I always love any occasion to drink Champagne, but I get extra excited when I have the opportunity to drink wines by individual winemakers instead of the big name labels. This category of grower Champagne has been one of the most exciting trends to watch in wine over the past decade: These smaller producers are crafting wines that provide unique, highly varied, nuanced expressions that center on the individual parcels of land upon which their grapes are grown.
The goal is to display very specific terroir and the grower’s own connection to their vineyards, quite a different take on making Champagne from how the major houses traditionally make their wines. (They procure their grapes from all over the region and aim to produce consistent house styles every year; the blends and winemaking choices—like how much oak—are then the hallmarks of each brand, distinguishing one from the next.)
The idea of smaller wineries producing something expressive of their own vineyards doesn’t sound that revolutionary in the context of wine in general, but in a region like Champagne where the major houses have historically bought up most of the grapes to produce wines, it’s actually rather groundbreaking that more and more growers are making wine in their own right. This is especially true considering the amount of time and money it takes for a bottle to actually reach the market—this is, after all, the most expensive wine growing land in the world, and then the wines have to mature for legally specified periods of time.
Yet the results are really stunning, as these producers are able to express the breadth of styles, flavors, and vintage variation that Champagne has to offer. So even though they represent a small segment of the Champagnes you’ll find on the shelves this holiday season, it’s worth asking your retailer who they carry—or just keep an eye out for some of our favorite bottles below:
2009 Pierre Péters “Les Chetillons” Cuvée Speciale
Pierre Péters is considered one of the top grower producers in the Mesnil area of Champagne, and Les Chetillons supports this claim: a rich sparkler from a single vineyard that is renowned for being, well, so like wine, with flavors andtextures that are extremely apparent instead of being masked by the bubbles. The 2009 is a muscular Champagne from a great vintage, with a rich, deep, luscious body rounded out with notes of toast and brightened by a streak of salty, chalky minerality. And is it age-worthy? You bet; it should continue to shine for upwards of 75 years in the cellar. $140 at 24hubert.com.
2008 Jean Lallement Brut Millesime
If you're looking something a bit more special and rare to ring in the new year, this might be the Champagne for you: only thirty cases in total made it to the U.S. The year 2008 was only the second vintage for this young producer, but already, it's a label to keep an eye on. Layers and layers of intense flavor and texture characterize this rich, powerful wine: caramel apple and red fruit notes are met by a supple mousse; its graininess is cut by a laser-focused clarity. The seemingly deliberate juxtaposition of its components is what makes this wine so intriguing, and the endless finish will make you want to savor it long into 2016, and beyond. $100 at flatiron-wines.com.
Larmandier-Bernier, “Longitude” Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Extra Brut
Larmandier-Bernier has long been one of the leaders in the field, practicing biodynamic philosophies over the past twenty years that, they believe, produce a better expression of the unique, chalky terroir for which the Champagne region is known: “We are lucky to be in good part of the region, so we want to let it show through,” noted owner and winemaker Pierre Larmandier. This 100 percent Chardonnay is produced with grapes from several of the biodynamically farmed vineyards that they own, including sites in Cramant, Avize, Oger, and Vertus. Pierre and Sophie Larmandier take care to let the specificity of their vineyards shine through, and the results are more minerally, salty wines as compared to the softer, rounder Champagnes of the larger houses. The Extra Brut’s touch of dosage takes the edge off of the asperity of the wine, and its superb minerality lingers long after the last drop. $55 at winehouse.com.