How to Buy a Great Bottle of Boutique Champagne

Small French winemakers produce some tremendous but little-known bubbly. Here’s how to add some pop to your wine cellar.

By Ronald Georges and Daviel Lazure Vieira 

Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger: You likely have a favourite blue-chip champagne. These big brands always do excellent work, but there’s a growing trend among wine drinkers towards sophisticated small-supply vintners who grow their own grapes. While the prominent houses assemble grapes that are harvested in many regions of Champagne, grower champagnes are limited to the grapes from one or a few select vineyards.

“Grower champagnes have a more specific taste, because the grapes are harvested from small parcels of land – sometimes just around one village,” explains Marc Sibard, general manager of Caves Augé, a Paris wine shop that opened its doors in the 8e arrondissement in 1850. These wines also have distinctive flavours that vary widely according to soil composition and climate (that magical stuff called terroir).

This is something you will want to keep in mind when it’s time to pick a bottle for dinner. For an aperitif, choose a dry champagne that is meant to be drunk young, and pair it with salty appetizers and shellfish. Go with a blanc de blancs for oysters, and a blanc de noirs for red meat (especially if mushrooms are involved). For white meat, be a little daring and try a rosé champagne, which also goes very well with chocolate cake that’s not overly sweet. A semi-sweet or sweet wine will pair beautifully with desserts, fruits and pastries. One other thing: Save the high-end vintages for fish or veal.

How well a champagne will mature depends on its variety of grape. A chardonnay-dominated champagne or one made from the arbonne grape is best saved for later, while a pinot meunier can be popped open right away. Vintage champagnes are also perfectly suited for cellaring as the grapes are all from the same year. So store your magnums of Fleur de Passion from Diebolt-Vallois (blanc de blancs) or your bottles of Vieilles Vignes, Cépage Arbane Moutard Père et Fils from Moutard-Diligent, and pop the cork instead on a brut from Domaine Egly-Ouriet, like a Les Vignes de Vrigny Premier Cru.

What Our Parisian Experts Recommend

When in France, you’ll find small-batch vintages that are rarely sold in Canada, except when privately imported.

On a Budget

You don’t have to break the bank to sabre a nice bottle. Marc Sibard, of Caves Augé, recommends the small-lot Pierre Gimonnet & Fils Grand Cru Oger, “a sophisticated, opulent and masculine wine with an intense mineral flavour.”

Mid-range

Quebec-born sommelier Laura Vidal, co-founder of the Paris Popup restaurant, suggests the delicious brut nature (a no-sugar-added) wine by Ruppert-Leroy Fosse-Grely, “a fantastic new producer who’s creating a lot of buzz” around his slightly tart champagnes with notes of white flowers and fresh fruit (peach and pear).

Pricey

Jonathan Brookes, sommelier at the Paris wine bar Verjus, loves the Substance label by Domaine Jacques Selosse, which is “intense, rich and complex – a true gourmet champagne.” He recommends decanting at least a half-hour before drinking it.