When we talk about Big Brand vs Artisan Champagne what we are technically describing is NM (Négociant-Manipulant) vs RM (Récoltant Manipulant). Essentially, the big Maisons like Moët who buy in their grapes to make Champagne in volume vs those producers who tend the soil, grow the grapes and bottle their own produce on a small scale.
Whether you’re a connoisseur or simply a casual imbiber, you’ll almost certainly have enjoyed a glass or two of the big name Champagne brands at some point and, chances are, you’ll have come across one or two that you really enjoyed. So, if you're a fan of Veuve Cliquot and fancy something similar or, like Bond, you're into Bollinger but want to see what else there is, then look no further, as resident expert, Peter Crawford, provides a bit of background on a clutch of the Grande Marques and offers an alternative artisan option (or two) that we’re sure will win you over.
Big Brand – Moët
When it comes to the world of Champagne, Moët still sits front and centre. Their deep pockets saw Moët magnums on F1 podiums for decades but, marketing aside, one of the reasons it has been so successful is its level of consistency for generations; reductive, light and fruity, to many it remains the icon of Champagne.
Artisan – Jean Velut
If you like Moët et Chandon, try Jean Velut. The vigneron, Benoit, works with perpetual reserves to create his ever-popular, Lumiere et Craie (or Light & Chalk). Simply speaking, this means he retains a small portion of wine from past vintages which can be introduced to create consistency for non-vintage blends. The result is a complex, reductive wine that links fresh fruit with aromatics, whilst retaining a creamy edge.
Big Brand – Lanson
Lanson is one of the famed Grande Maisons that block a process called malolactic fermentation. Without getting overly technical, this is a process used by most producers to convert malic acid to lactic acid, resulting in a softer, creamier wine. By blocking this process, Lanson Champagnes possess a crisper, tighter style but still with plenty of fruit.
Artisan – Demière
The same technique has been embraced by this small producer based in the village of Fleury la Riviere, allowing their cuvées to show a wonderful freshness alongside some crisp fruit. The Es’Sens is a fantastic example in non vintage form and the Egreg’Or a stupendously good vintage 2010.
Big Brand – Veuve Clicquot
One of the most well-marketed bottles of Champagne out there, Veuve Clicquot, now part of the LVMH group, has retained its distinctive label and branding since the early 19th century and is famed for a palate of white fruits, vanilla and brioche that makes Veuve Clicquot a great Champagne to pair with food.
Artisan – Remi Leroy
In contrast to the bright and bold Brut Yellow Label, Remi's all-black branding is distinctive yet understated. His champagne, however, is as bold and brilliant as they come. His Extra Brut is a rich Pinot heavy blend from the warm, southerly Aube region that shows great minerality and length with lovely chalky notes and texture that will match equally well to many classic dishes – a great alternative to Veuve Clicquot Brut NV.
Big Brand – Krug
Krug remain one of the most complex, engaging and singular Champagnes out there. Their wines are rich with a fabulous tropical, saline nuttiness. Few producers also continue to oak age their wines like Krug which adds another level of complexity and length.
Artisan – Caillez Lemaire
If you're looking for an equally enticing but less expensive alternative to Krug, head over to Damery and the husband and wife team at Caillez Lemaire. Their Jadis 2009 is one of the knock out wines using oak vinification. Rich, complex with a beautiful sweet aromatic edge, there is an explosion of tropical fruits on the palate and then a wonderful salinity.
Artisan option 2 – Georges Remy
From a single vineyard, with only 613 bottles produced, Les Hauts Clos 2015 is an equally engaging and rich wine. Taught, hugely complex, layered and, most importantly, delicious. This is the wine that will lift this very winemaker into the high echelons of Champagne making history.
Big Brand – Bollinger
It might be famed as James Bond’s go to Champagne, but it’s much more besides! A rich blend of 60% Pinot Noir, 25% Chardonnay and 15% Meunier, oak vinified, mildly oxidative and lengthy. They are always a wonderful experience!
Artisan – Paul Clouet
This Maison is based not far from Bollinger in the village of Bouzy and their Selection cuvée is made from a very similar blend of 50% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay and 20% Meunier with the same dosage of 7g/ltr. Chalky, round, fruity with a surprising crisp, dry finish; if 007 was looking for an alternative to Bollinger, we think he would have approved of this.
Big Brand – Dom Perignon
A name that is synonymous with prestige – this was the first ever status wine. Coming into existence in the 1930s, it has been a consistent and brilliant example of wine making ever since. Reductive, smokey with a perfect blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.
Artisan – Bertrand-Delespierre
A great alternative to Dom Pérignon Champagne, Bertrand Delespierre's Origines Croisees 2013 is a stupendously balanced and reductive blend of 50% Pinot Noir and 50% Chardonnay. Vinified in large oak barrels it's rich and brimming with notes of orange peel and a wonderful energy and tension.
Artisan option 2 – Goutorbe Bouillot
Both the Goutorbe and Bouillot family have a history of winemaking dating back to the early 18th century. Their Retrospective 80-13 is a fabulous wine produced from a perpetual cuvée started in 1980 and bottled in tiny numbers (typically less than 1000) each year.
Big Brand – Roederer Cristal
In the last 25 years Roederer has solidified its place as one of the true great wine producers in the region. Creating beautifully balanced, textured and moreish wines, they have taken their production to another level by engaging with biodynamic practices, resulting in a complete uplift in the management and execution in both the vineyard and winery.
Artisan - Laurent Bénard
At Sip Champagnes we are proud to work with a number of organic and biodynamic winemakers but none more so than Laurent Bénard. Their Vibratis 2013 is a wonderfully sensual experience and one to try if you are a fan of Cristal or looking for something a little less pricey. A blend of Pinot Noir/Chardonnay and Meunier, it keeps a strict palate but remains saline and engaging.
Artisan option 2 – Vincent Charlot
For a slightly more fruity affair, Vincent Charlot, a biodynamic producer from Mardeuil, creates a faultless L’Or des Basses Ronces. Made from a tiny plot in the village it shows incredible levels of finesse and elegance but with lovely citrus notes and an amazing brooding power beneath it.
Big Brand – Pol Roger
Another name with a long history in Great Britain. Pol Roger is always a fantastic blend of equal parts Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Meunier, creating a rich, round style with a touch of zest and creaminess on the finish.
Artisan – Thomas Perseval
If you like Pol Roger, try this artisan alternative! A third of each grape variety from three distinct parcels in the village of Chamery – La Mazure for the Pinot Noir, La Pucelle for the Meunier and Le Village for the Chardonnay – Thomas Perseval's Grande Cuvée is a real rival with bristling early tension, a broad mid-palate, impressive levels of complexity and gripping salinity on the finish.