Character in the Small Champagne Producers
When looking for champagne in most wine stores, duty free shops or restaurants, it would appear to me that there really are only a handful of producers in Champagne such as Moët & Chandon, Mumm, and the Perriers—Laurent, Jouët, et al. These classics provide a beautiful continuity across the globe with high quality wine where ever you go. Have you ever had a corked bottle of Veuve Clicquot? But if these mega-brands cater to consistency and a large audience, are there others on the fringe of Champagne? In reality there are small producers in Champagne with smaller and at times more individualized styles. Recently, I was lucky enough to taste a couple of smaller producers from Champagne that I had never tried before. The two houses are Pascal Doquet and Chateau Gatinois. Both wines were memorable, different from the mainstream.
The first wine is Pascal Doquet Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Le Mesnil Sur Oger, Vertus ($34.00). OK, so such a long name may not lodge immediately in the memory bank, but this wine initially caught my eye with its near perfect packaging, having a demure label with a light handed sketch of the terroir in the background, a gold grape leaf and grapes (see detail of label above) and restrained titling. Only the oversized, circular white emblem on the neck spoils the effect. Come on, the designers worked so hard on the rest. It looks like they outsourced the neck emblem to another less talented firm. The tranquil label did not prepare me for the contents though. The gold fizzy liquid had the nice strong fruit of Chardonnay with a hint of earth and a very subtle but complicated hint of armagnac. This was not a guzzling wine but more of a tasting wine that would easily pair with food due to its full expression of flavor. I would definitely try this one again in the late fall when the days are shorter and meals are more hearty and savory. My tasting partner didn’t swing too far in any direction on this wine; so, with no real wow factor, I would not position this wine in your wine list as the big hitter. But it certainly demonstrated individually character that puts it outside of the central sphere of mega-brands champagne. Score= 14.
Chateau Gatinois Brut Reserve Grand Cru, Ay ($38.99). Dark foil on top was nicely embossed with “Champagne” and the label behind the gold coat of arms and the maroon script was covered with names such as Blanc Fosse, Vauregnier and La Croix Courcelles that I assume are the vineyards contributing the complex Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to this very interesting brut. All in all the this bottle is cool. It could easily be seen on the table in some 1960s spy movie. The wine had astonishingly effusive bubbles flying through this pewter and straw colored wine sporting a nice hint of pink. The flavor was bold with the scent of tart apple and caramel cognac overtones. My friend and I both agreed that this is a complex wine best shared with four or five people because it is too bold to be a session champagne, but better as a real taste focal point. It may not be a split a bottle between two people wine, but it certainly merits a visit. And like the Pascal Doquet this was clearly crafted with a stronger sense of terroir than in some other champagnes—I really feel Champagne in this wine. Score= 14.5.