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Top 10 lesser-known Champagnes

Eschewing the tried and true, Max Allen goes in search of fine Champagnes from lesser-known producers. Here he reveals his top 10.

The things I do for you, dear reader. The sacrifices I make. Normally, faced with a room full of 130 different Champagnes, the temptation is to head for the familiar and the luxurious - to gorge on Veuve and Bolly and Krug.

But I know GT readers love to discover new taste experiences and be alerted to exciting new producers. So at a recent tasting organised by Tyson Stelzer, author of The Champagne Guide 2014-2015 (Hardie Grant, $40), I resisted temptation, walked straight past the Dom Pérignon and the Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, and homed in on all the Champagnes I wasn't familiar with - wines from producers new to Australia or novel cuvées from little-known growers.

And you know what? I didn't feel I missed out in the slightest. I came across some quite delicious new Champagnes - many offering exceptional value - that were an absolute pleasure to taste. This is my top 10.

1. NV Dumangin L'Extra Brut Premier Cru, $55
Throughout this tasting I was looking for Champagnes that were fresh, lively and a joy to drink. This is a good example: a high proportion of the full-flavoured pinot meunier grape in the blend gives it plenty of honeyed flavour, but it's also very dry and very sophisticated.

2. NV Godmé Père et Fils Blanc de Noirs, $60
From a small organic grower, this full-bodied, savoury Champagne is 100 per cent pinot noir and is the kind of wine you want on the table and in your glass if you're eating a chunky game terrine: enticing, toasty aromas, lots of nutty, rich vinosity in the mouth. Superb value.

3. NV Veuve Fourny & Fils Grand Réserve Brut Vertus Premier Cru, $65
The Champagnes from this highly regarded house are imported by De Bortoli: what the winemakers don't drink we get a chance to buy... Lots of chardonnay in the blend gives this a lovely, crisp, tangy quality. Very refreshing and good value.

4. NV Mailly Brut Réserve, $69.99
This is quality Champagne from one of the region's best co-op wineries: a pinot-dominant blend, it's very pretty, with hints of fresh strawberry, a touch of round fruit-sweetness and a gentle finish. A real crowd-pleaser at a fair price and widely available through Dan Murphy's.

5. NV Le Mesnil Blanc de Blancs Brut, $75
Another co-op wine, but totally different in style - the yin, if you like, to Mailly's yang. Classic 100 per cent chardonnay blanc de blancs characters - lemon pith, yeast puff, chalky dryness - combine in a very refined and elegant Champagne.

6. NV Dosnon & Lepage recolte Rosé, $85
This 100 per cent pinot noir rosé is from one of the newer producers in the Champagne region and it's really moreish: there's a lovely, lip-smacking quality to the fruit - like sucking on yellow plum stones - and lots of finesse as well as flavour. Bring out the gravlax and rye.

7. NV Laherte Frères Blanc de Blancs Brut Nature, $96
This bone-dry Champagne from organic vineyards in Épernay and the Côtes de Blancs is the very definition of apéritif: very tangy, fine, lean and bracing, with a touch of bready yeastiness and a grapefruit-like wake-up call to the tongue. Great for oysters, too.

8. NV Bruno Paillard Brut Première Cuvée, $90
Another relatively recent addition to the scene - Paillard has only been making Champagne since the 1980s - but one of the best non-vintage wines you can buy. There's an extra intensity to this wine, a particularly focused hit of lemon and vanilla flavours, wonderful precision and length. Very good indeed.

9. NV Henri Giraud Hommage à François Hémart Grand Cru, $120
From one of the oldest family-owned houses in the region, this Champagne is also one of the most wine-like of all I tasted: the base wine spent six months in oak before its secondary ferment and time on lees, and this lends a richness and weight to the layers of nutty, yeasty flavour in the mouth. Impressive and stylish.

10. 2007 Agrapart Minéral Blanc De Blancs Grand Cru Extra Brut, $170
The organically grown, wild yeast-fermented Champagnes of Agrapart have been shipped to Australia for a while, but this is the first time I've tasted their vintage offering, and it's stunningly complex: as the name suggests, you really get a sense of minerals running along the tongue as you drink the wine, a ribbon of chewy chalk in among the powdery yeast and crisp green-apple tartness.


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