Wednesday, 30 September 2015

Champagne - what's your style?

For many drinkers, a glass of fizz is just that. Something sparkling to sip while you’re busy concentrating on something else: chit chatting, maximising your canapé intake, that sort of thing.

However, I feel that, once one reaches a certain age, it really is time to give the matter more thought and to have a favourite Champagne. If it’s good enough for James Bond (we all know he’s a Bolly fan), then it’s good enough for the rest of us.

But how to know which Champagne is for you? Well the bad news is, you might have to try a few different bottles in order to be really sure – I know, you’re just going to have to put on a brave face and get on with it.

You could do what I did and buy a few different big name Champagnes and get some people round to help you drink them. If you are also as cruel as I am, you could make it a blind tasting, so that they (and you) can taste without knowing which is which, thereby avoiding any innate bias. Don’t say I don’t know how to have fun.

Tea time!

Tackling the vast subject of how Champagne house styles differ from each other is not really within the remit of this short article. But to help you in your endeavours here are some pointers to get you started.

Piper Heidsieck
Piper is a good “beginner’s Champagne” with masses of crunchy fruit and sherbetty acidity. It’s a perfect aperitif Champagne, which is easy to drink.

Moët & Chandon
The first thing to know is, you do pronounce the “t” – it’s Mo-ett rather than Mo-ay. And Moët can claim to be amongst the most improved NV cuvées in recent years. This is a good all-rounder, with creamy mousse (that’s bubbles), citrusy fruit and a slightly savoury finish.

Veuve Clicquot
This and Moët are the two biggest selling Champagnes in the world. Veuve (or “the widow” to its fans) appeals to those who enjoy a bit more substance to their fizz, thanks to its higher proportion of the red grape Pinot Noir.

Louis Roederer
A favourite at my own blind “tasting” (OK drinking), this combines depth of flavour, fruitiness, elegance and creaminess in one very accomplished package. Classic and classy.

Although undoubtedly an iconic Champagne, it will not be to everyone’s taste, so if you don’t like it, please don’t give up on Champagne altogether. Bollinger stands out for its use of oak ageing and its rich, spicy, savoury style, which can stand up to a surprising range of food.

And finally – to help you find the best price for your chosen bottles bookmark this site: It’s a handy reference for tracking prices for all these Champagnes and more, so that you can make sure you’re not paying over the odds.

If you’d like to share your Champagne experiences with me, I’d love to hear from you:

Italy - the sweet and the serious

One of the many things I love about Italian wines is that the most serious, ageworthy ones can rub along in close proximity with the fun, light and frivolous. UK wine lovers can have a tendency to revere the serious and to view anything sweet and fizzy as not worthy of their attention. Italian drinkers, it seems, have no such qualms. My summer holiday this year in Piedmont provided a wonderful example.

Piedmont is most famous for the twin (or at least sibling) regions of Barolo and Barbaresco either side of the picturesque town of Alba, famous for its truffle market. They produce big-boned, long lived red wines from the Nebbiolo grape which, as they age, can develop haunting aromas of English rose and tar, but with tannins which continue to exert a firm grip.

But a mere grape’s throw away, in villages around the small city of Asti, are Muscat vines which go to make Asti (Asti Spumante as was) and Moscato d’Asti.

Asti tout court is a fully sparkling wine with lowish alcohol, definite sweetness and a musky grapiness. It’s a completely valid style of wine, but the ones we tend to see in this country are made by the big producers and can be rather basic.

Moscato d’Asti is lightly sparkling, deeply fruity and sweet, but with alcohol of around just 4.5-5.5%, generally made on a more artisan scale and have more interest and character as a result.

They can be hard to find – not least because retailers tend not to put them on the shelf with other sparkling wines; and they come in standard bottles and corks, so don’t stand out amongst the still wines either. However, there are some to be found – independent merchants are a happy hunting ground for this kind of thing – and here are a few pointers to get you started. One final tip: you’ll notice these are all 2014 vintage and Moscato d’Asti is a prime example of a DYA (Drink Youngest Available) wine.

Contero Moscato d’Asti di Strevi 2014 - £12.95 from and independents
Elio Perrone Moscato d’Asti 2014 - £7.95 from The Wine Society
Vajra Moscato d’Asti 2014 - £13.99 – The Wine Reserve Cobham and other independents
Marco e Vittorio Adriano Moscato d’Asti 2014 - £9.75 (case price) The Good Wine Shop Esher
Piasa San Maurizio Moscato d’Asti 2014 - £11.50 – (case price) The Good Wine Shop Esher