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Champagne

Champagne - more than just a type of wine, and more than a region in France, the very word Champagne conjures images of joviality, and it is seen as a fundamental ingredient in the recipe for any celebration, from the most polite of parties to scenes of reckless abandon. Because, when it comes to sparkling wine, there is Champagne, and then everything else. Pretenders come and go with the fashions, but Champagne remains the constant, the standard-bearer, the ideal to which all others aspire. Or is it?

Champagne’s long-held status as the tipple of choice for almost any celebration is something of a double-edged sword. There are few in Champagne who will dissuade you from buying a bottle and popping that cork regardless of the occasion, but does the association with all things festive and celebratory mean we don’t see Champagne for what it really is – a wine. Granted, it is one that has bubbles, but it is also a wine with an incredible scope of flavour and range of styles, from brut nature to demi-sec, white to rosé, vintage to non. A crisp, lemon-scented Blanc de Blancs is a very different bottle to a Pinot & Meunier dominated, aged vintage wine, and they are not all suited to the same occasion. So, here’s a few tips to enhance your next Champagne drinking experience- whatever the occasion!

  1. Don’t exclude the little guys. Champagne - the region and the market – is dominated by the Grande Marque houses, those big name bottles we see promoting events and sponsoring awards, and between them they account for the vast majority of what we see on the Irish market. But the smaller producers are staking their ground, and the popularity and range of Growers Champagnes (they both grow the grapes and make the wines) is at an all-time high. You probably won’t recognise the name on the label, but take a chance – or better still, ask for advice- and you’ll likely be rewarded with a carefully produced wine of individuality and real character.

 

  1. Try different styles based on your taste. As Champagne is produced from three different grapes – Chardonnay being the only white one, with Pinot Noir and Meunier playing equal importance- each producer, from the smallest grower to the biggest brand has their own style and blend, and no two are the same. A house that focuses on Chardonnay will tend to produce fresher, more elegant wines, while those with more Pinot or Meunier in the blend will be more structured and powerful. It all comes down to taste – Pinot dominant houses like Bollinger or the excellent Dravigny make full bodied, complex and vinous wines, often better suited to dining than just drinking (see next paragraph). Personally, I love the purity and freshness of a great Blanc de Blancs – Charles Heidsieck’s NV Blanc is sublime, their Blanc des Millenaires is utterly magnificent, and Taittinger Comtes de Champagne makes me weep actual tears of joy.

 

  1. Champagne is for dinner, not just for drinking. We’ve all done it – drank the Champagne while chatting (or reading the menus, back when that was a thing) and then moved on to “real” wine to have with our food. I’m not saying you shouldn’t drink it beforehand; I’m just saying you should continue to drink it with the meal. With its combination of crisp acidity, delicate fruit and fine mousse, Champagne is a natural partner for food, and not just the obvious. Yes, an aforementioned Blanc de Blanc would be a stunning pairing with fresh-from-the-sea oysters, or shellfish of any kind, but don’t limit yourself just seafood. Richer Champagnes will work with most white meats, while the Pinot based wines will pair with most Pinot-friendly foods. We served Dravigny ‘Cuvee Ambre’ (60% Pinot Noir) with steak tartare in the wine bar and it was a sensational match. Lighter rosés will marry beautifully with salmon, but a richer, vintage rosé is a knock-out with roast duck or rack of lamb.

Three to try –

Domaine Dravigny ‘Cuvee Ambre’ Champagne NV - €49

 Full bodied, toasty and exceptional value from this little-known Champagne house. Beats its better-known neighbours’ hands down!


Laharte Freres Rose de Meunier Champagne NV - €60
A rare 100% Meunier Champagne from a small biodynamic grower, this is delicately fragrant yet intensely flavoured. 

 

Charles Heidsieck Blanc de Blanc NV Champagne - €90

One of the more well-known houses, but oh what a house. Gloriously elegant and refined, crisp and complex, it’s practically perfect.