Lovely bubbly! Pop the corks and learn about champagne

Gerard Richardson of Richardson’s Wines on Lowther Street, Whitehaven, whets our palate with a look at champagne.

Champagne: Something to celebrate. Picture Unal Telleria

Champagne: Something to celebrate. Picture Unal Telleria

“Penicillin cures, but wine makes people happy.”
― Alexander Fleming

I THOUGHT this time we could talk about Champagne the bubbly enigma that all of us have heard of but very few of us really get to know. Part of the reason for that is the price which is generally far higher than most other wines or sparklers and for some folk it’s basically seen as too ponsy.

The latter is Champagne’s own fault because it has traditionally marketed the product as the drink of high society, the wine only to open if you’ve just won the Grand Prix or if you don’t need to ask the price. The former issue though, which is the price, is a misnomer. There are low priced champagnes on the market but with very few exceptions (Tesco’s own label vintage for a start) they are mostly dry tasteless bubbly crap. I’m not just being snobbish because I sell top end Champers it’s just that with the costs involved in making champagne, it’s exceptionally difficult to sell it under £20 unless you are loss leading or getting rid of rubbish.

Champagne is effectively blended wine that is subjected to a secondary fermentation in the bottle and then aged slowly and carefully before final removal of the yeast and then corking with those magnificent high pressure corks that you can never get back in afterwards. That said there are very effective ways to cut some time and hence cost out of the process and that’s what many new world vineyards do and why they distinguish their wines from the really cheap sparklers by identifying them as Method Champenoise.

Anyway I digress, so let’s get back to Champagne. I’m not going to try to persuade any of you to casually open a Premier Cru with your shepherd’s pie but it does have a legitimate place at your table if you are partial to strawberries and cream after the pie. Forget the ponsy hang up and surprise yourself on the next special occasion you celebrate because Champers really is magical if you get the right one. I’ve had national names before and the bubbles explode on your palate so roughly you feel like you have just eaten a sandpaper sandwich and relatively low priced unknowns that left me feeling like I’d just had a velvet mouthwash.

Champagne comes in a number of styles which very briefly are:

  • Demi Sec = medium sweet
  •  Brut = Dry
  • Blanc de Blanc = made entirely from the Champagne Grape (Champagne while always white or rose can actually be made from any combination of three grapes, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier)
  • Vintage = made from the wines of one vintage only whereas Non vintage can be made from a blend of various years.

One thing I’m always asked is which is my favourite Champagne and when you think about it that’s a strange question to ask a lad who grew up on Cleator Moor in the 60’s and 70’s but I’m always happy to give the answer. And the same answer is – it varies depending on the year and quality of production – but this year its Joseph Perrier’s Brut Cuvee Royale which is a blend of all three of the grapes allowed in Champagne. Its a crisp, appley style with spiced fruit on the palate and a lovely refreshing finish. Its superb with its old partner of strawberries but for a change this summer, try it with grilled meats over a barbie, you really will be surprised. Chin chin good folks of Egremont until the next time!