Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

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brigcampbell
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Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#1 Post by brigcampbell » December 24th, 2011, 1:19 pm

Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery : http://usat.ly/seIYG4

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Neal.Mollen
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#2 Post by Neal.Mollen » December 24th, 2011, 1:24 pm

A new kind of snobbery. Meet the new boss . . .
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Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#3 Post by Craig G » December 24th, 2011, 2:49 pm

Pretty amusing, since there are few wine topics trendier and snobbier than grower Champagne.

It also annoys me to no end when I hear merchants spouting about how the grower Champagnes are cheaper. Maybe they are cheap when Terry Thiese buys them, but not when he sells them.
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#4 Post by Greg Pierce » December 24th, 2011, 3:11 pm

Interesting that the article talks about "underripe" grapes being used. I've heard from multiple sources that champagne benefits from using grapes that are not as "ripe" as those used in still wines.

Any sparkling wine experts care to chime in on this issue?

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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#5 Post by G. D y e r » December 24th, 2011, 3:14 pm

I agree with the initial replies. It's like saying Burgundy is the anti-snob alternative to Bordeaux's snobbery. Both attract their own variety of snob. There are the brand snobs and there are the exclusivity snobs.

It's sort of like the age old battle between trend followers and hipsters. The former will tell you a band is good because it is popular and tickets are expensive. The latter will tell you a band is good because it hasn't been discovered by and you couldn't get tickets because they are so under the radar. (I think we can all agree that both groups have crappy taste in beer--in the battle of MGD 64 and PBR, there can be no winner.)

What is good is substance gaining a foothold over marketing.
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#6 Post by Dan Kravitz » December 24th, 2011, 3:39 pm

to Greg Pierce,

Underripe grapes are a basic part of Champagne history. It's a cold climate, so ripeness is hard to come by anyway. Natural alcohols when the region produced still wine, before the invention / discovery of the Champagne process, were historically in the 9 - 11% range. Today, bottled Champagne is usually about 12% alcohol. As the in-bottle fermentation adds about 2% alcohol, that means that the still wines used for Champagne are 10% alcohol... unripe by any modern standard. The acid levels are so high that almost all Champagnes have a 'dosage' of sugar added. In the case of a typical Brut, that brings the residual sugar level to about 1%. Due to the high acid from underripe wine (made from underripe grapes), the wine still appears quite dry as the acid masks the sugar. The result is tastes balanced and hundreds of millions of people enjoy it every year.

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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#7 Post by Matt Mauldin » December 25th, 2011, 7:41 pm

Both styles have their place for reasons well stated in the article and in the comments.

I agree with Neal and Craig about the snob appeal of grower Champagne. It's a peculiar angle for the article to take.
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#8 Post by Fred Daniels » December 25th, 2011, 11:58 pm

I look at it this way. Before, we had to try 6-10 $40-$60 champagnes to determine which was the best. Now we have to try 30-40 $35-$45 champagnes to determine which was the best. I'm all for Pierre Peters' Chetillons and the like, but if the top three wines are always Krug, Bollinger and "once in a blue moon great other major brand here" then I see no need to go spending volumes of money on myriad small growers.

I mean, we have to give wholesale champagne buyers some credit. If historically we've limited ourselves to a dozen brands, it must be due to quality as well as availability, right? So, while chasing the latest hot champagne grower with a small portion of my funds, I'm sticking with Grand Annee Bolly, Krug, and Taittinger Comtes, and their associated NV counterparts.

Just tried Chiquet brut and blanc de blanc, and while OK, they don't knock off any socks. Vilmart is great, but for the price Comtes is better. Pierre Moncuit is nice, but still not in the major leagues for me. Billicart Salmon is very good, but again for the price, I'm going for Krug or Comtes.

Maybe it's a taste thing, but rather than try lots of unknowns, I'd rather stick with brands that are somewhat consistent.
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#9 Post by Nick Ryan » December 26th, 2011, 12:58 am

Dan Kravitz wrote:to Greg Pierce,

Underripe grapes are a basic part of Champagne history. It's a cold climate, so ripeness is hard to come by anyway. Natural alcohols when the region produced still wine, before the invention / discovery of the Champagne process, were historically in the 9 - 11% range. Today, bottled Champagne is usually about 12% alcohol. As the in-bottle fermentation adds about 2% alcohol, that means that the still wines used for Champagne are 10% alcohol... unripe by any modern standard. The acid levels are so high that almost all Champagnes have a 'dosage' of sugar added. In the case of a typical Brut, that brings the residual sugar level to about 1%. Due to the high acid from underripe wine (made from underripe grapes), the wine still appears quite dry as the acid masks the sugar. The result is tastes balanced and hundreds of millions of people enjoy it every year.

Dan Kravitz
An interesting article in the latest TWOFW about even newer-school grower champagne claims that the cause of all this is because of gross overcropping of Champagne vineyards. Drastically reduce the yield, increase ripeness and quality, and the need for dosage and other manipulation can be reduced, allowing for Burgundian levels of terroir expression from single-vineyard cuvees. Not sure how much of this I believe since, according to this article, only a tiny handful of Champagnes currently available in the U.S. can prove the author's point (and conveniently, he is their importer...)
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#10 Post by teddemop » December 26th, 2011, 6:52 am

One perhaps important point left out for wine geeks, especially Champagne Geeks like me, is that Grower Champagnes are just fun. I'm trying maybe 2-3 new Grower Champagnes a week (coming off a string of 5 solid nights of new ones) and it's simply a blast. And yes, I am finding some that simply are fantastic to my palate and relative QPRs, and others that a really nice but don't excite me much, to ones where I say WTF?

I couldn't had said, I feel like Bouzy, let's pop a Paul Bara tonight, a couple of years ago for example. And Gaston Chiquet has become my house bubbly now. Just so no one accuses me of being a Champagne snob, I also drank a bunch of not so highly regarded negotiant Nicolas Feuillatte's basic NV (which at $25 bucks on discount is a steal and tasty stuff in my opinion) I don't like there prestige cuvee Palmes d’Or though at all.

Interesting article - thanks for pointing it out.
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Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#11 Post by Craig G » December 26th, 2011, 8:10 am

I actually agree that grower Champagne is a great thing, for because it offers more variety, as well as some of the reasons given in the article (for example that grower has an opportunity to show terroir whereas the big houses are trying to maintain house style).

My main objections are about the marketing of grower Champagne. Every year I get a flyer from a shop that parrots some crap that Terry Thiese wrote about how his wines are great and dirt cheap for their quality, and how evil the big houses are. Yet if I compare at the same price level, I usually come back to Bollinger. My argument is that it's the variety that is allowing you to find some better wines among the grower wines, not that they are actually cheaper or higher quality on average.

I think this is true of many regions: You can do much better buying Guigal, Jadot, Beringer, etc. than buying random wines, but if you sift through many wines very carefully you will find a minority that are better and better value, or perhaps just better matches to your taste.
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#12 Post by Dan Kravitz » December 26th, 2011, 4:45 pm

I agree that Champagne is overcropped to scandalously high levels. However if you're to keep it to 12 - 12.5% alcohol, you still have to pick underripe, at 10 - 10.5%. I agree that less dosage is better, as long as the wine is balanced. I sporadically order a case from a grower I represent at 0.5% RS and that's a sweet spot for me.

It's cool to be able to say "I feel like Bouzy, let's open a Paul Bara". 30 years ago I worked for a wholesaler that sold Paul Bara. It's cool, but not very new to be able to say that. What I find cool is that people are talking about it.

I would love to do a tasting (spring? New York?) blind of comparably priced growers and established top negociants.

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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#13 Post by Lee Short » December 26th, 2011, 6:15 pm

Craig Gleason wrote:My main objections are about the marketing of grower Champagne. Every year I get a flyer from a shop that parrots some crap that Terry Thiese wrote about how his wines are great and dirt cheap for their quality, and how evil the big houses are. Yet if I compare at the same price level, I usually come back to Bollinger. My argument is that it's the variety that is allowing you to find some better wines among the grower wines, not that they are actually cheaper or higher quality on average.

I think this is true of many regions: You can do much better buying Guigal, Jadot, Beringer, etc. than buying random wines, but if you sift through many wines very carefully you will find a minority that are better and better value, or perhaps just better matches to your taste.
I see what you're saying here -- I certainly agree that Guigal Cotes-du-Rhone is better than a random C-d-R pulled off the shelf, and not as good as a well-chosen domaine-grown C-d-R. But that's not actually an apples to apples comparison: you're comparing the best 1% of negoce juice to the average domaine-grown juice.

Nearly every time I taste a big house bubbly, I think "well, this is nice, but that money I could have had <insert grower champagne here>." Now occasionally there will be a closeout price (15$ Pol Roger, etc.) that will be hard to match on a QPR basis.

I will admit that it takes more work to sort out the best of the grower Champagnes. But once you've done the work, it's not something you have to do repeatedly. I've also been lucky to always have some reliable friends (both ITB and not) to point me in the right direction.

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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#14 Post by Brad Baker » December 27th, 2011, 8:51 am

Things really aren't as black and white as they sometimes appear. I don't think you can treat all wines as the "same" meaning that just because this or that wine/grape/region/style/etc... crops in one way or yields such an amount that all should fall into the same category. I know a lot of people look at the yields in Champagne and are stunned at how high they are especially when compared to Burgundy wines they know, but the wines are not the same.

The folks in Champagne have put a lot of research into this and, yes, I agree that the yield can sometimes get out of hand, but a lower yield or a yield that might be more in line with well known Burgundies, doesn't necessarily make a better wine. It has been tried by folks and sometimes less isn't more. That doesn't mean that you can't make good Champagne with a very low yield, but it may not make the best Champagne. To be clear, I am not supporting high yields (as in a year like 2004), but I don't think low yields are necessarily the answer either - it is more a case where moderation or a reasonable yield is often the best choice.

Champagne is getting more ripe and dosage in general has gone done a lot over the last decade. Who knows what the future will bring, but letting the grapes get more and more ripe in hopes of using less or no dosage does not necessarily make a better wine. It is amazing to watch/taste many of the wines from folks who are doing this and many are terrific, but IMO, if the issue was simply getting riper grapes to lower dosage and get a better wine, it would have been done long ago and Champagne as a region probably wouldn't have the reputation it does today. Believe it or not, the "letting the grapes get riper" method has been tried over the years in various places around the world including Champagne, but the results aren't necessarily as good as they might look on paper. When you are doing two fermentations, it is a different world from a still wine and this does benefit from under-ripe grapes or, probably better said, grapes that produce a high acid still wine that doesn't taste very good.

It all really comes down to a producer's vision and what drives them. It is great that Champagne is getting more and more diverse by the day and that everyone is making efforts to improve their viticulture and winemaking. The quality and variety of Champagne today is probably at or near a historic high and we should enjoy that, but we also should remember that sometimes history can teach us things. I'm not against new ideas as we need them, but it isn't always as simple as saying lower the yield, increase the ripeness, and drop the dosage.
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#15 Post by Nathan L » December 27th, 2011, 10:24 am

Craig Gleason wrote:I actually agree that grower Champagne is a great thing, for because it offers more variety, as well as some of the reasons given in the article (for example that grower has an opportunity to show terroir whereas the big houses are trying to maintain house style).

My main objections are about the marketing of grower Champagne. Every year I get a flyer from a shop that parrots some crap that Terry Thiese wrote about how his wines are great and dirt cheap for their quality, and how evil the big houses are. Yet if I compare at the same price level, I usually come back to Bollinger. My argument is that it's the variety that is allowing you to find some better wines among the grower wines, not that they are actually cheaper or higher quality on average.

I think this is true of many regions: You can do much better buying Guigal, Jadot, Beringer, etc. than buying random wines, but if you sift through many wines very carefully you will find a minority that are better and better value, or perhaps just better matches to your taste.
+1
Can't say it much better than that (and I consider myself a grower lover)
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#16 Post by Oliver McCrum » December 27th, 2011, 12:48 pm

I love grower Champagne. I don't drink any other kind of wine made by a negotiant, I don't see why Champagne should be different.
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#17 Post by Neal.Mollen » December 27th, 2011, 1:16 pm

I love grower champagne. Well, some grower champagnes.

I love the big houses. Well, some of them.

I dislike, intensely, blind dogma, whether it oozes from the pulpit or from the wine intelligentsia
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#18 Post by Oliver McCrum » December 27th, 2011, 5:59 pm

Neal,

If your post was intended as a response to mine, I would point out that I was expressing a preference, which is of course not at all the same as dogma.

That said, I overstated my case; I have drunk small-batch wines from larger wineries that I've enjoyed greatly, and I have drunk some cuvées from the Grandes Marques Champagne houses that were very good. In fact one of the best Champagnes I've drunk was a '52 Pol Roger that was disgorged in '77 for Queen Elizabeth's silver jubilee (it wasn't very expensive, either)*. Perhaps I should have said that I would much rather drink grower wines in most cases, particularly given that they are often excellent value relative to the big houses.

For example, I recently drank a bottle of Aube Blanc de Blancs ('Les Vignes de Montgueux') from Jacques Lassaigne, a grower I'd never heard of, and I thought it was very exciting wine, brilliant, stony and delicious. I don't look to big wineries in any region for that kind of experience; those winemakers are quite properly more concerned with consistency.

*I grew up in the UK trade. The wine was 8 pounds a bottle in 1977.
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Re: Grower Champagne trend puts cork in wine snobbery

#19 Post by Matt Mauldin » December 27th, 2011, 7:54 pm

Neal.Mollen wrote:I love grower champagne. Well, some grower champagnes.

I love the big houses. Well, some of them.

I dislike, intensely, blind dogma, whether it oozes from the pulpit or from the wine intelligentsia
+1- can't say it any better than that.
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