When we think of Champagne we tend to think of the big brand houses who spend fortunes every year on marketing so it’s easy to forget the smaller quality-conscious houses and growers plugging away in their wake.
The big guys are so brand focused that you will rarely hear words like organic or even learn much about the grapes used. Going organic in Champagne is more difficult than elsewhere but some persist (eg, Champagnes of Fleury), and this week I want to focus briefly on a new producer to the market Leclerc Briant. Imported by Charles Derain of Nomad wines, Leclerc Briant was founded in 1872 and was family run until 2012. The house has been growing grapes bio-dynamically and organically since the 1960s and have been certified since the 1980s.
The wines are remarkably pure and elegant with a lively texture and excellent complexity, a world away from the the likes of Moet and Veuve and only marginally more expensive — we have the most expensive Champagne in the EU by a considerable margin given our double excise duty. One of the most intriguing Leclerc Briant wines is their zero-dosage Champagne Abyss which seemed to take on a salty iodine tang from having been stored 60m under the sea off Brittany for several months while retaining a brioche and citrus purity. Their Vintage 2010 had creamy lemon oil and brioche intensity and the Cuvée Divine Solera Champagne had round complex flavours and fine purity. Leclerc Briant’s two best value Champagnes are recommended below.
Meanwhile the National Off-Licence Association (NOffLA) held their annual gold-star wine awards recently. More than 600 wines were submitted by independent importers and whittled down by members of the trade and wine media. I was on the panel this year and I’ve picked out wines below from Ampersand who have a knack for finding value. I will be featuring some more of the winners in the coming weeks. The awards allow for volume sales in the independent sector and gives smaller off-licences the chance to compete with supermarkets at key price-points such as under €10 and under €15.
Finally on Champagne if you are in the Shelbourne at 18.24 (6.24pm) on any given Friday you can watch their Sommelier Nisea Doddy slicing off Champagne tops with a Sabre, a tradition begun by cavalry officers in the 19th century (and yes you get to drink what is not spilled afterwards!).