Champagne, France

Champagne: V is for Vilmart

Vilmart Champagne
I can admit to being a bit finicky and quite opinionated about Champagne. My strident feelings bubbled (hee hee) over at the uncritical stance many of my colleagues have towards Grower Champagne. (As opposed to negociants who often purchase grapes or juice to blend into their Champagne, growers own the land, harvest the grapes, and make the wine. You can tell a Grower Champagne from a negociant by looking for the tiny “RM” at the bottom of the label versus “NM”, respectively.) While most of my favorites are from growers, I felt that the discussion surrounding these Champagnes, sometimes affectionately referred to as (seriously) “Farmer Fizz”, and the larger houses seemed to cleave in an all-too tidy “us versus them” dichotomy. Just because a Champagne house is big (or owned by a large company) doesn’t mean it’s bad or that Grower Champagne is good solely based on heartstring-tugging sentimentality. Part of my stance on this issue I will admit comes from my penchant to be a contrarian, but I like to judge and recommend Champagne based on the most important criteria: taste.

But lest you think I sit around all day guzzling Fortune 500 Champagne, I must tell you about my new favorite producer. And it happens to be a grower. (“You liberal hippie!”) Tasting the Champagnes of Vilmart was a game-changer for me; they are simply the finest producer of the loveliest sparkling wines.

I’ll address the rosé first, the Cuvée Rubis. Wowzers! It’s as beautiful to look at as it is to drink. Sometimes there is a bit of hesitancy on the part of people to try rosé Champagne; but for bubbles fanatics like myself, they are often the most memorable and pleasurable. The Rubis teases out flavors of every red berry fruit you can imagine, from the sweet to the tart, with a rich finish that’s like a dollop of some yet-to-be-discovered, otherworldly creamy goodness.

The 2004 Grand Cellier d’Or is a stunner. Like Krug (which is in my mind the gold standard of Champagne; the 1996 may be the best wine period I’ve ever had), Vilmart ferments and ages the still wine in barrels before transforming it into Champagne. This process gives the wines a richness and complexity that does a gorgeous dance with Champagne’s natural acidity and liveliness. Somehow the Grand Cellier is both substantial and ethereal at the same time.

So what Champagnes are you looking forward to enjoying this holiday season?

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7 thoughts on “Champagne: V is for Vilmart

  1. Arnie says:

    I agree that not all grower Champagnes are great and not all big marques or houses are bad. Of the big folks, my two top favorites are Krug and Bollinger – they simply make great wine! But there are simply many terrific small growers (and they’re often reasonably priced): Savès, Cedric Bouchard, Vilmart, Egly-Ourie, Chiquet & Selosse, in no particular order.

    • Arnie,

      You know you’ll get no argument from me about Krug, and the 2003 by Bollinger was a stunner. (I’d kill for another bottle.) And Savés makes my (well, post-Vilmart) second favorite rosé. Totally different from the Vilmart, much darker in color. If it’s good, it’s good.

      Jameson

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  3. rob bahnsen says:

    Yo Jameson –

    Have you given any thought to running pricing information with your reviews? It might be nice for the neophytes (like me) in your audience…

    • Rob,

      You are the second person today to mention this so I will on future posts! Appreciate the feedback. Both of these Champagnes are around $70 but I’ll get you exact info when I’m back in the store.

      And thank you for reading!

      Jameson

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