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True Champagne...incomperable?

w
WineTravel Aug 12, 2007 06:49 AM

The question regarding "champagnes" from other countries leads me to make this statement. A true Champagne (from the Champagne region of France) is hard to compare to sparking wines of any other country. The quality of true Champagne is so far and above anything else out there... an area where efforts from other countries just don't match up.

I think that when it comes to still wines there are countries that product world class efforts... some of the best reds or whites (mainly reds actually) in the world. Say Vega Sicilia or L'Ermita from Spain, Sassicaia, Masseto, Gaja from Italy, of course all the great Bordeaux, Burgundies and Rhones from France, Harlan or the like from California, etc. (and the same is true regarding the less expensive wines from these regions).

When it comes to Champagne, nothing comes close. Agree, or does anyone want to challenge that statement and suggest a sparkling wine they think DOES equal a fine Champange?

(P.S. - Leave out the price/value argument... ie. I'd rather drink X at $20 a bottle than a French Champagne at $$50... that's a different discussion).

  1. b
    bowmore36 Aug 16, 2007 09:41 AM

    for the most part i would have to agree yet there are a FEW exceptions to this as some people have stated.
    please dont forget willi brundlmayers outrageous effort!! a world class sparkler from austria

    1. d
      dalaimama Aug 15, 2007 05:59 AM

      When you get into the premium price range for vintage sparkling wines, French champagnes are superior. No question.

      However, when you get out of that price range and move into NV, there are alot of French options that are not that great.

      The problem with leaving price out of it is that you can't just say "French Champagne is better at any price". It's like saying that, because X premium Californian cabs are truly astounding, that automatically makes all California cabs better than any other cabs. You brought up a French champagne at $50 for an example and, I think in that price range, there is alot of competition from other places.

      Schramsburg makes a couple of excellent NV sparklers for under $40. It's one of my favorite special occasion wines. I would say that it's comparable to pretty much anything in the same price range from France and better than many of the mass-marketed French options.

      14 Replies
      1. re: dalaimama
        Robert Lauriston Aug 15, 2007 05:29 PM

        Schramsberg NV are you talking about? I think they range from $15 to $25. I wouldn't spend $25 on their stuff when I can get decent artisanal NV Champagne for $22-24. D&M always has good prices on labels that are trying to build their U.S. markets:

        http://www.dandm.com/category_product...

        1. re: dalaimama
          w
          WineTravel Aug 15, 2007 08:49 PM

          Let's not over analyze this thing. The main point I was making is that real (French) Champagne blows away sparking wine from any other region... there's more of a gap in this category than any other (As I mentioned, I do respect that Pinot Noir comes in a close second). Of course, I agree you can find some crap made in Champagne... just like any other region. So what?

          1. re: WineTravel
            j
            jock Aug 16, 2007 10:48 AM

            If we are talking about a gap my choice would be Nebbiolo. Few, if any, have been foolish enough to even try and those who have have miserably.

            1. re: jock
              b
              bowmore36 Aug 16, 2007 11:22 AM

              nebbiolo??? unless you are including the valtellina i would agree that there is nothing comparable to nebbiolo outside piedmont/lombardy

              1. re: bowmore36
                j
                jock Aug 16, 2007 11:52 AM

                I am talking Piedmont in general and Barolo and Barbaresco specifically.

                1. re: jock
                  b
                  bowmore36 Aug 16, 2007 02:38 PM

                  well you would need to include some of the other nebbiolo apps such as the valtellina in lombardy, carema, gattinara, ghemme, spanna.. then i agree with you

                  1. re: bowmore36
                    j
                    jock Aug 16, 2007 05:14 PM

                    My Piedmont in general, of course, includes Gattinara, Ghemme and Spanna. I must say I have had very fine expamples of each but IMO the cannot play in the same league with B & B.

                    I do not have enough experience with the valtellina and carema to make valid comparisons but I suspect that if they were at the levels of B & B that I would have :)

                    I do know that Nebbiolo has been a flop everywhere else it has be tried. I have had a couple of decent red wines from California that were made from Nebbiolo but they could have been just as well made from Alicante or Charbono or Carignan or ...........

                    1. re: jock
                      Chinon00 Aug 16, 2007 06:10 PM

                      I just recently became reacquainted with Nebbiolo (Gattinara). What profound fruit combined with a pleasant sinew and marrow taste. This stuff cries out for beef, pork, and roasted potatoes with rosemary (along with snowfall and a warm fire).

                      1. re: jock
                        b
                        bowmore36 Aug 17, 2007 11:12 AM

                        not to say the wines from gattinara, ghemme and spanna are on par with the others but not a great departure

                        i would say that you should invest a little time and look at the wines from the valtellina before discounting them...
                        there are a lot of wines that i would drink over "b & b" from rainoldi, triacca, mamete prevostini, nino negri.
                        so if you dont have experience with them, why does it mean that the quality isn't there?

                        1. re: bowmore36
                          maria lorraine Aug 21, 2007 03:11 PM

                          There is probably no other grape that changes so dramatically from site to site as Nebbiolo. It changes vastly from village to village in Barolo, and then outside of that area, dramatically as well. It is as if Nebbiolo is many different grapes.
                          Nebbiolo so directly and transparently translates the soil into its flavor that its growing site means everything.

                          1. re: maria lorraine
                            w
                            whiner Aug 21, 2007 05:57 PM

                            You may be right. But it is hard for me to say that Nebbiolo is categorically a more site-specific grape than Pinot, Syrah, or Sangiovese.

                            1. re: whiner
                              maria lorraine Aug 21, 2007 06:02 PM

                              Oh, much more so. The mere difference of 200 yards produces a different wine. It's uncanny. Nebbiolo is a chameleon grape, ever-changing in response to its soil and environment.

                          2. re: bowmore36
                            j
                            jock Aug 21, 2007 08:28 PM

                            bowmore36

                            you are the first to even mention them to me in 45 years but i still learn something new almost daily so i will, indeed, seek them out. thanks for the heads-up. could save me a bunch of money.

                            1. re: jock
                              b
                              bowmore36 Aug 22, 2007 08:49 AM

                              any time... i hope you find some pleasure!

            2. w
              waffleman Aug 14, 2007 11:04 PM

              while i don't have any hard statistics to help argue the point, one would assume that as a wine style there are perhaps hundreds of producers in Champagne that make Champagne. Outside of perhapes Penedes, Spain, there probably isn't another region in the world that focuses on sparkling wine.

              take away the largest five US sparkling wine producers and, you are left with but a comparative handful of wineries that make sparkling. Most other wineries and winemakes dibble and dabble in it as something fun or ecletic. so the odds are in the favor of Champagne to make the best. And I agree that they do.

              but, i would guess, if you were to blind taste some German or Austrian Sekt wines, maybe something like a Brundlmayer Sekt wine or Gysler Sekt, you would really be surprised at the quality.

              2 Replies
              1. re: waffleman
                w
                whiner Aug 15, 2007 05:36 AM

                "but, i would guess, if you were to blind taste some German or Austrian Sekt wines, maybe something like a Brundlmayer Sekt wine or Gysler Sekt, you would really be surprised at the quality."

                I've had both of those wines multiple times and enjoy both for what they are. But they taste nothing like Champagne. (While I don't think they taste as good as good Champagne, I'm not even talking about that... I mean, they don't taste anything like Champagne.)

                1. re: whiner
                  b
                  bowmore36 Aug 16, 2007 09:44 AM

                  i think waffleman is strictly talking about the quality not comparing the tastes. they are made from different varietals, how could they taste the same? brundlmayer, gobelsburg and gysler make world class sparklers. particularly brundlmayer. no argument from me

              2. j
                jock Aug 14, 2007 06:52 PM

                Nothing even comes close to the real thing when it is done right.

                That said, much of what comes out of the big houses as their basic stuff is mass produced (read Veuve Clicqot Yellow label and Moet White Star) are pretty much undrinkable if you actually stop to taste them. I compare them to Coors Lite - and compared to them a good Cava or Prosecco would be preferable

                4 Replies
                1. re: jock
                  w
                  WineTravel Aug 14, 2007 07:49 PM

                  With all due respect, I don't put Veuve Clicquot in the same category as Moet White Star. I don't go near White Star, wouldn't dispute the undrinkable tag... but I've always found VCP to be very reliable. I think its an excellent NV.

                  Whiner: thanks for mentioning the Billecart Salmon. Agreed vg and haven't thought of it in a while... and I especially love their Blanc de Blanc.

                  Also, 2 points stand out in the discussion so far...

                  1. mpalmer6c brought up Pinot Noir... I agree that the Pinot Noir grape is also another "can't touch this" victory for France. You're right, no other area can do PInot Noir to compete with a great red Burg... (can make a great case for white Burg too, but not as convincing).

                  2. Whiner's point about fair pricing... No question the price for great Champagne is expensive, but a relative "good value" especially when compared to what's happening in other areas, particularly Bordeaux, Burg, and the Rhone... even Italy too. Meaning "killer" champagnes like great vintages of Cristal, Krug (even Clos du Mesnil) and the like don't reach the stratisphere like the great wines of other areas... and the trickle down also applies well (ie. basic Vintage and NV)

                  1. re: WineTravel
                    z
                    zin1953 Aug 14, 2007 09:42 PM

                    With all due respect . . .

                    I'll grant you that Veuve Cliquot Yello Label and Moët & Chandon White Star do not compare with one another, in tht the former is a non-vintage Brut while the latter is a n.v. Extra Dry. However, there is no doubt that recent releases of Veuve Clicquot Yellow Label are but a pale shadow of what they once were -- at least among myself and my friends, and among many reviewers and retailers. Once LVMH decided to push Clicquot's (rather than Moet's) Brut non-vintage, the quality plummetted.

                    Jason

                    1. re: WineTravel
                      j
                      jock Aug 14, 2007 10:25 PM

                      Have to say that at this point in time Veuve yellow is the bottom of the barrel. I remember when it was damn good and, perhaps the best of the NV bruts but that was more than 10 years ago.

                      Did a blind on Champagne about a year ago of 12. The Veuve yellow was dead last and behind both Moet White Star and Brut Imperial. The White Star actually beat the Brut Imperial. The best of the "big house" was Pol Roger. The Pol Roger was third behind Jean Milan and Pierre Peters.

                      Have to agree that the best Champagnes are not priced out of line compared to the best of Burg, Bordeaux, Barolo and even Cali Cab. The 1996 Salon is near perfect. If you haven't had it you should. If you are a Champagne lover it will rock your world.

                      1. re: jock
                        z
                        zin1953 Aug 15, 2007 07:44 AM

                        That jives with my experience . . .

                  2. Chinon00 Aug 14, 2007 03:20 AM

                    Yes, there is something about the weight of Champagne and the "moussey" texture that seperates it from "sparkling wine". Also the lean, biscuity, toasty dimension is another.

                    1. s
                      Sam B Aug 13, 2007 03:39 PM

                      "The quality of true Champagne is so far above anything else out there..."

                      Most of what comes out of the region is NV Brut from large houses, and I would have to say that most of these in my experience are lackluster wines, sold largely upon reputation. If I am in the mood for sparkling wine, I'd rather drink a good Prosecco than a lousy Champagne

                      Having said that, when it's good, Champagne is indeed without compare.

                      9 Replies
                      1. re: Sam B
                        Robert Lauriston Aug 13, 2007 03:51 PM

                        There's lots of good NV brut around. Personally I prefer brut rosé, but there's plenty of that, too.

                        1. re: Robert Lauriston
                          s
                          Sam B Aug 13, 2007 10:04 PM

                          No argument here. There are indeed plenty of high quality NV Brut Champagnes available - but the best tend to come from small producers, and in terms of volume, for every great bottle of Paul Bara, Michel Turgy, or Billecart-Salmon produced, there are thousands of bottles of something like Moet White Star, which is more representative of the general quality of the category.

                          1. re: Sam B
                            w
                            whiner Aug 14, 2007 12:07 AM

                            Agreed. At $40 the basic Billecart-Salmon is my go-to bubbly. Of course, Billecart is probably my favorite Champagne producer all-around.

                            1. re: whiner
                              ibstatguy Aug 14, 2007 08:46 PM

                              surprised that, for you, it isn't one of the grower producers!

                              1. re: ibstatguy
                                w
                                whiner Aug 16, 2007 12:11 AM

                                I LOVE many of the grower-producers. In fact I would say that, with the exception of the Billecart Blanc de Blancs and Rose, in the $50-$70 price range I virtually only drink grower-producers. BUT... overall, I have to give the nod to Billecart. I've never had a grower-producer wine that was as good as a Cuvee Elisabeth or a Grande Cuvee. And their NV stuff is great and well priced. (And I've never even had their 100% Pinot wine.)

                                One grower-producer to keep an eye out for is Rene Collard. Incredibly funky, old old old old world styled cheesy foody wine. People tend to love it or disslike it. But, at $50 for the vintage, if you do wind up liking the style (and I do) it is really a steal.

                                1. re: whiner
                                  ibstatguy Aug 17, 2007 11:31 AM

                                  setting aside the "big" houses, I've got and drink Larmandier-Bernier, Jean Milan, Pierre Peters, Paul Bara, Gaston Chiquet, Jacquesson, Chartogne Taillet.

                                  1. re: whiner
                                    maria lorraine Aug 21, 2007 06:05 PM

                                    I’ve especially enjoyed the grower champagnes from Franck Bonville (the Cuvee Les Belles Voyes, about $60) and Tarlant (about $28).

                                    I haven’t seen mention of Gosset Celebris, which I have enjoyed on several occasions, or Charles Heidsieck’s Blanc des Millenaires ($95) Champagne Charlie ($120), or the lower-priced Brut Reserve ($40).

                                    Any comments on these wines, especially in comparison to the others mentioned?

                                    1. re: maria lorraine
                                      w
                                      whiner Aug 22, 2007 12:12 AM

                                      Gosset is a really good house (I especially like their Rose) -- I'm sure I've had the Celebris but I cannot recall it specifically.

                                      The Champagne Charlie is no longer made, or so I have been told by people who seem in-the-know. It was the Prestige bottling that is now, basically, the Blanc du Blancs. BUT, they re-released the '85 last year and it is a phenominal, mature, bottle of wine. I've had it twice, both times scoring it about a 95, both times agains NV Krug and it was much better than the NV Krug on both occasions.

                                      The Blanc du Blancs is a GREAT bottling for under $80, which is what it can usually be found for, at least, online.

                                      The lower priced NV competes favorably with the other big name houses in that price range. Not as good as Billecart, but at least as good as Roederer.

                                      1. re: maria lorraine
                                        ibstatguy Aug 22, 2007 10:30 AM

                                        Charles Heidsieck’s Blanc des Millenaires: in my mind, an excellent "value" in the tete de cuvee category.

                          2. f
                            fussycouple Aug 13, 2007 04:35 AM

                            Part of me wants to agree with you, but...

                            Part of me thinks you're asking me to say that blood oranges are the best fruit, and not only are they the best fruit, but the old fashioned blood oranges from the appalachian mts are the best of all the blood oranges. Yes, there are times I want blood oranges, and when I do, nothing else will quite do, but there are times when I want sweeter oranges, or lemons, or limes or other citrus. Comparing the juice made in region A in X style with the juice made from a different fruit in region J in W style makes me go "huh"?

                            To stop the wayward analogy, Frankly there are times when I want Prosecco, and I do not want an austere elegant diamond hard sparkling from the Champagne region, though Champagne as a region is one of my favorite on earth. And much for the same reason that sometimes I want steak and sometimes I want tuna salad.

                            Furthermore I heartily agree with whiners point regarding relative value. You get better relative value over a broader range more often in Champagne than a lot of other places.

                            1 Reply
                            1. re: fussycouple
                              z
                              zin1953 Aug 13, 2007 07:31 AM

                              >>> Frankly there are times when I want Prosecco, and I do not want an austere elegant diamond hard sparkling from the Champagne region, though Champagne as a region is one of my favorite on earth. And much for the same reason that sometimes I want steak and sometimes I want tuna salad. <<<

                              Exactly! There are times when (e.g.) a Prosecco or a Vin du Bugey Cerdon is exactly the right wine, and there are other times when nothing but a Champagne wll do.

                              That said, I've only found one non-Champagne sparkling wine that ever came close to being "interchangable" for my palate. Every other non-Champagne sparkling wine is a deliberate and intentional choice for "something different."

                              * * * * *

                              FWIW, there is an arguement to be made for saying that "méthode champenoise wines" -- regardless of their actual origin -- "are the only wines never tasted by the winemaker," and in that sense the most difficult of all wines to produce.

                              Cheers,
                              Jason

                            2. w
                              whiner Aug 13, 2007 12:42 AM

                              "And not just in comparison to the other sparkling wines out there. I'd dare say the overall quality of Champagne is better than the overall quality of wine from any other region." -- mengathon

                              That is a good point. Also, I would say Champagne is probably the most honestly priced type of wine. 90% of the $80 bottles are better than 90% of the $50 bottles. And 90% of the $150 bottles are better than 90% of the $80 bottles. You really can't say that about any other region in the world. (Maybe Ribera del Duero and Priorat come close, but still, it isn't the same.)

                              1. w
                                whiner Aug 13, 2007 12:36 AM

                                Well, if we leave out the price/value discussion, I'd actually go the other way from your example.

                                J. Schramsberg makes vintage-Champagne sparkling wines. But you have to pay $130 for quality that you could easily get for $90 or $100 from Champagne.

                                @ $50, Soter Sparkling Rose of Pinot Noir doesn't exactly taste like Champagne, but it is an excellent wine and a good value.

                                1. m
                                  mpalmer6c Aug 12, 2007 05:05 PM

                                  Yep, as a Californian I'd agree French Champagne is the beat, and nobody bests France with the Pinot Noir grape, either. But with other wines ...

                                  1. b
                                    brandygirl Aug 12, 2007 01:54 PM

                                    I definitely think there are sparkling wines that could hold their own against some of the less expensive/more reasonably priced Champagnes. We have domestic sparkling wines that are just as worthy as Moet, for instance. When you get into the premium Champagnes, however, I think they are in a class by themselves.

                                    1. Robert Lauriston Aug 12, 2007 01:25 PM

                                      I think only an expert could pick Roederer Estate's Anderson Valley sparking wines out of a blind tasting against similarly-styled Chamagnes.

                                      http://www.roedererestate.net

                                      I think the same is true for Gruet's New Mexico sparkling wines, but I've only tasted one or two of theirs.

                                      http://www.gruetwinery.com

                                      2 Replies
                                      1. re: Robert Lauriston
                                        z
                                        zin1953 Aug 12, 2007 04:30 PM

                                        While I think Roederer Estate is the best of the "big boys" producing sparkling wines in California, and I highly recommend them -- so, too, Gruet, which is, IMHO, the best QPR America has to offer interms of bubbly -- I do not think I'd have too much difficulty in picking them out . . . .

                                        1. re: zin1953
                                          maria lorraine Aug 21, 2007 03:15 PM

                                          Agreed. It is quite easy to differentiate non-Champagne from Champagne. There are many giveaways in the flavor -- toastiness, depth, minerality, different fruit quality...

                                          American sparklers will never taste like Champagne...we don't have the chalk/limestone soil that gives Champagne a specific nuance.

                                      2. z
                                        zin1953 Aug 12, 2007 01:12 PM

                                        Champagne is Champagne. And VERY LITTLE, to my palate, comes close.

                                        It's not a question of "challenging the statement," but there is one sparkling wine that satisfies my palate the way Champagne does . . . the méthode chamenoise sparkling wines from Equinox -- 100 percent Santa Cruz Mountains Chardonnay, aged en tirage for anywhere (depending upon the cuvée) from 3-9 years, and generally bottled with zero dosage. The stuff is fantastic!

                                        As far as price is concerned, that sort of time and labor does cost, but it's the only sparkling wine that costs as much as Champagne that I willingly buy again and again.

                                        Jason

                                        1. m
                                          mengathon Aug 12, 2007 12:15 PM

                                          Agreed, nothing comes close.

                                          And not just in comparison to the other sparkling wines out there. I'd dare say the overall quality of Champagne is better than the overall quality of wine from any other region.

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