I’ve talked previously, about the relative lack of sparkling wine startups in America. After all, making a sparkling wine is more time intensive and yes, intense than making a still wine. That’s why I was fascinated to see the J Roget Champagne Brut for sale at a local grocery store, for under $5.
To start with the basics, according to the bottle, this wine was produced in Canandaigua, New York. If that name doesn’t jump off the page at you, don’t be surprised. But, yes, Canandaigua is in the Finger Lakes. Here’s the map:
The Finger Lakes are an interesting place on a few levels, but this is kind of the thing that I’d expect to see more of in the future. First, they definitely have a big advantage that New York City offers an amazing home state market for their wines and the industry itself is moving toward a more acidic and cooler growing region future. Both of which fit what’s generally happening in the Finger Lakes. Plus, those cooler growing conditions help when making a sparkling wine.
You may be wondering why I have yet to call the J Roget Champagne Brut a Champagne. That’s largely because it isn’t on at least two levels. First, there are some rules and regulations about using the word Champagne on a bottle. There was a series of wine trade deals signed back about a decade ago, where American vintners agreed to stop using semi generic terms like Champagne and Chianti on wine labels. (Here’s the Wine Spectator description of those deals). A few California vintners were grandfathered in, but given that most of the other folks using the term got shut down-I wondering if J Roget is an older label, which was also grandfathered in, but because it isn’t California based, it gets left out of the news articles about the changes that took place in regard to labeling.
My real issue though, is that there’s something more egregious going on here. On the front of the bottle, there’s a small insignia that says “Secondary Fermentation Before Bottling”. That’s where using the word Champagne is simply wrong and IMO, misleading. One aspect that makes Champagne more expensive is that secondary fermentation happens in the bottle. It requires weekly shifting the bottles, an ongoing Champagne base and quite a bit of planning. The other version is how Prosecco is made, basically the wine is allowed to go through secondary fermentation in a large tank instead of an individual bottle.
So a more accurate name for this J Roget Champagne Brut, would probably be J Roget Processco Brut. Of course the Italians would cry foul based on the nomenclature there as well.
There was also one other interesting aspect to this wine that you don’t see all the time in a sparkler. It had a screw cap.
Honestly, for me the screw cap leaves a bit to be desired. I know it’s cheaper and all, but there’s something about popping the cork that I missed.
J Roget Champagne Brut Review:
So overall, how was the J Roget Champagne Brut? I thought it was ok, drinkable, which at about $5 is actually saying a lot. It’s quite fizzy when you pour it into the glass, but because this is doing secondary fermentation in a tank instead of bottle, the pressure per square inch is about half of what you’d expect based on the label. So it’s not as bubbily as you might expect. There are abundant flavors of apple and pear, there’s a bit of something in the aftertaste which I think makes this perfect with Mamossas, perfect for a party, but less than perfect if you’re a Champagne snob. We aren’t and we enjoyed this, especially given the price point, the J Roget Champagne Brut seems to deliver outstanding value. After all, for $5, it’s an enjoyable sparkler.
Ok, lastly, there’s not any information about who actually owns and makes this wine on the label. Given some of the naming sheninigans, I don’t think that’s utterly surprising. But, I wanted to look at bit deeper. Given the price point, it was clear this wasn’t going to be a small business.
It turns out that the J Roget label is owned by a truly massive conglomerate. Canandaigua Brands owns almost 200 alcohol brands and sells and distributes them worldwide. They’ve owned any number of household names in the wine and beer space,including Inglenook. More specifically for this article, J Roget became a brand in 1979. So it’s as old as I am. That also means that the brand is old enough and common enough, to use the Champagne term on its label as it was likely grandfathered in. Not making the sparkler though again in Champagne style, is what makes the French quite angry.
In any case, any naming issues aside, the J Roget Champagne Brut offered a nice value and shows how the Finger Lakes might move forward and gain more sales and attention across the country.