Wondering what drink will impress guests this upcoming New Year? One of the most iconic and recognizable products in the world, Champagne will be the unequivocal beverage of choice in 2019. There are only 5 Master Sommeliers in Canada and John Szabo from Toronto is one of them. Szabo is Canada’s first ever anointed Master Sommelier in 2004 and has contributed to several reputable wine publications all over the world. He is also an author and has written books like Pairing Food and Wine for Dummies, Sommelier Management and his multi-award winning Volcanic Wines, Salt, Grit and Power has caused a worldwide eruption on volcanic wines. With Szabo’s unquenchable curiosity, he roams the planet to find the best grapes and shares information through writing and masterclasses. Szabo believes champagne will continue to remain the category leader for sparkling wine around the world and it has firmly established itself as the gold standard. At the table with your guests, when it seems like nothing else would be suitable for pairing with a dish, champagne offers in part due to its high acidity, a very flexible pairing suggestion. There are a lot of big brand names of champagne we are all familiar with. The expense of creating and maintaining brand recognition at that level is an extreme undertaking and there’s often more money invested in marketing than in the quality of the wine. Szabo suggested that he hopes that we move in a fresh, inspiring direction by seeking out a few family-owned, boutique grower-producers fashioning some of the highest quality champagne in the region.
The sparkling wine category will undoubtedly benefit from champagnes prestige and association with celebration. However, regarding value, Szabo insists Récoltant Manipulants or “RM” best or the NM Grande Cuvée every time. In comparison, RM differs from Negotiant Manipulant (NM) champagne in that they have a much more unique personality. Szabo states RM champagnes are often an expression of a small piece or even single vineyard within the region. It is a genuine reflection of the vintage whereas the Grand Marquee champagne has plenty of resources at their disposal. It can blend across the entire region and use their deep reserve wines to create a more consistent, stylized offering. Szabo admits he loves the individual nature of outstanding RM champagne and he expects each producer to be differentiated. He advises that consumers should consult a reliable merchant or an esteemed reviewer to determine where to begin when making purchasing decisions.
As previously mentioned, a few key things to remember about what makes these RM’s excellent is their focus on terroir and single vineyard interpretations to achieve the purest expression of champagne. Raphaël and Vincent at Bérêche et Fils exemplify a long line of brilliant winemakers who have historically sold their fruit to the big champagne houses in order to make blended champagne. Their micro-Cuvée is assembled from a few plots along the Vallée de la Marne, Montagne de Reims and Mailly, a noted Grand Cru site.
Unlike many RM’s who have only recently begun following the trend towards estate bottling, the Agrapart family has done so since day one of operation. The vast majority of their vineyards are can be found within the Côte de Blancs, primarily the Grand Cru villages of Avize, Oger, Cramant and Oiry. Lower yields, mature vines and organic farming practices have allowed Agrapart et Fils to produce some of the most refined champagnes along the Côte de Blancs. Their penultimate expression of typicity in champagne can be represented in “Venus”, a brut nature, Blanc de Blancs sourced from the middle of a special Avize slope holding a balanced composition of chalk and clay soils.
Contiguously, noted winemaker Jacques Selosse has become one the most revered visionaries in the region. His vinification strategy is simple: allow terroir to shine as the key determinant of quality winemaking. His family has left an indelible mark on an entire generation of young, aspiring winegrowers. Sellosse’s “Substance”, made solely from Grand Cru Avize fruit, has become one of the most transcendent expressions of Blanc-de-Blancs champagne in the world.
The vignerons mentioned above similarly abolish the use of chemicals in the vineyard while simultaneously renewing focus on biodynamic farming methods, helping to ensure the healthiest, liveliest fruit possible. These undervalued champagnes have become the toast among France’s elite sommeliers, connoisseurs and aristocrats alike. Restaurant owner, Artur Koczur is one of the few restaurateurs in Canada who owns his very own exclusive wine importing agency. Koczur owns an upscale Italian restaurant 7 Enoteca, as well as a fine, and highly recognized modern French concept restaurant called Hexagon. Both restaurants are located in Oakville Ontario. Koczur imports exclusive wines to his restaurants that nobody can get access to in Canada and at the LCBO. He introduced his very own champagne product when he opened his restaurant Hexagon, produced by a small boutique winery in the Champagne region. He says he strives to offer the best and unique products to offer his guests. ” We target small boutique producers who are not focused on volume. We look for small growers who pays strict attention to detail when it comes to quality, you can really taste the difference.” Koczur believes there are too many restaurants around and offering unique products like an exclusive champagne from a small boutique producer helps set you apart from the competition.
There is no doubt that “label drinkers” crave the prestige and comfort of enjoying a signature champagne house style. Master Sommelier, John Szabo challenges readers to line up a few glasses side by side to taste blind, to demonstrate how pleasure and price are not as analogous as many assume. It’s essential not to let high quality; boutique producers continue to fly under the radar. The buzz is building, and he encourages people to be the first to anticipate the trend towards grower champagne and celebrate with your friends & family all year round.