While it is true (and evident from our prior classes) my love of champagne grew out of the wines produced by smaller growers, the simple fact is that Champagne long ago gained its worldwide renown through the marketing efforts and sheer volume of production on the part of the large historic houses. We likely wouldn't be drinking (as much) wine from the smaller guys if the Champagne "brand" hadn't been developed and exported by the big guys back in the day. We have previously talked about label designations that indicate "grower champagne" vs "negociant champagne" ("RM" vs "NM"). Though these are meaningful designations, they don't tell the whole story and there is certainly overlap. There are negociant champagnes that are made with every ounce of care in the vineyard and cellar that any grower would employ. Conversely, seeing that it is a grower champagne is not a guarantee of quality. You must know the story of the house and their approach to winemaking to find the good wine.
When you drink enough wine, sparkling or not, you begin to develop preferences. Some are rational, others less so. Deciding to only drink "RM" or grower champagne would leave you missing out on some great wines. And, sometimes the negociant houses can be ignored as just making so much factory-produced plonk when in reality some of the finest examples of the category come from the old guard big guys. In fact, the best wine I've ever tasted had NM on the label. At the end of the day, what matters is the quality of what is in the glass in front of you. Not the name or code on the label. How does one go about removing those sorts of biases when they taste wines? Taste blind. Assess each wine without any prior knowledge of who made what is being poured. You just might surprise yourself with what you end up preferring. And, you'll certainly learn something when you then discuss who made it, how, and then consider why you like it.
This month, I will host a blind tasting around the theme of "David vs Goliath". I'll pair things as evenly as possible in terms of blend, sub-region, age, dosage, etc. One will be from the "small guys", one from the "big guys". We'll vote blind as well and see who comes out on top at the end of the night. 6 Champagnes, French cheeses to snack on and lots of fun! $55, reservations required!