Champagne, France Wine Region
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Ah, Champagne; the original and premier sparkling wine region in the world. When the first bubbly Champagnes were created in the 17th Century, who could have ever predicted the hold this wonderful wine would have on drinkers around the globe. Every second, Champagne corks are set flying, as it is THE ONLY drink for a serious celebration. Come weddings, even funerals or simply a gorgeous day, Champagne is the name on everyone’s lips. At its best, great Champagne has the thrill of bubbles, layers and layers of yeasty, honeyed flavours backed by fresh acidity, making it one of my favourite drinks. Furthermore, while most of us throw it down as quickly as is physically possible, Champagne is also one of the most versatile food wines and fabulous with a wide range of dishes, from Rosé with fresh fruit, to sweet wines and light desserts.
While Sparkling wines are made around the world, Champagne beats them all by a good length. It’s not the method (Method Champenois), or the mix of grapes (Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier), just the super cool climate that keeps the flavours in those grapes delicate and the acid high, making the Non-Vintage wines fresh, elegant and restrained with lovely toasty complexity.
Champagne comes in a number of styles. The most common bottle of Champagne you can buy is a Non-Vintage, which is a blend of wines of different ages, some of which are over twenty years old. Vintage Champagnes are made from wines produced in a single year. Traditionally, they were only produced in the best years, making superb wines, but these days some of the larger producers, or houses as they call them in this patch of the country, release a vintage wine every year, even when the vintage does not warrant it! Don’t be fooled; Vintage wine might be more expensive but from average years, of which there are many, it does not necessarily mean better.
At the top of the vintage tree are the Grand Marque Champagnes from the finest houses. These are super-premium vintage Champagnes, often made from Grand Cru or Premier Cru vineyards (Champagne, like Burgundy, has its top-level vineyards rated as Grand or Premier Cru). While most Champagnes, at all quality levels, are a blend of three fine grapes, there are a small number of wines made differently; either a fine Blanc de Blancs made from Chardonnay or the even rarer Blanc de Noirs made only from Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier. One final factor that escapes many Champagne drinkers is that all good Champagnes improve with ageing . Whether a Non-Vintage from a respected house or Grand Marque Champagne from a great year, all become more rounded and complex with at least 2 years, if not many more, in the bottle. That is if you can keep your hands off them! Now go on, grab a bottle, rip off the foil and pop the cork; you know you want to.