The crafting of champagne has long been dominated by large French conglomerates. So when a band of grower-producers decided to disrupt the centuries-old méthode traditionnelle, the sparkles really flew.
As the waiter in the brown leather apron drip-drip-drips a thin trickle of golden foam into my delicate Zalto Denk’Art glass, I know I’m among serious wine folk (yes, this is pre-pandemic). All around me, people with flared nostrils and puckered lips are turning and twisting and twirling their crystal stems, then swishing and sucking and spitting their now slushy quaff into stainless-steel milkshake cups. It would be disgusting if the vintage wasn’t so delicious.
About three dozen connoisseurs have gathered here, at the Carlton Wine Room in Melbourne’s inner north, not just to partake of the Abrolhos Island scallop tostadas and Macedon Ranges roast duck, but to sample some of the finest champagne in the world, that of the prestigious French label Larmandier-Bernier – and to learn a little more of the “David and Goliath” battle between such artisanal maisons and the grand marques that dominate the champagne industry.
It was only in the 1980s that a few producers – like the Larmandiers – began to break free of the paradigm. They didn’t want to add lots of sugar – or what the French call maquillage (make-up) – to disguise the “truth” of the wine. They also didn’t want to use chemicals, including pesticides and fertilisers. And they wanted to drop the widespread use of steel vats, and instead return to old oak barrels.
They wanted champagne that would express their specific terroir and character, just as the great still wines of Alsace or the Loire Valley or Burgundy do. The Larmandiers tell me all this the day after our wine lunch, before they move on to similar promotional wine dinners in Tasmania.
By Konrad Marshall June 13, 2020