A glass that will enhance any occasion but is often considered a celebratory drink, Champagne makes for the perfect addition to precious moments, no matter how big or small. Harrods is home to an extensive array of Champagnes, and there’s one to suit every taste, so let our guide walk you down the path from grape to glass, covering off the acclaimed houses, niche bottles and more...
Named after the idyllic region of Northern France in which the sparkling wine must be produced, Champagne is made in a more complex, regulated manner than other wine or sparkling wines. Undergoing a unique double fermentation process, which develops the fizz and feel of the wine, it is also enhanced by an array of choices open to the individual winemaker that result in distinctive tastes and characters.
Champagne is subject to rules and regulations set by the Champagne Appellation d'Origine Controlée (AOC), which was founded in 1927 to ensure the triumphant wine’s quality and reputation. Standards set include the traditional handpicking of grapes, alcohol-level and maturation time restrictions, and the monitoring of labelling and bottling. That the grapes themselves can only come from allocated villages – or 'crus' – within the region is a further fundamental regulation. Each village has a permanent classification score – Crus, Premier Crus, or the most prestigious title, Grand Crus – based on the soil type, aspect and quality of the grapes.
There are three types of grapes used in Champagne-making: Pinot Noir – a full-bodied and intense grape that is particularly difficult to grow; Pinot Meunier, which provides a softer fruitiness and has a unique ageing ability; and the elegant and fresh Chardonnay, which can be grown in any region and has an expansive range of flavour profiles. With no regulation on the percentages of each grape used, each house will create its own unique blend.
"To ensure this triumphant wine’s quality and reputation, rules and regulations include the traditional handpicking of grapes, alcohol-level and maturation time restrictions, and the monitoring of labelling and bottling."
Non-vintage Champagne spends a minimum of 15 months maturing by law and is crafted specifically to showcase a house’s signature flavour by blending current vintages with those from previous years. A typical balance for a non-vintage Champagne would be 60% Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier and 40% Chardonnay. Most readily produced, non-vintage Champagne tends to be easy on the palate and easier on the pocketbook.
Vintage Champagne can only be made from the grapes of one year’s harvest, which relies on the conditions of that year and how they affected the growth of the grapes. With a minimum resting period of three years by law, the Champagne develops slowly over time and tends to be a more complex wine. Traditionally only created in the very best grape-growing years, houses are now seeking the opportunity to tell stories – of challenges or developments – through their vintages.
How To Store
Champagne is best stored lying down in a dark place that won’t fluctuate in temperature to avoid prematurely aging the bottle, which can lead to oxidation and spoilage. For optimum storage, create an environment similar to the crayères where the wine is originally stored and matured – these are a series of tunnels under the areas of Reims and Épernay that have a cool and constant temperature, ideal humidity and are free from vibrations and sunlight.
The emerald green glass of a traditional Champagne bottle helps to reduce spoilage from light, so if you have a clear bottle – a Cristal, for example – keep the cellophane on and pay special attention when storing it.
Should an open bottle of Champagne need to be stored, a proper stopper is vital, but it’s best to keep a few half bottles stored at home for moments when you only want a couple of glasses.
How To Pair
While often an aperitif, should you be pairing your Champagne there are a few terms that will help you find the perfect match…
Demi-Sec: Translates as half dry. Growing in popularity over the past few years, it is a sweeter style of Champagne that pairs perfectly with desserts.
Brut: Denoting a dry Champagne, Brut is the most popular choice. It will most likely be non-vintage and is less sweet than a Demi-Sec.
Blanc de Blanc: Lighter and drier, Blanc de Blanc is solely made from Chardonnay grapes and pairs well with oysters, shellfish and other white fish.
Blanc de Noirs: Only using Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier grapes, Blanc de Noirs has more power and richness, so works well with partridge, veal and pork.
Prestige Cuvée: The best bottle a house can offer, a Prestige Cuvée is and often the highest in price; a glass to toast the very best moments in life.
How To Serve
Whatever the occasion, a chilled glass of champagne is best served in elegantly cut clear crystal; turn to brands including Waterford, Wedgwood and Baccarat to lend a touch of effortless sophistication to any table setting. Despite being a timeless classic, the coupe tends to warm Champagne quickly and doesn’t keep its carbonation, and the flute – which came into fashion in the 1950s – will retain the bubbles but doesn’t allow the wine to express its full flavour. A zalto glass, meanwhile, ensures the wine sees increased contact with oxygen so that it opens up, while the narrow rim allows you to experience the delicate aromas.
The Top Champagne Houses
Moët & Chandon
The largest vineyard owners in Champagne, Moët & Chandon has had a Royal warrant from the British Monarchy since 1983.
The acclaimed house only produces vintage Champagne, with a guaranteed resting period of at least eight years.
Discover our excellent selection of Champagnes online, or visit the store for a larger selection and services in Wine, Lower Ground Floor. Our team of expertly qualified wine advisors and sommeliers are on hand to help you with food pairings, complete cellar plans, dinner party and private event planning. They also provide private one-to-one consultations in a luxury environment that will perfectly cater to the desires of any Champagne lover, novice or connoisseur.