Welcome to our detailed guide on Champagne, the quintessential sparkling wine that has become synonymous with celebrations worldwide. Are you eager to dive deep into the world of Champagne? You are in the right place. This blog will become your ultimate resource for understanding the history, taste profiles, food pairings, and global appreciation of Champagne. From wine novices to seasoned enthusiasts, we'll equip you with practical insights on selecting, storing, and savouring Champagne. And with the festive season approaching, we are excited to showcase some exceptional recommendations from Friarwood's excellent collection.
Why is Champagne so special and distinct in the vast world of wines? Esteemed for its delicate effervescence and intricate flavour profile – from crisp citrus notes to rich, toasted brioche – Champagne is not just a wine, it's an experience.
Join us as we navigate the intricacies that have cemented Champagne's revered status in the world of wines.
THE HISTORY OF CHAMPAGNE
The Birth of Champagne: A Fortuitous Accident
Let's journey back to the origins of Champagne, a wine that transformed 'mistakes' into magic. Originally, the bubbles in Champagne were deemed a flaw, a result of secondary fermentation in the bottle due to the region's cold temperatures. However, what was once seen as an error soon became the wine's most defining and sought-after characteristic, leading to the creation of the meticulous méthode champenoise, or traditional method, used to produce Champagne today.
Exploring Champagne: France's Sparkling Jewel
No discussion about Champagne would be complete without a deep dive into its namesake region. Nestled in the northeast of France, the Champagne region boasts a unique terroir that is instrumental in producing the world's finest sparkling wines. The combination of its chalky soil, cool climate, and meticulous grape growing practices results in wines of unparalleled elegance and finesse. Within this region, areas such as the Montagne de Reims, Côte des Blancs, and Vallée de la Marne are celebrated for producing distinctive Champagne styles and cuvées.
PRODUCTION OF CHAMPAGNE:
Champagne owes its effervescence and unique taste to the 'méthode champenoise' or traditional Champagne method. But what sets it apart from other sparkling wines?
The Terroir and Climate: The Champagne region has a dual climate, with oceanic and continental influences. This unique climate, coupled with chalky soils, ensures that the grapes achieve optimal acidity, which is vital for sparkling wine production.
Harvesting: Harvest in the Champagne region usually commences from late September to October. Grapes are hand-picked to ensure they remain whole until pressing, which preserves their quality.
Unique Production: After initial fermentation, bottles undergo a second fermentation with the addition of yeast and sugar. They are then stored horizontally in cellars for a minimum of 15 months (for non-vintage) or three years (for vintage). This period allows the champagne to develop its signature bubbles and complex flavours.
Distinguishing Factor: The meticulous aging and fermentation process in the bottle differentiates Champagne from other sparkling wines, making it an epitome of elegance and sophistication.
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF CHAMPAGNE
Understanding Champagne's multifaceted character is vital to truly appreciating its charm. Let's dive into the grape varieties, taste profiles, and even the art of pairing Champagne with food.
Taste Profile of Champagne
Each sip of Champagne dances on the palate with an array of flavours. Depending on the blend of grape varieties, such as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Pinot Meunier, Champagnes can range from lean and citrusy to rich and toasty. Many Champagnes also carry notes of apple, pear, almond, and brioche, with older vintages often revealing deeper, more complex nutty and honeyed tones.
Ideal Food Pairings with Champagne
Given its acidity and bubbles, Champagne is incredibly versatile with food. From delicate appetizers like oysters and caviar to richer dishes like truffle risotto or even fried chicken, Champagne can elevate any meal. For those with a sweet tooth, try pairing it with light desserts such as macarons or fruit tarts.
HOW TO CHOOSE AND SERVE CHAMPAGNE
Navigating the world of Champagne can be as exhilarating as the bubbles themselves. Here, we delve into the nuances of selecting the perfect bottle and serving it to maximize its brilliance.
Temperature is key. Chill your Champagne to around 7-10°C. Using flute glasses can best showcase its fine bubbles and aromas
Factors to Consider: Vintage, Style, and House
While non-vintage Champagnes offer consistency, vintage Champagnes provide insight into a particular year's character. Additionally, understanding styles such as Brut, Blanc de Blancs, or Rosé can help guide your selection. Finally, each Champagne house has its distinct style, from the elegance of Dom Pérignon to the creamy richness of Bollinger.
Champagne offers an array of styles, each bringing forth a unique tasting experience. Here's a brief on some of the popular styles:
- Brut: This is the most common style of Champagne, characterized by its dry taste. The term 'Brut' signifies that little to no sugar has been added during the 'dosage' process.
- Blanc de Blancs: Translated as 'white from whites', this style is made exclusively from Chardonnay grapes. It's typically fresh, lively, and crisp with a delicate palate.
- Rosé: Produced either by leaving the grape skins in contact with the juice for a short time (known as maceration) or by blending red wine with white Champagne, Rosé champagnes are vibrant and fruity.
- Vintage Champagnes: These are made from grapes harvested in a specified year and are only produced during exceptional years. They showcase the unique characteristics of that particular year.
Notable Houses in the Heart of Champagne:
- Deutz: Founded in 1838 by William Deutz and Pierre-Hubert Geldermann, both from the Aachen region of Germany, the house of Deutz has maintained its commitment to producing high-quality champagnes. With vineyards predominantly located in the Grand Cru and Premier Cru villages, Deutz's champagnes are a delightful expression of the terroir.
- Ruinart: Established in 1729, Ruinart holds the esteemed title of being the oldest existing Champagne house. Founded by Nicolas Ruinart, its deep cellars, originally chalk pits, offer perfect maturation conditions for its champagnes.
- Billecart-Salmon: A family legacy since 1818, Billecart-Salmon is known for its delicate bubbles and elegant rose champagnes. Situated in Mareuil-sur-Ay, it's one of the few houses that remains family-owned and has continuously strived to perfect the art of winemaking across seven generations.
Bollinger and "Absolutely Fabulous"
Absolutely Fabulous, also affectionately known as Ab Fab, was a British television sitcom created by Jennifer Saunders, who, alongside Joanna Lumley, played the lead roles of Edina Monsoon and Patsy Stone, respectively. The show originally aired from the early 1990s and focused on the over-the-top, satirical escapades of the two main characters, who were often seen living a life of excess.
Throughout the series, Edina and Patsy's drink of choice was "Bolly", the shortened and endearing term for the renowned champagne brand, Bollinger. The duo’s frequent exclamation, "Sweetie, darling, pour the Bolly!" became an iconic catchphrase. The frequent mention and consumption of Bollinger in the show popularized the brand among fans and beyond, turning it into a pop culture symbol of luxury, indulgence, and a bit of comedic absurdity.
Pop Culture Influence
Absolutely Fabulous inadvertently served as a unique form of product placement for Bollinger. Initially, Bollinger was not involved in any official product placement with Absolutely Fabulous. The brand was chosen by the show's creators purely for comedic effect, as its luxury status juxtaposed humorously with Edina and Patsy's outrageous antics. According to Jennifer Saunders, the show’s creator and star, after the first two series, the show jokingly switched to Veuve Cliquot when Bollinger refused to send them any free bottles to feature on the show!
However, over time, Bollinger realised they were missing out on a massive marketing opportunity and soon came around.
Sabrage: The Art of Opening Champagne with a Saber
Sabering is the technique of opening a champagne bottle using a saber. The act involves sliding the blade along the body of the bottle to break the entire neck away, leaving only the base of the bottle open and ready to pour. Done correctly, it is a clean break, and the pressure inside the bottle ensures that no shards fall into the champagne. Sabering a bottle of champagne is not just a theatrical gesture but has historical roots.
It's essential to note that sabrage, while thrilling, requires precaution, so please do not try it at home!
The tradition of sabrage is often associated with the Napoleonic era. Following their many victories across Europe, Napoleon Bonaparte and his cavalry, the Hussars, would celebrate with bottles of champagne. Due to the impracticality of opening bottles on horseback using conventional methods and with the exuberance of victory in the air, the soldiers took to using their sabers to swiftly and dramatically open the bottles.
Napoleon is often quoted as saying, "Champagne! In victory one deserves it; in defeat one needs it." It can be imagined how this celebratory spirit, combined with the martial prowess of his soldiers, led to the adoption of this theatrical technique.
While the act itself is undeniably flamboyant, it also carries with it a certain symbolism. Sabering a bottle can be seen as a gesture of triumph, a declaration of celebration, and a nod to the fearless cavalry of yesteryears. Over time, the act of sabrage has been adopted and celebrated in various ceremonies, parties, and gatherings, especially those that wish to start their event with flair and drama.
FRIARWOOD’S RECOMMENDED CHAMPAGNES FOR THE FESTIVE SEASON
With the Festive Season approaching, we invite you to indulge in Friarwood's handpicked Champagne selections. From accessible options to the most prestigious cuvées, there's something for every enthusiast in our collection.
Friarwood 1er Cru, Brut £29.95 (Also available in Half and Magnum!)
Looking for a special bubbly to add some excitement to your next gathering? Look no further than NV Friarwood 1er Cru, Brut Champagne. This luxurious beverage is produced in the village of Grauves, renowned for creating some of the finest Champagnes in the world. The Premier Cru designation means this wine is from one of the three most celebrated districts in all of Champagne.
After being aged in bottles for three years, this bubbly boasts a lovely biscuit flavor that is well balanced and delicate. It makes the perfect addition to any celebration or as a simple way to enjoy a moment of luxury.
A very flavoursome and versatile Friarwood Premier Cru champagne to be enjoyed on its own or with food but always with good friends.
Deutz, Brut Classic £45 (Also available in half and Magnum and Rose)
One of the oldest members of Champagne's prestigious Grandes Marques houses, Champagne Deutz of Ay, France, has been making distinctive champagnes marked by finesse, elegance and complexity since 1838. The house has upheld the traditions of fine Champagne making handed down through five generations. Owning a significant portion of its own vineyards, Deutz selects only top rated grapes from 275 acres of vineyards in the finest crus of Champagne. The wines are slowly and carefully aged in the chalk-walled cellars far beneath the historic village of Ay.
Ruinart, Blanc De Blancs £96 (Also available in half and Rose)
Ruinart is a low profile, yet select, Champagne house which is steeped in history. It dates back to the 17th century, the time of the famous Dom Perignon. It was founded in 1729 by Nicolas Ruinart in the city of Reims, the year after a Royal Decree in 1728 whereby Louis XV gave his consent for sparkling wines to be shipped in baskets containing 50 to 100 bottles. This opened the gates of Europe to champagne and thus makes Ruinart the oldest Champagne House. Since the Second World War the house has become synonymous with class and its production of only 1.7 million bottles per annum is small compared to other grande marques.
Bollinger La Grande Annee 2014 £199 (Also available in White Brut)
A luxurious blend of La Grande Année 2014 and a unique red wine from the Côte aux Enfants in Coteaux Champenois, this Rose Champagne has a true fruit mosaic. It features a delightful blend of raspberry, wild strawberries, cherries, and ripe cranberries. The fruity bouquet is further completed with notes of peach and quince. It fills the mouth with a sumptuous, creamy effervescence and splendid volume in the mouth, and long-lasting aromatic persistence. It has a wonderful acidity and a distinctive sea-air characteristic that goes perfectly with the flavours of orchard fruits and berries.
The most famous wine of the Roederer estate, Cristal was created in 1876 to satisfy the demanding tastes of Tsar Alexander II – the emperor asked Louis Roederer himself to reserve the House’s best cuvée for him every year. This exceptional champagne came in a flat-bottomed & transparent lead-crystal bottle (to foil the insertion of explosives in the indentation by would-be assassins!), hence the name. Not commercially available until 1945 it is only produced in the best of years when the Chardonnay (c. 40% of the blend) and Pinot Noir (c. 60%) have attained perfect ripeness. Cristal is then aged for 6 years in their cellars and left for a further 8 months after dégorgement. A remarkably balanced and refined style there is also tremendous aging potential; it can be kept for over 20 years without losing its freshness and character.
Checkout the full range of Champagnes for your next special occasion – with free delivery on orders over £150 - discover the world of Champagne with us. Once you've relished our suggestions, share your experiences with #FriarwoodFineWines on social media. Dive into the effervescence and let every sip be a celebration. Cheers!