted more citrus notes with a seashell earthiness. This wine has no dosage, so it was quite linear and clean on the palate. I became enamored with Francis Boulard Champagne brought in by David Bowler years ago, and revisiting this brought to mind one of my favorite quotes from Bette Davis: “There comes a time in every woman’s life when the only thing that helps is glass of champagne”.
If you would like to buy these two wines please contact Shiraz Noor at Acker Wines. LBV Social Club members get a discount through our partnership!
Claire Paparazzo is an LBV Social Club member who also leads some of the Club's wine tastings. This is her reflection on the tasting that took place on December 3rd, 2020. Find her on Instagram at @clairepaparazzo and @wineifyouwantto.
First photo via Pinterest
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