Whether you’re throwing the last party of the decade or celebrating from the road, nothing quite captures the magic of New Year’s Eve like the bubbles in a glass of Champagne. So, here at Regency RV, we’ve put together a list of our favorites.
Although Grande Marques labels like Veuve Clicquot or Pol Roger are always reliable standbys, we prefer to reach for the Grower Champagnes – the vinuous equivalent of an authentic farm-to-table experience. Each producer may take a little searching, but the splendor found inside the bottle is well worth the effort. So, what are Grower Champagnes and why do we love them? Well, we feel these family-run, home-grown, quality-and-terroir-driven examples exemplify everything we endeavor to create here at Regency RV. An in-house, bespoke product of inimitability and quality.
But back to Grower Champagnes…
A Grower Champagne is a sparkling wine, grown only in the Champagne region of France. “RM” is printed on the label, which stands for Recoltant-Manipulant. What this means is that all of the grapes are grown, nurtured and harvested by the owner from their estate and hand-crafted into a domaine-bottled wine. The wines reflect the special parcel of land from which the grapes are grown. This not only means the wine is a labor of love from an oftentimes ancient vigneron family, it is also a mouthful of terroir (or sense of place) from one of the most geologically significant swaths of land in the world. These wines represent the millennia-in-the-making, limestone-rich soil that makes Champagne Champagne and why no other region in the world can legally lay claim to its eponymy. On the flip side, major Champagne houses, or Grande Marques, craft their signature style and blends from hundreds, to even thousands, of growers’ vineyards. Grower Champagnes are expertly and meticulously grown and crafted by Mom and/or Pop who oftentimes have been nurturing their land for decades or even centuries. It’s their labor of love and the results are often bespoke examples that will change the way you look at Champagne forever. Although I relish drinking a tête de cuvée from a grand old Champagne house, my heart will always belong to the small grower-producers, the true artisans like Christian Coquillette, André Clouet and Francis Egly. So, without further adieu, here are a handful of my favorite Grower Champagnes.
Champagne Saint-Chamant, Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, Brut
Saint-Chamant is, hands-down, my personal favorite grower-producer of Champagne. Grand old man and octogenarian, Monsieur Christian Coquillette, has been handcrafting world-class Champagne from his labyrinthine, 19th century cellar since the 1950’s where he still hand-labels every single bottle. He meticulously farms his Grand Cru fruit from the Roche Mere, a mother rock of kimmeridgian limestone, and lays his hand-harvested fruit to rest for extended lees aging, which results in brioche-laden richness that is sheer heaven on the palate. This vintage Champagne is a blanc de blancs, which means it is a white wine crafted from 100% Chardonnay. A lip-smacking sensation of dried lemon peel and baked yellow apple evolves into a waltz of beautiful hazelnut purée, freshly baked brioche, honeysuckle, subtle creaminess and one of the most haunting displays of limestone minerality to ever be cradled in a glass. If this champagne doesn’t change your life, I don’t know what will!
No list of Grower Champagne is complete without Egly-Ouriet. Arguably the first Grower Champagne to seize the heart of the American market, fourth-generation vigneron Francis Egly delivers organically-grown fruit from the Grand Cru villages of Ambonnay, Bouzy and Verzenay at a price-to-quality that knows few rivals. The majority of their bottlings are comprised of predominantly old-vine Pinot Noir. The pure expression is so powerful that Egly-Ouriet practically put Grower Champagnes on the map. Their spectacular wines have garnered quite a following, but the label remains family owned, farmed and crafted in the heart of Champagne.
André Clouet, “Cuvée 1911,” Grand Cru, Brut, NV
While André Clouet’s lengthy family narrative is as compelling as a juicy period drama, his wine more than lives up to the legacy. The family’s storied, winding chalk cellars once included partial false walls to protect their more precious bottles from raiding Nazis, but that’s only their modern history. The ancient vigneron family was once the official printer to the court of Louis XV – hence the beauty of the label. André still calls the Clouet’s 17th century estate home. True to his pedigreed lineage, Clouet adheres to time-honored tradition when crafting his Champagnes from the lauded Montagne de Reims region. This particular bottling is sourced from the greatest of the family’s parcels of Pinot Noir in the Grand Cru village of Bouzy. Only 1911 bottles are produced each year and the wine ages for a staggering six years on its lees (spent yeast) before disgorgement, which results in an aroma of freshly baked croissant that envelops the bright, crisp red berry fruit like a cloud of sheer magic. Although this magnificent example of Pinot-based Champagne is considered the family’s tête de cuvée, each bottling across their lineup is a profound reflection of their treasured corner of Champagne down to the stunning entry-level Grande Réserve.
** For service temperature, don’t ice these babies down. They need to be a touch warmer to express all that they have to say. Ideal service temperature is between 50 and 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Simply pull from the fridge 20 minutes before serving and ease the cork from the bottle to allow the wine to catch its breath.
Bonne Année for Regency RV, y’all! Cheers!