Champagne imports are booming, with some boutique players taking shelf space from the big names, writes Nick Ryan.
» Champagne imports have increased by 36% in the past year and show no sign of abating.
At the 2006 Vin de Champagne Awards in Sydney last week, it was revealed that imports for 2005 climbed to 2.29 million bottles.
Perhaps the biggest development has been the arrival of a raft of new wines from small producers in Champagne.
These represent a shift in the way we have traditionally looked at champagne and are adding a new dimension to bottle shop shelves and restaurant wine lists. … «
» …A growing number of champagne drinkers, however, are curious about what’s beyond the familiar and are looking to smaller houses and individual growers for their bubbly fix.
Given that there are more than 3000 vignerons in Champagne’s 300 villages, the opportunities are many. » … While consistency is a major focus for the big houses and the maintenance of the recognisable “house” style is vital, the smaller producers are freed from such constraints. Swings and roundabouts are part of their appeal.
A couple of note are Gaston Chiquet and Raymond Boulard.
– The Chiquet family first planted vines in 1746 and, after 180 years of viticultural practice, established their own label in 1935. With 9ha spread through the villages of Ay, Mauriel-sur-Ay and Hautvilliers, the house makes a virtue of its high-quality pinot meunier grapes from some exceptional premier cru sites.
– The Boulard family, relative latecomers with their first vines planted in 1792, are Champagne’s equivalent of Bordeaux’s garagistes.
Their small holdings of just over 10 ha are tended almost obsessively and small details in the winery, such as using old burgundy barrels for fermenting and ageing pinot noir and bordeaux barrels for the chardonnay, result in wines with distinctive and proudly individualistic characters.
They join names such as Larmandier Bernier, the outstanding Egly Ouriet and Andre Clouet, imported exclusively by the Alliance group of independent wine merchants. » …