Under the Radar Champagne

Staff Writer
These houses consistently make fabulous Champagnes and the new releases are especially good

Photo Sasabune Omakase Modified: Flickr/erin/CC 4.0

There are nearly 20,000 independent growers of Champagne grapes with over 5,000 different Champagnes produced each year.

For nearly 40 years Champagne has been a big part of our life. My wife and I drink Champagne most evenings. We long ago determined that drinking Champagne is, in itself, a celebration, and that we need no other excuses to pop a cork. And when The Underground Wineletter was introduced, we set out on a campaign to try to taste and write about every Champagne imported into America. Our first article on Champagne appeared in December 1979.

At that time it was mostly the large houses that were known here, and Champagne was not nearly as popular as it is today. But, we promoted the idea that it was one of the most food-friendly wines on the planet and a great accompaniment to almost any meal. Today the popularity of Champagne is widespread and deservedly so. But, the fact remains that it is still one of the greatest wines one could hope to drink, and there are a tremendous number of very high quality Champagnes that are not well known. Mostly from small producers, the quality/price relationship of many of these wines is simply compelling.

I have a lot of different Champagnes in my cellar with vintages back into the ‘70s. The wines are simply remarkable. And one of the great thrills continues to be discovering new producers. After all, it is impossible to know all of the Champagne producers since there are nearly 20,000 independent growers of Champagne grapes with over 5,000 different Champagnes produced each year.

I recently tasted new releases from several top-quality small Champagne producers: Franck Bonville, Michel Loriot, Ariston Aspasie, Fallet-Dart, Launois Père et Fils, and AR Lenoble.  I am very familiar with all of these Champagnes as I have not only written about them, but I regularly buy, cellar, and drink them. These houses consistently make fabulous Champagnes and the new releases are especially good. As an added bonus, many are great values. Take a look!

Franck Bonville

Franck Bonville is located in Avize and has about 50 acres of vines in the Grand Cru districts of Cramant, Avize, and Oger. After the Second World War, Franck Bonville and his wife Jeannine marketed their first wines. Their son Gilles and his wife Ingrid followed in the family business and began making and marketing more of their wines. Today, their son Olivier is in charge with his parents and grandparents working alongside. Franck Bonville is one of my very favorite Champagne producers. I buy those wines every year and drink them often. They age beautifully and can develop over a period of many decades. These new releases are stunning and the exceptional pricing makes them all Best Buys! Don’t miss them! Franck Bonville Champagnes are selected by K&L Wine Merchants and imported by Premier Wine Company, Richmond, Calif.                  

Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 34.99
This is always one of the greatest values available in top quality Champagne. Made entirely from estate grown Grand Cru chardonnay grapes, it always exhibits great purity and depth. This current release is no exception. It has a lovely perfume with floral nuances and hints of citrus and green apple. Very fresh and pure with great balance, this is harmonious Blanc de Blancs that exhibits lovely subtle hints of citrus and spice with and underlying floral complexity. Irresistible now, this is also a Champagne that will age effortlessly for a decade or two — Outstanding. 

Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs “Prestige” Grand Cru $44.99
This special cuvée is based on old vines wine from the 2009 vintage. It is complex and delicious with great appeal. Subtle floral hints interlaced with citrus and faint spice undertones dominate the perfume and follow through on the palate. It is creamy and lush with a nice underlying crispness and just plain delicious to drink — Outstanding Plus.

Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Grand Cru $39.99
This Champagne is made entirely from the great 2008 vintage. It is very special and impeccably balanced. The fruit is perfectly matched with the lower sugar rendering an Extra Brut Champagne that is harmonious and delicious. As could be expected there are a lot of similarities here to the great 2008 vintage bottling. This is a great buy — Outstanding Plus.   

Franck Bonville Rosé Grand Cru $39.99
This is only the second rosé ever made by Bonville. The first was a stunner and this wine is likewise fabulous. It is based on wine from the 2011 vintage. The 2011 vintage resulted in only 2 wines being made at Bonville. A regular cuvée and this rosé. The rosé includes the juice from all the old vines as well as 50% reserve wine from the 2008, 2009, and 2010 vintages with the addition of 8% pinot noir from Ambonnay. Here is a gorgeous rosé at a great price. And, as good as it is now, my guess is that this is a rosé that will develop beautifully over many years. It has a pale color and a great perfume showing floral, cherry, spice, and citrus nuances. With great finesse and fruit the flavors already show a nice complexity and the promise of a lush creaminess to develop with time. This is a rosé to drink now for the delicious fruit or to lay away for future drinking. Either way this is a win/win — Outstanding Plus.Franck Bonville Champagnes age beautifully and can develop over a period of many decades.

2008 Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru $49.99 
The 2008 year in Champagne is looking to be one of the great vintages. This is an absolutely great Blanc de Blancs Champagne that should age effortlessly for decades. The perfume is gorgeous showing floral, spice, and citrus nuances. On the palate there is great intense fruit with balance and finesse and a bright underlying crispness. Impeccably balanced with the promise of great complexity over time, this is Champagne to lay away for 5 to 10 years. Only then will it develop the creamy richness and complexity that the greatest Champagnes exhibit with bottle age. This is a cellar treasure in the making — Exceptional. 

Franck Bonville “Belles Voyes” Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru $69.99   
Made from the one and three quarters-acre Grand Cru Belles Voyes vineyard in Oger, Belles Voyes is Franck Bonville’s prestige cuvée. The vines were planted in the late twenties or early thirties and the vineyard is located in the mid slope of the village. Olivier Bonville ferments and ages the juice in old oak casks before bottling. This bottle is from a new shipment of the wine that is from the 2004 vintage. It is again superb. Light yellow gold in color with a stunning perfume that has faint tropical, citrus, apple, and pear nuances tinged with subtle hints of spice, vanilla, and crème brûlée. Creamy, rich and full with great texture and depth the wine has great complexity with crème brûlée accents. This is a really great Champagne that is wonderful now, but with a long life ahead — Exceptional.

Read more about Under the Radar Champagne.

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