Monday, December 24, 2012

Farm-to-Table Champagne

Growing Bubbly Trends

Count down to the New Year is underway, and I look around for bubbly trends leading up to the festive night. What’s hot and what’s not for 2013? Growing in popularity are grower champagnes, which take us back to the ancient notion of wine produced by the same people who own the vineyards. Few people realize that big-brand Champagne houses, like the ever-popular Veuve Clicquot and now the rap-star-celebrated Moet & Chandon’s Dom Perignon, dubbed Dom, or DP for lyric-appeal, spend millions of dollars on advertising, and in turn inch the price up year after year on Champagne. Building a brand is expensive business, and the large Champagne houses are geniuses at creating sex appeal for why emerging and mainstay markets should spend top dollar on juice they sourced throughout the Champagne region to blend into their iconic house styles. The underdog, though, is making a fast break these days producing true-to-the-farmer and terroir-driven Champagnes.
The great hunt for grower Champagne is on in my neck of the woods, and I have a few suggestions where you can spy some decent juice, even if I feel most restaurants could stand to pick up the pace. Start at EatBar, also known as Tallula, in Arlington if you care to dine with a decent selection of grower Champagne and Grand Marques. The trick to grower Champagne is that it’s hard to find, but when you find it on a list, you immediately know someone who cares has orchestrated the effort to source this wine. Most restaurants need to catch up to the times and stop offering the cheapest swill of Prosecco as their bubbly selection. I was pleasantly surprised by the Oval Room the other day when I spotted a Crémant by the glass, a less expensive option to Champagne because it’s made directly outside of the Champagne region, even though it’s made exactly like genuine Champagne. A Virginia made sparkling can be found around town, too. Claude Thibaut is a Champagne-maker born and bred in Champagne, but he’s brought his talents to Virginia. The White House pours his Thibaut-Janisson at State dinners, but you can also find his juice at Marcel’s near Georgetown, Willow Restaurant in Ballston, and Eventide in Courthouse. The aromatics and delicacy of this sparkler make the hunt well-worth your time, even if you can’t officially call it a grower Champagne, its essence echoes the very meaning behind true-to-the-farmer, boutique wine.
Since it is the holidays, I have to insert one wish to good old Saint Nick for what I hope to see happen in the greater Washington, D.C. area. A Champagne bar is much needed, and not one that serves caviar, but rather gourmet hot dogs. I know you may think I’m crazy, but this New Year’s Eve I triple-dog dare you (yes, The Christmas Story dances in my head) to try a grower Champagne with a tried-and-true hot dog. Add all the accoutrements if you wish; yes, the sauerkraut, chili, cheese, ketchup, mustard, or even cole slaw if you please. But once you have a bite of that American dog and take a sip of some fizzy carbonation laced with green apple crispness and yeasty threads of grandma’s biscuits, you will understand why sugar plum fairies do not dance in my head, but rather sparkling stars from Champagne afar paired with my favorite pink little pig. Closest manifestation to my dream is at Green Pig Bistro in Courthouse. Some brilliant wine director purchased local sparkling cider (another rendition of sparkling wine) and mixed it with rye whiskey, ginger liqueur, lemon juice and bitters. This fizzy concoction called, Ginger Ryder Punch, pairs well with their signature corn bread smothered in maple butter, or pig tacos. It’s a far cry from my simple frankfurter request, but will have to do until another creative restaurateur decides to be bold and brazen and open a Champagne bar that simply serves wieners and fries.

Finding grower Champagnes to adorn your tables is the ultimate challenge, but they can be found in shops around Falls Church and D.C. I have had the most luck at MacArthur’s, Pearson’s, and Arrowines. But, for your convenience, you should always ask your personal retailer to order—these are just a phone call away even if they are not regularly stocked. TIP - Look for ‘RM’ in tiny letters at the bottom of the bottle (Récoltant-Manipulant), the proof they ‘manipulate’ their own vines. The big brands will always have NM (Négociant-Manipulant) on the label, which means they source grapes from a number of growers to produce a wine under their own label.
Here are a few suggestions you can find around town without having to call a New York retailer:

Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée Sainte Anne, Champagne, France
Pierre Paillard Grand Cru, Bouzy, Champagne
Guy Charlemagne Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Champagne, France
Cedric Bouchard Inflourescence, Val Vilaine, Champagne
Michel Turgy Grand Cru, Mesnil-sur-Oger, Champagne, France

Christianna Sargent
Certified Sommelier
Advanced Certificate--
Wine & Spirits Education Trust
Association of Italian Sommeliers
French Wine Scholar