A couple of weeks ago, a friend and I were looking for somewhere to have dinner around Charlotte Street in London. One name that was thrown into the mix was Bubbledogs, a restaurant based on the concept of grower Champagnes and gourmet hot dogs (I didn’t realise hot dogs could be gourmet, but I may just be revealing my ignorance). I was apprehensively intrigued by the concept and was keen to give it a shot, but unfortunately Bubbledogs has signed up to London’s latest trend of “sorry, we don’t take reservations” – which inevitably meant a long queue of hot dog aficionados waiting patiently in the rain on a Friday evening. I am notoriously impatient at the best of times let alone when hungry, so with a heavy heart I decided to give it a miss.
As a side note, regular readers will know (and hopefully appreciate) I have a tendency to pepper my blog posts with ostensibly random facts – and of course I have one up my sleeve for this very topic. When Europe was on the brink of war in 1939, Franklin D. Roosevelt (the American president at the time) invited England’s King George VI and Queen Elizabeth to dine with him in Hudson Valley, New York. Guess what the president served? That’s right – hot dogs! Some, err, historians credit the dish with saving Europe from the Nazis, but I think that’s taking it a touch too far.
As usual, there is a point to this story hidden somewhere.
I think Bubbledogs’ emphasis on grower Champagnes is very refreshing – generally speaking these wines are not widely known about nor are they particularly easy to find. But they can be pretty great. The key distinction between grower and non-grower Champagne comes down to where the grapes are grown and transformed into the fizzy drink that we all love (or that I love, anyway!).
Grower Champagnes (identified by the initials “RM” on the label, an abbreviation of the term “Récoltant-Manipulant”) are produced by the same estate that own the vineyards that the grapes come from. This means that these wines tend to reflect the terroir (environmental conditions such as climate, soil and altitude) of the part of the region – more so than the large Champagne brands. Although producers of grower Champagnes do try to create a consistent ‘house’ style year after year, they are sometimes less able to than the big brands – but this slightly nuanced style is not necessarily a bad thing!
On the other hand, the large Champagne houses (you know them – Dom Pérignon, Laurent-Perrier, Bollinger and so on) source grapes from all over the Champagne region – sometimes from more than 50 different vineyards. In fact, these big brands account for approximately 90% of Champagne exports but only own around 15% of the vineyard land – which means that buying grapes from other producers is critical to ensure sufficient supply. Moët & Chandon, for example, produces over 25 million bottles of Champagne a year – think of how many grapes they need! Where grower Champagnes are labelled RM, the big brands are referred to as “NM” – which stands for “Négociant-Manipulant”.
Forgive my shocking act of vanity but I absolutely had to pose by a stand of Moët Ice. It is definitely not a grower Champagne!
Grower Champagnes can be absolutely delicious (try this one from the Wine Society) as well as being a fantastic alternative to the mainstream Champagne brands. They have been growing in popularity and this trend looks set to continue into the future. That said, grower Champagnes do require a bit more thought and research because the quality can vary – but if you make the right choice you could hit on a real winner.
It is for that reason that I’m going to try and get a table at Bubbledogs – even if I have to queue (gasp).
PS. We have just released a new version of Grapeful, it should be available in the next couple of days. It has a whole host of exciting new features, including the ability to search for wines and wine styles, and also the ability to explore wines by country, retailer, style and occasion. I hope you like it – and as usual feedback is always welcome. If you haven’t downloaded the app yet, you should be ashamed of yourself.
(Jokes aside, it is available to download for free from the Apple App Store and the Google Play Store).