Introducing Farmer Fizz
While preparing for this Valentine’s Day, before you reach for that popular yellow-labeled Champagne to enjoy with your special someone, consider some sparkling facts. In the past, wines like the aforementioned were a “safe bet” for any non-geek consumer who just wanted to serve a special bubbly to impress and stir up some romance, and was willing to pay a little more to acquire it.
Here’s the scoop: In those days, it was mostly big house Champagne brands that filled the shelves of wine stores, the producers of which needed big budgets to keep their brands relevant, and it was we the consumers who were expected to fund those budgets. As the demand grew, so did the production size.
The result: the wines lost their charm, and the price/quality ratio of French bubbly fell out of balance.
Fast-forward to the early 21st century: A new wave of wine importers have begun to negotiate directly with the farmers of the fruit in France’s Champagne region, who, in the past, were used to just selling off their crop to the big houses. The result this time: Small-production, hand-crafted, boutique quality Champagnes from single estates began to emerge in the market, often priced lower than their commercial counterparts!
Lucky us: Many retailers have converted entirely to these “Grower Champagnes”, aptly nicknamed “farmer fizz”, and the modern informed consumer has taken advantage. My suggestion to you this Valentine’s Day is to visit the most progressive wine store in your neighborhood, and ask for a bottle of estate grown bubbly, whether it be a Champagne from France, or a Cava from Spain, or even a Franciacorta from Italy. A whole new world of options is now open for you, and there is something special for every budget.
Read on for a few personal favorites.
Pierre Paillard Champagne Brut NV
Pierre Paillard is a small grower in the Bouzy municipality of Champagne with unique vineyard holdings of the very best quality. The winery has been family run for 8 generations, and they tend the vineyards organically. Their non-vintage Brut Grand Cru is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Chardonnay, and offers ripe stone fruit aroma with accents of star anise and bread toast. Grippy and bold on the tongue, it’s hearty enough to pair with a meal, and interesting enough to please an experienced Champagne drinker. At $45, it’s priced the same as that yellow-labeled number, but with triple the personality.
Avinyó Cava Rosat Reserva NV
If the flash cash necessary for true Champagne is not in the budget this year, fear not, it’s Cava to the rescue. Spain’s famous sparkling wine, most of which is grown in the Catalonian countryside near Barcelona, qualitatively out-performs almost any bubbly in the world, dollar for dollar. The secret is the chalky calcareous soils found in the region of Penedes, which add an element of terroir complexity to the wines. For Valentine’s Day, I say take it a step further, and share a luxurious Cava Rosé with your love. Avinyó Cava Rosat Reserva, a dry, pink, non-vintage, organic “Grower Cava” is my suggestion this year. 100% Pinot Noir, it’s a bright, vibrant, spicy, sparkling rosé that trades those toasty/yeasty Champagne traits for a more fruit-driven experience. A bargain at $22 (half the price of the big Champagne brand alluded to).
Gruet Vintage Blanc de Blancs ‘07
A special “Champagne knockoff” grown in New Mexico, USA! 100% Chardonnay with delicate textures and impressive complexity. One of America’s finest…One of our house wines! Organic. $20.