Many regions in the world produce sparkling wine including several in France, but none can equal champagne.
The region of Champagne, approximately an hour’s drive northeast of Paris, is a marginal grape growing region, that has very chalky soil, and in some parts the soil is exclusively chalk. The climate is marginal and only three out of ten vintages are good enough to declared “vintage”.
Most champagne is blended to make up quality shortcomings. In this, now world famous region, vintages, like in the Douro Valley, in Portugal, where port wines originate, are declared, and only those worthy of this recognition.
Practically, all the land suitable fro grape growing has been planted. In 2007 there was an attempt to incorporate second rate (for viticulture) land into the region to expand it, but “the Great recession” necessitated dropping the idea, as champagne sales suffered heavily in major markets i.e. the United Kingdom, and the U S A
is a luxury product and expensive. It requires constant promotion efforts to maintain and increase sales.
It was invented by Dom Perignon, a Benedictine monk, and requires substantial labour, time, and skill to produce a delicate and balanced wine.
When economies experience downturns, champagne sales suffer as it happened after the Russian Revolution in 1917, and as recently as 2007.
Large champagne houses must maintain huge inventories to meet demand, and it takes four to five years to create the product.
Worldwide, approximately 180 million bottles are consumed, and in champagne cellars some 510 – 540 million bottles mature at any give time. Imagine the cost of carrying the inventory. Producers pay for the grapes upon delivery. A committee of growers, producers and courtiers establishes grape prices annually. The highest prices go vineyards rated class A, 90 per cent of that to class B, the scale descends to D. below that, the fruit is sold in bulk for distillation, vinegar production, ratafia or export.
Champagne can be bone dry (brut sauvage), dry, off dry, semi-sweet or sweet, and may be produced only from chardonnay, pinot meunier and pinot noir.
Chardonnay and pinot noir are considered to be first class, pinto meunier more of filler.
Champagnes produced from chardonnay exclusively on purely chalk soils is called blanc de blancs (white of white) and fetches a premium over those blended. On the other hand, a blanc de noirs is vinted from black grapes (pinot noir) in white, by careful pressing and settling the
red pigments suspends in the must.
Regular champagne is always blended to bring uneven vintages to equilibrium.
A rose champagne may be produced from pinot noir, or blending chardonnay and pinot noir base wines.
Rose champagne is highly cyclical and may become popular for a few years, and fade away, to become fashionable again a years after that.
If it was not for the persistence and marketing savvy of champagne entrepreneurs the fame of the product may never have achieved the high status that it does
Madame Cliquot (of Veuve Cliquot fame) was one of the pioneers of savvy marketing; L. Roederer (of Cristal champagne fame) is another who specialized in selling to the Russian court and aristocracy. Charles Heidsieck spent considerable time and effort in the U S A and the United Kingdom to promote his products. The list is long, and closely linked to politics, economies, economics, and politicians holding high office.
L. Breshnyew, the Soviet president, drank only Krug champagne, if and when he drank champagne, and Churchill favoured Pol Roger over other brands.
Louis Roederer is one of the finest champagne houses and famous for its brand Cristal which was specifically created fro the Russian aristocracy. In 1876 Czar Alexander II demanded Roederer to produce the finest champagne possible and L. Roederer was happy to oblige. At the time, 60 per cent of his business was conducted in Russia. He also decided to commission an extra heavy flat-bottomed Cristal bottle to emphasise quality of his specially blended cuvee. He called it Cristal, and to this day it is one of the most celebrated by all who can affords its high price (Available at L C B O `s Vintages Essentials catalogue at $ 229.95 in a special wooden presentation box).
Cristal is always a vintage champagne and only produced when the quality of the vintage is deemed good enough. A few thousand Metuselahs (208 oz = 8 bottles) are bottled and sold to a few high volume agents across the world. Regular Cristal is on allocation everywhere. Famous signers drink nothing but Crisal from Roederer. While Cristal is undoubtedly a very fine champagne there are many others i.e Dom Perignon, Moet et Chandon; Cuvee Privee, Krug; Rene Lalou (G.H. Mumm); Salon de Mesnil; Laurent-Perrier Rose; La Grande Dame (Veuve Cliquot); Deutz; Blanc de Blancs Comte de Champagne, Taittinger; Brut, Bollinger; and Special Ayala are only a few that come to mind.
Considering the effort and time that go into creating champagne, the price of a regular bottle is reasonable ( $ 50.00 to 60.00).
You can drink champagne throughout a meal if you choose the level of sweetness to match the course.
Always serve champagne at 8 – 10 C, and tilt the glass while pouring. This way you will enjoy carbonation longer and more.
The following brands and vintages are recommended:
Cuvee Dom Perginon Oenotheque Commande Special 1975, Moet et Chandon
Brut Blanc de Blancs, 1996, bruno Paillard
Brut Blanc de Blancs Clos de Mesnil, 1998, Krug
Brut, 1998, Krug
Brut La Grande Annee, 2000, Bollinger
Brut Chamapgne Volupte, Non Vintage R. Geofroy
Brut Blanc de Blancs Millenaires, 1995, Charles Heidsieck
Brut Blanc de Blans Cuvee Belle Epoque, 2000, Perrier-Jouet
Brut Blanc de Blancs, 2000, Pertois-Moriset
Brut Blanc de Blanc Comtes de Champagne, 1998, Taittinger
Brut Rose Champagne, Henri Goutorbe