Updated: Apr 3
Are you relatively new to the “wonderful world of champagne”? Champagne is often associated with royalty and the wealthy, and for good reason. Champagne was originally produced by chance for the King of France by Dom Perignon sometime after 1688. Since then, the techniques for producing fine champagne have progressed significantly. However, the basic procedures remain the same. There are large mass production champagne producers and there are “boutique champagne” producers.
In this article, we will focus on “boutique champagne”. Some important questions arise. For instance, what is “boutique champagne”? How is it produced? How does it compare to the larger producers of champagne? First of all, it is beneficial to understand some champagne basics. What is it and how does it differ from other fine wines?
Not All That Bubbles Is Champagne
Champagne’s effervescence made it stand out centuries ago. This is produced by the carbon dioxide developed during the fermentation processes. No wonder champagne has been fondly nicknamed “bubbly”. However, there is a large array of sparkling wines that cannot be called champagne. What makes champagne so special?
Authentic champagne has to pass three major qualifications. 1) The principal varieties of grapes must be of “Pinot Noir”, “Pinot Meunier” or “Chardonnay”. However, the varieties Arbanne, Petit Meslier, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris are also allowed on the list. All grapes must be produced only in the area of Champagne, France. 2) It has to be made in the region of Champagne, France. 3) True champagne has to go through a double fermentation process: once in the barrels and the second in the bottles.
Boutique Champagne Variety and Quality
When one thinks of fine champagne perhaps the brand names Moet & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot come to mind. That is certainly understandable since they dominate the market with both companies bottling on average 34,000,000 bottles of champagne between them annually. It is a fact that there are around 10 big-brand champagne companies in the region and yet there are over 400 vintners in the same region. Many of these also produce fabulous champagnes.
Grapes can have a wide variety of flavour notes and characteristics that have subtle differences depending on the region where it is grown. These subtle flavours and aromas will enhance every occasion where champagne is enjoyed. Many boutiques are family run businesses. Some have been producing fine champagnes for over 100 years. Their accumulated experience in producing fine wines makes for outstanding expertise. Let’s meet two of them.
The Senez family’s story begins in 1973 with Christian and Josette Senez. Their vineyard is nestled in the paradisiac Cote des Bars area in the town Fontette, just 180 kilometres south-east of Paris. The vineyard today boasts 21 hectares of exquisite “Pinot Noir, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay grapes.
Josette and Christian were very passionate about realizing their dream of making and branding their own champagne. This dedication, aspiration and industriousness continue in the family today. Their daughter, Angélique and her husband Frédéric have continued the family tradition of making excellent champagne. Their daughters, Mélanie and Marion share the dream and work alongside them. Let’s take a look at some of their award-winning champagnes. Please note that the flavour notes and descriptions of each champagne come from the producers themselves. Who can do it better?
Boasts glints of bright pink and English red, a treat with notes of cherries, tart raspberries and wild strawberries. We are in the world of a delicacy "a strawberry with citrus notes and its red fruit coulis". Rosé champagne that we want to eat, an extra temptation adorned with a pink silk dress 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Chardonnay.
A nose in which the hazelnut will flirt with acacia flower, then the shades of lily will mingle with the red fruits to give way to a mouth so nicely lemony and suave. Surprising lightness and invigorating delicacy. 50% Pinot Noir, 50% Chardonnay.
Made from grapes of the champagne appellation from the most beautiful slopes where the vine will give the best of its expression. This red wine is characterized by a bouquet of cherries and morello cherries with elderberry and liquorice notes. The mouth leaves a pleasant sensation of lightness. We elaborate a red reserve which is composed of the first vintage and a red hillside elaborated with a pressed juice. 100% Pinot Noir - Macération
Boasts an amazing history in the art of producing champagne. This small 7-hectare vineyard has been cared for faithfully by the same family for 12 generations. This legacy began when Nicolas LE CACHEUR and Françoise REMY married in 1696. For over three centuries, 12 family generations have been cultivating fine grapes on the famous hillsides of Aÿ.
A deep golden hue with coppery reflections indicates the richness of this blend. The nose opens with fresh notes of pears and lime blossom which give way to more intense, complex aromas and a characteristic Pinot Noir vinosity.
Brut Tradition is fresh on entry to the palate with a good balance between fruit and finesse, a nice round structure and ripe fruit aromas that evolve into toasty notes. Predominantly Pinot Noir (80%) and Chardonnay (20%).
Lovely, golden yellow hue. Majestic nose of honey, candied yellow fruit with brioche notes. On the palate, the 2011 vintage expresses in a great elegance, the generosity of ripe fruit, typical of Aÿ Grand Cru. Deep and structured on the finish, superb length at the end of the mouth. Pinot Noir (60%) and Chardonnay (40%).
Boutique Australian Sparkling Wines
Australian sparkling wines cannot be called Champagne, because of the rules outlined above. However, there are many extraordinary sparkling wines made by boutique winemakers in Australia. They use the same kinds of grape varieties and the same method of production as the Champagne region of France.
These fantastic sparkling wines are usually made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir varieties, using the authentic Methode Traditionelle. A superb example of this comes from Pierre’s Wines in the Hunter Valley in New South Wales. Amongst their current releases are three very different sparkling wines. The wine notes are from Pierre’s own website.
The re-release of our 2013 Chardonnay (60%) and Pinot noir (40%) sparkling wine. The wine benefits from more than 7 years yeast lees contact before disgorging. This is a wine for the sparkling wine experts, who can appreciate the complexity and nuances of a special sparkling wine. Grapes for this wine were 100% grown in our Branxton vineyards.
Sémillon is not one of the varieties authorised in Champagne. However, it makes the best white wines in the Hunter Valley. Our fruit was grown on Hermitage Road by Ken Bray. Ken is well known for his premium Sémillon grapes. A minimum of 22 months maturing on yeast lees in the bottle gives complexity to both the aroma and palate. Citrus and yeast aromas create a unique méthode traditionelle wine. As always, our MT wines are made only from the best free-run juice to ensure there are phenolic bitterness or astringent characters. Try it with seafood.
Our first release of a blanc de noir. It has proven so popular at the cellar door that will need to expand our production of this cuvée in future vintages. The brass or rose gold appearance is indicative of the 100% pinot noir grapes. We love the colour, and it anticipates the aromas of red fruit (raspberries and forest strawberries) which compliment the yeast autolysis characters.
A Joyful Challenge
So there is a lot more to fine champagne than just bubbles. In this brief article, we opened up a whole new world of elegant taste. There is such a variety of authentic champagne. We only touched the surface by looking briefly at two distinct boutique houses from opposite ends of the champagne region. There are an estimated 400 such houses in the zone. Each boutique house prepares distinct champagnes. So imagine how many different champagnes you could try if you visited each boutique.
That would be a joyful challenge indeed!
Realistically, you may not be able to personally visit each vineyard or cottage. However, if you are lucky enough to live in Australia, you can enjoy some of these outstanding champagnes and superb Australian Sparkling wines by ordering online right here on “Boutique Wine & Champagne”.