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Pleasure without Champagne is purely arti�cial,' quipped
Oscar Wilde, who was partial to a glass or two. And while
it is possible to have a cracking time without cracking
open a bottle of �zz, there is no denying that Champagne
brings a hedonistic froth to proceedings. It's something
that we Brits have long understood, being the thirstiest
qua ers of bubbly after the French.
But for all that, we're often stumped when it comes to knowing
which style of Champagne to buy. This is especially true when dining
out, where a plethora of styles (and prices) on wine lists can render the
best of us giddy before we've touched a drop. To really impress that
sommelier, and to gain maximum cred
with wine-savvy friends, a few simple
tips can help achieve maximum �zzical
pleasure. The �rst thing to remember
is that there is a style of Champagne
to match every occasion.
Wine for all reasons
There is no better place to start than with non-vintage (NV). This is
Champagne at its everyday best, skilfully blended from wines from
several years to achieve a consistent 'house' style. Versatile, eminently
drinkable and carrying the producer's reputation, NV is like a little
black dress that can be dressed up or down for the occasion.
Non-vintage Champagnes range from lighter, more delicate wines,
such as Perrier Jouët's Grand Brut NV, perfect as an aperitif, to richer,
more full-bodied numbers such as Ruinart NV, that will pair well with
amuse-bouches and lighter starters. Think also in terms of summer-
and winter-weight wines, of whether you're in need of a frivolous
cocktail party tipple or a more serious preprandial wine. Then ask your
sommelier (or local wine shop) to recommend a �zz accordingly. From
�sh and chips to sushi, NV Champagne's uplifting bubbles and vibrant
acidity make for a great everyday food companion.
In the know
So far so good, but it's time to step up a level. This is where the serious
blu er's skill comes in handy and a little knowledge goes a long way.
The British have long had a taste for the richer, more evolved depths
o ered by vintage Champagne (see p.184 for more). The extra age
of these single-vintage wines from the best years gives them the
intensity to match meaty dishes. Often sublime with birds such as
goose and duck (try a full-bodied Veuve Clicquot or Moët Chandon),
a good vintage will take pork and crackling in its stride, and works as a
decadent brunch reviver alongside a tricky dish such as eggs Benedict.
Meanwhile, blanc de blancs and blanc de noirs are Champagnes
made from either 100% white Chardonnay (blancs) or 100% red Pinot
Noir and/or Pinot Meunier (noirs), rather than the more usual blend of
white and red grapes. A note - while made from red grapes, remember
that blanc de noirs are actually white.
Blanc de blancs loves a piscatorial feast, the creamy seductiveness
of the Chardonnay being a great partner to seafood (Salon, Taittinger,
Pol Roger and Jacquart make elegant examples). Meanwhile, the redfruit
scented blanc de noirs can rise to the challenge of lean meats
such as game birds and venison, along with hard cheeses.
Pinot Noir-based rosé Champagnes also
boast subtle but �rm character - plus that
pretty pink colour which spells 'romance'.
They pair across a wide range of food, from
scallops and lobster to meatier dishes -
especially if you pick vintage rosé. Try the
superb Billecart-Salmon or Gosset rosés.
Next, two polar opposites superb for bookending a meal. The �rst
is brut nature (or brut zero), born of a recent fashion for bone-dry
Champagne, which sits well with bone-dry, often salty or tangy foods,
such as caviar, shell�sh, or East Asian cuisine. This dryness also works
as a contrast to fatty textures like black pudding. Billecart-Salmon Extra
Brut NV and Perle d'Ayala Nature Brut 2002 are superb examples.
In contrast you'll also �nd sweeter, o -dry styles of Champagne,
known as demi-sec. Try Jacquart's fruity, medium-dry sweet style,
which is perfect at the end of a meal, giving a gentle lift to drier
desserts such as berry-laden dishes, cakes or lemony tarts.
Finally, topping the billing - and often in a stratospheric price
league of their own - are the prestige cuvée wines. Complex, elegant,
sublimely balanced yet sumptuous, these represent the best a
Champagne house can produce and are ideal for special occasions.
At this level it's as much about appreciation of the house style as
personal preference. Still, there's much to choose from, with stand-out
suggestions ranging from the classy depths of Krug's single-vineyard
Clos du Mesnil (a blanc de blancs) by way of the elegant toastiness of
Pol Roger's Cuvée Sir Winston Churchill to the �nesse and precision of
Louis Roederer's Cristal and the much-fêted Dom Pérignon.
Above all, the best advice is to discuss options with your sommelier
or local shop. Remember they are passionate about �nding you the
best wine to suit your budget, occasion and meal.
Be a �zz pro with our blu�er's guide to choosing Champagne WORDS ANDREW CATCHPOLE
call my bluff
TO IMPRESS THAT SOMMELIER,
A FEW SIMPLE TIPS CAN HELP
ACHIEVE FIZZICAL PLEASURE
ILLUSTRATION: MARIE¥HELENE JEEVES