The Romance of Champagne

Spice up Valentine's Day with grower Champagne

Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels
Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko via Pexels

It’s no accident that Champagne is regarded as the beverage of romance. While the alcohol level is only 12-13% (fairly modest in this era of climate change), Champagne has a secret weapon: carbon dioxide. The CO2 takes the alcohol and conducts it immediately into the bloodstream, without waiting for your metabolism to do the work. No wonder we feel giddy after a glass or two.

In the United States, Champagne (and sparkling wine in general) has traditionally been regarded as a drink for celebration and special occasions. The French tend to treat it as an everyday quaff. Roughly half the Champagne production is consumed in France, leaving the other half for export. Americans drink approximately 8% of the total, compared to nearly 52% in France.

If you’re only going to drink Champagne a few times each year, Valentine’s Day makes a great deal of sense. Anyone with a focus on seduction will opt to drink it at home, avoiding overcrowded restaurants and extortionate prices. Like any seduction (as opposed to spontaneous lust), it requires a bit of advance planning. As always, a trusted wine merchant will be an invaluable ally; if the shop’s selection is broad enough, it might be time to try some grower Champagne. Such a choice will allow you to appear sophisticated and knowledgeable, impress the person you’re trying to seduce, and broaden your drinking horizons at the same time.

Photo by Cottonbro via Pexels
Photo by Cottonbro via Pexels

Although grower Champagne represents a tiny percentage of the region’s total, that small slice is the most interesting. It is exactly what the name implies: Champagne made by small growers and bottled under their own label. These estates are usually family-owned and quality-oriented, focusing on a single vineyard or distinctive terroir. Production tends to be limited, and the wines receive hands-on treatment. They differ greatly in style from the large Champagne houses, which blend grapes from dozens or hundreds of individual growers—similar to the difference between a chain hotel and an upscale B & B. When in doubt, look for the letters RM (for Récoltant Manipulant) on the label.

Here are some of the top grower Champagnes to spice up your Valentine’s Day. In most cases, you’ll notice that prices are comparable to a mass-produced NV Brut from a large house:

Tarlant: A family dating back to 1687, bottling 90% of their wines without dosage; try the Zero Brut Nature ($60).

Egly-Ouriet: Francis Egly is a perfectionist, crafting 100% Grand Cru wines from Ambonnay. Don’t miss his Tradition Grand Cru Brut ($110).

Lassalle: The mother-daughter team of Chantal Decelle-Lassalle and Angéline Templier supervises 40 acres of Premier Crus vineyards in Montagne de Reims; their range begins with Preference Premier Cru Brut ($55).

Jean Vesselle: The Vesselle family has been making Champagne for 300 years from vineyards consisting of 90% Pinot Noir; start with their Brut Reserve ($45).

Paul Bara: Seventh-generation vigneron Chantale Bara manages this 27-acre estate in Bouzy; her lineup begins with Reserve Grand Cru Brut ($60).


Mark Spivak specializes in wine, spirits, food, restaurants and culinary travel. He is the author of several books on distilled spirits and the cocktail culture, as well as three novels. His first novel, Friend of the Devil, has been re-released on Amazon in print, e-book and audio book formats. Has America’s greatest chef cut a deal with Satan for fame and fortune?

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