Can only be called champagne when it comes from the champagne region of France, and when that special occasion arises it is still the choice of drink. Many champagne drinkers are happy with the champagnes they know from the larger producers and can be reluctant to spend large amounts of money on a wine they don`t know. However there are numerous smaller producers that match the quality of the well known brands, that are arriving here and finding their way onto wine lists and into wine shops.
In champagne the blend is the key – grapes, regions, vintages are all blended together to come up with the ultimate taste sensations. Great champagne as a drink is light and dry yet has complexity of flavour and richness with the ability to linger on your taste buds for some time after swallowing known as “persistence”. There needs to be a great balance between fruit ripeness while maintaining high natural acidity giving freshness. This balance is the key element in making great wine with distinctive style. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier have the attributes to make great champagnes. The latter two maintain some of the flavour richness of dark grapes.
Non vintage or multi vintage champagne forms the vast majority of production for all the champagne houses. Base wines are usually selected for delicacy, fruit character and acidity, blended together because it is unusual to find one wine with all the necessary characters. The blending can be quite extensive with may base wines being used and this creates the style of each champagne house and requires exceptional skill and in theory should be identical from year to year but there are often subtle differences. Some wines may have been aged in oak or had malolactic fermentation. Batches from previous vintages – reserve wines are used. Blending can be the hallmark of exceptional quality. Numerous regulations have to be complied with.
A stunning vintage year needs both combined high sugar and acidity levels. Vintage champagnes must spend at least three years on lees. Rose champagne has seen an increase in popularity as drinkers have learned to appreciate it as a beautiful elegant wine usually with some berry notes and not just a pink fizz.
TIP – Take champagne out of fridge and put in freezer for ten minutes before serving. Often drunk without food the freshness and acidity are enhanced by the cold. Remove cork and pour into beautiful flutes and see those lovely beads in action.
Champagne does respond well with a variety of food situations, cuisines and flavours. Firm favourites are oysters, sashimi, prawns, fruit salads and soft ripe cheeses, which offer the right texture and flavours.