Silver Lining in Champagne
2009 is the year when the Champenois got real. Twelve months ago, the négociants were saying that Champagne was recession-proof - always a nonsensical claim to anyone old enough to have witnessed the crash in Champagne prices in 1990/91. And earlier this year, the big houses tried to maintain the very high price of their wines by pressurising the growers into reducing the size of the 2009 harvest by half, which effectively meant asking them to throw away 50% of their grapes and so make a loss on those that they kept.
This would have given an appalling manipulative image to the Champagne community as a whole. Fortunately, the growers stood firm and won a compromise in which they reduced their yields in these hard times by 25% to levels seen in the 1950s, the golden age of the finest champagnes since World War II. And the best news of all is that 2009 is likely to be a great vintage in Champagne – not a drop of rain fell on the best vineyards during the harvest- and its rich, ripe, concentrated flavours are likely to recall great hot years like 1959, 1955 and 1952.
At work' with the growers in Paris.
This gives a terrific opportunity to small growers ,who hand-craft their own wines, to consolidate their position as the true guardians of quality in Champagne for the consumer. And at at prices that people can afford in the £20 - £27 price range. Quite often the best of growers' champagnes at this point taste much better than those of an expensively marketed but middling Grande Maison costing a lot more. Some of the very best wines in a naturally dry style come from rising stars among the growers. Like Veuve Fourny in Vertus, shipped by Thorman Hunt (+44 20 735 6511). Or René Geoffroy and Jean-Louis Vergnon which are now available retail from the classic and august London wine merchants, Berry Bros & Rudd (www.bbr.com) these two at the above gentle prices one doesn't normally associate with St James's and the SW1 postcode.