People often ask me what is my favourite Champagne. I hate this question because immediately you sound pretentious when you compare and contrast this beautiful drink but I cannot help the fact that over the years I have tasted many different champagnes and I know what I like.
There are countless books and articles written on the subject and wine journalists seem obsessed with comparing it in blind tastings to new world sparkling wines from Australia, the UK and the USA, proudly trumpeting the victory when “proper” champagne does not come out on top.
There is no doubt the industry has done a fantastic job over the years in associating success, celebration and special occasions with a class of bubbly from this small area of France known the world over.
I have been lucky enough to visit the region a few times in my life and thoroughly enjoyed the tours around some of the top champagne houses learning all about the unique méthode champenoise and seeing first hand the millions of bottles resting in over 600 miles of tunnels below the vineyards and winery’s that make up this amazing part of the world.
I have to say it is also well worth a visit due to the excellent French restaurants scattered throughout the region, from memory they represent great value and superb wine lists to accompany the star of the show.
Anyway, back to my favourite Champagne. Let me first share with you a few tips about Champagne.
Tip 1. Just because it has the word Champagne on the label does not immediately make it great. I have tasted some lovely sparkling wines from the UK and Australia which are delicious and dollar for dollar represent excellent value against some mass produced unknown champagne houses that take advantage of their location and appellation. Try Nyetimber, Chapel Down and Wiston Estate from the UK and Chandon (!), House of Arras, Taltarni and Blue Pyrenees from Australia.
Tip 2. Just because you have heard of it does not make it great. Most people have heard of Moet & Chandon, Veuve Cliquot, Mumm, Lanson, Tattinger, Piper-Heidsieck but to say that these are the best is probably doing the rest an injustice. The point is that these producers make enough champagne to export thousands of bottles every year (Moet sells something like 2.5 million cases of six bottles, every year, so restaurants, bars and retailers are bound to stock it).
Now don’t get me wrong, these are all excellent wines and I would not say no to a glass of any of them but like most wines, even champagne, has a different taste and style. When you think about it, the average Non vintage Champagne is made from a blend of up to three different years to try to replicate a ‘house style’ – it’s an amazing feat and tribute to the winemakers that they are able to do this so consistently year after year.
Tip 3. All champagne tastes different. So to say that you like champagne (or don’t like Champagne) is not really going far enough. Do you like floral or fruity? Heavy or light? Herbal or Spicy? Big bubbles or small bubbles? Dry or Sweet? White or Rose?
Next time you have a drop take a minute to think about this before you down it in one and ask yourself why you prefer one champagne over another, it is after all no different from any other wine in this respect.
Tip 4. If you can afford it, buy VINTAGE Champagne. Now there are exceptions but in my experience a good vintage Champagne always tastes better than the Non-Vintage version. Think about it for a moment, the winemaker was so impressed with the crop that year that he or she has decided that it warrants its own celebration of success. The wine maker knows that by declaring a vintage they will be excluding this vintage from their non-vintage blend and sometimes accepting the fact that quantity levels may be lower and he or she won’t be able to sell as much. All that said and done vintage champagne tastes amazing and the first time I tasted the vintage version of my least favourite champagne (Moet et Chandon) I was blown away.
Tip 5. Always drink it chilled. This may not need stating but believe me I have seen people drink luke warm champagne straight from the rack and it’s criminal so don’t do it!
Okay, so back to my favourite champagne. I’m going to mention a few that nearly made it to number 1 and the reasons why:
Krug Grande Cuvee – Non vintage and absolutely delicious. Smooth, small bubbles, creamy and it has a lovely palate. If you can get hold of a bottle to try it is lovely but quite pricey (c $250 AUD). The Vintage version is even nicer, I tasted a 1995 a few years ago and it was divine. Recent available vintages (2003) can retail at over $400 AUD so probably only for those very special occasions. For those who are interested the proportion is usually 50% Pinot Noir, 20% Pinot Meunier and 30% Chardonnay.
Ruinart Blanc de Blancs – Again, non-vintage and smooth and so easy to drink. This time it’s only about $99 AUD so beginning to get into the affordable bracket and well worth it if you are looking for a step up from the bog standard Champagne houses. Blanc de Blancs means that its been made from 100% Chardonnay grape.
Champagne is only allowed to be made from three grape varieties, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier, the proportion is up to the wine maker and can make a huge difference to the “I like it” crowd or not.
Taittinger Brut Reserve – Probably my favourite of the big houses and reasonably readily available. It does have big bubbles and packs a punch of fruit but I think it’s great and it reminds me of a time gone by when Champagne was drunk from silly babycham glasses in the 1950’s. $69.99 AUD a bottle. 30% Pinot Noir, 30% Pinot Meunier and 40% Chardonnay.
Dom Perignon Brut Vintage ($220 AUD) and Louis Roederer Cristal (The one in the clear bottle covered in the yellow cellophane to protect it from the sunlight
– really! Why not put it in a green bottle like everyone else? $330 AUD) are both nice but massively overrated by people that usually have more money than sense. Again don’t get me wrong, if I was offered a glass of either I would not turn them down but if you are going to spend this sort of money on top vintage champagne then choose a good vintage Krug and you won’t go far wrong.
Drum roll please……..
This is without doubt my favourite champagne and the absolute “go to” drop when I celebrate with family and friends…..
La Cuvée Rosé was created in 1968 and is acknowledged for its consistency and its high quality. It is made from 100% Pinot Noir grapes, allowing just enough of the skins to tinge the wine a lovely brick pink colour when poured. It is made from 10 different growers or crus located mainly in the South and North areas of the Montagne de Reims – including the famous Côte de Bouzy – notably from the finest crus of Ambonnay, Bouzy, Louvois and Tours-sur-Marne.
The grapes come from carefully selected plots and are sorted and destemmed before vatting. The maceration – lasting from 48h to 72h depending on the harvest – helps the extraction of the colour and the development of the full aromatic richness of the Pinot Noir. It is aged for a minimum of 5 years so even with the non-vintage wine you are enjoying something that has been made with patience and care.
The Cuvée Rosé Laurent-Perrier bottle, with its generous, curvaceous lines, is unique and one of the first things that attracted me to this Champagne.
When Bernard de Nonancourt launched Cuvée Rosé Laurent-Perrier in 1968, he decided to present his creation in a uniquely distinctive bottle to magnify this very special cuvée. It is generous and curvaceous and reminds me of vintage wine bottles from the Georgian era that you very occasionally see up for auction for thousands of dollars. Even the seal pressed into each glass bottle, monogrammed “LP” gives it an elegance and class that reflects the pride and quality of the wine.
These days, Cuvée Rosé Laurent-Perrier is sold in an extremely elegant presentation case reminiscent of the delicate colour of the wine and its Pinot Noir grapes.
As for the taste, well you just have to try it. To me it is smooth, delicious, creamy, chocolaty, fruity and very drinkable. I have seen it on special for $64 AUD but it’ s usually anything between $86 AUD and $119 AUD a bottle. I make a point of always keeping a bottle in the house for any suitable occasion and I suggest you do to.