“Come on Champagne lady, you have got to watch it” Randy ribbing me for not yet watching the recently released A Year in Champagne, a documentary about, well about a harvest, or year, in France’s famed sparkling wine region of Champagne. Randy had watched the movie and loved it so much that he bought the movie poster for the shop and even had it hung right behind the desk where I work. He was right, I was dragging my feet and one night last month I popped onto Amazon streaming, opened a bottle of wine and tucked into the end of my couch, wondering if there were any way for me to be more in love with my little Champagne department and producers than I have been for years. Just a few frames in and it two things were clear, I could love them more and Randy was once again correct. I needed to watch that film.
Watching these small producers work their land, extoll their passion, share their families and stories. Watching them taste and assemble a wine for us to enjoy, well it went a very long way in reminding me why we fell in love with these small growers in the first place. These are wines carefully crafted, from the soil to the final cage that will restrain that signature cork until just the moment we decide to free it, these are wines made by someone very much vested in bringing us joy. How cool, and frankly, remarkable is that?
You can see the determination of the faces of those small vintners, their wives and children in the vineyards too, as they pick Pinot Noir, in the rain, in an effort to rescue what tiny amount of fruit they have to produce their maybe five or six thousand case production. They harvest, ferment, let the wines rest on the yeast for upwards of three years before disgorging, labeling and sending the wines across the ocean to us, and we can buy all of that work, often for less than $50.00. That is simply amazing to me. Counter that with reading a recent article that mega-bubble-cranking-out-machine Veuve Clicquot, in an effort to move through their over three hundred million bottle, machine harvested, purchased fruit production, is introducing a super sweet Champagne designed to be served over ice and mixed with crap like cucumber, bell peppers and booze. No, I am not kidding, (as much as that sounds laughable) they are calling it, “Rich” and for this soulless, creepy elixir you will be charged around $60.00. A hand crafted, limited production wine designed to bring us pleasure, because you know, they need us to be happy so we keep buying their products, or a sweet, marketing scam of a wine that you have to actually mix stuff into, and serve over ice to make it taste good? I don’t know about you but one seems like a gift, the other sort of feels like a huge company giving us the finger. Seems like an easy choice to me….
Here's a list of my favorite under $50 Champagnes
N.V. Agrapart & Fils 7 Cru Brut $40.99
A wine we write about every year, but one we would be remiss not to include in the best of catagory because it just keeps getting better and better! This Chardonnay based wine from the tiny estate of Agrapart in Avize, sells 3 to 1 over any other Champagne in the store, in large part due to the wickedly small price tag but at the rate with which even The Wine Country staff gobbles it up there is more going on than just value. Plenty of tart green apple with a pronounced buttered bread note. In the mouth, the wine is full without being the least bit clunky; it's light and pretty with a gentle but persistent finish.
N.V. R.H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut $39.99
Quite simply one of the best deals in grower Champagne. Period. This Grand Cru offering is comprised of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay and packs a serious amount of power in a tiny little price tag! Rich, mouth filling, deep and busting at the seams with gobs of red fruit. Serve with fried foods, (like fried chicken or shrimp) strong cheese, seafood or on its own. You will not find more wine for this amount of money.
N.V. Jeaunaux Robin Extra Brut $39.99
A newer producer for us this Jeaunaux Robin is a very welcome addition to our ever growing Champagne department. Produced in a bone-dry style with very low dosage, this is a Champagne that is all about minerals, toast and tightly wound, elegant bubbles. Citrus and buttery biscuit come though on the very long but gentle finish.
N.V. Bonnet-Ponson 1er Cru Brut $39.99
With all the rage in Champagne amongst small growers being very low to zero dosage it is sort of refreshing, and indulgent to find a wonderfully fruited and creamy Champagne like this one from Bonnet-Ponson. Super deep aromatics of slow roasted red apples in warmed, spiced cream. So sensual bready, no, more pie crust like flavors make the wine, while still a dry wine, remind you of eating a sliced of warm apple pie. De-licious!
N.V. Bonnet-Ponson 1er Cru Brut Rose $44.99
Man, do we love Roses with this much going on both aromatically and flavor wise! The nose is full of floral notes, like burying your nose in a fresh bouquet of wild flowers, stems and all. On the palate you get some of those floral notes but it's the blast of wild strawberries that comes leaping to the front of your palate. Wild berries, gentle spice and dried flowers carry through on the gloriously long finish.
N.V. Marion-Bosser 1er Cru Brut $49.99
Elodie Marion is a young, feisty, fiery beauty of a hard working woman that learned to make Champagne from her mother and her grandmother. Her wines, much like her, are regal, gorgeous and powerful in a way that defies tradition. Comprised of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from her premier cru vineyards this wine shows classic, toast, yeast, green apple and just a hint of lemon rind. The bubbles are so fine here you almost forget you’re drinking Champagne, that is until you taste that rich yeasty bread dough on the long, super-long finish. Masterful wine.
N.V. Le Mesnil Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs $44.99
Finding any Grand Cru Champagne for this price is unbelievably rare, finding a Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs for this price is nearly unheard of! Chardonnay is the least planted variety in Champagne and it is used, at least in part, for nearly every non-vintage blend from every Champagne house big or small. So needless to say Blanc de Blancs is one of the more rare offerings from most producers. We were happily introduced to this Le Mesnil label a couple years back, we blew though it during the holidays and then after the supplier ran short on it we almost forgot about it. Thankfully, for all of us, we were reminded and now it's back! Lots of green apple and citrus, some stony, doughy notes and with a long brioche and warmed cream finish.
N.V. Laherte-Freres Ultradition Brut $35.99
We could not believe our ears when we heard the price on this charming organic Champagne. Made up of mostly Pinot Meunier with a bit of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir added this supple and easy drinking bubbly is a slam-dunk in the “Bang for your buck” category. Easy, bright, super-fresh and uber friendly.
N.V. Hure Freres Invitation Brut $44.99
The brothers Hure, Francois and Matthieu are very passionate, young and eager to learn. I was lucky enough to visit with them last year and Francois was like an teenager in his energy and excitement to show us all the things he and his brother had been experimenting with. This Invitation is their entry level Champagne and the one they want to have show what their style of wine making is like. Made of 50% Pinot Meunier, 35% Pinot Noir and 15% Chardonnay this is as complex a wine as you will find at this price. Lots of chalky minerals, tons of brioche and cream with apples and anise coming through on the fresh and snappy finish. This is a domaine to keep your eyes on as they are just now hitting their stride.
N.V. Hure Freres Extra Brut Reserve $49.99
Francois Hure is exactly the kind of young and adventurous winemaker from Champagne that are leading the charge and creating this palpable energy behind these super dry wines. Not afraid to experiment and share his findings with other winemakers which is the kind of communication that has helped this movement take off. This Brut Reserve is still showing ample fruit but here you get some playful yeastiness and an almost salted crust kind of flavor. Much more on the citrus line of things than the apple or pear but still feminine and a sheer pleasure to drink.
N.V. A. Chauvet Carte Blanche Brut $45.99
We had been stocking the brilliant wines from this tiny estate for years before I finally got the chance to go there and meet the people behind them. I arrived at Chauvet tired from a day full of tasting, literally hundreds of Champagnes, took less than ten minutes in that family's home before I was fired up and ready taste more! Rich, bready, brimming with gorgeous baked apples and pears with a wonderfully creamy note that caries through on the persistent finish. One of owner Randy Kemner's favorite Champagnes we stock, so that should tell you something! A steal of a Champagne produced by some of the sweetest, warmest people I've ever met.
N.V. A. Chauvet Grand Cru Brut Rose $48.99
Don't you love it when you find a product that you flip your lid over, then meet the people involved in producing it and they are such a joy to work with that you end up loving that product even more? The wines from A. Chauvet are those kind of products for us. This handsome Rose is full of wild strawberry and tart red cherry notes, along with a sturdy core of toasted and buttered bread. Nice weight and curve in the mouth with a fresh and dry finish. Graceful enough to just drink but sturdy enough to pair with things like cured meat, duck and one of our personal favorites, fried chicken!
Go ahead, stream the film, tuck yourself in, pop the cork on one of these remarkable wines and give the finger right back to those factory fizz marketing wankers.