Wine connoisseurs prize wine with small production and allocation, so “small is beautiful” is often one of the selling points. Mass production is usually associated with mediocre-quality or even entry-level wine. However, most champagne houses produce massive volume that they cleverly hide behind their prestigious and luxurious packaging. The issue of production quantity is often bypassed.
I was quite surprised to see that Maison Charles de Cazanove disclosed this sensitive information on its website. Its annual production of over three million bottles, while big compared to most still wine brands, is actually only 10% less than the biggest champagne brands.
Founded in 1811, Charles de Cazanove is one of the oldest and last of the family-owned, independent champagne houses in France. Under the second-generation leadership of Charles Nicolas, the house grew into a respectable company, supplying wine to royalty and politicians in Austria, France and the UK. Although sales increased tenfold in the 1950s when Amaury, the grandson of Charles Nicolas, became the chairman, the house was subsequently sold and under corporation ownership. It was only in 2004 when Maison Charles de Cazanove was bought out and became family owned once again.
Free from the corporate shackles, Charles de Cazanove now focuses on raising the quality standard. The grapes come from both its 35-hectare family-owned vineyards and 265-hectare long-term contracted sites. The wines are typically blends of 20 different crus (vineyard sites), with around 20% reserve for consistency and a minimum 24 months ageing on lees.
Charles de Cazanove’s current winemaker, Christophe Rapeneau, was named Sparkling Winemaker of the Year 2017 by the International Wine Challenge. In September 2019, Nielsen reported that Charles de Cazanove was the fourth-bestselling champagne in France.
I had a chance to taste the Traditional Millesime Brut 2007, a Chardonnay-dominated bubbly with 12 years ageing, of which nine years were on lees. It has a round mouthfeel, with layers of yellow fruits, nuts, toast and a hint of savouriness – a steal at just under HK$500 per bottle. I can’t think of any similar-quality champagne at this price!
Vintage champagne is only made in the best years with the best grapes, so these bottles are usually outstanding. To confirm if a champagne house is delivering the quality it claims, it’s best to judge its non-vintage wine. Charles de Cazanove Tête de Cuvée Brut NV is a Pinot Noir blend. It’s lively, with harmonious citrus, apple and brioche aromas. It’s consistently rated over 90 points by international wine critics and is served in the business class cabins of several major airlines.
If you want to try champagne other than the big labels, why not Charles de Cazanove? It’s available in Hong Kong from Telford International and other major online wine shops.
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