Consumption/consummation involves titillation, sensual pleasure, gratification. With both there are the charms of monogamy and the excitement of promiscuity. They also have their points of difference: the risk-to-pleasure ratio favours Champagne as does its cost efficiency: however much you invest in a great bottle, only to be disappointed, it’s nothing compared with what Paul McCartney had to spend to extricate himself from a loveless marriage. Finally, while the connection may not be immediately evident – but believe me it is there – Winston Churchill’s great adage about alcohol applies: “I have taken more out of alcohol than alcohol has taken out of me.”
It may come as a surprise to fizzophiles, but there are actually people who don’t “get” Champagne. They see it as harsh, acidic, austere, the kind of reach-for-a-Rennies beverage which gives wine a bad name. For them there is some easy to apply advice “Get your doctor to put you on Nexiam and get over your anxiety about heartburn.” Once you recognise that life without Champagne would be immensely poorer (even poorer than you would be from a lifetime of Champagne indulgence) it’s safe to say that you will discover that Champagne is the best and longest downhill roller-coaster ride you can buy, and worth every skid and corner on the way.
A WORTHY WINE
Firstly, it is a remarkable wine: made in huge, seemingly industrial cellars or in tiny producer caves, it can be frivolous and simple in its youth, complex and intense with bottle age, nutty and haunting at the peak of greatness. While most branded Champagnes are made with fruit sourced from a great number of growers, two of the great houses – Louis Roederer and Bollinger – exercise considerable control over their fruit sources. Roederer owns the vast majority of the vineyards from which its wines are made (the top cuvees like Cristal are 100% estate grapes) and manages the farming where it does buy from growers, so that now even the Brut Premier has a high percentage of bio-dynamically grown grapes.
MÉTHODE CHAMPENOISE PERFECTED
Secondly, while the Champagne method as well as the geographical origin are the legal definition of the beverage, there are hundreds of different approaches to assembling the final wine. Bollinger stores still wine in magnums (thousands of them) and adds some of this back every year when the base wine is assembled. Benoit Lahaye makes his Rose from the maceration of the fruit; Jean-Manuel Jacquinot’s Rose Champagne is a blanc des noirs. Krug, Roederer, Bollinger and Gosset have always included an oaked component in their base wine, while other houses prefer the neutrality of stainless steel.
Thirdly, while the vast proportion of all champagnes are consumed within a 12 month period of their sale into the trade, almost all improve with bottle age – and some, like Cristal, for example – need at least ten years to reveal anything like their full complexity. Great Champagnes are great wines – they evolve with age, acquiring nuance and detail with the elapse of time. We don’t often get a chance to sample this age-worthiness because they’re so enjoyable consumed young – but if you are lucky enough to drink a fabulous bottle thirty to fifty years old (or one of the rare discoveries buried somewhere in a cellar for over a century), there are few wines more likely to change your world view.
LET IT LIE
So, if you served a fine bottle of Rose champagne to your wife/girlfriend/boyfriend/mistress/member-of-parliament on Valentine’s Day, that’s fine – but lay down a few bottles of the best fizz for a time, well into the future, when you’re in need a life-changing wine experience.