“There’s something magical about Champagne that I rarely feel in other wines. The bubbles just seem to appeal to something innate, something about being human…”
Peter Crawford, Sip Champagnes
Sip was founded in 2020 by Daniel Blatchford and Peter Crawford (a.k.a. the unmistakable à la volée). There are few people hard-wired into champagne quite like Peter, whose knowledge and relationship with lesser-known independent producers is the foundation of Sip’s portfolio. The selection of ‘grower’ champagnes available in the UK is fairly wide, with Vine Trail and Tim Hall’s Scala leading the way with their established wholesale-driven lists. Nevertheless there was room for more, and Sip opened for business in September 2020 with a Direct-to-Consumer model based around subscriptions, exclusive cuvées and a smart, contemporary online presence.
I spoke to Peter about setting up a new, specialist importer against the headwinds of Brexit and Covid:
Sip was born through Covid. We never planned to do anything other than direct-to-consumer, but these wines deserve to be on the tables of the finest bars and restaurants so we have just registered as a wholesaler. With Brexit we have managed to fend off a lot of the faff, but it has been a challenging journey – every week there seems to be a physical or philosophical roadblock! If we put an order in on the first of the month, we’re unlikely to see the wines in our warehouse for 8-10 weeks. Managing that when the wines are often effectively sold out before they hit the shelves is very, very difficult.
Although Peter was keen to point out that they haven’t ‘cracked’ Brexit yet, the list is now running to over one hundred wines. The website, the tasting notes, the instagram feed, the newsletter – everything is carefully put together and eminently user-friendly. If you want to dive into a more granular Champagne experience than you are going to get from the Grandes Marques there can be few better places to start.
I assembled my itinerant crew of bubbleheads to taste through six blanc de blancs, almost all of which are UK exclusives and totally new to us (although I have encountered other wines from Legras & Haas and Henriet-Bazin in the UK).
We tasted blind over two hours. In the end it was the last drops of the more classically-styled wines from Chouilly and the Northern Côte Des Blancs that provoked the fiercest negotiation. Most interesting of all was how the wines moved over the night, some growing in stature whilst others played their strongest hands first.
Six Blanc de Blancs from Sip
Legras & Haas Les Sillons 2013 17.5
Chouilly single vineyard. Vinification and élevage in foudres. Disgorged April 2019 with 4g/l
Tasted blind. Closed and slightly reductive upon opening, quite a lot of C02 at first. Some ‘cool’ profile here, pale yellow fruits and chalk, a slightly herbaceous lemon sherbet streak. The wine keeps growing, though, and after 45 minutes it is up and running with lightly roasted fruit, lime and demerara sugar, a marriage of refinement and slightly obstinate firmness on the palate (we picked it as the 2013 based on that). A chameleon – top quality but give it some more time on cork if you can. It will certainly take five years, and probably longer. (Group position 1)
N.B. It was interesting that this was the only wine under DIAM cork
Pertois-Lebrun 2012 l’Egoïste 2012 17
Chouilly, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger, Oiry. All stainless steel, disgorged October 2020 with 3 g/l dosage
Tasted blind. Beautifully assembled, the most ‘classical’ style of the night here. Must be one of the Northern Côte des Blancs wines. ‘Nose of the night’ is the general agreement! Fresh and fragrant yellow apples, ground almonds and zest. Beautiful tension and refinement, although I would leave it for another couple of years to see if the palate settles further. (Group position 2)
Henriet-Bazin Marie-Amélie 2012 17
Villers-Marmery. Enamel. Brut Nature
Tasted blind. Classic profile, clean, toasted/grilled lemon, some delicate stone fruit and florals. Quite muted on opening but it opens up beautifully. This is suave, powerful, tight, with real finesse to the mousse and incredible chalkiness and motion on the palate. Great energy, one of the central Côte des Blancs wines? (Group position 4)
Domaine Vincey La Première 2014 16
Oger. 50% stainless steel, 50% oak. MLF is “non-recherchée!” Disgorged July 20, 3g/l dosage. 1574 bottles.
Tasted blind. Big nose, toasted pine nut and tropicals, butter and hazelnut praline. Rich and decadent with some oily nut and candied grapefruit. It feels young, slightly puppyish, but quite serious with some oxidative flourishes. Needs time for the palate to calm down. One of the Montgueux wines? (Group position 3)
Beaugrand Cuvée Gustave 16
Montgueux. Held in oak for 18 months before tirage. 4.5 g/l dosage.
Tasted blind. This is a firework! Explosive aromas on opening, yuzu and quince, green pears, a lift of white pepper spice and almond. Incredible acidity here – maybe this is the Oger wine? With time a more oxidative aldehydic (sherry) profile becomes evident. At its peak upon opening – not necessarily a bad thing for champagne! This would be a great one to look into if you are a Selosse fan. Drink rather than keep. (Group position 5)
Jean Velut Lumière et Craie 15
Montgueux. No base year – all blended from reserves. Disgorged Jan 2021.
Tasted blind. This opens up rather reductively. Jackfruit, russet apple and green mandarin, really attractive underneath with some lovely silkiness to the texture. Just a little rubbery/sulphurous note showing at the moment which shades the profile. Give it a bit of time in the cellar to see if that equalises. Group position 6)
Peter Crawford mentioned a special bottling of this wine that Sip will be releasing with 4 years extra age.