If you’ve had a glass of Champagne recently, chances are good it was one of these: Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Nicolas Feuillatte, G.H. Mumm, Laurent-Perrier or Taittinger. Moët & Chandon is far and away the largest house, producing over 2,450,000 cases annually. The combined sales for all of these top houses is more than 75% of the entire Champagne market. LOTS of bubbles!
At the other end of the production, as you’d expect, are the small houses, many of whom are referred to as “Growers.” About 50 growers produce 80,000 bottles — a tiny percentage of the overall Champagne production. Moreover, unlike the giant houses who buy most of the grapes they use in their production, Growers own their vineyards and use their own fruit to make Champagne. Look for an RM (Recoltant Manipulateur) on the Champagne labels to distinguish Grower Champagne from the big houses, whose labels are marked NM (Negociant Manipulant).
But what does all this really mean? Is a Grower Champagne any better than a Negociant Champagne? The answer, like so much in Champagne, is complicated….
A major advantage for Grower Champagne producers is that they intimately know their land. Typically, the property has been in the family for generations. And, because the estate is small, families can usually tend to the property themselves with minimal outside assistance.
Another benefit is that unless the weather changes drastically, the wine develops a distinct style — or Champagne personality — that the family has created and reproduced for generations.
On the other hand, NMs like Veuve Clicquot and the other larger houses, offer many benefits. Sine they are able to sell their wine for top dollar, they can employ the best winemakers and experienced vineyard staff. The NMs have state of the art technology and huge reserves to make their wines. For instance, Bollinger holds an enormous cellar of aged reserve wine in magnums. The wine stored in these magnums gives their Special Cuvée blend an extra dimension, one that few Grower Champagnes can offer, simply because they do not have the funds to hold back so much wine.
So, is smaller better? In some instances maybe. The consistency and expertise of the larger Negociant Manipulant is obviously appealing. Then again, it’s hard not to be enticed by the unique flavors and individuality of the Grower Champagnes. “G Power” as we say, is something special, particularly in a world of rapidly growing commercialism and high-powered marketing. Taste all the Champagnes. In the end, your opinion is the only one that counts.
We recently had the opportunity to meet Chantal Bregeon-Gonet, who along with Pierre Gonet, her winemaker-brother, owns Champagne Philippe Gonet RM. The family has managed vineyards since 1783, and most of their property is on the famed Côte des Blancs, known for its pure, white chalk limestone terroir — perfect for Chardonnay.
The Gonet winery is situated in the heart of the village of Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, a tiny place a few kilometers from Épernay. Directly across the street from Gonet is Salon, one of the very best Champagnes on earth. Anselme Selosse is down the road making his cult wines and the outstanding Clos du Mesnil Vineyard can be seen from the main street, next to the winery. Considering fewer than 1,000 people live in the village, it’s quite an exciting place!
The Champagnes produced in Le Mesnil-sur-Oger are offered at some of the finest restaurants in the world. Gonet is included in the menu at the Jules Verne, atop the Eiffel tower. The Signature Brut is served at some of the finest restaurants in America: Meadowood, NoPa, Sons & Daughters, Michael Mina, and Babbo among others.
Chantal personally tasted us on three of their wines. Below are our tasting notes:
Philippe Gonet Rosé Brut. NV. AG-91. $44.99 per bottle or $39.99 case price.
The Rosé was our favorite. Obviously made with lots of Chardonnay as its color was very pale. The wine was seamless — perfectly balanced Chardonnay and Pinot Noir that lends itself to serious food. What a delight! Definitely in a league with Billecart Salmon Rosé, but check out the price difference!
Philippe Gonet Signature Blanc de Blancs Brut. WS 92. NV. $39.99 per bottle or $34.99 case price.
The signature is exciting. Its style was slightly oxidized, but in a good way, reminiscent of some of the Selosse wines. Reserve wines added to the blend range up to 10 years old and are created in the Solera system. Toasty, with brioche aromas, as you would expect, but with an exuberant feel, seldom seen in a basic Champagne blend.
2009 Philippe Gonet Blanc de Blancs Brut Vintage. $82.99 per bottle or $77.99 case price.
Beautifully rich — even though the winery uses very little dosage in their wines. This is hedonistic pleasure. Honeyed and juicy, this Gonet Vintage shows what is best about Blanc de Blancs and compares favorably with a Taittinger Comtes de Champagne.
Gonet wines are offered here on sale throughout this month. Grab a case or two. Please feel free to mix & match. In fact, we recommend it!
MORE GREAT DEALS ON CHAMPAGNE:
2005 Ayala Perle de Champagne. WE-94. $119.98.
All Grand Cru grapes, aged 8 years minimum.
Billecart-Salmon Brut Rosé. NV. JS-94. $69.98.
Only the most sought after Rosé on the planet…
Gosset Grande Reserve NV. WS-92. $39.98.
The oldest house in Champagne since 1584.
Bruno Paillard Première Cuvée Brut. NV. RP-92. $42.98
House style is all elegance and complexity.
2008 Veuve Clicquot Gold Label Reserve Brut. JS-93. $69.89.
Only 3 bottles left!
MUST-BUY SPARKLING WINES:
2014 Schramsberg Brut Blanc de Blancs. $26.79.
First American producer to use Chardonnay in sparkling wine.
2013 Schramsberg Brut Blanc de Noirs. $29.49.
Again, this innovative house pioneered Blanc de Noirs in the US.
Château de Montigny Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé. NV. $16.99.
Our very best selling Crémant. Only one case left!
Domaine Thévenet Vin Mousseux de Bourgogne. MTW-91. $22.99.
Cult French winemaker. This sparkler tastes like a $50 Champagne.
Veuve Ambal Crémant de Bourgogne Brut. NV. $14.99.
Best Buy in Crémant Brut.
Pierre Sparr Crémant d’Alsace Brut. NV. $15.49.
80% Pinot Blanc, soft mousse, powerful body.
Pierre Sparr Crémant d’ Alsace Brut Rosé. NV. $15.99.Crede
Round and fruity, lively and fresh.
Bisol Crede Prosecco di Valdobbiadene. RP-92. $16.99.
Top Italian producer for over 500 years.
Santé. Here’s to G Power!
Michel Thibault & Marla Norman