Many of the Champagnes that occupied the top positions in the Grower Champagne Report are, admittedly, like gold dust, with prices reflecting their scarcity. Over recent years, the prices of the most coveted grower Champagnes have risen exponentially and this has forced some of their fans to look elsewhere. But fortunately, there is still much to discover. Beyond the hyped labels that have recently risen to the top, there remains a group of classic growers that continue to offer fantastic value for money.
Wines from more sizeable domaines do not turn into ‘unicorns’ as easily, as there are more bottles to go around. But size can help in other ways; it is much easier to make fine Champagne in bigger volumes and the opportunities to practise complex blending techniques may result in beautifully polished wines. A great example of this is Pierre Gimonnet & Fils in the Côte de Blancs, where a whopping 28 hectares of vineyards are turned into pristinely crafted Champagnes. Gimonnet’s 2016 Spécial Clubs Cramant (£61) and Oger received some of the highest marks from me in the report. And compared to most of their top-scoring peers, the prices are particularly inviting. The house’s bread and butter, Cuis 1er Cru Assemblage, furthermore, is a true bargain with its under-£40 price tag.
Size is also an asset at Rémy Massin, which cultivates 22 hectares in the Aube, largely planted on Pinot Noir. Somewhat under the radar, this domaine’s wines are always carefully crafted yet come with a joyous freshness and drinkability. In the report, my favourite was the perpetual reserve blanc de blancs L’Inattendue. Overall, the Aube is a home to many rising stars. Domaine Alexandre Bonnet recently turned from négociant-manipulant to grower-producer, now diligently focusing on expressing the terroirs of its home village Les Riceys. Alexandre Bonnet Blancs de Noirs NV (£30-£40) comes with the prestigious village’s fingerprint yet a very appealing price tag. On the ’Montrachet of Champagne’, the hills of Montgueux, Jacques Lassaigne is finally getting some competition as Hélène Beaugrand recently returned to her native region, founding her own estate. Her structured and chalky-mineral Au Cœur des Racines 2018 shows a lot of promise.
Coteaux du Sézannais is another Chardonnay area on the rise. I have been impressed by the recent developments at Marie Copinet, where an increased terroir focus and innovative winemaking – including the use of ageing in eggs made from local clay – are producing wines worth investigating. Try Nos Pas Dans la Craie (£62-£64) or Au Détour du Sézannais NV (£85-£120). Jarry Héritage is another grower to keep an eye on as Johan Jarry has recently returned to the family domaine after a winemaking career at GH Mumm and Gouttes d’Or. The vineyards are based in Côte des Bar and Vallée de la Marne in addition to Sézannais, with its Intemporelle Chardonnay charming my palate with its creamy-toasty character derived from long ageing.
Jean-Baptiste Geoffroy deserves to be much more famous than he is
Moving to the more classic Champagne terroirs, I would like to pinpoint the work of A. Margaine in the premier cru of Villers-Marmery, one of Champagne’s very best Chardonnay terroirs. Here, we are starting to taste the influence of Mathilde Margaine, complementing her father Arnaud’s great work. A. Margaine Extra Brut (£41) is a pure, pristinely crafted delight. In the same excellent neighborhood, do not miss the wines of Henriet-Bazin.
And finally, I want to mention Geoffroy based in Aÿ. Jean-Baptiste’s wines are among some of the most meticulously crafted grower Champagnes; he deserves to be much more famous than he is. For example, Pureté (£35) and Expression (£35-£40) represent great, characterful non-vintage Champagne and real deals when it comes to pricing.