The global market of Champagne is dominated by two dozen or so houses regarded as “Les Grands Marques”. These are the most famous names in Champagne: Moet et Chandon, Louis Roederer, Pol Roger and Taittinger to name a few. Through the years the houses have developed their own particular styles. To achieve these styles year in and year out, they purchase and blend fruit of varying qualities from many different villages and growers. However, many feel that these wines lose all notion of terroir. They have no sense of place.
A trend has recently emerged from this region, so steeped in tradition. The growers themselves have ended ties with the great houses and have started producing the wines themselves. Vines have aged, yields have decreased and fruit quality has improved. These ‘grower Champagnes’ are artistic and important. They are of extremely high quality and more importantly, have a true sense of place.
Eight generations have followed one another since Nicolas Chiquet planted his first vine stock in 1746. In 1935, Gaston Chiquet created his own mark by planting Chardonnay in Aÿ, the bastion of Pinot Noir. Since the ’50s, Gaston Chiquet and his son Claude have extended the vineyard holdings on the soils of Aÿ and Hautvillers, bringing new possibilities of assemblage and expression to the winery.
“I am struck by how chiseled and articulate Nicholas’ wines are. I usually think of them as chalky or fruity, but really they are precise, careful and thorough. I wrote they were “quiet heroes”, because they don’t often get the attention some of the others do … What I’m tasting are wines of pure terroir. They are in effect anti-varietal. Even the celebrated Aÿ Chardonnay isn’t so much a variant on Chardonnay as it is another dialect of Aÿ.” – Terry Thiese, US importer and wine writer
“Nicolas Chiquet is among the greatest of all the grower-producers, and his basic NV Brut “Tradition” is one of the most stylish and graceful bruts. Weightless, it just seems to float, first on a cloud of fragrance, then like a cool wind on the tongue, and finally as a graceful whoosh through to the back palate and the throat. The house of Chiquet, which first planted vines in 1746, was also, in 1935, the first grower to begin to produce, instead of just sell grapes. Chiquet makes another wine that is highly notable, a wine that every sommelier and serious wine drinker should know about, Blanc de Blanc d’Aÿ. What is significant about this Chardonnay is that it comes from a Grand Cru-rated village that is known for its Pinot Noir. This is a reversal that makes little sense: why make Chardonnay from a place that is universally praised for Pinot? The wine tells you why. It is from a very old vineyard, and the wine proves the point about terroir in Champagne: it is not at all an expression of Chardonnay, but an expression of this place. If you are a terroir doubter, game over. Terroir clearly exists, and this wine proves it. Heavier and richer than other blanc de blancs, it drinks like a pinot noir – robust and juicy, speaking of berries, quince and honey – even though it is not.” – Rajat Parr, “Secrets of the Sommeliers” (2010)