There is this word called ‘maladroit’. It means simply – awkward. Tactless. Brash, possibly? Before I gave it some thought, I was about to proclaim (as my opening statement, mind you), “Champagne isn’t just a special occasion wine!”. And then I looked at the date. It’s December. Two of the biggest celebrations of the year are upon us, and and we WILL be popping some bubbs (for the Urbanite), drinking some bubbles (for the Hipster), and opening some Champagne (for the year-round Redaholic). It’s guaranteed.

So why should we show up to the next party on the books with a bottle of Veuve in our hands? Don’t misunderstand me here. If someone handed me a glass, I would chug it down as slowly as I could restrain myself. But why just follow along with the masses? The Veuve Clicquot house makes over a million cases a year! I don’t mean to pick on just them, but they are the most popular – especially in the Sugar Land area. But here’s the thing. You know all those cool boxes, insulated zip-up bags, gift-sets, etc., etc…? The biggest houses in Champagne are marketing machines, all the way from Moet to Tattinger, with a gazillion dollars in the bank. The wine is ok – but not wow! Is it really $40-$50 good? Remember years ago when you tasted your first really nice Champagne before the brand became a status symbol? It was amazing right? Almost like Opus One, really. With insane popularity comes demand, forcing up the price, and unfortunately, the production. How is it possible (on the Champagne subject) to maintain mind-blowing quality when you are producing over 12 million bottles a year? You can’t. I’m sorry. It becomes a machine: production, packaging, marketing.

OK. Enough with the soapbox dude… To put this all in perspective, there is a whole other sub-culture of small-production wines called ‘Grower Champagne’. One day these ‘growers’ wised up and quit selling all their fruit to the large houses and started bottling their own. What makes them so special is that they are very ‘place’-driven wines (sourced from single vineyards or closely surrounding properties or villages), and much like the estate Cabernet’s we love from Napa. A bit of a facetious question, but would you rather have a Cab from California or a Cab from Realm Cellars – To Kalon Vineyard? (A Grower Champagne can be identified by the initials RM (meaning Récoltant-Manipulant) on the wine label.)

Billecart-Salmon is a small Champagne house in the charming village of Mareuil-sur-Aÿ, that was founded in 1818 with the marriage of Nicolas Francois Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon. It is one of the only houses still to remain fully family-owned. Now, it isn’t a grower Champagne, but somewhere in between. Quite a few of their wines are vintage dated, and they oversee every step of the process with absolute quality and passion in mind – from the vineyards and how they are grown, tended, and harvested, to the winemaking and the riddling (the hand-turning of the bottles in the cellar). The wines of Billecart are stunningly elegant, they have incredible finesse, and dollar-for-dollar, blow anyone out of the water. I highly recommend them. Here are my top 4 picks that are non-vintage. I’ll let you have some fun looking up the vintage bottlings! This stuff is so good, it’s not just for a special day. 🙂  // champagne-billecart.fr

Brut Rose Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, & Pinot Meunier

Persistent, fine bubbles rising slowly. Pale salmon pink in color, with a shade of gold. A nose of red fruits and fresh pear. Delicate fruit on the palate, elegant, and showing great finesse. Look for ripe raspberry, lemon shortbread, chalk and fresh ginger. Offers a clean, minerally finish.

Brut Reserve Pinot Noir, Chardonnay,, & Pinot Meunier

Fine bubbles which rise slowly, persistent mousse. Straw-colored. A nose of ripe pear with some touches of cut hay. Full fruit, but clean in the mouth. Look for fresh-cut apple, pear tart, pickled ginger, honey and lemon flavors.

Blanc de Blancs “Grand Cru” Chardonnay

This Chardonnay cuvée has been elaborated from the five grand cru vineyards of the Côte des Blancs. It is a blend of two different years revealing the special quality of the Chardonnay. Dry fruit aromas, almonds and fresh hazelnuts mixed with those of fruits of white flesh.

Brut Sous Bois Pinot Noir, Chardonnay,, & Pinot Meunier

With the same base as the Brut Reserve, this unique cuvée is entirely vinified in oak. It totally masters the art of blending by renewing the ancestral spirit and savoir-faire of the original Champagnes.