Friday, April 18, 2008

Learning About Grower Champagne

One of my 2008 resolutions was to get to know a bit more about Champagne, and specifically grower Champagne--the kind of bubbly that is made by growers rather than big Champagne houses such as Veuve Clicquot and Moet & Chandon. If you are interested in grower Champagne, the De Long Wine Moment has a terrific article that will explain the difference between the big brands and the small producers, as well as give you an overview of how Champagne is made.

The Agraparts are a family of growers who have been cultivating the grapes, making the wine, and bottling their own Champagne since 1894. When the second winemaker in the family, August, died in 1996 at the age of 96, he attributed his long life to drinking a bottle of Champagne a day. Today the fourth generation is doing just what their predecessors did, and all of the grapes produced on the domaine go into their own Champagne.

The Champagne region is an area of small villages where Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Pinot Meunier are grown. The grapes for this wine come from vineyards in seven different villages (hence the name "Les 7 Crus"): Avize, Oger, Oiry, Cramant, Avenay Val d'Or, Bergeres-les- Vertus, and Mardeuil. Each of these areas is known for particular characteristics, and the blending of grapes from each helps to make the wine complex and distinctive. Avize, for example, is known for the delicacy of its Chardonnay, while Cramant is known for producing wines with fabulous aromas and a caramel taste.

The NV Agrapart & Fils Les 7 Crus Brut Blanc de Blancs was a very good QPR example to start my adventures into grower Champagne. ($34.99, domaine547--but the new bottle has gone up a bit in price to $37.99). Made from 100% Chardonnay, the wine was pale straw in color, with lots of mousse or froth and abundant bead or bubbles when it is first opened. The aromas of warm brioche just out of the oven, fresh lemon zest, and apple welcome you into the glass, where your first sips reveal an open, almost lacy, texture. It was at this moment that I felt I could taste the grapes from Avize and Cramant. The yeasty, bready aromas become more concentrated in the flavors, where the apple turns towards tarter Granny Smith. I did get a slightly caramel, nutty edge to the aftertaste, as well. This wine had great complexity for a Champagne at this price point, and I found it far less assertive and lemony than most of the house style Champagnes I've been able to afford. That complexity may come from the fact that the Agraparts age their Champagne on the lees in the bottle for three years prior to disgorging, which takes place 2 months before the bottles are shipped.

I would definitely buy more of this Champagne, and keep it on hand for special occasions. Those special occasions would include days like today, i.e. Fridays. Yes, you're worth the splurge (especially if you filed taxes this week!)

If you have any other suggestions of grower Champagnes for me to try, please let me know in the comments section. I've got a lot to learn.


Velvet Fog said...

A bottle a day!?!?!
My hat is off to that gentleman.

Anonymous said...

Good post, but we need to give people the ability to discern grower Champagne from the rest. You want to look for the letters "RM" on the label. You may see NM or other letters, but ignore those. RM are the ones you want. RM stands for récoltant-manipulants - growers who make and sell their own wine.

Anonymous said...

Sorry we had to raise the price but unfortunately we sold out and when we re-ordered we got brand spanking new 2008 rates from the importer. All things considered, we still think this is a nice deal.

From what I've heard, the grapes for this are from formerly designated Grand Cru vineyards. But I will have to confirm that (and why the family has chosen to declassify this wine, or why the vineyards have lost status...not sure just yet).

Dr. Debs said...

I'm not sure I will ever reach his "one bottle a day" level either but it's certainly awe-inspiring. Thanks for that information, Dale. I'm a grower newbie, so had no idea what the letters were for. And I think you're right Jill, that these grapes are from formerly Grand Cru vineyards. I can't figure out what happened, either, but I'm working on it.