How to drink more champagne and spend less (and ‘No’ that doesn’t involve drinking poor quality wine).
If you’re reading this you’re probably someone who enjoys champagne and would like to open champagne more frequently and be more generous when you’re entertaining friends, family or colleagues, but let’s face it, champagne is not the cheapest wine available and you might assume that drinking more champagne must involve spending even more money, but that’s not necessarily the case.
If that sounds too good to be true, then read on because in this article I’ll explain how you can have the best of both worlds: more bottles to enjoy at less cost
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A vast choice if you look
You probably know that many champagne makers are referred to as ‘Maisons’ (Champagne ‘houses’ in English) and one of the most striking things about the ‘Maisons’ is that they account for by far and away the lion’s share of sales - 72% of total sales and a huge 87% of export sales according to the figures for 2018
You might conclude that this level of dominance is purely and simply down to the fact that there are few champagne makers other than the Maisons and/or that the Maisons produce the best quality champagnes.
As regards the number of Maisons, there are about 80 members of the Union des Maisons de Champagne – the association to which they belong, but that’s a small fraction of the total number of champagne makers which is over 4,000, so there’s no shortage of choice outside the Maisons.
As regards quality, the Maisons certainly do produce excellent quality champagnes, but that’s only part of the reason that they sell so many bottles. The main reason is that most consumers buy champagne because they recognise the label or the brand name. Of course, they appreciate the quality of the champagne in the bottle, but the choice of brand has little, or nothing, to do with the quality of what’s in the bottle – it’s all down to brand recognition, marketing and distribution and it’s in these areas that the Maisons excel.
However, there are two other categories of champagne maker that you should be aware of and get to know if you want to
- discover some wonderful champagnes
- save yourself a lot of money
- have a well-rounded and balanced knowledge of champagne
As mentioned above, there are plenty of these other champagne makers to choose from. Even if they only have a 13% share of export sales, that still translates into about 40 million bottles– I’d guess that’s probably going to be enough for your next party.
What to look for
These two types of champagne maker are,
The Récoltants Manipulants who make champagne using only grapes grown in their own vineyards as opposed to the Maisons who, to a greater or lesser extent, have to buy in grapes from third parties to supplement what they grow in their own vineyards. (Another term that means much the same as Récoltant Manipulant is Propriétaire Récoltant is shown in this picture).
These artisan champagne makers tend to be fairly small, independent and family run enterprises, but their lack of size by no means hinders their ability to make the most amazing champagnes.
One or two are already well known by wine lovers and command quite high prices: Jacques Selosse and Egly-Ouriet comes to mind immediately.
Others are widely recognised as outstanding although they haven’t yet reached cult status outside a relatively small group of champagne aficionados: De Sousa, Agrapart, Pierre Peters, Françoise Bedel, Bérèche, David Leclapart, Chartogne-Taillet to name just a few examples.
Then there’s another group that you might say are ‘bubbling under’
and at least 50 more that you should really try for yourself if ever you find them in the shops.
The quality and character of these champagnes are fantastic and to make them even more attractive the prices will often be considerably lower than the more famous international brands and vastly less expensive than the top-of-the-range iconic brands whose price is usually counted in the multiple hundreds of dollars or pounds.
But apart from recognising the maker’s name, how do you spot one of these independent, artisan brands?
Look for the maker’s registration number, which must, by law, appear on the label. It will be in small print and you will have to look carefully, but if the maker is a Récoltant Manipulant the letters RM will precede the registration number (the letters NM will appear on the label of bottles from one of the Maisons).
Rise of the Cooperatives
The third type of champagne makers are the Coopératives Manipulants which are large groupings of small grape growers who pool their resources to achieve economies of scale and improve the quality of the finished product. They’re usually called simply cooperatives.
There was a time, some 20, 30 or more years ago, when the quality of some of the wines made by cooperatives was unreliable and they gained something of a poor reputation. Unfortunately, in some people’s minds this perception persists despite huge improvements across the board from the vineyard to the final product.
Names of makers in this category that you will find in many shops if you are on the lookout for them include Nicholas Feuillatte (now the 3rd biggest selling brand of champagne behind only Moët & Chandon and Veuve Clicquot).
Of course, size alone is not a guarantee of quality but the awards that are being regularly given to champagnes from cooperatives testify to the quality of many of these brands. Champagne Palmer and Champagne Pannier are two great examples whilst others well worth taking the time to discover are De Saint-Gall, Castelnau and Jaquart.
Last but not least, it’s interesting to note that some of the champagnes recently launched at very high prices by celebrities, particularly from the world of music, are made by cooperatives. Fortunately, the less hyped champagnes from these cooperatives can be bought and enjoyed for a fraction of the price.
To spot these cooperative brands, look for the letters CM in front of the maker’s registration number on the label.
So why not make it your New Year’s resolution to explore some of these champagnes that you may not yet be familiar with? Not only will they provide you with lots of enjoyment, but you’ll end up spending a lot less than you would if you only go for the best known and most widely distributed brands.
I hope you enjoyed that and found it useful, Being familar with champagne is part and parcel of living the good life. You feel good about yourself and you can share a lot of pleasure with friends and family, but of course there's lots more to discover.
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