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Champagne primer: Growers and co-ops

Friday - 9/23/2011, 3:01pm  ET

Scott Greenberg, special to wtop.com

This week, I’ll review wines of growers and cooperatives and next week I’ll cover houses.

The largest cooperative in Champagne is Nicolas Feuillatte. With over 5,500 growers in the co-op, it produces over 8 million bottles of Champagne annually. That may sound like a lot of wine, but considering that the region produces over 340 million bottles of bubbly per year, it’s just a drop in the Champagne bucket. Given the sizeable production, the Non-vintage Nicolas Feuillatte Brut ($28) is remarkably refined, with notes of toasted brioche and crisp apple on the front of the palate and a touch of roasted hazel nuts on the medium-balanced finish.

Representing one of the oldest wine regions in the area is Champagne Mailly, a prominent co-op made of up of 70 growers. All of the grapes sourced for the wine come exclusively from Grand Cru vineyards near the village of Mailly. This quality is expressed in the chalky minerality of the Non-vintage Mailly Brut Reserve ($55) which supports flavors of rip apple, honey and bees wax. Moderate acidity keeps the wine fresh and in balance.

Growers pride themselves on making wines that have a sense of place, or terroir, and few do it better than Pierrer Gimonnet. The Non-vintage Pierrer & Fils Blanc de Blancs Brut ($40) is made exclusively from chardonnay and boasts flavors of creamy lemon and nectarine that are elegantly woven into a round, balanced wine with wonderful structure and tiny, precise bubbles. A touch of brioche is a pleasant highlight at the end of the graceful finish.

Collard-Picard is a grower/producer with deep roots – figuratively and literally – in Champagne. Husband Oliver Collard is a fifth generation grower and his wife, Caroline Picard, is fourth generation. Together, they make wines of artisanal quality, like the Non-vintage Collard-Picard “Prestige” Brut Champagne ($45). A blend of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the wine is aged in oak casks, blended, and then aged for over three years. Flavors of biscuit highlight notes of apple blossom, peach and honey on the front of the palate. Crisp acidity and mineral notes provide a remarkably fresh and balanced finish.

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