wine guy wednesday
CultureMap Wine Guy Chris Shepherd pours out champagne tips and the ultimate 'farmers fizz' for NYE celebrations
Editor’s note: Long before Chris Shepherd became a James Beard Award-winning chef, he developed enough of a passion for wine to work at Brennan's of Houston as a sommelier. He maintains that interest to this day. When Chris expressed interest in writing about wine-related topics for CultureMap, we said yes.
In this week's column, he offers some advice about a special group of champagnes that are worth seeking out. Take it away, Chris.
I initially thought writing an article about champagne on New Year’s was lame. I’ve seen it everywhere. Drink this. Drink that. Best bang for your buck champagnes. Best sparkling wines at any price. "Top 10 champagnes for New Year’s Eve." Yeah, yeah, yeah. I’m bored.
I put out a survey on Instagram to find out what people who follow me are actually drinking on New Year’s Eve. Looks like 90 percent of y’all drink champagne — everything from Perrier-Jouet to Krug and Salon. All delicious. I’m not arguing with any of it. Only two of you mentioned grower champagne.
I talked a little about grower champagne in a previous column. It’s when wines from Champagne are made and bottled by the same person who grew the grapes. In the past, big producers like Veuve Cliquot, Moet Chandon, Roederer — all makers of delicious bubbles — got most of the attention in the world. These big producers buy grapes from hundreds, if not thousands, of vineyards and produce a style of champagne that fits their house.
But back in 1971, a group of like-minded men and women committed to the common objective of excellence created the first association of wine makers in Champagne to advocate an approach to viticulture based on the utmost standards of quality.
This association — The Club Trésors — comprises 28 artisan wine makers, selected from the finest areas of the Champagne region, each one recognized for the quality of their work. The Club Trésors is the only organization in Champagne to select its members according to a set of unrelenting quality standards:
- Each wine maker must make their champagnes entirely in his or her own premises and cellars. And the champagne must be made exclusively from grapes harvested in his or her own vineyards.
- Each wine maker must be dedicated to the terroir of their property.
- A jury of oenologists and other wine professionals select the champagnes based on irreproachable quality — both the work in the vineyard and the wines.
- Each champagne is subject to two blind tastings (once at the still wine stage before bottling and again after three years aging in bottle) by this jury of oenologists and other wine professionals.
- A Special Club champagne may only be made in outstanding vintage years.
- Only winemakers who have successfully passed these two tests are deemed worthy of putting their chosen champagne in the unique ‘Special Club’ bottle which may not be used by anyone except the members of the Club Trésors.
Obtaining this ‘Holy Grail’ is a true accolade and one that requires daily dedication and application by the winemaker. Only in this way can this select group guarantee to champagne lovers everywhere the exceptional quality and unique artisan character of the champagnes.
When you’re selecting wines for New Year’s Eve, consider seeking out a member of the Special Club instead of a bigger name. Moet has a tête de cuvée, which is Dom Perignon. Roederer’s is Cristal. Special Club wines are put through a much more rigorous standard to give you these smaller houses’ tête de cuvée at a much more enjoyable price point. You are guaranteed goodness in a glass with some of the best farmer fizz you’ll ever have.
I talked to my friend Nick Bland, Midwest regional manager for Skurnik, one of the largest importers of Special Club champagne to find out from him why he thinks these wines are so, well, special.
“Special Club is quite an exclusive club . . . All boats rise with the tide. If you have producers in the Special Club, they’re bottled in the Special Club bottle. People become familiar with the Special Club bottle, so all the Special Club wines receive notoriety and recognition on a restaurant wine list or on a shelf in a wine shop.
“There are a lot of checks and balances with Special Club wines so you know every wine will be really great. Plus, a wine can’t rest on its merit. It’s fairly common for a wine to be removed from the Special Club classification if they don’t meet those checks and balances. I’ve never been more excited about champagne as I am right now.”
If you see a Special Club wine at a local restaurant or wine shop, try it. At the end of the day, you’re supporting a small farmer, a small business owner. Now, go join the club!
Contact our Wine Guy via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris Shepherd won a James Beard Award for Best Chef: Southwest in 2014. The Southern Smoke Foundation, a non-profit he co-founded with his wife Lindsey Brown, has distributed more than $10 million to hospitality workers in crisis through its Emergency Relief Fund.