When you buy and consume champagnes like Moët & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot or Krug, you're foremost drinking and paying for a brand, a label. These big houses source grapes from all over the Champagne region and then bottle them into homogeneous products. The factory-made result is more akin to soda than wine.
By contrast, what's called grower champagne (marked on bottles with the letters RM) is produced by farmers from their own vines. This is refreshingly specific, living, bubbly wine with unique expressions of terroir.
Valentine's Day is a fitting occasion to share a bottle of farmer fizz. To make your choice a snap, I've paired various stages of relationships with champagnes available in the Madison market.
1) The crush is on. Oh, he/she is so cute. Imagine asking him/her over to share some Chartogne-Taillet Cuvée St. Anne ($42). Who would say no to this flinty, silky bubbly with oodles of verve?
2) There's this someone you're sort of hanging out with, occasionally hooking up with and probably sexting when tipsy. Things are going to get steamy fast with a bottle of Marc Hebrart Rosé ($48). This champagne has lots of soft bubbles and gushes with wild fruit.
3) Your Facebook status says, "It's complicated." Make things less complicated with carefree, easy-drinking Gaston Chiquet Brut Rosé ($49). Lighten up and try this charmingly straightforward bubbly with bountiful mousse (the term for champagne's fizziness in the mouth).
4) Definitely dating. You've arrived. Sort of. Reward yourselves with bubbly that's all purity and finesse, Pierre Gimonnet et Fils Brut ($53). It's lean and minerally, and the first sip is like biting into a fresh apple. Why does forbidden fruit taste so good?
5) You broke up; you're dating again. Love is back! Share a bottle of elegant Fourny & Fils Extra Brut ($67) while it lasts. There's delightful fruit and plenty of complexity.
6) Just moved in together. Pierre Peters Blanc de Blancs. Chalky and creamy, this bottle is a steal at $55. Be sure to stash away a few extra bottles to enliven domesticity.
7) Married. Kindle the fire with some of the best grower champagne there is. Vilmart et Cie Grand Cellier ($83) is a gold standard of such deliciousness that it often tops its peers and takes down its betters in blind tastings. It's been said this is what Krug drinkers sip when they're slumming it - but that's a disservice to this gorgeous, powerful bubbly.
8) Been married forever. Do you remember the moment you met? That's what Egly-Ouriet Rosé ($100) - regarded as one of the great rosé champagnes on Earth - tastes like. What youthfulness. What nuance. What class. A kiss in a glass.