100 Most Iconic Wine Estates:
Champagne, Loire & Alsace

Pol Roger Epernay, Champagne
Perhaps the most famous anecdotes concerning this eminent and discreet Champagne House are its connections with Sir Winston Churchill, a keen admirer of Pol Roger. A fan since 1908, it wasn’t until a luncheon that was given by the British ambassador to France, Alfred Duff Cooper, after the liberation of Paris, that Churchill the enchanting Odette Pol-Roger. Churchill had a soft spot for Odette and he and his wife Clementine forged a great friendship with her that lasted until his death in 1965. Odette was equally taken by Sir Winston and she sent him a case of vintage Pol Roger on his birthday every year. Churchill named one of his race horses after Pol Roger and he also made sure Odette was invited to lunch at the British embassy every time he travelled to Paris for meetings. Pol Roger so valued its connection with Britain’s greatest hero that on his death they put black boarders on the Champagne labels destined for sale in the UK as a mark of respect. In 1984 Pol Roger went one step further by naming their Prestige Cuvee Sire Winston Churchill, after him. Aged for nearly a decade before release and made in the rich style that Churchill so loved, the first vintage was the spectacular 1975.
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Founded in 1849 and based in Epernay, this relatively small operation has always kept a low profile. Pol Roger himself came from Ay and he worked hard for 50 years to established his brand. His sons, Maurice and Georges, changed their names to Pol-Roger by deed poll and three generations followed. Today, the company remains boutique-sized, family owned and obsessive about the quality of its wines. Only 1.5 million bottles are made per year and it’s not uncommon for the latest vintage releases to be sell-out before even reaching the market such is their reputation. With the Royal Warrant awarded by Queen Elizabeth II, Pol Roger is a favourite with the Royal Family and was served en magnum at Prince William and Catherine Middleton’s wedding. There are, in addition, a further six wines all worthy of particular attention. The non-vintage trio of Brut Reserve, Pure and Rich play with varying residual sugar quantities. ‘Brut Reserve’, formally known as ‘White Foil’ is one of the most beautiful wines in the region. There is a vintage trio, too; ‘Brut Vintage’, ‘Brut Rose’ and Blanc de Blancs’ are stunningly built wines with brio, drive and vivacity. These are wines that stir the imagination and at the same time taste uniquely fashioned by Pol Roger.

Billecart-Salmon Mareuil-sur-Ay, Champagne

Not long ago, this eminent House celebrated its 200th birthday. This incredible company was founded in 1818 by Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon – whose names are immortalised on two of the vintage cuvées. From their home which is also their winery and office, in Mareuil-sur-Äy, their descendants François and Antoine Roland-Billecart now oversee the company under the watchful eye of their father Jean Roland-Billecart.
François describes himself as a fastidious operator, with a minute attention to detail. His has described his wines as some of the purest in the region and this purity gave them the ability to age incrementally and gracefully. He puts this down to his double double ‘débourbage’ technique – a cold fermentation when you allow the solids and the juice to settle and be discarded. Billecart-Salmon adopts two of these disciplines for every tank of grape must – a winemaker working for Billecard trailed it because he had experience int he beer business, where it is widely practised, and it made a huge difference to the final wines. This trick stuck, but because it it labour-intensive, very costly and time consuming at a period of the year when you generally need all of your tanks for fermentation, very few Houses do it. The meticulous attention to detail makes the Billecart wines transcends in the gals sand extremely age-worthy, if you have the willpower to hold on to them for that long.
Although the legendary 1959 Nicolas François was described as the Champagne of the millennium, don’t be blinded by just the top wines. The NV Brut Réserve, NV Brut Rosé, NV Grand Cru Blanc de Blancs and NV Demi-Sec must be the finest line-up of non-vintage wines in Champagne. A new and exceptionally brave NV, Brut NV Souis Bois harnesses the impact that oak barrels can have on a wine and the Extra Brut NV and Vintage pair, following the new vogue for searingly dry wines, are little-known and equally thrilling. It will come as no surprise to learn that the vintage foursome of the Grand Cuvée, Elisabeth Salmon Rosé, Nicolas Françoise and the Blanc de Blancs are all phenomenal. These are life-changing wines and they only release them when the vintages are sublime (unlike other houses) and with decent age already under their belts. Atop the portfolio is Le Clos Saint-Hilaire – if you had to choose just one bottle from Champagne, you’d be wise to make it that one.
Louis Roederer Reims, Champagne
Louis Roederer was established in 1776, the same year of the United States Declaration of Independence. A family business for well over 200 years, the name Louis Roederer only came in to existence in 1833 when Louis himself masterminded the rebranding and growth of this company such that when his son, Louis Roederer II took over, 40 years later, production had reached a staggering 2.5 million bottles – at the time, one tenth of the entire region of champagne. Back then, well over half a million bottles went to Russia each year and a large amount of wine was shipped to America, too, so over a century and a half ago Roederer basked in a truly global market.
Unfortunately with a lot of your eggs in these two particular baskets, the Russian Revolution, US prohibition and the stock market crisis of 1929 all wounded the Champagne House severely. It did however remain in family hands and a slow rebuilding process took place.
In the late 1800s Tsar Alexander II wanted to differentiate his Champagne from those bottles which his subjects enjoyed and so has cellar-master asked Louie Roederer to come up with something ingenious. A Flemish glass master designed a clear ‘crystal’ bottle with a flat bottom and Cristal was born. As the official supplier of Champagne to the Imperial Court of Russia, Roederer suddenly, and perhaps unwittingly, launched one of the marketing coups of the modern wide world. These days the Cristal bottle is one of the strongest statements of style and taste imaginable. Backed up by a knockout flavour that combines elegance in power, it can age gracefully and yields and iconic wine style. The only problem that this wine has is that is almost always drunk too young. It is put on the market at around eight to 10 years old, and this is half what it needs to get into its stride.
The rest of the portfolio is important to note too, as it does the hard work the allows Cristal to lounge resplendently on the top of the pile. Brut Premier is the name of the non-vintage cuvée, always delivering a taste that is serene, noble and languid.
In 1979 John-Claude Rouzard took over from his grandmother Camille Olry-Roederer and it was his appointment which provided Louie Roederer with a welcome renaissance. There was a handcrafted feel to the wines, counterpointed by their slick, polished, business side with its dynamic international contacts. Nothing has changed today in spite of the fact that production has risen, vineyard holdings have been substantially increased (they own 230ha of vines in all three main regions of Champagne) and Roederer now sits atop a portfolio of smart wineries. That portfolio, now run by Jean-Claude’s son Frédéric, includes a panoply of like-minded, elite, locally-run blue chip estates – Roederer Estate and Sharffenberger, both in California, Champagne Deutz, Maison Delas in the Rhône Valley, Ramos Pinto in the Douro Valley, Portugal, Domaines Ott in Provence, Château de Pez and Château Haut Beasêjour (Saint-Estèphe), Château Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande (Paullac) and Château Bernadotte (Haut-Médoc) all in Bordeauc, is truly staggering.

Bollinger Ay, Champagne

One of the most respected women in the wine trade, Madame Lily Bollinger, once said of the first 1952 vintage of Bollinger R.D. Champagne, “I drink it when I am happy and when I am sad. Sometimes I drink it when I’m alone. When I have company I consider it obligatory. I trifle with it if I’m not hungry and drink it when I am. Otherwise I never touch it – unless I’m thirsty”. It is a quote that has stood the test of time and adorns the walls of restaurants and wine bars the world over. The Bollinger story starts over 500 years ago when the Hennequin family settled in Champagne, buying vineyards in Cramant, Cuis and Aÿ. In 1829 the Renaudin, Bollinger & Co. partnership was founded by Anathase de Villermont, his wife, Jacques Bollinger and Paul Renaudin along with the acquisition of top quality vineyards in the locale – a wise custom which continues today. Jacques married Louise Charlotte Hennequin de Villermont and the Bollinger company was born. When when Renaudin-Bollinger set up an office, Bollinger–Metzendorff, in London over 150 years ago only 10% of Bollinger champagne was destined for the UK. By 1884 however, Queen Victoria had become such a fan that she granted Bollinger a Royal warrant and by the time Joseph Jacob died that year, Ballingers export to Great Britain had risen to a giddy 89% with a further 7% heading out to the Empire. With royal warrants from the Prince of Wales and King Edward VII, Bollinger’s fame was unprecedented and Jacque’s sons Joseph and Georges took over the reins.
The House was awarded another royal warrant from King George V. In 1911 Harry J. Newman, the director of London agents Mentzendoff, created a new brand name for Bollinger – ‘Special Cuvée Very Dry’, the brand that we all know and love today. Georges son Jacques took over the company in 1918 and married Elizabeth Law de Lauriston-Boubers, known as Lily. Galvanised by her spirit and support he expanded the winery and built new cellars. When he tragically died in 1941, Mme Lily, a childless widow took up the reins alone as head of the Bollinger House, at a time when it was unheard of for a woman to hold such position. Mme Lily led the House through the war including the devastating bombing of Aÿ in August 1944. She was a local hero, and the brand ambassador for setting the scene for the image of today’s Bollinger. She acquired new vineyards, strengthening Bollinger’s supply of top class grapes, resulting in George IV awarding her a fifth Royal Warrant in 1950, and Queen Elizabeth II her sixth in 1955. It was in 1956 that James Bond was seen drinking Bollinger for the first time in Fleming’s novel, ‘Diamonds are Forever’ thereby kickstarting an enviable relationship that continues to this day.
In 1961 Lily created the concept of R.D. (Recently Disgorged) Champagne; an aged, vintage wine kept in the cellar for late release, so the collector could enjoy perfectly mature Champagne mellowed in the very cellar it was made. In 1967 she created Bollinger’s Vielles Vignes Françaises, from two small, unique plots of ungrafted vines situated next to her house in Aÿ. This is the most coveted Champagne of all and even in retirement she created a new name for the vintage release in 1976 – Grande Année. When Lily died in 1977, the wine world was left in deep mourning. The primary fermentation of Bollinger takes pace in oak barrels (rare in Champagne) while the extraordinary ‘reserve wines’ all stored in magnums in the cellars are then blended into the Special Cuvée, lending it a unique distinguished flavour. Over 600,000 magnums of reserve wines are kept in Bollinger’s cellars!
The elite line-up of Cuvées starts with two non-vintage wines – the world famous Special Cuvée and a recently released Rosé, followed by a stunning vintage duo of La Grande Année and La Grand Année Rosé as well as the two vintage wines R.D. (‘recently disgorged’ and the Vielles Vignes Françaises at the top of the tree.

Filliatreau Saumur-Champigny, Loire

Fred and his father Paul run the superb domaine in Samur-Champigny, creating some of the most thoughtful and uplifting reds one can taste. In weaker vintages they are immediate, jolly and happy go lucky giving you untold pleasures at a snip of the price. In great vintages as they mature along the lines of a decent Right Bank claret and provide some of the finest value Grand Vin experiences one can have. Look to the inexpensive Samur Château Fouquet for instant gratification, and then graduate to Saumur-Champigny La Grande Vignolle for intricate violet and graphite notes, before finishing off with the Imperial Vielles Vignes – a mesmerising and peerless glimpse of what Loire Cabernet Franc is capable of.

Domaine Huet Vouvray, Loire

Domaine Huet is the globally acknowledged master of age-worthy Chenin Blanc. An ancient bottle of Vouvray Clos du Bourg could be as fresh as a summer meadow and autumn rolled into one. The great Gaston Huet, who passed away in 2002, inherited this estate from his father Victor and mother Anna-Constance, who bought it in 1929.
Until recently the estate was run by Gaston’s son-in-law Noel Pinguet and with the security of substantial investment it looks set to cruise into the next generation, with winemaking controlled by local lad Benjamin Joliveau and long time cellar-master Jean-Bernard Berthome.
The 35ha estate includes a set of stunning ‘lieu dits’ and these make a bewildering array of styles of wines. Sparkling wines, Sec (dry), Demi-Sec and also Moelleux (sweet) styles can come from any of the three exceptional vineyards, Le Haut-Lieu, Clos du Bourg and Le Mont depending on the quality of the vintage. Le Constance, a botrytised cuvee named after Gaston’s mother, is also made in exceptional vintages.

Bernard Baudry Chinon, Loire

Loire wines are known for offering world-class flavours, and for some inexplicable reason offer incredible value for money. Chinon is one of the great names for which the reds, made from Cabernet Franc and the rarer whites, made from Chenin Blanc capture the wild essence and fascination of the region. Well-chosen versions can seriously shock and impress, and some of the finest red and white wines are produced at this Domaine.
Bernard studied oenology in Beaune and then went to work as a wine consultant in a laboratory in Tours – not far from his final settling place in Touraine stronghold of Chinon. He started his operation in 1975 with a tiny 2ha, but this has grown to 30ha today and his son Matthieu now runs the Domaine himself, having joined his father in 2000. With experience making wine in Burgundy, Bordeaux, Tasmania and also California under his belt, he is a highly talented chap. It is often that international experience always pushes estates to the next level.
The portfolio of wines at Baudry is easy to understand with a keen opening trio of white, rosé and red to get you salivating. Each of these wines acts as the definition of the type. They are detailed, accurate, exciting and clearly the work of a craftsman, but with this trio acting as the first rungs on the ladder, you will have already guessed that there is more to discover as you climb. Starting with the other reds, Les Granges comes from a single 6ha ‘lieu dit’ in Baudry’s home village of Cravant-les-Côteaux. This is an expressive, aromatic Cabernet Franc, with the violet and blackberry notes that makes this grape such a sensational, aromatic proposition.
The next red is Les Grézeaux; this time with more obvious gravel and stones in the soil and the oldest plots of vines in the estate. It is an age-worthy wine but one that doesn’t seem too tannic in its youth. The use of older oak – as often happens with the most sensitive winemakers in this book – is spot on, making this a savoury and lip-smacking wine with a stunning purple hue and a mass of hedgerow on the palate. Le Clos Guillot is the next Chinon; this time with a more obvious texture. A suave, layered Cabernet Franc with a magical touch and summer pudding flavours, this is a wine full of élan.
All these wines drink well in their youth, but also age remarkably well. La Croix Boissée is the most backward of the bunch and it is also the top Cabernet Franc made at this estate. Made from a sublime plot of south-facing vines, this is the richest and most structured of the wines and it is the only one that sees a smidgen of new oak. Only small quantities are made and this is one of the most profound Cabernt Francs one can taste.
There is another wine in the cellars at Baudry that cannot be missed. It is the white sibling to the red La Croix Boissée and is a wine of rare beauty. Coming from only 1ha of Chenin Blanc vines, this wine rivals top-flight Chardonnay and yet with its Chenin range of fruit tones there is a touch of exoticism under the stunning nutmeg and patisserie-kissed chassis. It is one of the hidden gems of the wine world and it further cements Baudry’s reputation as one of the most important winemakers of the world.
Jacky & Jean-Philippe, ‘Blot de la Taille aux Loups’ Montlouis, Loire
With an extraordinary work ethic including two sets of grape sorting, at picking, and then again on the tables in the vineyard before the fruit even makes it to the winery, this father and son team make the most crystalline and pure Chenin Blancs in the valley. From a superb sparkling Triple Zero, with no added sugar whatsoever, to two of the most beautiful Montlouis Secs I have ever tasted – the taut, mineral like Les Dix Arpents and the broad, sweepingly regal, mildly oaken Remus – these are vital and nerve-tingling wines. A gripping Vouvray Sec Clos de la Bretonniere leads to a phenomenal, kaleidoscopic Montlouis Moelleux Cuvee des Loups.

Francois Cotat Chavignol, Sancerre, Loire

Francois Cotat makes the most extraordinary and unconventional wines in the world-famous region of Sancerre. With some incredible vineyards in the hamlet of Chavignol, namely Les Culs de Beaujeu, Les Mont Damnes and La Grande Cote, he makes the Sauvignon Blanc grape taste unlike anything else in the world.
Late-picking and use of oak are two unusual practices which he adopts, and this seems to focus the flavours and add richness at the same time as dragging chalky and stony minerality from his precipitous vineyards.
Marcel Deiss Bergheim, Alsace
Domaine Marcel Deiss is located in Bergheim, a small village situated right in the centre of the Alsace region in Northern France. Jean-Michel Deiss is at the current winemaker, in a long life of vinous alchemists dating back to 1744. Jean-Michel’s estate is spread throughout the region, covering 26ha of prime hillside vineyards in nine different communes. His philosophy is to capture the essence of each of these terroirs and his wines and for that reason he is a follower of biodynamics. He seeks to match the grape variety exactly to the soil and then bring out the best in both by the conditions of each vintage. This obsession with each distinct plot of land, the complex geological details of the soils, and then the hand-tending required to coax the finest work from his vines, has led Jean-Michel to classify his own wines in three categories.
His Vins de Fruits are varietally labelled wines from a single designated commune or village. These are easiest to understand as they follow the norm in the region. The second category is more abstract and it has making him somewhat of an outspoken Maverick among his peers. The Vin de Terroirs are field blends of different grape varieties which are linked by the distinct terroir, site and soil. So unlike virtually every other winemaker in the region, Jean-Michel has lots of different varieties planted in each of his ‘Premier Cru’ and Grand Cru sites which all go into the wines. This intentional muddling of flavours is, in theory, supposed to bring out the true characteristics of the soil rather than one single tone, which is what he suggest happens when you plant only one variety. The last group is the Vin de Temps, which are all classic, late – harvested wines following the Vendage Tardive and Sélection de Grains Nobles guidelines.
This all adds up to a fascinating and incredibly diverse portfolio of wines. It may seem odd to read his labels which declared the name of the Grand Cru vineyard without an accompanying single grape variety, and indeed this was declared illegal by the Institut National des Appellations d’Origine, but this decision was reversed in 2005 to allow Deiss to thankfully do what he likes. Deiss’ is decision to stick to his guns has won him many admirers. You can buy his Vin de Fruits wines and bathe in the purity and laser-driven expression of each and every single varietal, but it is the Vins de Terroirs wines that blow the mind, confounding your taste buds. Look out for the spectacular Grand Cru Schoenbourg which was planted in the 1930s with Pinot Gris, Muscat, Riesling Gewurtztraminer and Sylvaner. This one conjures up the musk, grass, bark, zest, kernel and root notes of the finest perfumers. His Grand Cru Altenburg de Bergheim is a tour de force too. Usually an exclusively Gewürztraminer based wine and other hands, Deiss weaves mainly Riesling and all 13 grape varieties used in Alsace, creating an otherworldly joy that is incomparable to any other wine. The so-called ‘Premier Cru’ Englegarten uses Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Muscat to devastating effect, too. The pheromonal pleasure in drinking Deiss’ wines is simply thrilling and you will not believe what your tastebuds are telling you!
Weinbach Kayserberg, Alsace
Meaning ‘wine-brook’, Weinbach has been planted to vines since 890 and it was officially established by Capuchin monks in 1612. Nowadays it is run by the powerful trimvurate of Colette, Catherine and Laurence Faller and they make some of the most beautiful Gewurtztraminer, Riesling and Pinot Gris in existence. The portfolio is serious and the wines range from lush, dry, enigmatic creations to unimaginably exotic, mesmerising sweet wines.
One is easily enamoured by the Riesling Schlossberg Cuvée Ste. Catherine, Gewurtztraminer Furstentum, Pinot Gris Altenbourg Cuvée d’Or Quintessence (which has received a perfect 20/20 by Matthew Jukes) and the delectable Riesling Altenbourg Vendages Tardive.
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