This year is zooming past and, before long, we will be filling our calendars with party after soirée after celebration. This is, no doubt, the ideal time to contemplate the quintessential holiday refreshment – Champagne.
No festive gathering is replete in its revelry without bubbles, and the good news is there is no shortage of choices. The excellent quality and value of sparkling wines from around the world – Cava from Spain, Prosecco from Italy – all add a shimmer to an evening, but there are those occasions when there can be no substitute – when only Champagne will do.
As I will always want to serve the Champagne perfectly suited to each celebration, I see it as my sacrificial duty to taste a lot of it during the year! This way, by the time the holiday season is upon us, I will have amassed a first-hand understanding of a range of different styles and producers with which to beguile my guests.
I embarked on one such evening of ‘research’ recently and attended the Twilight Hours, an event hosted by The Tasting Sessions. During the evening we sampled seven different Champagnes (of which my personal favourite was the Krug Grand Cuvée Brut NV) and also partook in an interesting experiment.
We were served three Champagnes from different boutique houses, and each was made from 100% of one of the three grapes that make up the blend of Champagne: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. While Champagne from 100% Chardonnay, known as a Blanc de Blancs, or 100% Pinot Noir, Blanc de Noir, are widely available, there are very few instances of 100% Pinot Meunier. This particular one, Dehours, Les Genevraux Extra Brut 2004, was delightful! The dark fruit was obvious in notes of quince and fig, but was surrounded by light apple and a touch of hazelnut – very classy.
Interestingly, two of the ultimate splash-out highlights in my annual exploration this year are both Blancs de Blanc, 100% Chardonnay. The first is in fact a visit to an old favourite – and when I say ‘old’, I mean vintage. The Taittinger Comtes de Champagne Blanc de Blancs 1998 is the definition of elegance. Only made in the very best years from Grand Cru vineyards, the 1998 is intricate and gentle; the layers of citrus, grapefruit and light brioche are evocative and sensual. Ideally suited to an intimate gathering or romantic encounter.
For those who believe in maximum indulgence at Christmas, there can only be one choice: Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs 2000. The Chardonnay grapes used for this exclusive wine come from two tiny plots in the Grand Cru of Cramant in the Côtes des Blancs. The aromas and flavours offer an unending collection of nectarine, white flowers, creamy nougat and acacia honey. As is the style of Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque, this gem is presented in a stunning clear bottle, painted with dreamy white flowers surrounded by gold trim. The Perrier Jouet Belle Epoque Blanc de Blancs 2000 is currently on the wine list of the Fifth Floor Champagne Bar at Harvey Nichols for £600.50.
Let the celebrations begin!