Regions: Champagne with Charles Curtis MW

January 3, 2024
1 hr 15 mins
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Yule Georgieva: Okay. Recording, recording. Looks like we're good. Okay. Let's do it. Welcome to Chats from the Wine Cellar. I'm Ula Georgieva, and this is the Official Inventory Podcast. I am very excited to have our friend Charles Curtis, Master of Wine, back in the hot seat, this time to talk about champagne. Charles, welcome back.

Charles Curtis: Thanks so much. Thanks for having me. It's great to be here and to talk about champagne, of course.

Yule Georgieva: one of your many passions. I know last time we did auctions, so it's nice to actually delve into a bit of a region. So let's dive right in and you tell us how you got into Champagne, what your connection to the region is.

Charles Curtis: Ah, I got in many, many years ago. Um, and for as long as I can remember before I was of legal drinking age, I loved champagne, there was, it goes way, way back with me, but I think what really kicked it off for me was a field trip for school. I was studying at the Cordon Bleu in Paris and they took us to champagne for the day and we visited a couple of properties and uh, I remember being just totally blown away with the whole experience. Like everybody we met, all the wine that was in 1990. And then I went back several times in the nineties. I was, by that time I had gotten, I was no longer a chef and I was working in the wholesale wine trade and I got, I went back working for a couple of importers and then in 2001, I left that aspect of the industry and started working for Moet Hennessy.

And as you probably know, they own five champagne houses. And so from that time, I was going to champagne easily four or five times a year, every year, taking groups of salespeople, journalists, all sorts of people. So I think I know the region really well with that and Burgundy are the two regions I know the best and I go back. Several times a year, I'm still going four or five times a year. And, uh, and I just love champagne. Can't drink enough of it.

Yule Georgieva: For those who don't know, can you explain where it is?

Charles Curtis: Sure. Champagne. It's important to emphasize that champagne is a place before it's anything else. It's a place in France. It's just shy of 35,000 hectares, which is about 80,000 acres. It's east and slightly north of Paris. It's sort of in between the Ardennes, which is the forest on the border with Germany and...Belgium and Paris. It's in a region called the Paris basin. The Paris basin is a large deposit of chalk, which in, uh, some places can be, it can go down into the earth as much as, uh, 300 meters. So it was deposited during the Jurassic period. And, uh, the chalk eventually got to be so heavy that it caused the crust of the earth literally to down war.

And so it's a, it's a, that's why it's called the Paris basin. It's a, it's a depression and the earth's crust is just sort of like filled in with chalk and the chalk makes the perfect, uh, terroir for growing champagne because it holds enough water without, uh, holding too much. So it drains, but it holds enough water so that the vines can, can be nourished. It gives the vines the nutrients that they need. And the chalk is really is one key to.

Champagne and it's a, there's a few other regions where they have chalk like Jerez in Spain has a lot of chalk. Um, but it's really relatively rare, especially to have it at that depth. And, uh, that's one of the keys. Another key to champagne, what really sets it apart is the fact that it's a cold. It's, it's at the Northern limit of where you can actually grow wine grapes. They always say, if you take your WSET classes that you can't grow grapes north of 50 degrees north latitude. And champagne is at 49.5 degrees north latitude. It's like right there at the limit. And, uh, it's kind of an interesting thing because the, so they've been making wine and champagne for, you know, literally for 2000 years and, and for most of that time, the wine was really terrible. I mean, it was, it was awful because it was thin, it lacked strength and power and flavor. And it was, it was weak and it was highly acidic. And, uh, it must've been really revolting. I think now in the time of global warming, the, the regular wine that you make in champagne is, is getting better, you know, almost every year, almost noticeably from year to year, it's getting better, but before they figured out how to put the bubbles in.

The stuff was really pretty nasty. And the, uh, the secret of champagne, the secret of sparkling champagne is this, that it had to be sort of substandard wine, which was brought up to a level of excellence by this method, the champagne method that we'll, I'm assuming we'll talk about in just a minute, and that's essentially is a method of enrichment.

So you enrich it just enough. And if you started out with something that was tasty on its own and enriched it, then it would be too rich. It would be heavy. It would be cloying. It wouldn't be good. But in Champagne, it's a super marginal climate and it just barely ripens it enough so that by the time you do this enrichment, it's absolutely perfect. So it's the cool climate. It's the chalky soils. And then it's the slope of the Paris Basin itself, the hills that face east and sometimes south and let it catch the rays of the sun. So that really what happens is you get enough expression of the fruit from the grapes without having a high level of alcohol, even today, even during global warming, it's relatively rare that the grapes ripen to more than 10.5% potential alcohol. So most wine, we used to think of wine as like, 12.5 was kind of standard. Now, if you even in Burgundy, like 13.5 is standard in California, 14.5, 15 even is very, very common. And in some places, regular still wine can be 15, 16%, you know, but in champagne, they struggle to get to 10 and a half. And that's, that's really the secret of it. And at 10 and a half, it has a beautiful expression of the fruit, which you know, gives it that aroma and the flavor without being too heavy. And it retains enough acidity that, that can balance out the richness of the champagne method.

Yule Georgieva: So many factors coming together, the chalk, the slope, the climate to make champagne so special. So it does give you an idea of just how rare this area is. But can you give us a sense of what does it feel like when you're there? Right? Because there are a few little towns, or I don't know how big Epernay and Rem are. You've been there, I've never been there, but I don't know how big they are. So there are some towns there, but when you're going to the vineyards, I've never been there.

Charles Curtis: You've never been there. I'm telling you, you have to stop what you're doing right now and get on a plane and go there because it is the most. Visitable French wine region. I think it is because everyone goes to Paris, like probably 99 out of a hundred people when they're going to France, they're going to Paris, but you can be in Champagne in the center of Champagne in 38 minutes, if you take the TGV from the center of Paris, so it's like a day trip.

Yule Georgieva: That's very precise. You've taken this crane.

Charles Curtis: Yeah, many times, many, many times. You have to get the right one. Cause some are 41 minutes. You don't want that when you want 37 minutes. And, uh, often what I do now is I don't go to Paris. I usually don't go to Paris without my wife because I'll just spend money that I don't need to spend and unless she's with me, it's kind of a waste. I usually rent a car and go straight to Paris. If you do that, you're in for about a 90 minute car ride from the airport.

Yule Georgieva: Oh heavens.

Charles Curtis: By the time you deal with traffic and everything, but it's very, very doable. It's closer than Burgundy. It's closer than any other region. And it's really great. So you've got France, which is spelled R E I M S. Um, a lot of times if French people are speaking to an English speaker, they'll say Reims, but, uh, the way French people say it is France and you'll see that I usually use French pronunciation just because I think it's a French thing. So I should say it the way French people say it.

For example, the producer of comp de champagne is Tatanger, which is how French people would say it. Most Americans say Tatanger and you can keep saying Tatanger. The Brits would say the same thing, but it's actually, it's a, it's a German name, so they would say Tatanger or Ballinger. Right. Exactly. Yeah. So I, so I always use the French pronunciation. So anyhow, you've got Rains, which is, which is a big.

Yule Georgieva: Same as Bollinger, eh? Bollinger.

Charles Curtis: city, it's got over a hundred thousand people. I would say not a big city. It's, it's nowhere near as big, for example, as Bordeaux or Nice or Lyon, but it's, it's much bigger than bone, for example, in Burgundy or tour in the Loire Valley. So it's a pretty decent size city. And there's loads to see because it was invaded by Julius Caesar and the Romans in the first, uh, first.

Yule Georgieva: Yeah.

Charles Curtis: a couple of decades of the, of the common era. And they've still got plenty of Roman ruins. They have this really great arch from the third century. They have in the middle of town, there's all this stuff to see from Gallo Roman times, but then there's the cathedral, which is worth a visit. By its, even if you didn't drink wine at all, it'd be worth it to go see this cathedral. It's one of the most amazingly perfect Gothic cathedrals in the world. It's been a UNESCO world heritage site forever. So there's loads of reasons to go to Champagne. Then of course, unfortunately, it was, it was almost completely destroyed in world war one and it was rebuilt and then they rebuilt it. Uh, and they put up a lot of old, uh, like art deco buildings. There's it's a treasure trove of like art deco architecture and, and there's like really great restaurants. And so that's kind of the center administrative center of Champagne. It's like the capital. Of champagne, it's the seat of government for the region is there. But really the wine making capital is Eperoné. That's where the CIBC is based. And, uh, that's where, uh, Moet de Chandon is based, which is still the largest producer of champagne in the world. And, and there's, so there's a lot of, and that's sort of, Eperoné is kind of closer to the vineyards and to get to the vineyards from Reims, you had to get out of town. You get on the highway, you drive several exits, and then it's a bit of a schlep. But, but in Epernay, you go outside of the town of Epernay and boom, and inside of, there's actually vineyards in the city center of Epernay. There's vineyards in the city center of Reims too, but anyhow. So then those are the two main towns. Then there's Chalon aux Champagnes, which is a bigger town, but it doesn't have any vineyards.

And then there are at present at least 319 villages that range in size from like less than 500 inhabitants to like 2000 inhabitants. So little town, little villages, a lot of them are unremarkable. Some of them are scenic and some are slightly bigger, like Ayi, which is the one that's spelled AY with the note over the Y. So Ayi is like slightly bigger. Um, anyhow, it's, it's a nice region to visit. So essentially there are four main sub regions in Champaign.

There's what's called the Montagne de Reims, the Côte de Blanc, the Valais de la Marne and the Côte de Barre. So Montagne de Reims is the one that everybody thinks of because it's closest to the city of Reims. It's the largest, there's the most villages there. It's called a mountain, but it's not really a mountain. It's, uh, it's like 320 meters tall.

Yule Georgieva: Is that the slope of the Paris basin that you were mentioning?

Charles Curtis: Um, it's actually, it's a, it's technically it's what's known as an outlier of the Paris Basin. So it's like a freestanding hill, pretty good size hill that's connected to what's in geological terms called the Cuesta of the Paris Basin. But anyhow, so it's, it's essentially it's, it's almost freestanding and binds go almost all the way around it, which is especially at that latitude, fairly remarkable because there's vineyards on the north facing slopes on the east facing slopes and on the south facing slopes. And, uh, so it's, it actually starts just south of the city of wales. So then you go up the hill and then you're at the top and then you can either go down to the east or to the north side or to the south side. It's, um, it's, uh, difficult cause you can't really go around the base of it. But, uh, but you go up to the top and then you can shoot down to wherever you need to be. So, so that's an interesting region. It's mostly, but not exclusively devoted to Pinot Noir. People always say that's where all the Pinot Noir is, but actually there's a number of villages where Chardonnay dominates. And then there are some parts, especially in the part that's called the Petit Montagne, the little mountain, which is sort of off to the side where they grow a lot of Meunier.

And so those are the three main grapes in champagne. Those account for more than 98% of the total planted. There's actually seven grapes in total that are authorized, but, uh, but 98.5% is Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier. Sometimes people say Pinot Meunier, but in champagne, they usually just say Meunier. So those are more or less a third of each, which is more or less the blend of an average, a non-vintage blend. And then if you have one that's entirely Chardonnay, it's called a Blanc de Blanc. And then if you have one that's black grapes, it's called a Blanc de Noir. And a Blanc de Noir can be a hundred percent Pinot Noir. It is most often that. It can also be a hundred percent Meunier, which is much more rare. And sometimes it's a blend of Meunier and Pinot Noir.

Yule Georgieva: So before we carry on with our tour and get to the other regions, can you just give us a quick idea of what the stylistic characteristics of those three varietals are? So if you have a blonde noire or a pinot noir-based champagne, what can you expect versus if you have a blonde blanc or a Chardonnay-based champagne?

Charles Curtis: Sure. They always say that Chardonnay brings the brilliance and the freshness to the blend, that Pinot Noir brings the substance, the ageability and the power to the blend, and the Meunier brings the fruit and floral aromas to the blend. That's in a nutshell, typically what they say. It's quite often that you have Blanc de Blanc champagnes. I guess it's a relatively common style.

Blanc de noir is perhaps somewhat less common. You can run a risk unless you're a skillful winemaker and careful in the way you do it, that it can be a little heavy because it's, it's more substantial. There's more extract, there's more power, and there's less sort of overt fruit aromas. Um, in the hands of a skilled winemaker, it can be a really great style. And you find those often in the southern slopes of the, of the montagna.

Um, and often in the Cote de Barre as well. Um, and then Meunier, 100% Meunier, Champagnes are starting to get more and more popular. People, Meunier has always suffered a little bit by comparison to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Um, what they always say in the region is that, sorry, is that Chardonnay takes the bubble best. And so it's thought to be essential to the blend because it.

The effervescence is the longest lasting and the most brilliant. Um, but they always have had a secret, uh, affinity for not, we're not so secret for Pinot Noir, which is seen as the most noble of the grapes and, uh, and Minier is the thing about Minier. And the reason that it's grown in champagne is that it's, it's heartier than Pinot Noir. It's easier to grow than Pinot Noir.

Cause it buds out later and it ripens earlier. So it's not as susceptible to frost in the springtime or rain at harvest. And because of the fact that it's a little more resilient than Pinot Noir, it's often been planted in the crappy locations because it's been planted in the crappy locations, it's gotten sort of a bad rep, but there's nothing innately inferior really, and Meunier planted in a good location can actually be superb. So people kind of look down on Meunier.

Charles Curtis: And a hundred percent many of the champagnes were made, but they were, there were none that were prestigious. And, and so now that's starting to change that it's getting to be kind of a trendy thing to, to have a hundred percent many of the champagnes.

Yule Georgieva: Interesting. Okay, well, we're on the tour now, so let's continue with the tour. We did the montagne, let's carry on with the others. And if you can again point out some of the key styles or the varietals, that'd be great.

Charles Curtis: Sure, Sir, the Montagnard.

Okay. So just south of the city are the north facing slopes of the Montaigne. And as you circumnavigate in a clockwise direction, you end up on the south side. The south side of the Montaigne flows right into the Valle de la Marne. So the Marne river valley. So the Montaigne stops at the Marne river and, and there are grapes lining the Marne river for quite a distance. It's about the 80 kilometers worth of vineyards. So it's, it's a pretty good distance. And there's grapes on the right bank of the Marne, which are thought to be better because there's south facing slopes. Generally they are better. And then there's vines on the south bank or the left bank, which are not considered as good, but then, then there's other sort of little sub regions in there. There's the valley of the Sur-Milan. For example, and then there's the Western Marne. So that whole region, there's all three grape varieties planted, but it's really dominated largely by Meunier. So that's, that's what it's known for. Although you can easily find all three grape varieties there. And that goes back almost as to the Ouskerts of Paris. Well, not really, but it's the westernmost region of Champagne.

And so the town of Epernay is also located on the Martin River and flows right through it. And south of the town of Epernay is the Cote de Blanc. So it sort of starts there, goes south. And people think it's a little bit confusing because when you say Cote de Blanc, it means a specific part that starts in Chouilly and ends in Vertu, which is the, what, technically, if you want it to be technically correct, I think you'd call the principal quest of the Cote de Blanc, but there's actually a bunch of other sub regions that are usually grouped together and considered also part of the Cote de Blanc just because Chardonnay dominates all of them. So immediately to the south of that main part. So the main part that I just said, the principal quest essentially is where all the Grosme Cruz and all the Poimier Cruz Bar 1 are located. And, uh, so after the main part, then you come to what's known as the Coteau de Pithymoron. The Pithymoron is another river. There's vines on the slopes of that river and sort of in the back country around there as well. Again, dominated by Chardonnay. Then to the south of that is the Coteau du Cézanne, which is the area around Cézanne, which is sort of like a sub-region of the Cote de Blanc. It's again, mostly Chardonnay. Some of those two areas have uh, black grapes. So mostly, uh, men, but some peanut, but not so much peanut more. And, um, and then there's a considerable gap. And then you come to another region called Mongue, which is a hundred percent Chardonnay. It's just one village. It's outside of the city of Troy. Excuse me. Where Joan of Arc is from. And, um, it was one of the most beautiful places in the world. I love going to.

I almost always go to Troyes for many reasons, because I love the wines of Montgoult and it's on the border of the Côte de Barre. And also that's where Andriette are from. And I'm a huge fan of Andriette. I don't know if you know Andriette. It's a sausage made by stuffing intestines inside more intestines. And so it's a French thing, but it's really good. It goes superbly well with champagne. Also goes with Chablis because it's

Yule Georgieva: Sounds like it would go well with champagne.

Charles Curtis: It's, it was not very far from the border with Chibli. So if you drove straight from Rance to Troyes, you'd be like 90 minutes on the freeway. So it's a long way. And there are some vineyards to, along that way from the Coteau de Petit Morin, the Cézanne, et cetera. But there's a bunch of nothing in between. And, and then you get down, uh, outside of Troyes, south, sort of south, the east of Troyes, what's called the Côte de Barre. There's the two parts. There's the Bar Secane and the Bar Sur Au Bois. And it's a pretty big sub region. It's actually accounts for 20% of all the grapes that are planted in champagne. And once again, you come in, it's very weird and no one's ever been able to explain it properly to me, but in the Côte de Barre, well, actually, no.

I do have a sort of an explanation, but anyhow, it's dominated by Pinot Noir. 90% of the grapes planted are Pinot Noir. The thing is the soil is completely different. It's no longer chalk. Like we were talking about for the rest of the region. It's actually Kimmerigen, Marl Kimmerigen, Limestone Kimmerigen clay, and which are the same like Chibli. And it's right on the border with Chibli. So once you're in the, in the Côte d'Ivoire, you're literally only 40 kilometers from.

Yule Georgieva: like Shibley.

Charles Curtis: uh, Chablis itself, and you're literally less than 10 kilometers from the border with the Cote d'Or, the département. So it's like right there. And in Chablis, they have the same soil type and, uh, it's all planted to Chardonnay, almost all planted to Chardonnay. Whereas in the Cote d'Ivoire, it's all planted to Pininor. The reason really is that, uh, the Cote d'Ivoire did not have a huge number of producers of its own and most of the growers who were there were selling the grapes to the Negotion houses that were based in and around Aras and Epéone and those guys were buying Pinot Noir. So it was more an economical thing it was more about economics and it was about viticulture really and Because I think you know, there's still very little Chardonnay down there and I think when they do grow Chardonnay, it's super successful and that's the Cote de Barre is also the place where most of the other grape varieties are found when you find them. You don't find them that much, but there's Pinot Blanc, there's Pinot Gris, there's Arban, there's Petit Melier, and those are mostly found in the Côte d'Ivoire.

Yule Georgieva: So just to sum up, there's the Montagne de Rhin, there's the Vallée de la Marne that goes to the west, there's the Cote Blanche, and then we continue on the Cote de Cézanne and the Cote de Barre. Now in terms of quality, would you say that the first three, the Montagne de Rhin, the Vallée de la Marne, and the Cote Blanche, tend to be associated with higher quality than the other two, or is it really more producer dependent?

Charles Curtis: No, it totally depends on producers. Now there's absolutely exquisite champagnes produced in all of those places. Yeah. I don't think you can generalize. I think they're very different. Tehwah. But, uh, oh, and there's one part of the, the Cote de Blanc I didn't mention. I don't know why is the Vitreat. It just occurred to me that I left out the Vitreat. It's a smallish region and it's, it's very far east of the rest of it. It's sort of due north of the Cote de Barre, which is what made me think of it just now. But anyhow, I think, uh, that you could, I would not at all say that the Martin produces higher quality champagne than the old, for example.

Yule Georgieva: Interesting. OK, so speaking of quality, let's talk about another distinction that I think people sometimes associate does speak to quality, is the distinction between houses and grower champagnes. Because first explain what those two terms mean. And then I do think some people assume that growers may be higher quality than houses. Maybe they assume the other way. But I'd also be curious on your thoughts there. So can you explain those two terms?

Charles Curtis: Sure. So, uh, in champagne, it's a very highly regulated industry and they're required to declare on the label, the, uh, the statute under which they're organized. So there are negotiations who buy, who often own vineyards and in fact, some own very extensive vineyards. Um, but they're distinguished by the fact that they buy grapes and or juice and or finished wine and blend the champagnes, um, and then age them. And then there are recoltant, manipulant who, uh, recoltant means a harvester and manipulant means a manufacturer. So there are people that make wine from their own, uh, production. And then there, there are other statutes as well. There's co-ops, co-ops are, uh, about account for about 10% of the total. Um, and so there's cooperatives and then there are people that just, uh, there's Marc d'Ache-Tur, which is, uh, somebody who doesn't make wine at all, but just, uh, invents a label and slaps the label on it. And, and, uh, within each of those, uh, categories, there, there are variations as well, there's Récolte en Coopérateur. So that's somebody who grows grapes but delivers their grapes to the co-op. And then the co-op makes the wine and gives them bottles of finished wine back and they put their own label on it. So most of the, so it's RCRMCMNMA. Those are the, when you look at the label, that's what you'll see in very fine print on the bottom of the label. And that's the secret to that. And you had mentioned that.

Some people assumed that growers were higher in quality innately higher in quality than Negotia. And I don't think that's true at all. Um, I think that would be, I think so. Uh, Negotia account for about 80% of all the wine that's produced in, in champagne. And there are, uh, amazingly high quality negotiations and there are amazingly crap quality negotiations. So there's a full range. My preferred brand of champagne, I will show you, is Krug. Oh yeah, I always keep a bottle of Krug lying around. But anyhow, for me that's by far my preferred champagne. And they're a negotiation.

Yule Georgieva: Oh, you have it handy.

Charles Curtis: They own some vineyards, but they buy in most of their fruit as do most negotions. And so, you know, I don't think given that one example or so many other examples, like Bollinger is a negotiant and Tétange is a negotiant. And, you know, a lot of the champagnes that we really love to drink are produced by negotions. And so I don't think there's any way you could possibly say they're innately lower in quality than somebody who grows the grapes themselves and makes their own wine. Then they're limited by their own vineyards as to what is available to them to make champagne with. And now there are some extraordinarily high quality recleton manipulants of grower champagnes. And I do drink a lot of grower champagne. But I'll tell you the truth of the matter is this.

So I have, my wife and I, we probably drink champagne three to five nights a week. We have a lot of champagne along with burgundy. That's what we drink in my house. That is indeed, that is indeed, it's definitely one of them. So, so we always have champagne lying around the apartment and it's almost always non-vintage champagne quite often from a grower. But I also have

Yule Georgieva: That's the key to a happy marriage, I suppose then, right?

Charles Curtis: a not gigantic, but a satisfyingly growing collection of wines that's in professional storage. And that is almost all with a few exceptions, but almost all grand Marc houses and Negocion houses. Most of its crew. There's a lot of Dom Pérignon. There's some Clos de Guasse. There's Tete Anche Compte Champagne. Cases of it lying there, unopened, waiting for it to mature properly. So for me, if you're laying wines down, uh, it's almost always the negotiation, the ground, you know, the prestige cuvettes from the negotiation houses. And if you're drinking it tonight or next week or something, it's almost always non-vintage wine from the growers. And so that's the way I sorted out. Everyone has their own and there are, it's not to say that there aren't. Prestige cuvettes from growers that are capable of aging 30, 40, 50 years. That definitely is, is the thing.

But it's relatively more rare to find that than the alternative. And conversely, I find to be quite honest and blunt, since we're just amongst friends here, that the non-vintage blends from the big negotiation houses are often kind of boring. So I don't really buy them. And I find that they charge a premium form because of the brand recognition. And so I don't think they're, they represent value in the same way as some of those really exciting.

Non-vintage blends from, from growers can, but, but when it comes to laying wine down. So in other words, if I'm spending 50 or 60 bucks, I'm buying grower juice all day long. If I'm spending two, three, four, five, $600 or more on a bottle of champagne, which I do with some regularity, it's almost always prestige cuvee from a grown Mark house.

Yule Georgieva: Interesting. So the reason I asked the question is because I do think grower champagnes has become sort of a trend, right? You hear a lot of people talking about grower champagnes and seeking these out. But I agree with you. I think some of the finest wines from the region are those, the Grand Marc higher quality Prestige Quivet. So that was a great overview. And you sorted out.

Charles Curtis: So I think, you know, just not to go down the rabbit hole, but, but just, uh, to talk economics a little bit in truth, as a percentage of the total is relatively small. There's less, it's the smallest of the three between the three big groups, negotiations, co-ops and growers. Growers are the smallest and of the grow, what, what people think are growers, a lot of them are Recolton Co-operative, which is, uh, somebody who's growing their own grapes, but having the juice made at the co-op, which to me that lacks all interest. And then, uh, so if you take out just the growers, the recalculto menipiron, really, uh, there's a lot of them that are good, but you know, they're nothing to write home about. Of the ones that, that are really special, really there's probably like 200 that are special.

And of that, there's really maybe 50 that have started to come to people's attention. And there's probably 20 that are ferociously trendy and are starting to sell for serious money. So it's a relatively small thing. I think it's getting more share of mind among collectors and well-heeled consumers. But the total amount of grower champagne is actually declining. And...

Yule Georgieva: Mmm.

Charles Curtis: even as the notoriety of the most famous ones continues to increase.

Yule Georgieva: Interesting. Okay. Well, speaking of the wines that you are lying down, let's just talk about aging champagne for a moment before we get into the process of how it's made. So is champagne a wine that we can age and what happens to it as you age it?

Charles Curtis: Yes, definitely you can age it. And I think it's a mistake to drink the best champagnes before their 20 years of age is, is an error. And, uh, most of them would benefit by being, you know, 30 to 40 years of age. Um, but they can often last 60, 70 years, 70 years. That's, that's like 1950. So. You know, the wines from the fifties, there's no reason that if they're properly stored, that they shouldn't be amazing. And they can last longer than that. So the oldest champagne I've had that still had bubbles in was, was fun to drink because I've had older champagnes, but they, they were kind of shocked. But, but the oldest one that I had that was really a delight to drink was a bottle of 26 group that I had in like 2012. So it would have been like 85 years of age. So it can, they can definitely age, I would say as long as most Bordeaux were burgundy really. And what happens is they get deeper in color, they lose some of their fizz. It's often the case that, that I mean, first of all, they, so they get deeper in color. You don't want them to be brown, but they can be a deep golden color.

If they're from the sixties or fifties, you would sort of expect that. And then the mousse, which is what the, how the French refer to the bubbles. The mousse can be relatively faint at that age, but there should be some. And like I said, I've had bottles that still had fizz in from the twenties. So it's definitely, I've had more than just that one, a number of them. Um, but you, as you go further back in time, you get more and more bottles that don't have any bubbles. And sometimes they can be good to drink, but they just don't have any bubbles. And, and that, at that point, it's like drinking white burgundy. And that can still be fun, but you're sort of missing one element of it. And then what happens to the flavor? It gets more complex, sort of like white burgundy along the same line. So you can have eventually, you know, creamy aromas, then toasty aromas, then more umami aromas. And then ultimately like truffle and forest floor. And, you know, it ages in a similar way to, to white burgundy. And, and the ones that have a lot of Pinot noir, you can get some of the notes of red burgundy, even, you know, I think usually if you go as far as. Like soy sauce, for example, then it's like kind of too far, but, um, but it definitely gets really complex, very pungent, uh, drinking old champagne is, is one of the great pleasures in life. In fact, as you probably know, you're going to let me plug my book, right? Vintage Champagne, 1899 to 2019. So I look at 120 years of worth of vintages and at 120 different producers. And I talk about all of them that I've had many of them that I've had over the years. So I love mature champagne and I think really.

You know, vintage champagne is good to drink at, at any age, but like I said, it's kind of a waste to drink it if it's not 20 years of age, for example, I think, uh, there's a definitely when I'm buying vintage champagne to lay down, there's a, there's a, it ages often six, eight, 10 years before they release it into the market right now, the top houses are releasing their 2012 for example. So they've been aging in the cellars and champagne for 10 years, but you need that at least another 10 years before they're ready to drink. And then the 2008s are a great vintage that's been released, but to me, they're not ready to drink yet. I think, you know, four is a good vintage to drink. Um, two is a good vintage, a really good vintage to drink now. Um, and then, you know, every vintage is slightly different and requires to understand when to drink it requires analogy of what's that? My book, yeah. But also, but also you should know what you like because some people don't like older champagne and some people really love it. So, you know, for me, the sweet spot is between, you know, in terms of like what I can afford and what I can find in the market and what's going to be in good condition. The sweet spot is sort of 79 to 88. That's where I'm drinking most of my vintage champagne when I'm bringing vintage champagne.

Yule Georgieva: It requires your book.

Charles Curtis: And then to me, anything older than that, you know, like early seventies and before is, is definitely mature. Some, which some people don't even like, but, but then there's great loads of great vintages in the sixties, 69, 66, 64, 62 are all great vintages. And then, you know, and then, but then after that, it starts getting expensive. So you have to be prepared to step up like to get proper stock from the early sixties, late fifties, you're talking at least a one to.

Yule Georgieva: Which, you know, it's interesting you point out, and by the way, I was going to hold up your book as well, because I have my copy handy. And I'm very happy that 1988 turned out to be a very good vintage because that is my birth year. So I need to go stock up on some 80. I know I read the chapter on 1988. So I'm very chuffed to go out and stock up. But what, so for those higher quality wines that you think need about 20 years of age, at that stage, is that just to you the optimal balance of the-

Charles Curtis: Yes, yes, yes.

Ah, one of my favorites! You should have a bunch of-

Yule Georgieva: Moose is in a good position, the complexity, like you said, it evolves kind of on the flavor side, like a white burgundy on the aromatic side. Is it all sort of in that sweet spot after 20? And what's the window, like 20 to 40?

Charles Curtis: That's where it starts. That's where it starts to hit its sweet spot and it ramps up for at least another 20 years before that. So figure 20 years back is 02. For the top wines, I don't want to drink anything younger than 02. It doesn't make any sense. And then there's a really great period from like 02 to 82 are great vintage. There's there's, it's a great chunk and the wines are

Yule Georgieva: Yeah. Right.

Charles Curtis: should be all in really great condition and there's some really great vintages in there. And so that's like the sweet spot, that 20 years. And then, and then so sort of 82 to 62, the wines are more mature and it's more of a specialist thing like for serious collectors and the wines are much more expensive and then older than 62, they're kind of ferociously expensive and much more.

Yule Georgieva: But even then, as you mentioned in your book, the price for even those very exclusive champagnes is still going to be lower than the top quality of Burgundy, for example.

Charles Curtis: We're going to be, for example, yes, indeed. It gets, there's still plenty of, uh, of, uh, room to add value for them to appreciate. And I think that they will. It, the market's been very, very strong for collectible champagne. It's been getting stronger all the time. The top wines, you know, the thing about champagne that makes it interesting from the perspective of collecting them is that, uh, people tend to drink champagne. You know, it, people tend to drink.

DRC too, but at a slower rate. I mean, I think if you're buying top end burgundy, it's almost assumed you're going to lay it down and it's going to be like a special occasion thing. But champagne, even the best champagne, people open and drink because they're celebrating because it has that association with celebration, with festivity, with new years, with closing a deal, with a big birthday, something like that. And, uh, and so I

Yule Georgieva: or just a regular Tuesday at the Curtis household, it seems.

Charles Curtis: Oh yeah, that's what I'm talking about. That's how we roll at my house.

Yule Georgieva: I need to come visit more often.

Charles Curtis: Indeed you do.

Yule Georgieva: Okay, perfect. Man, I love your household. Five days a week champagne. That's my kind of house. Have you ever not finished a bottle of champagne that you've opened?

Charles Curtis: Uh, it's rare.

But it happens quite often that we open more than one. So sometimes.

Yule Georgieva: There you go. That sounds good. Okay, perfect. Well, so Charles, let's get into the most difficult topic to cover in a short amount of time, the process of how champagne is made, because this is what makes it really special. So there are many steps involved here. Let's try to do them all at a high level just to give people a sense of how this works, but can you walk us through from the pressing? We don't have to spend too much time on the viticulture. We did talk about how it's cooler, so your grapes might not be as ripe as in other places. But let's start from pressing and go through all the way to the final bottling.

Charles Curtis: Ah, but I disagree because the first thing that you need to mention, which is, uh, almost unique in Champaign is that by law you have to pick by hand. So in a lot of other regions, that's not the case. And so you have, you must pick by hand and, uh, that's where it starts because you have to press whole bunches. So the pressing is a very important step and it's required. It's required that they be whole bunches.

Yule Georgieva: Alright, you win.

Charles Curtis: And the thing that makes champagne different is that you're allowed to press only a given amount of juice, uh, for a set quantity of fruit. So you're allowed to press, not that you need to know the exact numbers, but you're allowed to press 2,550 liters out of 4,000 kilograms, which is a very light and gentle pressing. And the reason that they insist on that is to ensure the elegance and the delicacy of the, of the wine, but also because you've got, uh, to in the normal makeup of things. You've got two thirds black grapes and one third white grapes, but more often than not you're making white wine. And the only way to do that, all the color is in the skin. So you have to press it very gently. That's why the regulations started. But it's a qualitative thing because that gentle pressing means that the wine is going to be very elegant. And so the pressing is slow and sometimes it's pneumatic presses and sometimes it's vertical presses and vertical presses are more traditional, but some people use a pneumatic press. And then you separate that juice into sections. The first section is called the cuvee, which is 2,050 liters. And then there's 500 liters of what's called Thai, which is a slightly harder press. And then anything above that gets sent to the distillery.

People don't realize it, but you're required to press all the juice out of it, but you're also required to account for it and that you sent it to the distillery. So it gets distilled into a grain neutral spirit for like industrial uses. So that, that pressing step is, is super important in champagne. Then you've got grape juice and what you do is you ferment it into wine, Abdi, and the way you do that though, it can be done in any number of different ways. Traditionally, if you go back like pre 1950, it was all done in oak casks. And in the fifties then some people started doing it in concrete. And then by the sixties and into the seventies, more people were switching to stainless steel. Now there's a lot of people that ferment in stainless steel, but they like it because it's neutral and you can control the temperature very easily.

But there's also a lot of people that ferment in, in cask that there's a lot of people that never stopped. And there's other people that went back to it after experimenting with concrete or stainless. And now there's people fermenting in M4 in glass jars and just like in a lot of regions, but by, you know, the, the basic choice is cask or stainless and that's an important step and it contributes to the flavor of the wine. Then after that, you've got another important step, which is whether or not you're going to do maloactic conversion. So it used to be the case that it was always done and then some people decided to block it. If you block maloactic conversion, then you have more malic acid. So it's a racier acidity, more tartness, but the people that block malo often will compensate for that in the dosage the section, but anyhow, so, so whether or not you do mallow is important. And after you do it or block it, then you bottle the wine. And when you bottle the wine, you bottle it with yeast and sugar. And then you put a cap or a cork in the bottle. It used to always be a cork. And then, uh, starting in the, in the fifties, it got to be much more common that you'd put a crown cap like you find on beer or soda or something like that. Um, and so now most of it is that way because it's easier to manipulate, but there are other people that are going back to using cork during this stage. But anyhow, you, you close the bottle one way or the other. Then there's a sec, another fermentation. I think it's always very, uh, confusing if you talk about, when you talk about the fermentations and you give it a number because you've got the primary fermentation, which is the alcoholic fermentation, then you've got malolactic conversion, which some people say malolactic fermentation. It's not really a fermentation because it happens from bacteria and from yeast. Um, so that's something of a misnomer. Then people say the second fermentation for the part where the bubbles go in the technically in, well, at least the French refer to it as the please, the moose. That's, that's the best way to refer to it because that's what's essentially is what's happening. It's the taking of the bubble, but the yeast consumes the sugar that you've added with it and creates a small amount of alcohol, like one more percent of alcohol, and gives off carbon dioxide as a gas, but because the bottle is closed, the gas doesn't escape and the bubbles stay in solution inside the fermenting until all the sugar is gone and then it doesn't have anything to eat. And then it dies or yeast. And, uh, it starts to break down in a process called autolysis, which means self breaking down. And, uh, it's that decomposition essentially to not to put too fine a sheen on it, that gives champagne, it's unique aromas and flavors. And that's why they mandate a minimum amount of aging in Champaign. They do in other regions too, but in Champaign, the legal minimum are 15 months for non-vintage and three years for vintage, but that legal minimum is almost always exceeded in top quality producers. And so, so that aging period is essential to the final character of the wines. And, and as I, as I alluded to earlier, sometimes it can be up to 10 years for the best coupé. And then more and more people are producing wines with even more extended aging. So it can be 20 years. It can be 30 years like crude collection or what you. Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Crude collection or Dom Perignon P2, P3 wines like that used to be called an attack. And there's more and more people that are releasing the wines later and later. And I think it's, it's an interesting thing for.

Yule Georgieva: leave contact.

Charles Curtis: champagne. But anyhow, you, you let it go as long as you want to let it go, or as long as you can afford to let it go. Because that speaks to the economics of the thing is almost everybody who also recalcitrant manipulate are using their own grapes. For them, it's just a delay in their cash flow. But for a negotiant, they bought the grapes and they probably borrowed the money to buy the grapes. And so they've been paying interest on that loan for all of those years. If it's like 10 years, they've been paying 10 years worth of money interest. So that aging period adds enormously to the cost of champagne. People think champagne is a luxury item and it is a luxury, but it's a super affordable luxury when you consider the cost factors that go into production, which we don't have time to go into today, but that's just one example of, uh, of, well, anyhow, we don't want to go down that particular rabbit hole, but anyhow, the aging adds considerably to the expense. And once you're done aging, you've got a bottle of wine that will be delicious.

But it's got all that dead yeast in there that looks like, like goop. It looks like, yeah, schmutz in the bottom of the bottle and you got to get it out. So, so what you do is a process in English we call riddling, which can be done. You know, they always show the guys doing it by hand, but it can also be done by machine and qualitatively, it doesn't change the quality of the wine to do it by machine or by hand, but, but what you're doing is gathering the dead yeast cells at the neck of the bottle, and then you, uh, take them out. So if you've stopped up the bottle with a cork, you have to do it by hand. Um, and if you are using a crumb cap, you can do it by machine use. So almost all champagne is done by freezing the neck of the bottle. And then it goes through a machine and it removes the cap and the pressure inside the bottle. There's six bars of pressure the plug of ice and all the dead yeast cells to come shooting out. And then you top it up and what you top it up with is wine. And sometimes you add sugar to that wine, which is called the dosage. And there's different levels of sweetness. Um, uh, people think, uh, champagne has always been the way it is, but it's actually been evolving over the several hundred years that the method has been developed. Um what we most commonly drink today is called root champagne. It's, it's called root because they used to think that it was rootish to drink champagne like that, which is very dry. Originally, if you go back even 150 years, all champagne was sweet. It was always served at dessert and it had more sugar in it. There are definitely bottles from the 19th century that they found that had over 200 grams of sugar per liter in it, which is more than port. It's more weight. It's like double the amount of sugar of soterem.

So it was like really, really sweet. And the reason they added all that sugar was to hide the fact that it tastes a kind of nasty without all that sugar. So, um, then as the quality of the wine and the wine making got better, they could serve it with less sugar. And, but that's really a 20th century sort of development. And, um, late 19th century was the time the first, uh, champagnes that are called brute were developed. So, so brute is a fairly wide band. It's anything from zero to, to 12 grams per liter. Um, most root is between six and 12 grams. Most of it is right around eight grams per liter. If it's less than six, it can be called just brute, but often it's called extra brute. And, uh, if it says, uh, or Brute Zero or something like that. It means that there's no added sugar. It doesn't mean there's no sugar because sometimes there's a little bit from the winemaking process that's still in there. It means that there was no sugar added to it. So that's Brute Natu, Extra Brute, and Brute goes up to 12. And then after that, it gets very confusing because the next one after that is Extra Sec. So Sec means dry or extra dry, extra sec, but that's 12 to 17 grams per liter. But you would think if it was extra dry, drier, but it's not. So anyhow, there's extra sec. Then there's sec, which is 17 to 35 grams per liter. And that's, it says dry on the label, but it doesn't taste dry to us. It tastes sweet, but not super sweet, just like slightly sweet. And then there's demi sec, which is, um, 35, uh, to 50 grams per liter. And then there's dew, which is 50 grams and over, which is a very rare style. And most people don't make it. And, and so you can see that, uh, you know, much more than 90% of all champagne is brewed today. Um, and so it's evolved over time. And then, uh, so you add the dosage and then if you're a quality producer, you'll let it sit for another six months so that the dosage gets evenly spread throughout the bottle and it has time to sort of harmonize. And then, uh, at that point, after the dosage, you put the final cork, you put the cage on it.

Yule Georgieva: Mm.

Charles Curtis: the foil and then you're ready to ship.

Yule Georgieva: This is what I think is so fascinating about champagne, is the process is so involved, right? So getting back to our point about quality and price, not only are the raw materials and the actual inputs into the wine expensive, so it's not that cheap to make champagne, but then there's so much work involved in so many steps. So really, when you think about the price of top champagne, you are getting a little bit of a bargain, aren't you? Just considering how much.

Charles Curtis: You're definitely getting a bargain. It used to be that if you go back to the late 19th century, for example, the champagne from the top Negocion houses sold for as much as a first growth Bordeaux. It was like on a par. And so, uh, there's no way that's the case today. There's a few that sell for that amount of money, but it's relatively rare. So you're getting a wine that's super expensive to make. It has a very complicated process.

It has immense potential for aging and, uh, and it's being sold effectively at a knockdown price. I think it's a great category with huge upside in terms of aging, both in terms of, uh, wine quality and in terms of potential appreciation for the collector.

Yule Georgieva: So let's delve a little bit into one step in the process that I think is so interesting is the actual blending before we get to the second fermentation. So can you just talk through that because you mentioned that we make wine and it's maybe not the top quality wine, deliberately so it's not gonna be something you're gonna wanna drink pure. And I know you've had those wines, the pre-secondary fermentation, pre-samoos wines and they're quite tart and angular.

Charles Curtis: Mm-hmm.

Yule Georgieva: But then the blending is actually quite a complicated process that really relies on the experience of the winemaker. So can you just explain that a little bit, how that part works?

Charles Curtis: Sure. So every champagne, no matter what it is, is a blend of something. I mean, even for a reclite, even from a grower where all this stuff is coming from, one vineyard site, he's got to make several different batches of it and you have to blend that together. But often the growers will blend in different vineyard sites or different grape varieties. And quite often in champagne much more so than in other regions, they blend in different vintages, which the majority of the champagne that we drink is non-vintage. And so it can be vintages that are kept separately, or it can be what's, what they refer to erroneously as a solera. It's technically, uh, the word in champagne is Réserve Pupétuelle, um, where they, they have a tank and, uh, they take out the amount of wine for blending that they need for a certain year. And then they top up the tank with wine from the current year. So a perpetual reserve. It's not really a Solera in the sense of Sherry, but those, that's one option. The other option is to keep all the years separate and to blend it together. So the negotiate, that's mostly big negotiations. They'd have that many tanks because a small grower is not going to have that much tank space to keep it all separate. And you have to maintain the temperature and you have to, um, you know, keeping the wine for a number of years is a complicated sort of process. Um, but, uh, but be that as it may, almost all champagne, more than 90% of the market is, is a blend of different vintages. The vintage champagne is a relatively, relatively small segment of the market. And then there's a Prestige Cuvée Champagne, which is an even smaller segment of the market. But anyhow, I was digressing just for a moment, but, uh, the big, what I was starting to say is that the big negotiation houses that, that are making really large quantity blends can often have several hundred different individual lots between the different grape varieties and the different villages and the different years. And, and so it's quite often that they have between one and 300 different individual things that are being blended together and, and it's usually not done. You know, by the whim of the winemaker. Usually they'll have a committee that does it and it's the whole winemaking staff. So at a big house like that, you'll have one guy who's the boss. They call him the chef de cave, but he works with winemakers because you don't run an operation that size with just one guy making the wines. You've got five or six people and then they sit along with a guy from marketing and a guy from finance and they all taste the wines and they it blind and then they compare the notes and it used to be that they had to write up tasting sheets on everything. And now they put it into computers, just like judging a wine competition and it comes out and they have all the results. And then it's the chef de cap that decides what the final blend is going to be. So he's ultimately responsible. It's his fault if it tastes like crap, but, uh, he's certainly not doing all that work by himself because that usually, so champagne is picked earlier than.

Then, uh, in fact, they're getting ready to pick in that too long. The time it's picked earlier than wines, but you know, still wants grapes for making still wine. And so the fermentation process is done earlier and, uh, it's usually the case that the fermentations are done and dusted by, you know, before Christmas. Then everybody has a nice holiday. They all go skiing and then they come back and starting it in sort of mid to late January, they start to work on the blends and that.

Typically is like at least a three or four month process of tasting every day, because you've got to taste all the lots. And if you are blending 250 lots in round numbers or something, you've got to go through all 250 of them. Um, and often, you know, most often more than once, but you've also got to taste all the reserve wines. And if you're keeping the vintages of reserve wine separate, you've got to taste.

You know, through hundreds of samples of that, and then you have to taste potential blends. And so it literally takes months of tasting, you know, usually they don't taste all day because you're, you'd get palette fatigue, but typically you'll taste all morning until lunch every day for three or four months straight. So it's a fairly rigorous process.

Yule Georgieva: And how difficult is it when you're tasting those wines at that stage to anticipate how they'll evolve once they've gone through secondary and once they've had the dosage added? Because there's so many intervening steps there before you get to the final product. When you've been around, do you find it difficult to tell what that wine will contribute to the final blend?

Charles Curtis: Well, I think practice makes perfect. I mean, the more you taste, uh, I go and taste Van Claar. So the, the still wines before they put the bubbles in are called Van Claar. The base or in English, they usually just say base wines, but the French is Van Claar. If you have a still wine that's made for intentional consumption without bubbles, it's called Coteau Champagne. So it has a different appellation. It's, you can only call it champagne if it has bubbles. If it doesn't have bubbles, it's called Coteau Champagne.

But, uh, yeah, I've been going every year for more than 20 years to taste that Claire and, uh, winemakers who do it. Exclusively that for a living have done it much longer than I have. And practice makes perfect. I mean, after a while you, you taste the wines as by Claire, and then you have sort of an idea. Then you go back and taste them when they're finished. Then you go back and taste them again after they've been in, you know, after they'd been released for five years, then 10 years, then, you know, so, so you, you figure it out eventually. It's not easy, but it requires practice. I always say the more you drink, the more you know.

Yule Georgieva: That is the best way to learn this particular topic, isn't it? And the most fun. So let's jump to trends now in champagne. We've done a great coverage of the region. We've talked about the grapes and the process. But what are some trends that you see afoot in champagne right now, whether among producers or just among the collectors that you work with?

Charles Curtis: It is deep.

So I think in terms of producers, things are definitely changing. We talked a little bit about the trend for a hundred percent manier. And we talked about the rise of prominence of growers in the Cote de Barre. I think there's loads of top quality wines coming out of the Cote de Barre. And not, not exclusively growers, but

But most of the ones that have come to people's attention have been, have been growers. I do think that the idea of releasing Coto Champagne was getting increasingly popular. And then I think there was a trend for, uh, Brut Natur that went, maybe went a little bit too far. And I think it was, it was super trendy for a while. And now a lot of people have realized that a little bit of dosage actually, helps the wines age. And I think that they've come back from the brink. I think really the most, most of the quality producers are now in that sort of extra brute range, like two to six grams per liter and the brute nature is, is slightly less. Where that there's an exception that's often made is in the Cote de Barre because it's further south and the base wines are riper. And so you can do.

Brutinat too are a little more effectively. And so I think that's definitely a trend in both of those directions. So Brutinat too from the Cote de Marne, extra Brut from the Marne. And then I think, you know, there's definitely an increasing trend towards producing champagnes with the name of the place that they've, the grapes have been produced and that's become increasingly prominent, especially among uh, growers, sometimes the negotiation houses do the same thing. Um, but for grower, champagne is more and more prevalent. And those are kind of the main trends. There's other sort of smaller trends. Um, there's more and more people, they used to say they, that vintage champagne was made, um, only in gray years. And a lot of people took it as a point of pride that they only made a couple of vintages in it.

In a decade, but now there's a more and more trend of people releasing vintage champagne every year. First of all, because with global warming, it's become possible to do that. And secondly, because they think, hey, you know, we're a region not so far from Burgundy. And if the Burgundians get to do it, then we want to do it too. So the idea is that there's an expression of terroir that...that of what nature gives you every year. And so the champagne can reflect that. And so they're making vintage wines, even in less prominent vintages. And then there's another trend that's, people that will make wine from just one vintage, they don't put the vintage on the label. And sometimes it's because they don't want it, they don't want to let it age for.

36 months because they want it to be fresh and lively. And so it will be all from one vintage, all from one harvest, but it's not a vintage that they can declare either because they didn't age it or just because they don't want to, um, so an unclaimed vintage really. And that's a little bit of a trend too. And, um, those are the.

Yule Georgieva: Mmm.

Charles Curtis: Trends on the producer side on the collector side, I think more and more people are, are investing in champagne. The secondary market in champagne has been very strong prices in the primary market have been going up. That's not a surprise. It's happening in every region.

But I think the market for, uh, collectible wine is, has continued to climb and there's been shortages of top wines. I think really for me, the best advice is that people, uh, pay attention, taste the wines as soon as they come out and buy the wines in the primary market and then put them away in agent. I mean, that's what I do. I bought a bunch of eights. I bought a bunch of.

I bought some twos. I drank most of them already, unfortunately. Um, some fours, luckily I still have some left. Those should be drinking soon. A bunch of eights. I'm still a buyer of 2008 and then I'm buying 2012, but it'll be a while before I get to that.

Yule Georgieva: One thing I want to follow up on in your trends with producers is you were speaking about the mention of specific sites on bottles, that that's increasing. There's obviously some very famous examples like Clodamanil from Krug that have some history behind them. But we didn't have time to talk a lot about these specific sites and how there are actually ground crew sites and premier crew sites in Champaign. People may not know that, but I know that you're involved in a project right now to actually map the terroir and provide more information on this. So can you just tell us a little bit about this so that people can go find out more about the particular sites and terroirs?

Charles Curtis: Sure. So I'm doing a project with a cartographer. So he does the maps and I do the commentary. We were going village by village and we've completed the Côte de Blanc. So that's what this is. This is the commentary for the Côte de Blanc map, which is a big map. So as big as the maps that you typically see in Burgundy. So it has all of the individual vineyard names are listed on it for the principal villages. And then for the other regions like Côte du Petit-Morin, Côte du Cézannet.

Those are sort of grouped together and we don't call out all the individual vineyard names, but for the main, grand crew and the principal premier crews like Aviz and Clément and Auger and Wachie, et cetera, et cetera, then those have every vineyard name there. And in the commentary, I talk about the individual wines, the notable individual wines. There's no way you could do every single one, but, but I get a fair number for every village in there. And, uh,

And I talk about the wines and the style that they're made in and, um, where they come from and why they taste the way they taste. That's definitely more and more people are paying attention to that. You know, it's, it's somewhat inimical to the general ethos in champagne. You know, when I talk to the, uh, the CIVC or, or people at the big negotiation houses, they say, ah, but Monsieur champagne is a blended wine.

And it's often the case, but not exclusively the case. And I think there's more and more interest in those single vineyard champions.

Yule Georgieva: Absolutely. Well, the other thing that I think we should steer people towards just before we get to our lightning round, because I do want to get to our lightning round, is that if they do want to learn more about the specific producers, definitely get your book, because this isn't just a compendium of the vintages. There's also great information on every producer. I really liked how you broke it into two sections, and I have some light reading to do for the next few weeks. So absolutely.

Charles Curtis: for the tab when you're on a plane going to Champaign. This is very important, you know.

Yule Georgieva: where I will be in T minus two hours as you told me to drop what I'm doing and head on out of there. So I wish, I wish. Okay, last thing, lightning round. Let's go through a few lightning questions. You have one minute to answer each of these as they come. First, what is the greatest vintage of champagne?

Charles Curtis: Go now, yes you can. Okay

The one that we're drinking right now. So I think the greatest recent vintage of champagne is 2008. The it's hard to say the greatest overall vintage because I think, you know, there's different periods. It goes like 20 years at a time. So recent vintage, definitely. Oh, wait, uh, before that your vintage of 88 has, uh, is a strong contender. A lot of people would say 96, but I actually happen to prefer, uh, 88, uh, you could say of, of all the vintages in the last 50 years, it could be 79 or it could be 73. And then, um, you know, I think there's a lot of strong possibilities in the, in the more mature vintages, 55 as a top contender, uh, 45 as a top contender. But really, if you want something that's, that's going to really be a life-changing experience, maybe find a bottle of 28. condition.

Yule Georgieva: 28. Okay, second, what is the greatest champagne you've ever had?

Charles Curtis: Oh, that's easy. 79, including men. No, I've had four bottles of it and, uh, was the first vintage after the crew family bought it and they ripped. They bought it in 71. They ripped it up, replanted it. So it was very young grapes, but, uh, 79 was a great vintage and Claude Menil is a great site. And that's by far the best, uh, champagne I've ever had. I w well, yeah, I would say, yeah, by far all four bottles that I've had.

are, have been really consistent and, uh, I'll drink another one with you. If you bring it over.

Yule Georgieva: if I acquire one or if I just come and show up because I'll do the second part.

Charles Curtis: Either way, work for me.

Yule Georgieva: Perfect. All right. Who is the top... You already gave this one away, but I'll ask you again. Who's the top champagne house currently in your estimation?

Charles Curtis: I'm a crew glover, I really am.

Yule Georgieva: with good reason. Next, who is the current top grower in your estimation?

Charles Curtis: Mmm.

Ah, that's an interesting question. So in my book on champagne, the one that you were so kindly holding up, um, I actually put Krug in a separate category. I just no doubt you've noticed that there's 120 producers and I rank all of them. It's, it's five stars, four stars, three stars, two stars, one star. And in the, so in the category right under Krug, there are seven producers. And those are producers whose wines sell on the secondary market.

There's only one grower in that category and that's salas, champagne, Jacques salas, which is used to be on some salas well still is, but it's his son, Guillaume, who's taking over now. And those wines appreciate extremely well in the secondary markets, but you'd be hard pressed to get me to say that those wines are better than the ones in the next category down the three star section has some really amazing producers in it. They're 27 though, in that category.

Those are people that I think are really top echelon producers, mostly growers, but some negotiations as well. And really, you know, the only thing that separates them from that top category is that the wines don't really appreciate. They get better in the bottle, so they appreciate in quality, but you can't really use them as an investment. So I think, you know, if you're

It's mostly ground Mark houses and sell us. And then outside of that, there's more and more wines that, that are selling for expensive prices, but you're not going to really be able to buy in and then have it go up in price and then sell it. So, so I would.

Yule Georgieva: Well, lucky for you, most of our listeners are thirsty like you and I are. So I think even having an improved bottle is a good reason.

Charles Curtis: Indeed.

Yule Georgieva: Who's a grower who's up and coming? That's one to watch.

Charles Curtis: There's a lot of growers that are, um, up and coming. It's hard to single out just one. I've got a number of them in the book. And I do think that, uh, you could say, I think a lot of the growers in the Côte de Barre are pretty interesting. Like Cédric Bouchard, whose wine technically is called the Rose de Jean. Um, that's definitely one to watch, but there's others that are sort of.

You know, at that same level and, uh, it'd be hard to pick exactly one, but that is definitely a very good example.

Yule Georgieva: Excellent. I do love Cedric Bouchard's wines. So great choice there. All right. Well, Charles, this has been another wonderful episode. I always wish we had more time because there's so much, especially with this topic. So I think at some stage we may have to do a followup where we just-

Charles Curtis: Me too.

I told you it was a big topic. And the other thing I didn't tell you, but you should know by now, is that I like to talk.

Yule Georgieva: And we like to listen, so there's no problem there. But we will have to maybe do a follow-up and dive into maybe specifically vintage, or we'll pick some subcategory of champagne to get a little deeper into. But for now, to all of our listeners, don't forget to subscribe. Thank you so much for tuning in for another episode. You can follow us at Inventory on Instagram or go to to start managing your collection. And Charles, to get your book, I think they can, I just ordered it on Amazon, this book, Vintage Champagne. You also have a book.

Charles Curtis: Yes.

Yule Georgieva: Another one, you want to just mention your other book?

Charles Curtis: Sure. The other one is called the original growing crew of Burgundy. And, uh, actually champagne is a passion. Burgundy I spend much more time writing about. In fact, I've got to get back to my article for decanter. I'm the Burgundy correspondent for decanter magazine. And, uh, the first book is still selling gratifyingly well. So, you know, they're both available on Amazon. They're treasure troves of information for a very reasonable price. And I think you should read them all.

Yule Georgieva: Great. And then mapping champagne, where would anybody find information about that project?

Charles Curtis: You can find that actually also on Amazon or on the website of the gentleman who's the cartographer. He's a guy named Steve DeLong. He's actually American, but he's been based in London for 25 years or so. And so he has not only the mapping champagne stuff that we've been doing together, but he's been making maps for a long time and has many different maps. But the champagne ones are the only ones with Charles's commentary. So hopefully you'll find some stuff on Steve's site that you like as well.

Yule Georgieva: Perfect, and we'll link all of those. We'll link both your books and the Mapping Champagne Project in the captions.

Charles Curtis: Thank you so much. I appreciate it. And thanks for having me. It was lots of fun.

Yule Georgieva: This is always a lot of fun, Charles. We are due to have some champagne together soon, and I'm due to go to champagne. So, two milestones before our next meet.

Charles Curtis: All right. Sounds good. Cheers. Bye bye.

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