Irish Examiner - Weekend - - Food - Leslie Wil­liams Con­tact Leslie Wil­liams at wine@ex­am­

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!).

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