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.
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.
Made by fifth-generation family producer Laurent Hostomme, Harrods Champagne is what’s known as a ‘grower champagne’, meaning that all its grapes come from its own grand-cru vineyards – something of a rarity in the Champagne world.
How to Pair Champagne with Food
If you’re only enjoying Champagne at birthdays and weddings, you’re missing out. With its varying levels of acidity, sweetness and texture, Champagne pairs wonderfully with all manner of delicious foods. Next time you settle down for a meal of oysters, smoked salmon or even fried chicken, consider pairing it with one of the following styles.
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.
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.
Boasting a strong flavour, rosé lends itself to potent tastes, such as smoked salmon, roast venison, pheasant, creamy cheeses and cured meats.
Most meals are enhanced by a splash of Brut, though standout pairings include fried potatoes or chicken, steak, white truffle and citrus.
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.
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.