By champagnediscovery, Aug 25 2016 04:05PM

The winter was quite ordinary and even spring begun with few hints of the struggles to come. April brought late frosts which had a devastating effect across many of France’s famous wine growing regions with Champagne badly hit, particularly in the south.

From afar, Champagne would have appeared to be ablaze as braziers were lit across hectares of vines in an attempt to combat the killer frosts. Some vines were sprayed with water in order to protect the delicate early buds in a cocoon of ice.

Sadly and despite round-the-clock efforts in the vineyards, the frosts had a destructive effect. Some vignerons were lucky to only lose a small percentage of their potential harvest but others were less fortunate with some growers predicting losses in the region of 80%.

The frosts were not the end of the challenges either. Once the grapes began to grow, heavy storms producing large hailstones reaped further damage to the delicate grape skins. A long wet period followed, slowing the ripening process whilst introducing rotting diseases and thus further depleting the 2016 harvest.

As I write, a long awaited period of warm dry weather is bathing the vineyards (some grapes are now being scorched) and after everything Mother Nature has thrown at Champagne and it’s vignerons; harvest may only be a week or so later than is the norm in ideal years. Vines are by nature a resilient plant and difficult years often produce staggeringly good results where those surviving berries manage to develop intense flavours with a good balance of sugar and acidity. Of course, the downside for the consumer is with far fewer bottles available, prices can understandably be pushed up. Mother Nature can be fickle and even perverse at times, it has been a long hard year for many of the region’s vignerons but come late September they may well have excellent grapes, ready for creating sumptuous champagnes.

We will be keen to see how the 2016 wines evolve; this vintage could yet become one to watch!


Lee and Gita

By champagnediscovery, Jun 15 2016 01:26PM

Champagne is quite rightly famous for its sparkling wines and we have found great pleasure in discovering the immense diversity of cuvées from so many World Class vignerons. What the region is less famous for is its still wine, known as “Coteaux Champenois”.

Red, white and rosé wines are produced by many of the talented producers whom are crafting champagnes of the highest quality. These wines are often overlooked by visitors to the region and experts alike; such a pity as they can be truly excellent in their own right. We would agree however prices can sometimes be prohibitive with many Coteaux Champenois challenging renowned Burgundy villages in the cost stakes; some red wines being placed firmly in the market alongside Pinot Noir from Gevrey Chambertin and whites alongside Chardonnay from Meursault. It is inevitable to draw direct comparisons with price and grape variety, especially from adjoining regions but there are always other factors which need to be taken into account including production costs and even rarity; take these wines on their own merit and they really can stand alone. In the April edition of Decanter magazine, the “Cuvée des Grands Côtes” from Egly-Ouriet was rated as "Highly Recommended" when reviewing the World’s best Pinot Noir (outside of Burgundy), it comes with a pretty serious price tag.

April once again saw the annual Champagne Week which now lasts considerably longer and has subsequently been rebranded as the Printemps du Champagne. Here numerous associations of vignerons host tasting sessions of champagnes, Coteaux Champenois and vins clairs – the still wine produced after initial fermentation.

This gave us the opportunity to taste many more still wines from Champagne. Once again, the Académie du vin de Bouzy session was a chance to try a large number of Bouzy Rouge wines. Bouzy – famed for its Pinot Noir is perhaps the most well-known village for red wine production. Once more the wines produced by Pierre Paillard and Benoît Lahaye were excellent. Our first taste of Gaston Collard’s wines had us suitably impressed and very good wines were also shown by Paul Bara, Maurice Vesselle, Camille Savès and Barnaut, the latter also producing a lovely still rosé from the small walled vineyard from the heart of the village “Clos Barnaut”.

Staying with rosé and moving down to the southern reaches of Champagne and into the Aube where Olivier Horiot crafts wonderful Coteaux Rosé, Rouge and Blanc from the village of Les Riceys. In Vrigny, on the Montagne de Reims, Lelarge-Pugeot produces a red along with two whites, one from Chardonnay, the other from the black Pinot Meunier grape.

The production of Coteaux Champenois isn’t just limited to the smaller domaines/grower-producers as famous houses such as Bollinger, Henri Giraud and Bruno Paillard produce still wines.

So the next time you are in Champagne why not try some champagne without the bubbles? A list of producers whose wines have gained a good reputation can be found below:

Barnaut: Bouzy Rouge Millésime and Clos Barnaut Rosé = €22.50

Bérèche: Ormes Rouge Les Montées = €45-54

Bollinger: La Côte aux Enfants = €86

Déhours: Les Rieux (blanc) = €28 and La Croix Joly (rouge) = €26

Benoît Déhu: La Rue des Noyers (rouge and blanc available) = €62

Egly-Ouriet: Cuvée des Grands Côtes (rouge) = €105

Gatinois: Aÿ Rouge = €33

René Geoffroy: Cumières Rouge NV = €26, 2009 = €33, Pinot Meunier 2012 = €32

Pierre Gerbais: Rouge = €18 and Cuvée Marie (rouge) = €63

Henri Giraud: Coteaux Champenois Blanc 2009 = €84

Gonet-Médeville: Ambonnay Rouge Cuvée Athénais 2011 = €45

Gosset-Brabant: Aÿ Rouge = €38

Olivier Horiot: Ricey Rouge 2009 = €28, Blanc 2010 = €30, Rosé des Riceys en Barmont = €29

Benoît Lahaye: Bouzy Rouge = €30

Larmandier-Bernier: Blanc Cramant Nature = €46 and Vertus Rouge = €53

David Léclapart: Trépail Rouge = €42

Lelarge-Pugeot: Blanc 2012 = €16.50, Blanc de Meuniers = €20.50 and Rouge 2011 = €23

Aurèlien Lurquin: Rouge Les Crayères 2012 = €48

Bruno Paillard: Blanc Mesnil Millésime 2012 = €42

Pierre Paillard: Bouzy Rouge = €27

R. Pouillon: Mareuil Rouge = €26

Georges Remy: Rouge 2012 = €32

Timothée Strœbel: Le Vin Tranquille (rouge) = €45

Prices not available for: Paul Bara, Gaston Collard, Camille Savès or Maurice Vesselle.


Lee and Gita

Please click on the images to enlarge

By champagnediscovery, Feb 28 2016 03:18PM

In recent years there has been a marked increase within the natural wine-making World to produce cuvées without the addition of sulphites (or sulfites if you are reading this in the US).

So what are sulphites exactly and why the drive to eradicate them? Sulphites are derivatives of the element Sulphur and are principally used as a preservative. The most common form being Sulphur dioxide (SO2) which can also be found in all manner of foodstuffs, listed as the additive E220. Potassium metabisulphite (E224) and Potassium bisulphite (E228) are also used for the same purpose.

In champagne production, sulphites are added to the freshly pressed grape juice ostensibly to inhibit or prevent oxidation. It has a secondary function to eliminate harmful bacteria (particularly lactic) and wild yeasts which can seriously affect the wine’s flavour. Malolactic fermentation, often used in champagne-making to convert the tart Malic acid to the softer Lactic Acid is a useful tool to prevent the requirement for sterilisation/filtering.

The use of sulphites is obviously a benefit to the wine-maker and of course the drinker, ensuring a better quality product and one that will have the longevity to sit in a cellar – or other storage form. So what are the downsides? Well, there are a few and perhaps the most important to many is the fact that sulphites are an additive and therefore the less put into the wine, the more natural it is? Perhaps, but sulphites do occur naturally in the fermentation process, so even if none have been added to the wine, the bottle will still have to carry the “contains sulphites” warning. And, of course other substances can be added during the many stages of wine production, such as during fining and filtering.

Sulphites are toxic, albeit in large quantities and the level in wine is very small indeed. In fact much lower than the levels found within the food processing industry. Rest assured, even if you are drinking a lot of champagne the levels should be fine. That brings us on to the dreaded hangover headache that you may have experienced once or thrice? The blame for such was aimed squarely at sulphites. Recent research however counters this argument, perhaps suggesting that the headache is after all down to the amount of alcohol consumed, no doubt partnered to a little dehydration. Intolerance to sulphites is also believed to be very low and actually lower than that of alcohol although there is potential for those suffering from asthma to find their condition exacerbated by the chemical.

It is also believed by some wine-makers that sulphites can inhibit the particular identity of individual parcels/vineyards and even the given year and a better depth of flavour and purity can be attained without their addition.

It will be interesting to see if sulphites usage follows the trend of sugar where as with cuvées of extra-brut and non-dosé origin, we get to see more champagnes being produced with lower levels or without the addition of sulphur.

Sulphites reduction can be enhanced by modern gravity-fed pressing and disgorgement techniques which limit the opportunities for oxidation such as those used by Rémi Leroy who produces superb champagnes bursting with flavour. The first champagne we tried without the addition of sulphur was the cuvée “Violaine” by Benoît Lahaye, which whilst intensely fruity felt it could benefit from additional aging. Most recently, we tasted the cuvée “Sans Soufre” (without Sulphur) from Marc Augustin which was a delight, deep, complex and full of flavour. As with all aspects of wine-making, the end result through reducing or abolishing the use of sulphites will ultimately come down to the experience and skill of the wine-maker. And let us not forget, they only get to practice once a year!

By champagnediscovery, Oct 24 2012 02:05PM

Welcome to our website. My wife and I are Champagne enthusiasts who love both the wine and the region. We have been touring the area for the last sixteen years, as often as our funds have allowed! We are not professionals but ordinary, working people who have simply become immersed in our passion.

For the last ten years or so, we have been focusing our attention on the hidden gems, the artisans of Champagne. Those smaller, quality conscious producers and grower-producers (domaines) who create excellent, seductive wines that are full of character.

Like many people we are becoming more interested in the provenance of our food and drink and champagne is no exception. It is now quite commonplace to find producers who work organically and biodynamically.

We are always on the look-out for the next new houses and cuvées to excite our senses. This website will hopefully share some of our experiences and arduous tasting expeditions!

Regular contributors to the Champagne-Ardenne forum on Tripadvisor, we can be found hiding behind the moniker: PsychoWarthog.

We hope you enjoy the site and will follow us on Facebook and Twitter. You can also contact us via the ‘Contacts’ tab on the homepage. We will endeavour to respond as quickly as possible and are happy to answer any questions or help with trip ideas.


Lee and Gita

"Don't wait for that special occasion to drink champagne. Create that special occasion by drinking champagne".

Welcome to Champagne Discovery

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