- The Underground Wine Letter - http://www.undergroundwineletter.com -


 under the radar [1]

Champagne being poured into champagne flutes, in a very sparkly, festive party. [2]

For nearly 40 years Champagne has been a big part of our life. My wife and I drink Champagne most evenings. We long ago determined that drinking Champagne is, in itself, a celebration, and that we need no other excuses to pop a cork. And when The Underground Wineletter was introduced, we set out on a campaign to try to taste and write about every Champagne imported into America. Our first article on Champagne appeared in December 1979 (to read that article click here). [3]

At that time it was mostly the large houses that were known here, and Champagne was not nearly as popular as it is today. But, we promoted the idea that it was one of the most food friendly wines on the planet and a great accompaniment to almost any food. Today the popularity of Champagne is widespread and deservedly so. But, the fact remains that it is still one of the greatest wines one could hope to drink, and there are a tremendous number of very high quality Champagnes that are not well known. Mostly from small producers, the quality/price relationship of many of these wines is simply compelling.

I have a lot of different Champagnes in my cellar with vintages back into the 70s. The wines are simply remarkable. And one of the great thrills continues to be discovering new producers. After all, it is impossible to know all of the Champagne producers since there are nearly 20,000 independent growers of Champagne grapes with over 5,000 different  Champagnes produced each year.

 grower champagne sign [4]


I recently tasted new releases from several top quality small Champagne producers: Franck Bonville, Michel Loriot, Ariston Apasie, Fallet-Dart, Launois Père et Fils, and AR Lenoble.  I am very familiar with all of these Champagnes as I have not only written about them, but I regularly buy, cellar, and drink them. (To read an article from nearly 4 years ago covering these Champagnes as well as others click here [5]). These houses consistently make fabulous Champagnes and the new releases are especially good. As an added bonus, many are great values. Take a look!


Franck Bonville

Franck Bonville is located in Avize and has about 50 acres of vines in the Grand Cru districts of Cramant, Avize, and Oger. After the Second World War, Franck Bonville and his wife Jeannine marketed their first wines. Their son Gilles and his wife Ingrid followed in the family business and began making and marketing more of their wines. Today, their son Olivier is in charge with his parents and grandparents working along side. Franck Bonville is one of my very favorite Champagne producers. I buy the wines every year and drink them often. They age beautifully and can develop over a period of many decades (to read a note on the phenomenal 1961 tasted a few years ago click here [6]).  These new releases are stunning and the exceptional pricing makes them all Best Buys! Don’t miss them! Franck Bonville Champagnes are selected by K&L Wine Merchants and imported by Premier Wine Company, Richmond, CA                    .

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Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
This is always one of the greatest values available in top quality Champagne. Made entirely from estate grown Grand Cru Chardonnay grapes it always exhibits great purity and depth. This current release is no exception. It has a lovely perfume with floral nuances and hints of citrus and green apple. Very fresh and pure with great balance, this is harmonious Blanc de Blancs that exhibits lovely subtle hints of citrus and spice with and underlying floral complexity. Irresistible now, this is also a Champagne that will age effortlessly for a decade or two – Outstanding.    $34.99   Best Buy

Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs “Prestige” Grand Cru
This special cuvee is based on old vines wine from the 2009 vintage. It is complex and delicious with great appeal. Subtle floral hints interlaced with citrus and faint spice undertones dominate the perfume and follow through on the palate. It is creamy and lush with a nice underlying crispness and just plain delicious to drink – Outstanding Plus.    $44.99   Best Buy

Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut Grand Cru
This Champagne is made entirely from the great 2008 vintage. It is very special and impeccably balanced. The fruit is perfectly matched with the lower sugar rendering an Extra Brut Champagne that is harmonious and delicious. As could be expected there are a lot of similarities here to the great 2008 vintage bottling. This is a great buy – Outstanding Plus.    $39.99     Best Buy

Franck Bonville Rosé Grand Cru
This is only the second rosé ever made by Bonville. The first was a stunner and this wine is likewise fabulous. It is based on wine from the 2011 vintage. The 2011 vintage resulted in only 2 wines being made at Bonville. A regular cuvee and this rosé. The rosé includes the juice from all the old vines as well as 50% reserve wine from the 2008, 2009, and 2010 vintages with the addition of 8% Pinot Noir from Ambonnay. Here is a gorgeous rosé at a great price. And, as good as it is now, my guess is that this is a rosé that will develop beautifully over many years. It has a pale color and a great perfume showing floral, cherry, spice, and citrus nuances. With great finesse and fruit the flavors already show a nice complexity and the promise of a lush creaminess to develop with time. This is a rosé to drink now for the delicious fruit or to lay away for future drinking. Either way this is a win/win – Outstanding Plus.     $39.99    Best Buy

2008 Franck Bonville Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
The 2008 year in Champagne is looking to be one of the great vintages. This is an absolutely great Blanc de Blancs Champagne that should age effortlessly for decades. The perfume is gorgeous showing floral, spice, and citrus nuances. On the palate there is great intense fruit with balance and finesse and a bright underlying crispness. Impeccably balanced with the promise of great complexity over time, this is Champagne to lay away for 5-10 years. Only then will it develop the creamy richness and complexity that the greatest Champagnes exhibit with bottle age. This is a cellar treasure in the making – Exceptional.    $49.99  Best Buy

Franck Bonville “Belles Voyes” Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
Made from the one and three quarters acre Grand Cru Belles Voyes vineyard in Oger, Belles Voyes is Franck Bonville’s prestige cuvee. The vines were planted in the late twenties or early thirties and the vineyard is  located in the mid slope of the village. Olivier Bonville ferments and ages the juice in old oak casks before bottling. This bottle is from a new shipment of the wine that is from the 2004 vintage. It is again superb. Light yellow gold in color with a stunning perfume that has faint tropical, citrus, apple, and pear nuances tinged with subtle hints of spice, vanilla, and crème brulee. Creamy, rich and full with great texture and depth the wine has great complexity with crème brulee accents. This is a really great Champagne that is wonderful now, but with a long life ahead – Exceptional.     $69.99    Best Buy


Michel Loriot

Leopold Loriot began this domaine in 1903 in Festigny with grape growing intertwined with his love on music. They were a long time supplier of grapes to Moet.  The present company was established in 1931 and today consists of over 30 acres in Festigny and three neighboring villages. The current generation continues the tradition of a love of music and growers and producers of great Champagne. They are one of the few domaines where Pinot Meunier is the focus. Several different cuvees are made and the Loriot Champagnes are beautifully crafted and delicious. And, as an added bonus, they are great buys! Michael Loriot Champagnes are selected by K&L Wine Merchants and imported by Premier Wine Company, Richmond, CA                                                  

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Michel Loriot Authenic Blanc de Noir
Authenic is the new name for the cuvee previously known as cuvee reserve. This all-estate grown Champagne is 100% Pinot Meunier from the village of Festigny. Half of the wine comes from older reserve wines. Light yellow in color with s subtle floral perfume showing just a hint of citrus and spice, this Blanc de Noir is quite rich and creamy with a nice underlying citrus. It drinks beautifully now – Highly Recommended Plus.    $29.99    Best Buy

Michel Loriot Palmyre Brut Nature
This cuvee was blended specifically to be a zero dosage (no sugar added) Champagne and is composed of 80% Meunier and 20% Chardonnay exclusively from the Loriot estate in the village of Festigny. It has been aged for four years on the lees, and this, in combination with the riper fruit used in the blend, gives it an ease of drinking not usually associated with zero dosage Champagnes. Light yellow in color this Champagne has a gorgeous perfume with hints of peach and citrus and floral nuances. With lots of  bright crisp citrus tinge fruit it has finesse and laser-like focus with a crisp finish. This is a great match for sashimi and sushi as well as raw shell fish and delicate fish dishes – Highly Recommended Plus.   $39.99

Michel Loriot Theodorine Rosé
This all estate-grown rose is composed of 45% Meunier, 40% Chardonnay and 15% red wine from Loriot’s special Pinot Noir vineyard. It is based on the 2009 harvest with a little bit of reserve wines. Pale pink in color with a golden hue, this rosé has a lovely perfume with hints of citrus and raspberry with a very faint spiciness. Very crisp and bright with citrus and raspberry nuances it has great style with depth and a lot of finesse – Outstanding Plus.     $39.99   Best Buy

2007 Michel Loriot Monodie Meunier Extra Brut
This is the new vintage of the Meunier old vines, previously called “Pinot Meunier Vieilles Vignes,” with a new name, “Monodie Meunier.” This single-vineyard Champagne comes from the l’Arpent vineyard, which is slightly less than one acre in the village of Festigny. The vines were planted in 1942 and come from an old massal selection of Meunier. This is the top wine from Loriot. Annual production is only from 250 to 350 cases a year and only in the vintages considered good enough. Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue, this Champagne has a gorgeous perfume with hints of citrus and apricot and a honeyed nuance. It is full, rich, and creamy with a buttery nuance and lovely citrus tinged fruit. The balance in this Extra Brut is impeccable and while delicious to drink now it should keep for a very long time – Outstanding Plus.   $49.99    Best Buy

2006 Michel Loriot Inspiration de Saison Extra Brut
This wine was made with 60% Meunier and 40% Chardonnay and because 2006 was a very ripe year the dosage was reduced to make the wine Extra Brut. It is wonderfully balanced with intensity and flavor and has a great perfume with floral notes and hints of brioche and burnt butter. Creamy and rounded this is an impressively rich Champagne that drinks beautifully now – Outstanding Plus.   $49.99     Best Buy

2004 Michel Loriot Les Sources de Flagot Blanc de Blancs Extra Brut
Only a very small quantity of this wine was produced. It is made from 100% Chardonnay from Festigny and shows a light color and a lovely floral perfume with hints of pear and citrus. Very elegant with citrus tinges this is a Champagne of great refinement and finesse with a distinct underlying crispness – Outstanding.     $44.99

Michel Loriot “Marie-Leopold” Sec
Today Sweet Champagnes  can be sweet and cloying. It seems that extra sugar is added to make up for deficiencies in the base wine. This is a sweet Champagne, but it is so refined and balanced that the sweetness is completely integrated. In the very early days of Champagne all Champagne was sweet. This wine was created to honor the founders of this estate in a style reminiscent of the Champagnes of the past. It is a real experience to taste Champagne such as this. The floral perfume is gorgeous and accented by citrus. Very pure with great elegance and finesse, the flavors are reminiscent of white peach with citrus undertones that give a wonderful yin and yang expression.  Utterly delicious, this Champagne is a great accompaniment to light fresh fruit desserts – Outstanding.        $34.99    Best Buy

 Ariston Apasie

Since 1794 the Ariston family have made champagne in Brouillet. The domaine has 22 acres of vines that are over 35 years of age. Up until recently it was known as Ariston Père & Fils with an old family name Aspasie used for bottlings made from old vines. But, due to some confusion with another Ariston family member’s business the name of the domaine was changed to Apasie with small print on the bottom of the label saying Ariston Père & Fils. So the importer is calling it Ariston Apasie for now so as to not confuse consumers and we will do the same. And, call it what you will, Aspasie, Ariston, or Ariston Apasie, but the fact is that these Champagnes are consistently brilliant and are great values. Ariston Apasie Champagnes are selected by K&L Wine Merchants and imported by Premier Wine Company, Richmond, CA                    .

Ariston [9]

Ariston Apasie Carte Blanche
This Champagne is made from 40% Chardonnay, 30% Pinot Noir, and 30% Pinot Meunier. It is aged on the lees for 5 years instead of the normal 3 which gives the wine a real maturity and richness. This is consistently one of the greatest Champagne values available. Light yellow in color with a faint golden hue, this Carte Blanche has a lovely floral perfume with hints of citrus, spice, and baked bread. Creamy and rich with very nice citrus tinged fruit showing hints of baked apple, it is beautifully balanced, fully mature, and oh so easy to drink and at a price that is hard to resist – Outstanding.    $27.99     Best Buy

Ariston Apasie Blanc de Blancs
This Blanc de Blancs is made from Chardonnay grown on the steep slopes of Brouillet which have less chalk and more fossils in that soil than other areas of  Champagne where Chardonnay is grown. Consequently, it is always a rich, rounded style of Champagne that is  forward and accessible.  Light yellow in color with a lovely perfume showing hints of white peach and citrus with a very faint spiciness, this Blanc de Blancs is creamy and flavorful. It has lovely citrus tinged fruit with a faint hint of crème brulee and is beautifully balanced. Very forward and fully mature this is a delicious Champagne – Outstanding.     $34.99     Best Buy

Ariston Apasie Rosé
The Ariston Rosé is made entirely from estate grown fruit in Brouillet. It is a blend of half Pinot Noir and half Pinot Meunier. The color comes from 12% Meunier from old vine fruit that is vinified red. Again, this Rosé is consistently excellent and a great value in Rosé Champagne. Very light orange pink color with a golden hue, it has a lovely berry tinged perfume with faint citrus and spice nuances. Creamy and rounded with quite lush flavors showing tinges of raspberry and citrus, this is a very attractive rosé – Outstanding.    $34.99   Best Buy

Ariston Apasie Brut de Fût
This is a very rare Champagne. Only 350 cases were produced. It is made from the 2002 production of their oldest vines which were destroyed in the hail of 2003. It is composed of 50% Chardonnay, 25% Pinot Noir, and 25% Pinot Meunier that was barrel fermented, but not aged in oak. This special Champagne is light yellow in color and has a lovely floral perfume tinged with citrus as well as a kiss of spice and a faint exotic nuance. With great fruit again showing a slight exotic quality and a touch of spice, it is creamy and rich. Long and crisp on the finish, this is a wonderful Champagne – Outstanding Plus.     $59.99

Ariston Apasie Cépages d’Antan
This is a rare bottling made with some of the nearly extinct, native varietals of Champagne. It is composed of 40% Meslier, 40% Arbanne and 20% Pinot Blanc. Light yellow in color this rare Champagne has a floral spice perfume with hints of quince, baked bread and citrus. It is creamy, lush, and round with lots of fruit and wonderfully complex flavors hinting of  spice, baked bread, and toasted coconut. This is simply a pleasure to drink and a great tribute to the old native varietal grapes of Champagne – Outstanding Plus.    $99.99


Fallet-Dart is a small Champagne producer that I discovered about 20 years ago. And, I think The Underground Wineletter was the first U.S. publication to review their wines. Since that time I have found the Fallet-Dart Champagnes uniformly excellent. I buy them regularly and drink them often.

Located east of Épernay near Hautvilliers in an area known as “Les Clos du Mont,” grapes have been grown here since the 7th century. The winery has been family owned since 1610. That’s over 400 years, folks! So they have had a very long time to perfect their Champagne and perfect it they have since it is consistently outstanding. Originally it was named Fallet. But, with the marriage of the Fallet and Dart families some 50 years ago the name was changed to Fallet-Dart. The total production today is around 13,000 cases from some 45 acres of vineyard. The estate is currently headed by Paul and Adrien Fallet and they are continuing the history of excellence (to read another article on Fallet-Dart which also includes commentary on another favorite under the radar Champagne, Drappier, click here [10]).

Consistently, Fallet-Dart Champagnes are awarded top ratings at European wine competitions. That’s true for the latest rosé release and, as always, it is stunning. If you do not know Fallet-Dart, this gorgeous rosé is a great place to start! Fallet-Dart Champagnes are imported by Wine Markets International, Plainview, NY.

 Fallet-Dart Rosé [11]

Fallet-Dart Rosé
Always made from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, this current release is a blend of wine from the 2008 and 2009 vintages. Pale reddish pink in color with a faint orange hue, the color is enticing and the floral tinged perfume accented by faint cherry and raspberry nuances gives the impression of what is to come. Creamy with a complex blend of red fruits showing a faint exotic spice tinge, this is a rosé of great charm and finesse and one that is so very easy to drink – Extraordinary.     $60      Best Buy


AR Lenoble

AR Lenoble is a family-owned business now under the direction of the 4th generation. The name AR Lenoble comes from the initials of the founder Armand Raphael and the name “Lenoble” is based on the belief that “Champagne is the most noble of Wines.” The grapes come primarily from their Grand Cru Chardonnay vineyards in Chouilly, one of the Grand Cru villages in the Côte de Blancs and some Pinot Noir from the Premier Cru village of Bisseuil in the Montagne de Reims. This is a Champagne house that consistently produces a range of top quality Champagnes. AR Noble Champagnes are imported by Atherton Wine Imports, San Jose, CA


AR Lenoble Les Aventures Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
This is a special cuvee. It is a blend of the best vintages from a plot of vines totaling just over an acre that are planted in the Grand Cru village of Chouilly at the foot of the Château de Seran. The bottles are aged for nearly 10 years and each bottling is the result of rigorous selection with less than 2000 bottles sold each year. The perfume is stunning with citrus and floral tinged spice accented by honeyed crème brulee nuances. With lots of depth, and great finesse and balance, the impression is one of great purity.  Creamy with an underlying citrus tinged crispness, this is Champagne that has style and great appeal. Indeed, this is a  unique and very special Champagne – Extraordinary.    $74   Best Buy

Launois Père et Fils

For many years now I have been buying the Champagnes from this producer and have made 2 visits there. Launois is consistently one of the very best Blanc de Blanc Champagnes you can buy. Here is what I said in a Champagne article some four years ago (to read that article with notes on the other producers mentioned here as well as a few others click here [13]).

Launois Champagne was founded in 1872.  Today the Launois family owns nearly 46 acres of vineyards mostly in the Grand Cru village of Mesnil.  All Launois Champagnes are Blanc de Blancs and all are Grand Cru.  This producer consistently makes some of the very best Blanc de Blancs Champagnes, and the quality/price ratio is exceptional.  This is a must visit if you are in Champagne, not only for the fabulous Champagne, but to visit Bernard Launois’s private museum.  It encompasses a large portion of the Mesnil village underground.  And it has virtually everything that has to do with Champagne from centuries old wine presses to ash trays with Champagne themes.  Words cannot do it justice.  You have to see it for yourself.  But, if you want to go, you must arrange your visit in advance. 

As usual, the new Launois releases are fabulous. Don’t miss them! Launois Père et Fils Champagnes are selected by K&L Wine Merchants and imported by Premier Wine Company, Richmond, CA                    .

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Launois Père et Fils “Cuvée Reserve” Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
Made primarily from the 2008 harvest with 10% 2007 reserve wine and more than three years on the lees after an all iron vat vinification, this is yet another winner from Launois and a great value. All the wine needs is a bit of bottle age, although it is delicious to drink now. Light yellow in color with a floral perfume offering citrus notes with a faint steely minerality this Blanc de Blancs is very pure and creamy. Beautifully balanced with lovely faintly floral tinged fruit accented by citrus, there is impressive length along with finesse.  All in all this is a really delicious Champagne that offers great value – Outstanding.   $34.99   Best Buy

Launois Père et Fils “Quartz” Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
The Quartz comes from the famous Chettilons parcel and has only about 2/3s the carbonation in normal Champagne. This lower carbonation is difficult to see or taste. But, with less yeast and sugar added during bottling the result is a Champagne of great purity with very expressive fruit. This is a wonderful Champagne that I buy every year and you really owe it to yourself to give it a try. This cuvee is very light in color with a floral citrus perfume and lots of very bright fruit showing faint citrus tinges. It is elegant and finesseful with beautiful balance and a lot of charm – Outstanding.    $39.99     Best Buy

Launois Père et Fils “Veuve Clemence” Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru 
This is the first time Veuve Clemence has been imported. It gets four years of aging as opposed to the Reserve which is aged for three years and it comes from older vineyards.  It is a gorgeous Champagne with a floral citrus tinged perfume accented by hints of peach. Flavorful and creamy with great elegance there is an abundance of very pure fruit with peach and citrus nuances and a faint floral undertone. This is delicious to drink now and should keep for a very long time as well – Outstanding Plus.  $44.99    Best Buy

2008 Launois Père et Fils Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru
The 2008 Launois Blanc de Blancs is a classic in the making. Just now it is a bit restrained.  But make no mistake this Champagne has it all. All it needs is a few years more bottle age to open and then it will blossom over the next 10-20 years. Very light color. Subtle perfume of citrus with floral peach accents. Great intense flavors backed by a bright underlying acidity. Lots of fruit, but restrained. Impressive length. Patience here will be amply rewarded – Outstanding Plus/Extraordinary Potential.      $49.99     Best Buy


Champagne toast [15]

champagne glasses [16]