Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Champagne Primer for New Year's

You may have noticed that our posts have been infrequent this month. Sorry! The busy holiday season is getting to us. In the New Year we'll increase the frequency of the posts. Now onto my point.

It's the time of year to drink bubbly wine again. If you're looking for a Champagne to toast the new year, you could do what many other Americans do and buy a big name brand, like Moet or Dom Perignon (also made by Moet). But if you want more bang for your buck, the rule with Champagne is the more obscure the better. Here's why.

Champagne houses like Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot are huge operations that churn out millions of bottles. To get their worldwide distribution they deal with brokers, who deal with importers, who deal with distributors, who may deal with yet more distributors, who finally deal with the retailer, who sells it to you. That means the wine has passed through several hands each marking up the price as they go. Plus, how good can a Champagne be when produced in this huge quantity? The best deals with Champagne are from what is known as Grower's Champagne. These are small Champagne houses that tend the vineyards and make the wine (big Champagne houses buy their grapes from elsewhere). Because the production is smaller they can pay more attention to each bottle and make some really interesting sparkling wine, which is really the style that made Champagne what it is. Plus, these wineries usually deal directly with the importer who usually distributes it as well, so instead of several parties each marking up the price on the wine as it goes, Grower Champagne goes from the winery to the importer to the retailer, ie us. Therefore you get more for what you pay.

It's for this reason that we specialize in Grower Champagne. We could probably sell more by carrying the big brands, but quality is more important. Our favorites are Veuve Fourny, who make several different kinds that we carry, Benoit Lahaye (a Grand Cru Champagne), and Roland Champion, who makes a 2000 vintage Grand Cru (the highest classification) Champagne for $70. A Grand Cru Vintage Champagne for $70. Forget about spending $130 + on Dom Perignon when you can get world class Champagne for practically half the price.

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