John Belsham explains the appeal of Grower Champagnes in this year’s tasting.
In this year’s $100 and under category we reveal several smaller, family-owned houses among the Champagne’s giants, with some of our higher pointed wines being Grower Champagnes. Grower or Récoltant manipulant (RM) wines are produced from grapes grown exclusively from the producer’s estates, unlike the more well-known houses that may source fruit from the entire region of Champagne.
The popularity of Grower Champagne is a reasonably recent phenomenon due in part to their individuality which enthuses the more knowledgeable and adventurous consumers. Another appeal is that these wines are typically more affordable than the Grandes Marques, given that the owners are not supporting the eye-watering marketing budgets of the internationally famous brands. The flip side is that quality is often variable, and unless the Grower is renowned, the experience can be disappointing. You can rest assured that this Top 10 selection is remarkable across a range of labels and price points.
TASTING PANEL The sparkling wine tasting panel also tasted the Champagnes $100 and under.
Champagne Lilbert-Fils is one of the most consistent and highly respected Grower Champagnes. The Lilbert family have been grape growers since 1746, however it was not until 1907 that the family began bottling their wines. Now, 112 years on, fifth-generation winemaker Bertrand Lilbert is at the helm. Their wines are produced from 3.5 hectares which are exclusively planted to chardonnay vines deeply rooted in the chalk soils of the Côtes de Blancs . The vineyards are situated across three Grand Crus: Cramant, Chouilly and Oiry and are divided into 15 parcels which yield a maximum of 30,000 bottles per year across three wine styles. To put this into perspective, even the smaller of the Grande Marque houses produce over 1.5 million bottles per year.
Upholding traditional techniques
The non-vintage brut in this tasting has an impressive 50% reserve wine and 50% wine from vintage 2013 in the blend. It was hand riddled and disgorged in the spring of 2016 using the traditional ‘à la volée’ technique of holding the bottle upside down then quickly righting it while manually removing the tirage seal with sediment attached. Served in restaurants such as George V in Paris, it is definitely a wine to seek out now, before it is sold out. This wine is exceptionally fresh, elegant and beautifully structured. The delicious creamy mousse and fine bead highlight the aromas of ripe apples and fresh citrus. Savoury, complex flavours of toasty brioche, nuts and meal provide tension, harmony and superb length.
A delicate style with crisp citrus and ripe herbal aromas with flavours …2
An opulent yet very well structured style with a golden hue and …3
Full and fresh showcasing citrus blossom aromas with savoury and herbal notes. …4
A very generous style with a persistent bubble and baked apple aromas. …5
The colour of golden straw with a beautiful bubble is wonderfully attractive …6
Spicy red fruits and mushroom notes lead the bouquet in this pinot …7
A very focussed pinot-based wine with a delicate bead and steely aromatics. …8
Golden-hued with a beautifully persistent bubble, this wine is a wonderfully subtle …9