Champagne gets an undeserved rap as being only for celebration. It is the top choice for celebrations and it is June, the month for graduations and weddings, but Champagne goes with food, as an apéritif and the semi-dry and doux versions are great with dessert.
Every sparkling wine isn’t Champagne. Champagne is a clearly defined place east-northeast of Paris where the chalk-limestone and clay and gravel soils and limited grape varieties yield some of the world’s great wines. Chardonnay comes from the chalk-limestone soil on the Côtes des Blancs, a ridge which runs to the south from Épernay, and imparts crispness and super minerality. The best of the Pinot Noir comes from the grand cru villages on the Montagne de Reims, the ridge between the cities of Reims and Épernay. Pinot Meunier comes predominantly from the Vallée de la Marne. Both of these red varieties supply red fruit notes and structure with the color in rosés. Other varieties planted in small quantities include Arbane, Petit Meslier, Pinot Gris and Pinot Blanc.
Every fan of Champagne knows the big, famous brands but some of the most unique wines and best values come from small family producers. These are wines worth seeking for their individuality.
This cuvée is a blend of 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Chardonnay from all premier cru vineyards on the Montagne de Reims for the Pinot Noir and the Côte des Blancs for the Chardonnay. The wine shows a lot of finesse with tiny bubbles, floral and toast aromas and an elegant finish. $43
This is one of the few rosés produced from grand cru vineyards. Made from 55% Pinot Noir and 44% Chardonnay with a little still Pinot Noir from the grand cru village of Bouzy for extra color; the wine has light orange color, fresh strawberry aromas and an elegance that sets it apart from lesser rosés. It’s bottled in 18th century antique bottles for a special presentation. $50
Mignon’s Comte de Marne is 55% Pinot Noir and 45% Chardonnay. It’s a selection of 15% of the top wines from the grand cru vineyards. Aged three years in bottle in the cellar, it opens with floral and toasty aromas followed by a long, elegant middle and crisp finish carried on tiny bubbles. This is a great food or celebration wine. It’s bottled in 18th century antique bottles for a special presentation. $50
“Ripe Gala apple, peach and guava fruit notes lead the way in this juicy version, backed by mouthwatering acidity and a fine, creamy bead. Delivers hints of candied almond, ginger, kumquat and coconut. Disgorged May 2012. Drink now through 2018. 92” Wine Spectator
One of the most unique Champagnes offered, Moutard’s Cuvée des 6 Cépages is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, Chardonnay, Petit Meslier and Arbanne from vineyards in Buxeuil and Polisy, which are both in the Côte des Bar. The last two varieties are nearly extinct but François Moutard has saved them with less than a hectare of each. $60
François Moutard saved this nearly extinct white variety and makes small quantities of this varietal wine in the top years. The wine shows light golden color leading to floral and toast aromas and flavors on a delicate structure. The age allows the almond notes to show on the finish. This is a truly unique wine. $80
Haton’s Réserve is 30% Chardonnay, 35% Pinot Noir and 35% Pinot Meunier. Some older reserves are added giving the wine a gold color with tiny bubbles; notes of toast, almond and honey carrying through a long, rich finish. This is close to vintage brut at a bargain price. $35 (750mL)
Brad Lewis, wine expert, enthusiast and contributor