Champagne is the realm of legendary brands that exude luxury and style—Moët & Chandon, Louis Roederer, Veuve Clicquot and Pol Roger, to name just a few.
But grower Champagnes come directly from the families who own the vineyards, know the grapes and make the wine. That’s almost the antithesis of how Champagne has traditionally come to market.
Champagne is unique in its bubbles, its glamorous image and the importance it places on blending. Yet, in the process of elevating consistent brand style over place, Champagne has sometimes drifted from its connection with the land.
Enter grower Champagnes, or “farmer fizz,” as importer Terry Theise calls them. They retain the intimate link between place and the finished product that’s familiar from every other wine region in the world.
And there’s an easy way to find these wines on store shelves.
Just look for the two letters “RM”—récoltant manipulant—on the front label (in tiny type), followed by the grower’s registration number. RM shouts, “I’m a grower. I grew the grapes in my vineyard and I made this Champagne.”
The explosion of grower Champagnes has taken place over the past 20 years, but they’ve particularly taken off in the United States during the past decade.
Today, approximately 2,000 RMs work within Champagne, many of them within the Chardonnay-based Côte des Blancs (where the big houses traditionally have owned fewer vineyards).
Fewer than 10% of RMs export wines to the U.S. Upon arrival here, savvy consumers quickly sweep these Champagnes off retail shelves, and top sommeliers scramble to scoop up as many possible. The small size of most RMs also means small quantities, with no buying juice from neighbors to increase the production.
What makes these wines exciting is their quality, which often makes them better values than their big-name counterparts. Typically, nonvintage bottlings from growers will be between $40 and $50, although prices go up from there, just like the major brands.
In style, grower Champagnes are often drier than the familiar brands, because they have a lower dosage (less added sugar). Additionally, they showcase their specific origins.
The mineral-driven Chardonnays from the Côte des Blancs are crisp and pure. But Pinot Meunier from the Vallée de la Marne can be an even bigger discovery: ripe, forward and fruity, just as much as the powerful Pinot Noirs from the Montagne de Reims.
This sense of discovery is a novelty in the land of big Champagne brands. It’s another reason why grower Champagnes have gained cult followings and have become new reference points for sparkling-wine lovers.
Growers you need to know >>>
Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Côte des Blancs
The Style: All Chardonnay
The Wines: Cuvée Cuis Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Spécial Club Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cuvée Gastronome Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut
92 Pierre Gimonnet et Fils NV Cuvée Cuis Premier Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. With its crisp apple and touch of citrus, this initially seems to be merely fruit. Then, slowly, richness and a sense of maturity emerge to create a wine that’s complex and full. Open this an hour before pouring. Michael Skurnik Wines.
abv: 12.5% Price: $51
Larmandier-Bernier Côte des Blancs
The Style: Chardonnay-based
The Wines: Tradition, Blanc de Blancs, Terre de Vertus, Vieille Vigne de Cramant
95 Larmandier-Bernier 2006 Vieille Vigne de Cramant Grand Cru. From two parcels, one planted in the 1930s, the other in the 1950s. A low dosage is possible because of the concentration and ripeness of the fruit, yielding a sophisticated, rich wine balanced by a tight, mineral texture, lemon zest and a crisp finish. Polaner Selections.
abv: 12.5% Price: $90
Péhu-Simonet Montagne de Reims
The Style: Dominated by Pinot Noir; wood fermented
The Wines: Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru, Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru, Brut Rosé Grand Cru
92 Péhu-Simonet NV Blanc de Noirs Grand Cru Brut. The pure Pinot gives a powerful character to this Champagne. There is terrific tension, producing a wine that’s firmly structured, yet full of ripe flavors of white fruit and red apple skin. It’s full-bodied and dry. Michael Skurnik Wines.
abv: 12% Price: $72
Pierre Péters Côte des Blancs
The Style: All Chardonnay, blending different terroirs
The Wines: Les Chétillons Blanc de Blancs, Cuvée de Réserve Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut, L’Esprit Brut
90 Pierre Péters NV Cuvée de Réserve Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut. This is a beautifully balanced selection that’s crisp, laced with taut apple and citrus flavors. It has a rich texture, intense fruit and a tight minerality, which gives it structure and the potential for aging further in the bottle. Michael Skurnik Wines.
abv: 12% Price: $58
René Geoffroy Vallée de la Marne
The Style: Blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier
The Wines: Expression Brut, Empreinte Premier Cru Brut, Blanc de Rosé Extra Brut
91 René Geoffroy 2006 Volupté Premier Cru Brut. Rich, ripe and full-bodied, this is a warm, Chardonnay-dominated blend. It has crisp apple and citrus flavors, followed by a quince note and a touch of apricot. The fruit is sourced from premier cru vineyards, so give it a few more months of bottle aging. Michael Skurnik Wines.
abv: 12.5% Price: $84
Pierre Moncuit Côte des Blancs, Sézanne
The Style: Mainly Chardonnay
The Wines: Hugues de Coulmet Blanc de Blancs Brut, Cuvée Pierre Moncuit-Delos Grand Cru Brut, Cuvée Millesimé Grand Cru Brut
91 Pierre Moncuit NV Cuvée Pierre Moncuit-Delos Grand Cru Brut. This is a tight and minerally wine from Mesnil-sur-Oger, in the heart of the Côte des Blancs. It’s still youthful, fresh and crisp, showing lemon and other tangy citrus flavors. The lively character will certainly round out in 5–6 years. Polaner Selections.
abv: 12% Price: $50
Chiquet Montagne de Reims
The Style: Pinot Noir from Aÿ and Dizy
The Wines: Tradition Premier Cru Brut, Spécial Club Brut, Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs Brut d’Aÿ
93 Gaston Chiquet 2004 Spécial Club Brut. This is balanced, elegant and rich, showcasing the fine Pinots of Dizy and Aÿ. The fresh fruit and mature toast characters strike a delicate balance. Drink now, or age for another two years. Michael Skurnik Wines.
abv: 12% Price: $76
Not Just for Toasting
Champagne is much more than a celebration or apéritif wine. As a food partner, it’s often more versatile than many white wines, and it certainly can work with a wider spectrum of foods than reds. Here’s a sampling of dishes to pair with your next bottle of grower bubbly.
London chef James Knappett just opened Bubbledogs, a 15-minute walk from the British Museum, where he specializes in serving hot dogs and grower Champagnes. The fatty, salty hot dog is cut perfectly by crisp brut or extra brut bottlings.
Popcorn and potato chips work surprisingly well with Champagne, great for watching a movie in style. It’s the salt in the popcorn or chips that matches with the acidity of any Champagne.
Roast pork tenderloin with mustard sauce (or another spicy accoutrement) goes terrifically with rosé Champagne. The extra weight and structure of the Champagne make it work better than rich whites or light reds.
Sushi pairs perfectly with brut zero bottlings. The crisp, sharp flavors of these extremely dry Champagnes elegantly contrast this delicate, buttery Asian delicacy.
Lobster in any guise—whether with a rich sauce, in a risotto or savored on its own—is a great foil for rich Champagnes. Look for a ripe, brut style in which Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier dominates.