We are already well into February and the New Year seems like it was a million years ago already, but I’ve been meaning to post about the lovely bottle of Grower Champagne that I drank to ring in the New Year: Baron-Fuenté Grande Réserve Brut.
If you’re unfamiliar with the term, Grower Champagne is made by people who grow their own grapes (vignerons), as opposed to the large Champagne houses (maisons) that buy large quantities of grapes from growers throughout the region and blend them into their signature style.
All the famous Champagne brands (Veuve Clicquot, Taittinger, Moët & Chandon, etc.) are maisons. Grower Champagne is often named after the vignerons themselves so these bottles don’t have the brand recognition of the big maisons. You can identify a Grower Champagne by the notation RM (“récoltant manipulant”) on the label.
The first reason to try Grower Champagne is the price – it is almost always at a lower price point than Maison Champagne brands, and often by quite a wide margin. The last time I checked, a bottle of Veuve sells for around $75 in Alberta. Grower Champagne usually checks in around $50.
The second reason to try Grower Champagne is that it’s about as local as you can get in Champagne. Because the vignerons make these wines from their own grapes, they aren’t beholden to a specific house style like all the big Maisons. You get a wider variety in flavour profiles from Grower Champagne, instead of just the same old thing. Don’t get me wrong: I’ll never turn down a glass of Veuve. But it’s also nice to be reminded that Champagne can be quite diverse in flavour and style.
The Baron-Fuenté Grande Réserve Brut was bracingly bone dry, with racy, enamel-stripping acidity. It has bright aromas and tart flavours of fresh Granny Smith apples, white peach and freshly-squeezed lemon juice, with a hint of toasty pie crust and shortbread cookies on the finish. The bubbles and fine and well-integrated.
This wine is a blend of the three Champagne grapes, with Pinot Meunier comprising 60% of the blend, and Chardonnay and Pinot Noir making up the balance at 30% and 10% respectively. This is a bit unusual as most Champagne tends to be predominantly Chardonnay or Pinot Noir; Meunier commonly plays second or third fiddle and is usually used to round out the aromatics and body. This is another reason to try Grower Champagnes: they play around with the usual conventions and give you a chance to taste something more unique, especially in a region that’s pretty steeped in tradition.
For more information about Grower Champagne, check out my recent story in Edify.
Name: Baron-Fuenté Grande Réserve Brut
Grape: 60% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir
Taste: Granny Smith apples, white peach, lemon, pie crust, shortbread
Texture: Very tart and dry with fine mousse
Rating: Just as good as any Maison