If at no other time, champagne is usually the drink of choice at Christmas, and certainly for the New Year. According to Francoise Peretti, Director of the UK Champagne Bureau, the UK is their number one client, with sales of vintage champagne on the up.
Any bottle bearing the name Champagne has to come from the region, which includes the growing of the grapes as well as its production. When looking to buy the tipple it’s worth considering exactly what you are using it for, perhaps to drink as an aperitif or to go with a dessert.
Champagne spends at least 15 months ageing in its producer’s cellars, although this increases to three years for a vintage. The di erence between vintage and non-vintage is that the former is a blend of wines from one particular year where-as a non-vintage comes from numerous harvests, and never all from the same year. Vintage wine is always more expensive as it is only produced when the cellar master believes that the grapes from that particular year have the necessary characteristics to meet his / her requirements.
There are also Special Cuvées where the champagne has been aged for ten, and often more years. This gives it time to bring out the richness and avour, resulting in a more complex wine. While vintage and non-vintage come in recognisable bottles, each house has its own specially shaped bottle for its Special Cuvées. These are more expensive, but usually come boxed, making it an ideal gift.
The di erence in taste comes from the grapes, and the percentage of each used. Some producers only use the chardonnay grape which gives a light avour, and will have the words blanc de blancs on its label. The strength varies when either or both meunier and / or pinot noir grapes are introduced.Beingblack,theyhaveaheavier, more robust avour. If the label says blanc
de noirs then it is totally made from black grapes. When neither is mentioned, it is a mixture. Each house has its own blend, which is duplicated year after year so that buyers can expect a similar taste from their favoured producer.
To add to the choice there is also Rosé, pink champagne. This can be a blend of the three grapes to which red wine, produced in the region, is added or where the skins of the meunier and / or pinot noir grapes have been left in the fermenting. Its depth of colour will depend on how many black grapes are in the champagne.
The majority of Champagne sold is brut which means it is dry. Variations, whereby more or less sugar have been added, are also available.
If you are not sure what to buy Francoise suggests asking advice from your local wine merchant. With an indication of what style of still wine you like, they will be able to suggest suitable brands.
May I raise my glass of champagne, and wish everybody a very merry Christmas and a happy New Year.
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