Champagne Houses where 2nd Best is Close to the Top - or not! And Why?

I was thinking about this question yesterday during the discussion of 2014 (13, 12, 09, 08) Cristal. While the Vintage Brut at Roederer isn’t the Cristal and never will be, I think that the step down is not that huge. Especially with the price increases, this makes me very happy! At Roederer, now, I’m pretty content getting a small number of Cristal and bunch of Vintage Brut, especially in top vintages. At some houses, though, I think the disparity between the tête de cuvée and the next step(s) down is much larger.

At what other houses do you think the next level down excels to an extent that brings it, let’s say, pretty close to the top bottling? Or on the flipside, where do you think the top wine stands across a vast divide from everything else?

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I think Vilmart Grand Cellier d’Or is a middle/upper tier Champagne for its house that is superb.

I’m not trying to say the Coeur de Cuvee isn’t a great wine and a good value, but I feel like the GCdO is in the category you have in mind here.

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Krug NV vs. Vintage is an obvious one, but that’s a unique situation and I’ve never had the single vineyards.

Great vintages of Pierre Péters L’Esprit can be impressive, maybe as good as lesser vintages of Chétillons.

Egly-Ouriet V.P. vs. Vintage? It’s been too long since I’ve had the vintage, so I am not confident about this one. I’d be curious to know what other people think.

This isn’t exactly on point, but Krug’s Grande Cuvee isn’t really a step down at all from the vintage offering.

Pol Roger vintage isn’t much inferior to SWC.

I love Peters Chetillons but the BdB hits a lot of the same notes.

On the other side of the coin: DP is a big step up from anything else Moet offers. Same with Veuve Grande Dame. Same with Dom Ruinart vs. Ruinart BdB/Rose. Ditto Taittinger.

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Interesting topic, thanks. Not exhaustive, but a few thoughts:

Second-Tier Standouts:

  • Agrapart: Avizoise vs. Venus - probably because of my dislike of zero-dosage Champagnes, I prefer the former (and it is much cheaper).


  • Krug: Grand Cuvee vs. Clos d’Ambonnay, with the latter being not worth it.


  • Bollinger: some of these recent bottlings such as PNVZ15/16 and the B13 are quite good.


  • Pierre Peters: the market price of Montjolys is much higher than Chetillons, but I prefer the latter.


  • Marie Noelle Ledru: one of my favorite NV Champagnes.


  • J Selosse: Substance vs. Vintage - given where the prices are going especially on the latter, the former is still exceptional and a better buy at somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the price.

Not Even Close:

  • Salon > Delamotte.


  • Krug: Clos du Mesnil > GC - in my view the one (of the two prestige cuvees) that is worth it.


  • G Selosse: Au Dessus du Gros Mont > Largillier.


  • Dom Perignon > Moet & Chandon.


  • Taittinger CdC > Taittinger

Misc:

  • Dom Perignon: probably not exactly what you meant by this question, but the P3 >> P2 > P1 pricing doesn’t correlate with any dramatic quality step-up
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I should have included the obvious follow-up question: and WHY?

I’ll add Etienne Calsac where I personally find their 4 main bottlings equivalent in (extraordinarily high) quality though varying substantially in price. The difference is more in style than in quality.

From my one experience with the Rose that was a big step down

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Really good list! I’d just qualify it to say that I don’t think of Agrapart’s Venus as their Tete de cuvée, more like a single vineyard made in a pretty different style. Similarly, young Clos de Mesnil almost drinks like Chablis to me rather than the typical Krug style.
On not even close, it’s Taittinger for me by a mile. I really like the Comtes and the rest of the range is…I think made of grapes.

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Cristal is the 2nd best at Roederer, which would make the vintage 3rd. The Cristal Rose is first.

That suggested the question of what is the tete de cuvee at different houses. If we go by price, vintage Krug is third, after the two single-vineyard wines. Similarly, Bollinger’s Grande Annee is third, after the RD and the VV Francaise.

I don’t view “Tete de Cuvee” and “single vineyard designate” as the same thing, even if the latter is more expensive. Sometimes the latter is more of a project than the highest quality production of a house’s style. The distinction to me seems clear from Agrapart (neither the Venus nor the Experience, which are more expensive, are what I’d call “Tete de Cuvees”, personally) and Krug (the Clos de Mesnil is quite far from the “Krug style” to me).
I’d posit these days that some houses don’t have a Tete de Cuvee; like Krug.

It wouldn’t be the first time I missed something obvious, but I’m not sure I understand your question. Is your question “why is the second-best wine at some houses almost as good as the best one?”

If that’s it, I wouldn’t have the slightest idea, and I would guess the answer varies from one house to another.

When I read the title of your thread, I immediately thought of Roederer. Great topic idea and I am reading everyone’s thought avidly!

That’s just the kind of consideration I wanted to spark with my question. I agree about Krug: I believe they think of the GC as a different expression of Krug on par with the vintage.

Fair question! I am mostly thinking of the houses where there’s a big divide. Clearly they are capable of making good to great wine. Are they not making the effort? Different winemaking approach? Totally different sources of fruit? That kind of thing. Requires some speculation, I know, but could also be some more concrete explanations.

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Calsac is soooooo good.

Sarah, of the wines I buy, two domaines come to mind. One is Vilmart, which has been raised already by Counselor Seiber. I would agree with him that the GCdO is not far off from CdC in terms of quality. The raw material is pretty similar (same vines but older section for CdC) and there is older wood and less time on the lees for GCdO. But that said, for what is typically a $30-40 delta between the two, I am happy to drink GCdO and I buy as much of that as I do CdC. In fact, I was really quite happy with 2013, 2014 and 2015 GCdO of the bottles I opened last year. I just bought a bunch of the 2016 as I do believe in GCdO.

The other is Larmandier-Bernier. I’d say the Levant VV bottling is classy and polished, in my mind top shelf. But, I’m also happy to drink Longitude. The delta between these two bottlings can be $50-60 so there is a wider price differentiation than Vilmart’s two wines. Yet for 1/2 the price, I am also equally fine drinking Longitude if I don’t want to open Levant, or even the Les Chemins d’Avize (which you can argue is in the same caliber as Levant VV).

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Except I think their ‘Starck’ is very close in quality to Cristal.

This is vintage specific, but I think the 2008 Laurent-Perrier to be very close in quality to the Grand Siecle #24 at about half the price.

I know that you are a big fan of the 2009. Have you had the 2012?

The GC 24 doesn’t have any 2008 in it. Maybe the better comparison would be to the 2005, 2006 or 2007 vintages. Or compare the GC 25 or 26 to the 2008.