In my profession as a sommelier I get asked a lot of questions about Champagne and I hope that I can inspire you to explore the world of Champagne like I have.
What is a Grande Marque?...
Grande Marque, literally translated to English as “great brand”, is a term used to represent the elite, most prestigious producers in the Champagne region. For me to pinpoint what a Grande Marque means, you need to know about the historical and current structure of the industry.
Champagne houses use to be organised into a group, Syndicat des Grandes Marques, which was founded in 1882 and consisted of 28 members. Their role was to protect the collective interests of their members. Whilst the practises of the group remained, the size did not, and within two years, the Syndicat had grown to 61 members.
Since then, their size has declined as smaller producers were overshadowed by dominant brands. Today, renamed Club des Grandes Marques, the group consists of only 24 members. They are the remaining prominent players in the industry, and have essentially ordained themselves as Grandes Marques.
As such, today the term Grandes Marques has no certain definition, except perhaps in the minds of those who continue to use it; the definition often differs between individuals. Amongst its members are many well-known and influential houses, including Charles Heidsieck, Krug, Bollinger, Pol Roger, and Ruinart.
I’ve chosen to highlight three of my favourite Grandes Marques Champagne Houses. They are all very different when it comes to house style, size and wine making philosophy. All three of them are great representatives of the Grandes Marques.
This is a beautiful hautes couture Champagne house (sorry for stealing the terminology from the fashion industry)! The cellar master Cyril Brun makes one of the very best non-vintage champagnes produced by a house today; their ’Brut Réserve’. But history has not always been sweet to them, in’85, their production level was 4 million bottles, larger than Veuve Clicquot at the time (today the second biggest brand in Champagne). This dropped to 250,000 bottles in ’11, losing 95% of sales during these years. Today, they are back up to almost 1 million bottles. The wines are always super-lean and elegant on the nose. The balance between the elegance and the toasty notes are so well integrated and makes the length extraordinary stylish! The phenomenal balance is the signum for Charles Heidsieck. A must for the Champagne lover!
A mid-sized Champagne house from the grand cru village of Aÿ. Producing 2 million bottles per year, it has been a sommeliers favourite since the ’80s and mine too since I purchased a couple of bottles at the uber-chic boutique Fauchon at Place Madeleine in Paris in the late ’80s. The estate is one of the most beautiful in the whole region. The house style is backward leaning, elegant & sophisticated with great purity and an exemplary mousse. Madonna always has their ’Amour de Deutz’ on her rider during concerts. One of my true favourite houses.
For me, Krug is more than a Champagne. It is a word that stands for artistry, tradition, craftsmanship, and moments of pure pleasure. All of Krug's wines are small masterpieces with the house's own distinct style. Their entry level Champagne is at the same level as most of all the top-of-the-pops such as Cristal, & Dom Pérignon. Their ’Grande Cuvée’, is made from about 100-120 wines from ten different vintages. If the opportunity arises, never miss the chance to drink a Krug!
Here is a full list of Les Grandes Marques:
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