As we continue to highlight different producers and regions each month, we thought we'd take this opportunity to talk about the wonderful world of Champagne.
We firmly believe this amazing drink shouldn't only be reserved for anniversaries, wedding gifts and special occasions, but should in fact be enjoyed whenever the feeling takes you. Of course, it's more expensive than your average bottle, but we've got some brilliant value, top quality options on our shelves and can recommend a bottle for every budget. On the sofa with fish and chips is a personal favourite of mine (although I can't deny, I take every opportunity I can to drink bubbles!)
'Come quickly, I'm drinking the stars' is what the eponymous Dom Perignon is said to have exclaimed upon his discovery of sparkling wine. It's since been discredited, but you can see why they have retained this as part of their history.
Methode Champenoise or Traditional Method sparkling wine is arguably the most appreciated method for producing sparkling wines and creates high quality wines both from single vintages and non-vintage blends. It may surprise some of you, but Champagne's sparkle is actually produced by fermentation inside the bottle. There's also a minimum period of 15 months ageing in the bottle on the 'lees' (the techy name for the dead yeast cells which arise as a by-product of the fermentation). For vintage champagnes, that rises to 36 months minimum of ageing before release. And of course, it can't be called a Champagne if not produced within the Champagne region.
This famous region is split into 3 main areas - the Montagne de Reims, where predominantly Pinot Noir is grown, the Cotes de Blanc, famous for its Chardonnay vines and the Valle de la Marne. This last region is the coolest and is where more Pinot Meunier is grown, as it ripens earlier than the other varieties. There's also a small section of vineyards in the far south, closer to Chablis than Epernay, called the Aube. Here some fantastic vignerons (a snazzier term for winemaker) create Champagnes using mainly using Pinot Noir.
Something else you might not believe is that 70% of the grapes grown in these regions are red grapes - and yet the majority of the finished wine is white. This is because after pressing there is very little, to no, skin contact with the grapes. Tannins and colour aren't what the Champagne Houses are looking for when creating their base wines. Instead, they're relying more on ageing and lees contact to produce wines which are full of character, rich and creamy with bold flavours.
Here we've highlighted a few of our favourite bottles from the range, but you can find many more in our Champagne selection.
In the western region of the Valle de La Marne, Champagne Lete Vautrain quietly go about their business as a 'Recoltant Manipulant' or Grower Producer. They farm their own 8 hectare vineyard and produce traditional method Champagne matured on lees in the bottle for 36 months before release. A blend of the three traditional varieties, but with Pinot Meunier taking the lead here with 50% of the blend, this is a soft, elegant Champagne with apple, peach and apricot and a well balanced, complex finish. If you feel like upgrading your Friday night chippy tea then try this for an indulgent evening on the sofa!
Champagne Delavenne are another of our grower producers, with 9 hectares of grand cru vineyards in the villages of Bouzy, Ambonnay and Cramant. Their average vines are aged for 45 years. They've been family owned since 1920 and have a real focus on farming without the use of herbicides or chemical fertilisers. Predominantly Pinot Noir, this is full of apple pie, crunchy green apple and lemon citrus fruit with a crisp, refreshing finish. A beautiful Champagne to try with pork. Braised pigs cheeks would be fantastic with a slightly sticky marinade.
The original Champagne Charlie, Charles Heidsieck embodied contemporary French glamour. With his distinguished charm, he captivated America and became a prominent figure of fashionable high society. Charles Heidsieck is the smallest and arguably the best of the Grande Marques, established in 1851. The Brut Reserve represents the house style and thanks to the use of 40% reserve wines (wines from earlier vintages which are blended to create just the right flavour - true wine alchemy!) this is a complex, elegant and rich Champagne. It's full of creamy pastry, praline and vanilla with hints of red berries from the Pinot Noir element.
This estate has been in the Robert family since 1902 and their whole domaine is classified as Grand Cru - Le Mensil Sur Oger in the Cote de Blanc. 100% Chardonnay, this is a Blanc de Blanc matured for around 10 months in barrels with a further 6-8 years ageing in the bottle on the lees. This is a rich, full bodied Champagne with ripe exotic fruits, a creamy texture and an elegant, long finish. A perfect aperitif - but even better with food. Oysters would be a classic pairing for a Blanc de Blanc, or this could stand up well to fish which has been smoked. Some salmon gravadlax for a starter would work well.