Quality, affordable Champagne - myth or reality?
Champagne is a many splendid thing. The beauty of the bubbles is somewhat mesmerising, but behind that lay all the nuances of making this difficult type of wine. In the past, the fragility of the wine was mastered, but with that came greater scrutiny of flavour, balance, texture and quality. Also, one of the growing trends is for growers to go their own way, bottling their own grapes instead of selling to the bigger houses, or marques. Another trend, less talked about but just as apparent, is the capacity of big wine and spirit companies to produce champagnes and release them under champagne labels. Two such examples are Champagne Duperrey, and Pol Gessner.
Pol Gessner is a label produced by the major company Marne et Champagne, while Duperrey is produced by Martel, purveyors of the famous brands but also something of a conglomerate. While they don’t necessarily bring artisanal craft or grower expertise to the champagne – and will never be the trendiest of the trendy when it comes to flying under the radar – they do bring buying power and with it, quality grapes. Recently I tasted a comparison of these champagnes, and was surprised at the quality in a $35-$40 bottle of champagne. (Note: Calling it ‘French champagne’ seems like overkill, since nobody else can claim to make ‘champagne’, but dropping the whole ‘French’ thing certainly brings a decadence to even the most casual of drinking occasions).
What these wines do offer is (rather) inexpensive champagne that you could drink 1-2 times a week and feel rather good about yourself. While drinking local sparkling is easier on your wallet and supportive of local growers, diversity in your drinking habits keeps the mind open to what else is out there! I hope these tasting notes help you to judge whether or not these champagnes are for you.
Pol Gessner Brut NV
Transparent gold in colour, with an enticingly slow rising bead, good mousse and generally lots of interesting activity. Attractive even in that state! On the nose, it’s got a zip of lemon zest and lemon juice, bready, yeasty and creamy biscuit notes. Classic champagne smells to an extent, with lifted white flowers giving it real aromatic layers. Drinking the champagne, you’ll find a zip of zest on the back palate, slightly slathery acid and the fruit a little fat and lazy – but not uncomfortably so. Behind that is a slightly grainy front palate, if that’s even possible for a champagne. Despite all this, I like it in spite of itself, as if it’s inviting you back to challenge yourself. A good drop for a champagne tasting with friends, or a weeknight bubbly. A real challenger.
Champagne Duperrey Premier Cru Brut NV
60% Chardonnay, 40% Pinot Noir, DIAM cork, 12% alc
The colour has tinges of pink in a transparent gold body – a curious start to a curious champagne. Aromas of pear, pear skin, hints of toast and briche spring from the glass. It’s an eager one. Citrusy, with a deep nose and lifted florals, not dissimilar in that sense to the Pol Gessner. Drinking the wine, there’s a packed brioche mid-palate, and tiny rocks both wet and dry. Minerality as a tasting note is controversial in wines, as scientists debate how it is imparted to the wine, but it’s there – I don’t know how, but it is! Also flavours of citrus to match the nose, and quite viscous in the mouth. It’s a real mid-palate demon, crunching its competitors before it. To finish it’s quite lengthy and impressive, crisp, dry and refreshing – more than an aperitif. Overall the wine is highly impressive for the price, and in its price range for French, probably unbeatable.