Five Great Boutique Champagnes for the Holidays

Food & Wine's Ray Isle Shares Five Great but Lesser-Known Bottlings.

Probably the hottest trend in Champagne right now is small-production "grower" Champagnes. Unlike the grandes marques—famous houses such as Moët & Chandon, Perrier-Jouët and Mumm—which source grapes from hundreds of different, independently owned vineyards, grower Champagnes are made with grapes from a single estate. Traditional Champagnes are valued for their consistency, which they achieve through blending; grower Champagnes are prized more for their individuality and vineyard-driven character. (Both approaches can produce superb wine, of course.) Here are five top-quality grower bottles available around the country.

1. Pierre Peters Cuvée Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV ($60)

White peach and pear define the scent of this lively, graceful Champagne, made entirely from Chardonnay by a family that moved to Champagne from Luxembourg in the 1800s.

2. Larmandier-Bernier Blanc de Blancs Premier Cru Brut NV ($65)

This all-Chardonnay Champagne has rapier-like acidity and focus, partly thanks to a very low dosage (the small amount of sweetened wine added after a Champagne's second fermentation). It's produced biodynamically by the husband-and-wife team of Pierre and Sophie Larmandier.

3. René Geoffroy Rosé de Saignée Brut NV ($70)

This luscious rosé Champagne is created using the traditional (and time-consuming) saignée method, in which the winemaker bleeds off the pink wine from the tank of fermenting Pinot Noir grapes.

4. Roger Pouillon La Fleur de Mareuil NV ($75)

Equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay go into this complex, slightly honeyed, barrel-fermented Champagne from a small, family-owned estate in the village of Mareuil sur Ay.

5. Vilmart & Cie Grand Cellier Brut NV ($80)

Vilmart is known for full-bodied, powerful Champagnes, a reputation created in large measure by this sought-after wine. Exquisitely creamy and rich, it has a light oak-barrel influence that's unusual in Champagne, but characteristic of Vilmart.

PUBLISHED December 2008