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. inlandtrading.com.au
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. champagneconnection.com.au
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. debortoli.com.au
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. pinnacleliquor.com.au
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. georgestreetwines.com.au
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. worldwineestates.com.au
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. bibendum.com.au
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. worldwineestates.com.au
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. prancinghorseestate.com
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. bibendum.com.au