World-class sporting events take centre stage in the British summer calendar, with Royal Ascot Wimbledon, Royal Henley Regatta and the British Grand Prix set to make a thrilling return. Also set to make a splash, is the return of the great Champagne Houses providing the ultimate tipple in marking these sporting celebrations and commiserations. The question arises of which Champagne to drink? What makes Champagne so special? To examine this in more depth, this article will delve into the world of French fizz and explore some of the key terms surrounding Champagne.
A brief overview:
Champagne, to be able to use this name must originate in the region with the same namesake and must be produced according to specific AOC regulations. East of Paris, the chalky rolling hills and valleys provide a great place for growing Chardonnay (making up to 30% of the vineyards) predominantly in the Cote de Blanc area below Epernay, followed by Pinot Noir (40%) in the Montagne de Reims, and Pinot Meunier (30%) planted in the cooler Marne valley area. Only these grapes can be used in the production of Champagne and are uniquely blended to provide distinct flavours and characteristics of the wine.
Another key aspect is understanding the process of the Méthode Traditionnelle which the wine growers undertake through a secondary alcoholic fermentation within the bottle. Each House will have its secret recipe, however, on principal a mixture of wine, yeast and sugar (known as the liqueur de tirage) are added and blends can be made from different vintages to achieve consistency. In a year with an exceptional harvest, where no blends are needed from previous years, millesime is produced from a single vintage and the maturing stage is extended from a minimum of one and half years of maturing to three. Additional stages of removing the lees, blending and topping up the wine with “le dosage” (additional sugar) allow sweetness levels and profile notes to be adjusted in the finished wine.
Due to the region’s geographical position and the impact this has on the grapes and vintage produced, blending vintages from multiple years allows for greater consistency of the flavours, acidity and sweetness. Pinot Meunier provides the freshness, Pinot Noir the depth, and Chardonnay the longevity in these Champagne blends. Producers can also blend different vintages to create the very best blends, known as cuvée de prestige. These include: Louis Roederer’s Cristal, Laurent-Perrier’s Grand Siècle, Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon, Duval-Leroy’s Cuvée Femme, Armand de Brignac Gold Brut, Pol Roger’s Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill, and Perrier Jouët’s La Belle Époque. Also produced is Taittinger’s Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs, made only from the finest Chardonnay grapes grown in the top grands crus vineyards of the prestigious Côte des Blancs. Only the best vintages are sourced, and the limited quantities produced are left to mature in cellars for almost 10 years.
The taste of Champagne:
Each Champagne will have its own unique profile, however, as Louis Bohre best describes, “the palate should be surprisingly but pleasantly sparkling, instantly seductive and velvety. The taste should have an underlying fruitiness, with a lingering fragrance that causes you to meditate silently and at length on the wine’s aromatic qualities – long after you put down your glass” (Comitte de Champagne). These characteristics can be enhanced through the length of contact with the lees, with producers achieving richer and fuller tastes. The main Champagne Houses will allow their non-vintage blends two years of contact on lees and maturing for at least six years.
Champagne has great variety, style, characteristics and can age exceedingly well. The combination of freshness, acidity and bubbles provides the perfect drink to mark the highs and lows of our great sporting events and as Napoleon once said, “always carry champagne! In victory you deserve it and in defeat you need it!”