Fine food spirit & wine
THE CHAMPAGNE GUIDE
Nothings lifts the mood of a room quite like a glass of the finest bubbly. But before popping the cork, there are some important things to know. Should you opt for vintage or non-vintage? How do you pair your fizz to your supper? Read on for everything you need to know about Champagne – and how best to enjoy it.
- team luxe List
What is Champagne?
The crème de la crème of sparkling wines, Champagne is created on the chalky hillsides of the Champagne region in north-eastern France. By law, all Champagne must come from this region; French sparkling wine made outside of this region is known as Crémant.
How is Champagne made?
Champagne’s fizz comes from the Méthode Champenoise, a labour-intensive process whereby wine undergoes a second fermentation in the bottle with the addition of sugar and yeast. As the yeast dies, it releases carbon dioxide, sparking effervescence.
Over a minimum of 15 months, the liquid is aged ‘on the lees’ (with the dead yeast) to develop texture and complexity. The yeast is then removed in what’s known as the dégorgement process and further sugar and wine are added (known as dosage) before the bottle is sealed. Like we said, it’s a long, elaborate process.
What are the different types of Champagne?
Champagne comes in various levels of sweetness. From dry to sweet, there’s Brut Nature, Extra Brut, Brut, Extra-Dry, Dry and Doux. How sweet it tastes depends on how much sugar is added in the dosage (see above). The vast majority of Champagne are Brut.
Then there’s style. Champagne winemakers can use seven varieties of grape. The most common are Pinot Noir (full-bodied and intense), Pinot Meunier (soft and fruity with a unique ageing ability) and Chardonnay (elegant and fresh).
Blanc de Blancs is made with 100% white grapes, aka Chardonnay, and typically tastes fresh with lemon and apple-like flavours. Blanc de Noirs is made with 100% black grapes, Pinot Noir and/or Pinot Meunier, resulting in berry notes. Rosé usually blends Chardonnay with a bit of Pinot Noir or Pinot Meunier.
What’s the difference between non-vintage and vintage Champagne?
Most Champagne is non-vintage, meaning it contains a blend of wines from more than one year. Most readily produced, these Champagnes tend to be easy on the palate (and easier on the pocketbook). Celebrated for their uniqueness, vintage wines are made from the grapes of one year’s harvest. They’re aged for a minimum of three years on the lees, which offers a more complex flavour.
What is a prestige cuvée?
A prestige cuvée is a house’s very finest release, only made in exceptional vintages. Famous prestige cuvées include Louis Roederer’s Cristal and Moët & Chandon’s Dom Pérignon bottlings
The Champagne Houses to Know
With so many Champagne brands to choose from, how do you know which one to pick? Ultimately, it’s a question of taste – the more cuvées you try, the closer you’ll be to knowing what you like (cheers to that). Our advice: start with the big hitters. Steeped in history, with decades of experience, these brands have earned their reputation as the Champagne houses to know.
When Alexander II of Russia wanted a Champagne fit for a tsar, he turned to Louis Roederer. Two centuries later, Cristal remains the (family-owned) brand’s signature style, though it now joins a wider portfolio of vintage and non-vintage Champagnes – all deserving of imperial taste buds.
When Father Pierre Pérignon took over as cellar master at the Benedictine Abbey of Hautvillers in 1668, he vowed “to make the best wine in the world”. Today, the house is famous for its exclusively vintage and superlative Champagnes, which are aged for a minimum of seven years before release, affording the wines extra complexity and richness. Mission accomplished, Father Pérignon.
ARMAND DE BRIGNAC
Co-owned by Mr Shawn Carter (aka Jay-Z), Armand de Brignac Champagne is every bit as fresh, bright and luxurious as its megawatt bottling. Each of the brand’s five cuvées is produced by father-and-son team Jean-Jacques and Alexandre Cattier, 12th and 13th generation winegrowers whose family has cultivated vineyards in Montagne de Reims since 1763
MOËT & CHANDON
By far the largest Champagne house, Moët & Chandon has had a Royal Warrant from the British monarchy since 1983. Its signature style, found in Moët Impérial, is a blend of over 200 crus, for notes of citrus, white fruit and toasted brioche. Oh, and Moët is pronounced with a hard ‘t’.
Renowned for its elegant, creamy and floral cuvées, Perrier-Jouët presents the prettiest bottles in Champagne. Since the early days, the house has only made wines in small quantities, with grapes vinified according to terroir, creating a limited-edition range of inimitable Champagnes.
This small but prestigious house produces all its wines in small oak casks, allowing them to develop a strong bouquet and complex flavours. It is also the only house to create prestige Champagnes every year since its foundation in 1843.
Veuve Clicquot – with its signature yellow label – has been high society’s sip of choice for more than 200 years. Though founded by Philippe Clicquot in 1772, it is his son’s wife, left a ‘veuve’ (French for widow) at 27, who became the brand’s driving force. A woman of vision, she perfected production techniques, invented the riddling process and created the first blended rosé Champagne. Within just a few decades, she was shipping wines all over the world.
One of the smaller grandes marques, Charles Heidsieck draws on a rich palette of crus. The winemaker ages the majority of its non-vintage Champagnes in crayères, a maze of 47 chalk cellars some 30 metres below the ground dating from the 3rd century, where the bottles remain at a constant 10°C.
How to Pair Champagne with Food
Blanc de Blancs
Blanc de Blancs tends to be lighter and drier, with a fresh, citrussy spectrum of flavours – perfect with fresh oysters and umami-rich foods.
Most meals are enhanced by a splash of Brut, though standout pairings include fried potatoes or chicken, steak, white truffle and citrus.
Blanc de Noirs
Often full bodied with a rounder mouthfeel, meaning it has the power and richness to complement stronger flavours – including aged Comté, pheasant, veal and pork.
Extra Brut has a drier quality and an acidic freshness that plays well with salty, oily, nutty and egg-based dishes – especially fish and chips, or roast chicken.
Boasting a strong flavour, rosé lends itself to potent tastes, such as smoked salmon, roast venison, pheasant, creamy cheeses and cured meats.
Terrific with desserts, especially chocolate. It’s also great with rich and spicy foods (think Indian curries), as well as dim sum and buttery popcorn.