Right after making the 100-mile trip to Montauk last week, Laura asked me how I wanted to celebrate. “Champagne,” I told her simply, before I passed out in bed.
Upon my arrival back in Manhattan, I went to Astor Wines and got a bottle of Voirin-Jumel Blanc de Blancs—a grower Champagne from the Côte de Blancs sub-region of Champagne, France.
We were trying to decide what to pair with our bottle, when I remembered a very unique cheese we had tried a few months earlier—Langres, a washed-rind cow’s milk cheese also from Champagne.
The Langres, housed in its own little wooden box, is cylindrical, with an wrinkled orange rind that almost resembles a brain, and a concave top.
So, why did I select Langres to eat with our Champagne? Well, the hollow top is designed so that the cheese can hold a good dousing of Champagne! Yes, you’re supposed to douse your Langres with Champagne.
Once you cut into the now-drenched Langres, you discover a creamy, buttery center, slightly pungent but very sweet and milky. The Champagne adds a fizzy burst to the already strong cheese. If you’re really adventurous, you can even drink the cheese-champagne mixture that remains at the bottom of the box.
The Voirin-Jumel is made from 100 percent Chardonnay grapes. It has a very bright, expressive nose of citrus fruits with some floral notes that are offset by a bit of yeastiness. Crisp green apples and more citrus appear on the palette, combined with a creamy mouthfeel at the end. A very brilliant Champagne for the price.
When many people hear Champagne, they think of only a handful of brand names. The big Champagne houses produce more than 80 percent of the total output in the region, yet they own only 12 percent of the vineyards. They buy most of their crop from smaller farms in the area, and blend them to maintain a consistent house-style year after year.
Even though there are 15,000 or so small farms in Champagne, only a couple thousand can afford to offset the cost of production, the rest end up selling their crop to be part of the large house’s non-vintage blends. The big Champagne brands account for 97 percent of Champagne sold in the U.S.
Because the grower Champagnes use only grapes from their own plots of land, the wines they produce are rich in terroir—the French term for the character of a particular vineyard and its soil. With many of these bottles being priced on par with or even less than the big names, the quality of the wine you get for the cost is outstanding.
Amazing Champagne for not a lot of money? Now that’s something worth celebrating on its own.
Want to try a grower Champagne? They can be identified by the initials RM (Récoltant-Manipulant) in front of a number on the label. Conversely, wines made by the big houses will carry a NM (Négociant-Manipulant) on their labels.
P.S. Today we’re also celebrating the launch of Gilt Taste’s wine shop. A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to taste their final wine selections and give my thoughts. I tasted alongside Ruth Reichl and some other fantastic folks in the industry. You can read my Gilt Taste Q&A here.