Champagne: a luxury item
Recently, the quality level of many Champagnes is cause for concern. If the overall quality and price structure of this luxury bubbly are not reviewed soon, it should be boycotted by wine enthusiasts and aficionados around the world.
Made from huge crops of unripe grapes, most cuvées are bland, lean and green. Adding sugar during the first fermentation process to increase alcohol, and again prior to shipping for dosage to mask sharp acidity and bitterness are common practices. Since Champagne is made from neutral unripe grapes, it also needs to be aged a few years (on average 3 to 5) to give it some aroma and a hint of complexity.
No one wants to admit or even talk about the situation. In typical French fashion the major players avoid the subject and continue to promote their high quality image (not product). A majority of wine writers and critics also tend to stay away from the subject! Champagne is a very wealthy and powerful region with huge influence on the wine press. Let’s not forget that approximately 80% of the Champagne industry is controlled by major luxury items corporations such as LVMH (Louis Vuitton-Moët-Hennessy).
Why is Champagne falling out of style with many oenophiles? The obvious high prices make it a luxury item, but that’s not all. There are more and more fine sparkling wines made in the same traditional Champagne method from numerous wine producing countries now available. These high quality sparklers are replacing Champagne as the ideal apéritif. Even when it comes to gift giving, we rarely think of Champagne. Offering a reputed red, a rich Port, or a long lasting spirit such as Whisky, Cognac or Rum is trendier.
The major Champagne houses refuse to lower their prices. But there are some smaller producers out there crafting high quality Champagnes at more affordable prices. They are stating to the « big boys » that it can be done for less. Unfortunately, these bargain wines are often quite scarce in our market.
I truly enjoy fine Champagne, but with its high price and variable quality, I often opt for their California, Spanish, Italian and even Canadian counterparts.
Let’s hope that in the near future, we will be able to enjoy high quality Champagne more than once a year!
TOP 5 SPARKLING:
90 Brut Anderson Valley California, Roederer Estate, United States 26,65 $ 294181
Evolved nose Champagne style. Fairly intense flavors, nice round seductive finish. Lovely California sparkler.
90 L’Heureu Raventos Reserva Brut cava 2009 Josep Maria Raventos , Spain 19,60$ 11140615
Toasted bread with a hint of petrol. A refreshing and intense sparkler.
88 Brut Prestige California, Mumm Napa, United States 26,95 $ 11442701
Consistently good. Well balanced with a fresh finish. Lovely !
88 Ferrari Trento Brut, Trentin Haut-Adige, Ferrari, Italy 26,20$ 10496898
Some evolution, lasting flavors, fresh and very easy drinking.
88 Vouvray Brut 2010 Château Moncontour, Loire, France 19,95$ 430751
Evolved Chenin Blanc nose. Floral with lots of character and a refreshing finish.
TWO CHAMPAGNES : for those who need to pay more !
89 Champagne Piper-Heidsieck Brut, France 60 $ 462432
Toasted nutty evolved nose. Very fresh with good length.
88 Champagne Chanoine Brut Grande Réserve, France 43,75$ 11766571
Youthful and delicate fruity nose. Very elegant and refreshing.